Cover image for Never forget : an oral history of September 11, 2001
Never forget : an oral history of September 11, 2001
Fink, Mitchell.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Regan Books, 2002.
Physical Description:
ix, 294 pages ; 24 cm
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HV6432 .F565 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
HV6432 .F565 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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On the morning of September 11, 2001, shock waves rippled through the country as the United States came under terrorist attack. In New York, Washington, D.C., and Somerset County, Pennsylvania, four planes piloted by members of the Al Qaeda terrorist organization left death, shattered innocence, and incomprehensible destruction in their wake. While the attacks united all Americans in their shared horror and grief, the actual witnesses to these events often bear the heaviest weight of these painful memories. Never Forget is a collection of unbelievably moving stories of loss, heartache, and survival, as told in the words of those closest to the unfolding tragedy.

In stark, haunting detail, these vivid personal accounts bring to life the events as they happened: from the harrowing moments after the planes hit the twin Towers of the World Trade Center to the overwhelming cloud of debris that enveloped lower Manhattan when the towers fell, the devastating conversations with loved ones on the hijacked flights, the terrifying hours spent trapped in the fallen buildings, and the painstaking recovery efforts at each site. Moses Lipson, an eighty-nine-year-old construction inspector, walks down from the eighty-eighth floor of Tower 1. Steven Bienkowski, a police officer in the New York Harbor Unit Scuba Team, watches helplessly from a helicopter as people trapped in the upper floors of Tower 1 reach from the windows to beg for a miracle rescue. Tim McGinn, a now-retired NYPD lieutenant, shoots out a window and saves at least thirty people from suffocation. Young Lyzbeth Glick's heart drops when she realizes that her husband, Jeremy, who changed his travel plans at the last moment, is now on the hijacked flight from Newark. As the Pentagon blazes, Lieutenant Colonel Ted Anderson plunges back inside to rescue civilians trapped by fallen debris.

Weeks later, the rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero continue. Construction worker Joseph Bradley looks on as a firefighter gently closes the eyes and straightens the suit of a woman whose body is found in the rubble. Benjamin Garelick, seven years old, raises seven hundred dollars with a lemonade stand to "help the firemen buy a new truck."

As these unforgettable stories reveal, many Americans transcended their own confusion and despair to help one another escape, to offer one another kindness, and to affirm life in the face of catastrophe. This concert of voices shows, as never before, the heartbreaking grief and slow but uplifting healing process that the people of this nation have experienced individually and as one.

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

Three new books are outstanding in relating personal stories of September 11. Fink is a print and TV journalist, and his wife, Lois Mathias, is an environmental activist and child advocate. Their book gathers first-person narratives by individuals whose lives were intimately impacted by the events of that day. From a construction inspector at the World Trade Center to a musician who lived in an apartment close by and witnessed the horrendous damage done by the first plane; from a young man and woman who escaped from their Lower Manhattan apartment and ferried to Staten Island, only to be subjected to a humiliating shower in public by hospital personnel, to the mother of a man on the hijacked flight that went down in Pennsylvania--all have their poignant, difficult stories to tell, which are neither easy to put down nor easy to keep reading. That flight, the one that crashed in Pennsylvania, presumably on its way to devastate either the White House or the Capitol, is the subject of a riveting account by Longman, a reporter for the New York Times. In his words, the passengers of United Flight 93 "thwarted" the terrorists; it is clear to him that the "passengers and crew acted with heroic defiance." Longman spoke with all the affected families except one. His account of the "brave uprising [that] will surely be remembered as a defining moment in American history" gives us an incredibly detailed and personal tale of that horrific episode, during which ordinary citizens proved their mettle and altered their fate. Murphy's book is another oral history but is in no way redundant. He, too, is a New York Times reporter, and his collection of approximately 40 survivor stories is underscored by the idea that when September 11 "was all over, it was a day of national calamity. But it was also a day of individual human heartache." The personal accounts he compiles here serve to support that sentiment to the fullest. One can't find a more eloquent explanation of the situation at the World Trade Center than the words spoken by the woman who was master of the keys at the Center: "I wasn't burnt or severely bruised. My pain was somewhere else--and it still is. Inside my heart, it hurts so bad." And only the most inured readers will not react with tears to the story of the sight-impaired man being carefully led down the stairs from high in the Center by his devoted seeing-eye dog. --Brad Hooper



Michelle Wiley 52, Musician "I thought I was dead because everything went black." The day was very bright and very clear. Paul left early that morning, probably on the last train out. We live in an apartment in Gateway Plaza, a block over from the World Trade Center. Normally I'm up with him and dressed. But I sort of stayed in my nightgown and shower shoes and decided I would practice on the piano. I often play "Autumn Leaves" in all twelve keys, just to get my head going. The piano (actually a Kurzweil synthesizer/sequencer in the body of a small baby grand) is in a studio which looks out at the World Trade Center. My dad was an old air force lifer, so I know planes. I've been around them since I was little. I think I was in the second chorus of "Autumn Leaves" when I paused, just to stretch. I stood up by the window looking out at the Center when I see this plane flying very low, but very steady, toward the World Trade. I immediately said to myself, "This plane is going to hit it. It's not spiraling, it's not smoking, it doesn't look out of control." I picked up the phone and dialed 911. I don't know why. I said, "There's a plane flying into the World Trade Center." And the operator said, "My God, I didn't know that." By the time I finished the sentence, the plane was through the building. And she just sort of yelled at me, because I guess maybe someone else had gotten a call next to her, and she said, "Please stay on the phone." Then she said, "No, don't stay on the phone," and suddenly the phone went dead. I got a couple of phone calls from friends, you know, "Are you all right?" "We heard that the plane hit the Trade Center." And I said, "Yeah, I'm fine. People are panicked and running around. I'm not going to go outside." So I'm watching and I can't believe it. It reminded me of the movie The Towering Inferno . There's a building and the top of it is burning, like a huge candle. I turned on the television, and then I got another call from a DJ in Detroit. I coach professional singers and one of my students in the Detroit area had been trying to reach me and couldn't. So she called a DJ friend, Johnny Burke, and he got through. He asked me to describe the scene, and I described what I saw. I could see people jumping from the building. I don't know how many, but it was more than two, I know that. Some things I don't remember. Some things I just block out. But I knew things were escalating. I saw people leaning out of the tower. They were waving towels, trying to get the smoke out or trying to signal people. I thought about trying to run to the place where our car was parked, and just get in and drive out, but thank God I didn't because that's when the second plane hit. Now I was conflicted about what to do. Then the South Tower collapsed. I remember standing in front of the window and feeling the ground start to vibrate. It was as though someone had just put a huge sock over our entire building. I mean, it went from that bright crisp morning to just total blackness, and then it felt like an earthquake. I thought I was dead because everything went black inside my apartment. My phone went out, the TV went out, and I was just sort of floating in the room, suspended there. I didn't feel my body or anything. I think I was in shock. I started to shake, and I just fell to the floor and began crawling to my front door in my nightgown. Paul's leather jacket was hanging on the hook by the door. I knew I had to get out of the building at that point. I pulled the jacket on me. I felt along a corner of the floor for a pair of sneakers by the front door. And I put them on because I thought, Well, there is going to be glass and stuff down there. But in my haste and being so nervous, I guess, I still had the pair of shower shoes in my hand. I held onto them and I opened the door. I found my purse, but I couldn't find my cell phone. This is all happening in a matter of seconds. When I got outside the door, my next-door neighbor was standing pinned against the wall. She just was frozen there, a young lady. We didn't really know each other that well, but I walked over to her and I took her arm and I said, "I want you to come with me." And we went down the stairwell. We could hear people from above and below, you know, falling down the steps because it was totally black. I didn't know if the building had been hit, or if it was on fire. The door to the lobby was jammed, but a man kicked it open. There were maybe fifty to one hundred people in the lobby and everyone started running outside. The air was cool and debris was everywhere. It looked like the surface of Mars, all this white sediment and piles of computer paper and pieces of desks and more paper just falling through the air. I kept walking toward the front gate, and there was a very badly wounded policewoman standing there trying to get people to go back. But people panicked and kept running. I guess they thought they were going to try to get to the subway. But if you looked down that way, there were cars that were already all crunched up. I don't know why, but something told me to run back through the crowd. The door to an adjacent building was open and another door inside led out to the gate that leads to the promenade toward the river. I guess I thought I was going to swim. There was a stench outside. I could feel something very itchy all over me. I pulled my coat over my nose. The air wasn't black anymore, but it was like a very heavy white fog. I turned right on the esplanade and starting running toward the right. I saw a group of men maybe one hundred yards down. They were loading injured firemen onto a tugboat that had pulled up next to the wall. There was one very badly wounded fireman that they couldn't move. I still see his face. I still have nightmares. His face still visits me. He was in so much pain. Every time they tried to pick him up, he just collapsed back down. I made it onto the boat. There were other civilians on it. There was a hysterical woman next to me, I think she was Spanish. They gave us life vests and told us to stand toward the center of the boat or the boat would tip over. I tried to calm her down. I said, "Look, we're going to New Jersey. It's okay. We're lucky. We got out." Then I looked to my right. There was another woman crying. Her legs were all cut up. She had run out of her shoes. So I handed her the shower shoes, the ones I had been carrying all this time, and I said, "You know something, I've been carrying these around. I guess they were for you." (Continues...) Excerpted from Never Forget by Mitchell Fink Copyright © 2003 by Mitchell Fink Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.