Mitchell Fink,
Never Forget:
An Oral History of
September 11, 2001

(Regan, 2002)

I'm writing this review, but I really don't think it is possible to put this book into words. Never Forget: An Oral History of September 11, 2001 is by far the most personal and emotionally compelling book I have read about the terrorist attacks of 9/11. I honestly think every American should read this book -- now more than ever.

Some people seem to be forgetting the inhumane horror and emotional trauma of that day, and this book takes you back, quite vividly, to what you saw and felt during and after those devastating attacks. The husband and wife team of Mitchell Fink and Lois Mathias interviewed a great number of people connected to the deadly events, from witnesses and survivors to emergency services personnel to Ground Zero volunteers and the families of Flight 93 passengers. Eighty-one personal accounts fill the pages of this book.

I have only recently been going back and reading about 9/11 -- suddenly, I finally felt ready to revisit what happened that day. I am learning that the personal tragedy and horror was much more extensive than I realized. The personal stories in this book introduce a number of observations and facts that were too gruesome to make it into any news broadcasts. I knew that a number of people jumped to their deaths, but I did not realize the number of jumpers was as high as it actually was. I had also never thought about the danger those jumpers posed to rescue workers trying to get into the Twin Towers that morning. One fireman, for example, was killed by a falling body. The newscasts didn't talk about what happened when those bodies hit the ground, but the witnesses in this book do, and it's pretty gruesome stuff. Then you have descriptions of the carnage seen by rescue and recovery teams, and it's just unimaginably awful. The things these witnesses describe will break your heart, but their stories are also full of heart-warming stories of heroism and selflessness. Everyone knows the story of Josephine Harris and the miraculous survival of the Ladder 6 team she was with, but this book is bursting with personal acts of heroism by ordinary men and women who epitomize the unsung hero. Virtually everyone who survived the attacks credits someone else with saving his or her life.

One account that sticks out in my mind is the group of men who transported their handicapped coworker down dozens of flights of stairs to safety; they could have abandoned him and worried only about saving themselves, but they didn't. The man whose life they saved makes a profound point: if they had been a little slower or unlucky and died that day, no one would ever have known about those selfless acts of heroism. It makes you realize that some of the greatest acts of courage and sacrifice that took place that day will be known only in heaven.

Many of the individuals whose stories are recorded here talk about the emotional effects of the experience. Many ask why they lived when those around them died, and they talk about the emotional trauma (and, for some, sense of guilt) that will be a part of their daily lives from now on. In the same vein, a few give voice to some profound perspectives. It is awful that a fireman was killed by a jumper, but one individual points out that it probably saved the lives of the firemen who carried their fallen comrade to safety because it kept those men from entering the building just before it collapsed.

Many of these accounts come from policemen, firemen, Port Authority personnel, emergency service workers and those who worked tirelessly to recover bodies in the days and weeks following the tragedy. I was also happy to read about some of the 300 search dogs who contributed so much to the effort as well.

A majority of the book relates to the attack on the World Trade Center, but there are also a number of accounts from those on site at the Pentagon as well as loved ones of the brave passengers of Flight 93. I was actually most interested in the stories of regular people who lived through the events, though; those are the stories I can most easily identify with, especially when I ask myself how I would have reacted in their situation. So many of those people showed great bravery and humanity, and it's really uplifting to read about those "little" but powerful stories that you never heard about on the news. It renews your faith in humanity and really drives home the point that the terrorists who kill innocent men, women and children without a single twinge of guilt will never achieve their goals.

by Daniel Jolley
3 September 2005

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