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Book Review: We’re Not Leaving: 9/11 Responders Tell Their Stories of Courage, Sacrifice, and Renewal by Benjamin J. Luft, M.D.

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Layer upon layer of heroic stories, opinions, and interpretations of 9/11 have taken on the character and power of myth in the ten years since tragedy struck the United States in the form of hijacked airliners exploding into New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. Not forgotten is the attempt of other hijackers to attack government buildings in Washington D.C., only to be thwarted by courageous passengers before the mission could be accomplished.

Portrait of the Pile

Dr. Benjamin J. Luft is the Director of the Long Island Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program at State University of New York. In his work there, Luft has provided care for over 6,000 responders and workers who were exposed first-hand not only to the tragedy of 9/11, but also to the health hazards of “the pile” on which they worked for over a year to clear the site.

His book, We’re Not Leaving: 9/11 Responders Tell Their Stories of Courage, Sacrifice, and Renewal, is a collection of first-hand accounts drawn from the voices of the people whose lives have been marked permanently by doing society’s hardest work of removing the sad, visible reminders of a nation’s vulnerability.

This layer of stories and reflections are those at the core, those in the pre-interpretive time period in which the concerns were the facts, the people, the deceased, and the horror of never knowing if one can take another breath before succumbing to the death that surrounds them all.

Lost in the ten years since, amidst the growing American story of its heroes and its struggle to memorialize the events in the most meaningful way, are the accounts of those who were most exposed to the hazardous aftermath of the rubble, the random body parts, and the suffocating air and odors of “the pile.” Luft has compiled 32 first-hand stories of workers, medical personnel, clergy, and common citizens who for months dedicated themselves to be the hands and arms of a nation to cleanse America’s landscape and to enable its citizens to begin its processes of grief and tribute.

Divided into five sections, covering the minutes after the attack through the continuing years of healing, Luft has chosen stories that come from virtually all sectors of the recovery team. Some stories are centered on the worker himself and his own struggles with coping with the tragedy while others exhibit the selfless, sometimes self-denying, reflections of heroes.

We’re Not Leaving is a book which should be consumed in small bites, a story at a time, to avoid losing the substantial impact which each story provides on its own. It serves best those who want to know what really happened at Ground Zero regardless of what happened in the skies above or in the politics abroad. In an effort to assimilate the 9/11 story into one’s own life, this collection of stories provides stark points of identity for any reader.

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About ToddT

I enjoy baseball and writing about it. I pay to see independent league play, the Fort Worth Cats and the Grand Prairie AirHogs, and I follow the Texas Rangers rather passionately. A native of the Dallas area, I am nearing 60 years old, and I have been married to my college sweetheart for 36 years and counting.