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'Among the Heroes' is moving

AMONG THE HEROES, by Jere Longman, Harper Collins, 273 pages, $24.95.

It isn't easy to read "Among the Heroes," an account of the passengers and crew on United Flight 93 who fought back when their plane was hijacked on Sept. 11, written by New York Times reporter Jere Longman.

That's not because of the way the book is written; Longman is a fine journalist (he spent several weeks in Salt Lake City a few years ago covering the scandal surrounding the Olympic bid.)

His extensive research and interviews for this book turned up such powerful details as the official cause of death for the 44 people aboard being "fragmentation due to blunt-force trauma" after the plane slammed into the Pennsylvania countryside at nearly 600 mph.

What makes the book difficult is reliving the losses of 9/11, this time with enough information about the victims that they are no longer simply statistics — 33 passengers and seven crew members taken hostage by four hijackers. When the inevitable comes, readers will understand what made each of the passengers and crew members capable of contributing to the effort to retake the plane — and what made each of them heroes.

No one will ever know exactly what happened on the plane, but Longman has made it clear in interviews that he believes all of the passengers and crew earned the title "hero," even though media coverage about the doomed flight has focused on only a few.

Who hasn't already heard, for example, the story of Todd Beamer, who prayed with an airphone operator and spoke lovingly of his pregnant wife, Lisa, and their two young sons, before being overheard telling his fellow passengers, "You ready? OK. Let's roll."

And Jeremy Glick, who plotted on the phone with his wife, Lyz, about taking on hijackers armed with knives and claiming to have a bomb. "I think you need to do it," Lyz Glick told her husband, still hoping he would make it home to her and their baby daughter.

But Longman also tells us about the other passengers and crew members, such as Toshiya Kuge, who'd taken an English-language immersion course at the University of Utah in March.

Kuge was headed home to Japan after visiting the East Coast. Even though course instructors organized field trips to area supermarkets, Kuge preferred to go shopping and to movies by himself while he was in Utah. He told others he wanted "to act independently, because I want to use English practically," Longman writes.

His mother, Yachiyo Kuge, is quoted in the book as saying that her son "longed to come to America," possibly for a graduate degree. "He had a very strong sense of what the right course in life was."

The 20-year-old was "a passionate fan" of the National Football League, sometimes staying up late in Japan to watch games via satellite. Kuge had a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey with him on his final trip.

He is smiling broadly in the family photo provided to Longman, one of dozens of pictures of passengers and crew members in the book.

Perhaps that's the way Longman would like us to remember Kuge and the others.

Not as victims but as people who by all accounts stood up to terror.


E-mail: dennis@desnews.com