1st Line/1st Paragraph: The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11

 January 7, 2020

1st Line/1st Paragraphs

I’m linking up this week with Vicki @ I’d Rather Be At The Beach who hosts a meme every Tuesday to share the First Chapter/First Paragraph of the book you are currently reading.

First Paragraph

I’m pleased to share the first paragraphs of The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff. If you experienced 9/11, you know this will be an informative, heartfelt, and tragic read. If you did not experience 9/11, this is a must-read.

From Amazon:

“The first comprehensive oral history of September 11, 2001—a panoramic narrative woven from the voices of Americans on the front lines of an unprecedented national trauma.

Over the past eighteen years, monumental literature has been published about 9/11, from Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower, which traced the rise of al-Qaeda, to The 9/11 Commission Report, the government’s definitive factual retrospective of the attacks. But one perspective has been missing up to this point—a 360-degree account of the day told through the voices of the people who experienced it.

Now, in The Only Plane in the Sky, award-winning journalist and bestselling historian Garrett Graff tells the story of the day as it was lived—in the words of those who lived it. Drawing on never-before-published transcripts, recently declassified documents, original interviews, and oral histories from nearly five hundred government officials, first responders, witnesses, survivors, friends, and family members, Graff paints the most vivid and human portrait of the September 11 attacks yet.

Beginning in the predawn hours of airports in the Northeast, we meet the ticket agents who unknowingly usher terrorists onto their flights, and the flight attendants inside the hijacked planes. In New York City, first responders confront a scene of unimaginable horror at the Twin Towers. From a secret bunker underneath the White House, officials watch for incoming planes on radar. Aboard the small number of unarmed fighter jets in the air, pilots make a pact to fly into a hijacked airliner if necessary to bring it down. In the skies above Pennsylvania, civilians aboard United Flight 93 make the ultimate sacrifice in their place. Then, as the day moves forward and flights are grounded nationwide, Air Force One circles the country alone, its passengers isolated and afraid.

More than simply a collection of eyewitness testimonies, The Only Plane in the Sky is the historic narrative of how ordinary people grappled with extraordinary events in real time: the father and son working in the North Tower, caught on different ends of the impact zone; the firefighter searching for his wife who works at the World Trade Center; the operator of in-flight telephone calls who promises to share a passenger’s last words with his family; the beloved FDNY chaplain who bravely performs last rites for the dying, losing his own life when the Towers collapse; and the generals at the Pentagon who break down and weep when they are barred from rushing into the burning building to try to rescue their colleagues.

At once a powerful tribute to the courage of everyday Americans and an essential addition to the literature of 9/11, The Only Plane in the Sky weaves together the unforgettable personal experiences of the men and women who found themselves caught at the center of an unprecedented human drama. The result is a unique, profound, and searing exploration of humanity on a day that changed the course of history, and all of our lives.”

The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links

The Only Plane in the Sky

Genre/Categories: Nonfiction, U. S. History, Terrorism

1st Line/1st Paragraphs From Chapter One:

Aboard the International Space Station
On August 12, 2001, NASA astronaut Frank Culbertson arrived at the International Space Station aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. He would live and work aboard the Space Station for 125 days. On September 11, 2001, he was the only American off the planet.
Commander Frank Culbertson, astronaut, NASA: On September the 11th, 2001, I called the ground, and my flight surgeon Steve Hart came on. I said, “Hey Steve, how’s it going?” He said, “Well, Frank, we’re not having a very good day down here on Earth.” He began to describe to me what was happening in New York—the airplanes flown into the World Trade Center, another airplane flown into the Pentagon. He said, “We just lost another airplane somewhere in Pennsylvania. We don’t know where or what’s happening.”
I looked at the laptop that has our world map on it, and I saw that we were coming across southern Canada. In a minute we were going to be over New England. I raced around, found a video camera and a window facing in the right direction. About 400 miles away from New York City, I could clearly see the city. It was a perfect weather day all over the United States, and the only activity I could see was this big black column of smoke coming out of New York City, out over Long Island, and over the Atlantic. As I zoomed in with a video camera, I saw this big gray blob basically enveloping the southern part of Manhattan. I was seeing the second tower come down. I assumed tens of thousands of people were being hurt or killed. It was horrible to see my country under attack.

Well….this is going to be a difficult read. I was on a similar nonstop United flight from Boston to LA about three weeks before this event, and thinking about that sends chills through me. I have vivid memories of 9/11 and I’m eager and honored to hear the oral history compiled in these pages.


Where were you on 9/11?

Is The Only Plane in the Sky on your TBR or have you read it?

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  1. I want to read this one very much but I’ve been avoiding it because I know it’s going to be such a gut wrenching experience. Thanks for sharing this excerpt. Looking forward to hearing what you think of the book.

  2. I think I will need to read this book in small stages, too, Carol. As you know my husband was stationed in the Pentagon on that frightening day. He was able to call an hour later, but because he was in Joint Operations, he didn’t come home until the next day, and then only to sleep a few hours before he returned to the Pentagon.

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