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A Decade of Hope

by Dennis Smith with Deirdre Smith

Viking Penguin | 2011 | 356 pages | $26.95

Reviewed by Michael Carey


The Koenig Sphere stood in the plaza of the World Trade Center for thirty years. It was conceived as a symbol of world peace. After being damaged in the attacks of September 11, 2001, but still standing, the sculpture “endures as an icon of hope and the indestructible spirit of this country.” Dennis Smith’s A Decade of Hope is a tribute to that hope and spirit.

9/11 can’t be mentioned without most Americans, and many people around the world, thinking about the destruction of the World Trade Center or where they were when it happened. I was a freshman in college. For most of my college career, I started class at 8 am CT, so I was probably walking to class when the North Tower was hit. I was unaware that our nation was under attack until I arrived at some friends’ apartment afterwards to find them glued to the TV. “Mike, we’re under attack.”

I didn’t believe them until I watched for a minute. I was stunned with disbelief, but not personally affected, except for the marked decline in the quality of country music on that day. I didn’t know anyone who knew anyone near Manhattan.

A Decade of Hope offers the reader a chance to intimately know a number of souls lost or wounded on 9/11/2001. Each interviewee recounts something of their lost loved ones and their experience that fateful day. As a former firefighter, and through his activities in the 9/11 community, Dennis Smith is uniquely qualified to deliver this powerful compilation of interviews.

Each 9/11 experience shared in Smith’s book relates the loss, heartbreak, or despair each interviewee felt. And when the loss was a blood relation or a spouse, they would start with a tale of the origins and close relationship they shared with the deceased. I personally enjoyed the dynamic between firemen twins Zack and Andre Fletcher, in which Andre tries to convince Zack to pick him up from the Newark Airport in the middle of the night, a favor he could no more deny his brother than I could.

It was a favor, however, that put Andre on duty the morning of 9/11.

 A Decade of Hope is full of stories of love, joy, and heroism, but also contains the terrible devastation that filled that day. It is a tear-jerking account of the world in which so many lived: the memorials and funerals, the thousands of missing persons pictures posted around Manhattan, and the void that filled the city and the country as people hoped against hope that their loved ones would call and say that they were alright.

Smith’s selection of interviewees, as evidenced by the title of the book, are examples of people moving forward from the tragedy with positivity. The past decade has not been easy for them and they are not unscarred, but they all remember their loved ones and with that memory try to make the world safer and better.

Many of the interviewees have founded numerous funds and foundations dedicated to education, veterans, and the families of the FDNY and NYPD. Rudy Adad founded a village in the Philippines in memory of his wife Marie Rose. A school was built in Afghanistan in memory of Wendy Wakeford, the sister of Ada Rosario Dolch, who was the principal of the Leadership and Public Service High School two blocks away from the World Trade Center.  MyGoodDeed.Org was co-founded by George Siller in memory of his brother Stephen, a fireman who ran through the Brooklyn Tunnel to the towers and ultimately to his death, with only the thought of helping others.

These are only a few examples of the amazing stories and the positive actions that have come from the tragic events ten years ago. Others have made it their life’s work or volunteered their time and experience to educate the world as to what happened that day in the hope that it never happens again.

The issue of Islam, and where to place the blame, is addressed by many of the interviewees, and I would not be covering the book properly if I were not to mention it. For most in the book, hate and blame for or on the Muslim community is not part of their healing process. They are aware of the danger of extremists, but know that that danger is present in any religion.

Others blame Muslims for their inability or unwillingness to root out the violent factions in their own communities. However, Talat Hamdani, a Muslim whose son, Mohammed Salman, was an EMT and a NYPD cadet who saw the pillaring smoke on his way to work, ran to try and assist anyone he could. He lost his life for his fellow Americans.

Talat was given a hard time for her faith and the sadly misguided authorities wanted to group her son with the terrorists rather than with the heroes of that day. There is the issue of political correctness that looms over our society, and there is also the issue of national security. There is no easy answer for our country, but many of the interviewees feel that action is needed and some are involved in being catalysts for change, and are working towards making New York and our country safer.

Dan D’Allara, who lost his twin brother, John, an Emergency Service Unit detective on 9/11, acknowledged that the terrorist attack was an attack on Americans and our culture, but then countered by saying, “We’re American. America ‘should’ mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but that meaning should be fundamentally American—free, fair, hardworking, and with allegiance to our flag and our law.”

A Decade of Hope is a tremendously powerful account of the good that can come out of life after tragedy. It is an account of heroism, life, and love, and of loss and recovery. Some of the accounts are so moving, I fought back tears every few pages. They come from real people who have experienced real loss and live with it everyday. You can feel this deprevation in their words. This is a book I wouldn’t normally have been drawn to nor purchased, but I’m so glad I did. I’ve learned so much about that infamous day and it has inspired me to get involved.

“We will never forget,” now has personal meaning for me and I’ve learned a tremendous amount from this riveting account. The motto for the World Trade Center was “Peace and stability through trade.” One of the towers’ architects, Minora Yamaski, said, “The World Trade Center should become a living representation of man’s belief in humanity… his belief in the cooperation of men.” Thanks to the men and women that gave their life that day and the response from so many Americans in both aid and affection, the World Trade Center sadly and joyously has become just that.

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