Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Stolen Valor Act

February 22, 2012, Army Times, Supreme Court takes on Stolen Valor Act, by Andrew Tilghman, Staff writer,

Posted : Wednesday Feb 22, 2012 18:17:33 EST

The intrinsic value of military medals was pitted against the right to free speech Wednesday as the nation’s highest court debated whether the 2006 law known as the Stolen Valor Act violates the constitution.

The law allows the government to criminally prosecute fakers who claim to have received the Medal of Honor or other military valor medals they did not earn.

Critics of the law say the government should not criminalize speech just because it might be offensive to some people. But supporters say the law correctly punishes a form of fraud or theft that diminishes the legitimate honors bestowed on the most exceptional troops.

"To stand idly by when one charlatan after another makes a false claim to have won the medal does debase the value of the medal in the eyes of the soldiers," Donald Verrilli Jr., the U.S. Solicitor General, told the court.


February 19, 2012, AP - Army Times, Supreme Court to review Stolen Valor Act, by Mark Sherman, The Associated Press
Battle Rattle blog: A tie between Charlie Manson and Stolen Valor faker? Yes

“The honor system is about identifying the attributes, the essence, of what we want in our servicemen and women — courage, sacrifice, love of country, willingness to put your life on the line for your comrades,” Verrilli said. “And what the medals do is say to our military: ‘This is what we care about.’”

The justices pressed Verrilli repeatedly about how and where to limit government control of speech.

“Where do you stop?” asked Chief Justice John Roberts. “Is it a crime to state that you have a high school diploma if you know that you don’t? … Congress can say: We want people to finish high school. It’s a big thing to have a high school diploma. So we want to make sure nobody goes around saying they do [have a diploma] when they don’t.”

“How about extramarital affairs?” asked Justice Elena Kagan. “The government has a strong interest in the sanctity of the family, the stability of the family, so we’re going to prevent everybody from telling lies about their extramarital affairs?”

Verrilli acknowledged the justices’ concerns.

“We have a lot of slippery slope-type questions here today,” Verrilli said. Nevertheless, he added, this law is acceptable because it is narrowly worded and protects an important military honor.

“The harm that justifies [the Stolen Valor Act] is the misappropriation of the government-conferred honor and esteem, and that is a real harm,” he said.

The admitted liar at the center of the case is Xavier Alvarez, a 53-year-old man with no military experience. In 2007, when he was running for a seat on a local district water board in California, he claimed he was a retired Marine and Medal of Honor recipient.

Alvarez was convicted in federal court of violating the Stolen Valor Act and sentenced to three years’ probation. The FBI has investigated hundreds of reports of military fakers, and dozens have been convicted of the misdemeanor, which carries a sentence of up to six months in jail.


Hall of Valor

Hall of Stolen Valor

There is little dispute that Alvarez was a serial liar; his claims also included playing professional hockey and being wounded while helping to rescue the U.S. ambassador during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, investigators said. His own lawyers have not denied that his claims to military service are false. But, they argue, those false claims to not constitute a crime.

The Supreme Court’s ruling, expected in March, is likely to have a sweeping impact far beyond its potential to nullify the Stolen Valor Act. It could influence trademark laws, the prosecution of fraud rings, and the way law enforcement agents interrogate suspects.

Many legal experts say the Supreme Court will strike down the law as violating the First Amendment right to free speech, which this court has often defended aggressively. “I don’t think this court is going to want to create new categories of unprotected speech,” Aaron Caplan, an associate professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said in an interview Wednesday.

Last year the court ruled 8-1 in support of the Westboro Baptist Church, which held protests outside military funerals and claimed U.S. troops’ deaths were God’s punishment for America’s tolerance of gay rights. The court also struck down a California law that limited the sale of violent video games to minors.

And, more controversially, the court extended the philosophy of free speech to include corporations, ruling that any law limiting corporations’ ability to give unlimited money for political purposes violates the constitution.

Nevertheless, the justices at times seemed skeptical of claims that military fakers should be protected, none more so than Justice Antonin Scalia.

“I believe that there is no First Amendment value in falsehood,” Scalia flatly declared.

He also noted that lies are criminalized in many other circumstances — for example, the prohibition on making false statements to law enforcement officials.

“How do you justify that? Because the making of the false statement impairs a governmental investigation. And what is being urged here is that the making of this type of a false statement impairs the government’s ability to honor valorous members of the armed forces,” Scalia said.

Scalia also pointed to laws prohibiting the “intentional infliction of emotional harm,” such as telling someone — falsely — that their child has been struck by a bus and killed.

But Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that while the issue provokes an understandable emotional reaction, that’s not enough to justify criminalizing it.

“So outside of the emotional reaction, where’s the harm? And I’m not minimizing it. I, too, take offense when people make these kinds of claims, but I take offense when someone I’m dating makes a claim that’s not true,” Sotomayor said.

Jonathan Libby, the attorney representing Alvarez in challenging the law, said the government could find many ways to protect the prestige of military medals short of criminal prosecutions. For example, it could publish a list of medal winners to help expose fakers to public ridicule.

Libby also said the military could “redouble its efforts at honoring those who are in fact entitled to the awards.” He pointed to recent congressional hearings about the number of Medal of Honor recipients falling to historic lows during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“How about giving a Medal of Shame to those who have falsely claimed to have earned the Medal of Valor?” Scalia said, provoking laughter in the typically hushed courtroom. “I think that would be good.”

February 13, 2011, Military Times, SEAL faker: 'I was trying to help out vets', by Gidget Fuentes, Staff writer,

Posted : Sunday Feb 13, 2011 8:56:02 EST

SAN DIEGO — It was a story that captured the attention of the crowd: A Navy SEAL wounded in an attack managed to cut down insurgents who had killed his three teammates when their post was overrun in Afghanistan.

But Andrew Irvin Bryson’s heroics and credentials — including a Purple Heart and Combat Action Ribbon — hailed and recounted at the April 6, 2010, ceremony led by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in front of hundreds of veterans who received the Louisiana Veterans’ Honor Medal just weren’t true.

While his story might have impressed the crowd, some in attendance had already begun to suspect that Bryson was a faker. Several students at Louisiana State University, where Bryson founded the Student Veterans of Louisiana State University, wondered about the stories he spun about combat and killing bad guys. Several student veterans didn’t buy his story either and, by late summer, had forced his resignation from the club. But suspicions remained. Last week, a reader alerted Navy Times that his story may be bogus.

Bryson, in fact, had served in the Navy, but as an aviation electronics technician — not a Navy SEAL. In his eight years of service, he deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and earned several medals, but, according to records kept by Navy Personnel Command, he did not receive a Purple Heart or Combat Action Ribbon.

For nearly a year, Bryson was silent on clarifying the record following the governor’s ceremony. He contacted Navy Times on Friday afternoon, too late for the article that appears in the newspaper’s Feb. 14 edition.

“I wasn’t a Navy SEAL,” he said, explaining how the governor’s office had sought veterans’ stories to recognize publicly with the state’s medal. “So I kind of just gave them a story.”

“I falsified a story to try to help out vets. It’s just grown into a massive [nightmare],” he said. “Almost every single month since this has happened, I’m not able to sleep a lot because of it.”

Bryson said he created himself into a Hollywood-like character to draw more attention to the experiences of combat veterans attending college after their military service. It’s why he first organized LSU’s student vet group, he said. “I was really trying to help out vets at LSU,” he said.


Student Veterans of Louisiana State University Facebook page

Bryson is enrolled at LSU, where he is taking classes in sports administration, but he said he’s had mixed reactions from other student vets who have learned about the bogus story. He insisted his intentions are honorable, noting he continues to assist other student vets who are struggling with the transition to school and, for some, the stresses from their combat tours.

“When I got there [to LSU], there was nothing for veterans,” he added. “It just blew up like you wouldn’t believe.”

One of his friends and student veteran, a former Marine who wouldn’t give his name, told Navy Times that he had warned Bryson that his story could run afoul of the federal Stolen Valor Act, a law that makes it a crime to falsely claim to have earned military honors. He insisted that Bryson is sorry and is upset at reactions, especially from other vets.

“I can understand, it’s upsetting to them with a lie like that,” his friend said. “I think he wanted people to respect him more.”

Blake Dugas, a former Army combat engineer and club secretary, met Bryson about a year ago.

“He kind of introduced himself as a Navy SEAL,” said Dugas, and regaled them with wild stories. “I thought he was full of [it].”

But he said he never confronted him because “who am I to sit there and say anything bad about a Navy SEAL? I didn’t know what he did.”

Dugas briefly shared his rented home with Bryson. He recalled Bryson had a Purple Heart affixed to his book bag, and he showed off a plaque inscribed with “Special Projects,” though he “would never talk about it” in detail. (Bryson deployed and served four years with Special Projects Patrol Squadron 1 from 2003 to 2007, Navy records show.)

At club meetings, “he’d sit there and tell stories. It was well-known that he had a Navy Cross and a Silver Star,” he said. “He took stories from other people and he made them his own.”


• More on fakers,
  • A Navy Reserve recruiter and wannabe country music star has been charged with wearing the Distinguished Flying Cross and another award he didn't earn, and lying about them to investigators.
  • A former sailor will spend more than seven years in prison for fraudulently obtaining $181,000 from a credit union.
  • His own brother calls him a fraud. The Marine Corps has no record of him. His war stories don't add up, and his "war photos" are blurry images of partially hidden faces.
  • An 18-year-old Marine wannabe, who was smoked out as a fake gunnery sergeant by vigilant Marines more than a year ago, is allegedly at it again.
  • STAFFORD, N.J. — Under fire for embellishing his service in the Navy during the Vietnam War, Mayor John Spodofora has decided he will not seek re-election this year, according to the local Republican Club.
  • NEW ORLEANS — A Louisiana State University student has been charged with falsely claiming he was awarded the Purple Heart and with wearing military medals without authorization.
  • HOUSTON — A Houston-area man has quit as a post-traumatic stress counselor for veterans after records do not back his claim of earning numerous war medals.
  • MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A Martinsburg man who never served in the military has been charged with faking an Army service record and fraudulently collecting more than $97,000 in benefits.
  • ___________________________________________________________________________________________

Jeff Brown · Top Commenter

The fact that we have to take the issue to the Supreme Court is more relevant than the Court's ruling itself. We've fallen so low in our moral convictions as a society that we now seem to think that lying to commit fraud is "Free Speech". False speech is not free speech. You do not have the "right" to claim to be President, a member of Congress, a member of the Supreme Court, a member of Law Enforcement or any number of other states of existence at the federal or state level. You do NOT have the right to use speech to commit fraud. The idea that we have a Supreme Court justice who thinks "what's the harm in lying" is infuriating. I fear our soul, as a society, is lost in a sea of corruption and low moral values. That we have those of apparent low moral values on our highest court only seals our fate.

When will the media find the time to report the true issue with the Stolen Valor case in front of the Supreme Court? Military values are what is at stake here - not the First Amendment. The Armed Forces use a motivational system that is not based on monetary reward like the civilian sector. We don’t get holiday bonuses, we don’t get overtime pay, we do our jobs for the country and each other. The medals on our chests and the citations we post on our walls bear testament to sacrifice and our very worth to the nation. These “baubles and scraps of paper”, as I have heard described by liberal pundits, are intrinsic and critical leadership tools for commanders and provide personal motivation to all Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen to go above and beyond the call of duty. "Posers" (our slang for those who lie about service and awards) destroy the value of our military awards and decorations – they cheapen the value of the awards to the point of being valueless. Their lies are theft, plain and simple, of our very way of life; of Duty, Honor, and Country; of our sacrifices to protect this nation we would and have given our lives for. We pledge an oath upon entry to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States” to include the First Amendment with our very lives – “Posers” don’t. I would expect the Courts to honor our only reward for going above and beyond – by making sacred the valor for our service.

Greg R. Hampton
Lieutenant Colonel (Retired).
U.S. Army

February 22, 2012, The Christian Science Monitor, Stolen Valor Act at Supreme Court: Is lying about being a hero a right?, by Warren Richey, Staff writer,

Stolen Valor Act makes it a crime to falsely claim to have been awarded a military medal. Xavier Alvarez did that, but the claim harms no one, says his lawyer in his brief to the Supreme Court. The case is being argued Wednesday.

Temp Headline Image

The US Supreme Court Building is seen in Washington, in January. On Wednesday, Xavier Alvarez’s case arrives at the Supreme Court where the justices are being asked to decide whether the Stolen Valor Act is an unconstitutional regulation of free speech or an acceptable effort by the government to punish an alleged liar.
(J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File)

By Warren Richey, Staff writer
posted February 22, 2012 at 8:28 am EST

Washington--When Xavier Alvarez stood up and introduced himself at a local water district meeting in July 2007, he had no idea he was about to commit a federal crime.

“I’m a retired Marine of 25 years,” he told the other board members in Pomona, Calif. “I retired in the year 2001. Back in 1987, I was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. I got wounded many times by the same guy. I’m still around.”

In most social situations, such statements might elicit interested nods, admiring smiles, and perhaps heart-felt thanks for his brave service to the nation.

But it turns out Mr. Alvarez never served a day in the US military, had never been wounded, and – most important – was never awarded the Medal of Honor.

After his false claim was exposed, the Federal Bureau of Investigation showed up. Alvarez was soon indicted for allegedly violating the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, a law that makes it a federal crime to falsely claim to have been awarded a military medal.

His lawyer attacked the indictment as a violation of the First Amendment, arguing that Americans have a free-speech right to make false and outrageous claims about themselves without facing criminal prosecution from a government truth squad.

A federal judge upheld the indictment, but a US appeals court panel reversed.

On Wednesday, Alvarez’s case arrives at the US Supreme Court, where the justices are being asked to decide whether the Stolen Valor Act is an unconstitutional regulation of free speech or an acceptable effort by the government to punish an alleged liar.

The high court has never directly addressed the issue of lying about military awards, and it is not clear how the justices may decide it.

The Supreme Court has recognized a number of categories of speech that are unworthy of full First Amendment protection. They include obscenity, libel and defamation, incitement to imminent harm, and fraud. In each of those areas the underlying speech causes a concrete injury.

Critics of the Stolen Valor Act say it requires no underlying injury. Any false statement claiming receipt of a medal may be punished. These critics suggest the best remedy for such false statements is not criminal punishment but more speech, particularly truthful speech to expose the lie.

The Obama administration is urging the court to uphold the restriction as a valid regulation of a discrete kind of false speech that lacks significant constitutional value.

Alvarez counters that the court has never before declared that such false statements are unworthy of constitutional protection. His lawyer says the government’s position marks a radical departure from free speech principles that could lead to sanctions against those who exaggerate, use hyperbole, or engage in satire.

“For good or bad, right or wrong, everyone lies. Xavier Alvarez is no exception. He told a bunch of whoppers,” wrote Alvarez’s lawyer, Deputy Federal Public Defender Jonathan Libby, in his brief to the court.

“Exaggerated anecdotes, barroom braggadocio, and cocktail party puffery have always been thought to be beyond the realm of government reach and to pass without fear of criminal punishment,” Mr. Libby said.

The US Solicitor General’s Office disagrees, arguing that the Stolen Valor Act is aimed at achieving an important government objective and that it is narrowly focused to achieve that objective.

“The government employs military honors to convey a message to the public that the recipient has been endorsed by the government as part of a select group,” Solicitor General Donald Verrilli wrote in his brief to the court. “The aggregate effect of false claims undermines that purpose … by diluting the medals’ message of prestige and honor.”

The law seeks to punish only those who knowingly make a false claim of having been awarded a medal, Mr. Verrilli said. A person is unlikely to make such a claim out of confusion or by mistake, he said.

“Content-based restrictions on false factual statements are consistent with the First Amendment if they are supported by a strong government interest and provide adequate ‘breathing space’ for fully protected speech,” Verrilli’s brief said.

Alvarez’s lawyer, Mr. Libby, openly admits his client is a liar. But he says Alvarez was pilloried in his community as an “idiot” and a “jerk” after his false statements were exposed.

Libby says Americans lie all the time in social situations and that if his client loses his case, the government may soon be investigating the veracity of a broader range of facetious statements.

“Xavier Alvarez lied. He lied when he claimed to have played professional hockey for the Detroit Red Wings. He lied when he claimed to be married to a Mexican starlet whose appearance in public caused paparazzi to swoon. He lied when he claimed to be an engineer. He lied when he claimed to have rescued the American ambassador during the Iranian hostage crisis, and when he said that he was shot going back to grab the American flag,” Libby said in his brief.

What’s the harm, Libby asked in his brief. There is no evidence that anyone relied on Alvarez’s false claims about hockey or military heroics.

“The government’s interest in protecting the reputation of military medals is legitimate, but not compelling,” Libby said. “False claimants cannot tarnish the reputation of medal winners.”

“The government seeks to create a new test – completely unmoored from this court’s precedents,” Libby said.

“Falsehoods are valuable for innumerable reasons: in refining truth, in expressing personal autonomy, and in greasing the wheels of social interaction,” Libby said. “More than that, there is a realm of harmless prattle and puffery generally considered beyond government control.”

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Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. While most Americans watched the 9/11 attacks on television, the guardians of the nation's air-control and air-defense systems had the unenviable task of trying to halt them. Working from interviews and tape archives, Spencer's minute-by-minute chronicle recreates their heroics in nerve-racking detail. In her telling, air-traffic controllers panicked as a seemingly routine—and quickly spotted—initial hijacking metastasized into a coordinated terror attack of unknown size and direction, and tried to divine which of thousands of planes on their radars had become guided missiles. Airline pilots dodged through suddenly chaotic skies while assuring suspicious control towers that they weren't hijackers themselves. Meanwhile, Air National Guard fighter pilots, hobbled by bad communications and misdirection, scrambled to defend against a murky threat. (Spencer's sources insist there was a fighter in position to stop United 93, had its passengers not brought it down, by having the pilot ram the airliner with his F-16.) Spencer, a flight instructor, expertly elucidates the complexities and pitfalls of American aviation as it faced a staggering challenge. (June 3)

Politics and Prose
August 20, 2008

The book is written by Lynn Spencer, a first-time author, Duke graduate, and commercial pilot. To call this book riveting would be an understatement. After I started reading it, I struggled to stop for meals and sleep. It's awfully unsettling, too: the rumors and the chaos in the skies from lack of communication or inaccuracy of information are hard to fathom. Those of us watching CNN that day knew more than the control towers and the FAA knew. Lynn Spencer does a tremendous job of recreating the confusion of all the flight crews grasping to understand what was happening. I'll be giving many copies of this as gifts at holiday time, the perfect book for those who are not necessarily good readers.

Arizona Republic
Anne Stephenson - Jun. 6, 2008

'Touching History'
Lynn Spencer
(Free Press, $26)

"We have some planes." That's what the voice said in an overheard radio transmission from hijacked American Flight 11. In the hours after it and United Flight 175 crashed into the World Trade Center, those words haunted officials on the ground. Some planes. How many hijacked aircraft were still in the air? Five? Ten? Spencer, a commercial pilot, has written a nerve-racking account of 9/11 through the eyes of pilots, air-traffic controllers and government officials who coped with anarchy in the sky. Men and women who thrive on order and predictability faced chaos and made decisions with no illusion of certainty or control. Spencer includes the stories of many people who acted that day, from the FAA's national operations manager to a pilot whose plane almost collided with United 175 to another whose plane was erroneously suspected of being hijacked. The book can be confusing, but ultimately it's a riveting story.

Bookpage Review
Voices in the 9/11 skies
John T. Slaina

Readers, prepare for a quick takeoff with Lynn Spencer's Touching History, a new account of the experiences of pilots, air traffic controllers and military commanders on 9/11. The book begins with controllers losing radio contact with American Airlines Flight 11 moments before it slams into one of the World Trade Center towers. Weaving in the stories of the three other commercial airliners that were hijacked by terrorists that day, and the accounts of those who tried to prevent the planes from crashing into their targets, Touching History accelerates at a steady pace.

Never mind that readers already know the horrible outcome; the personal interviews and Cockpit Voice Recorder transcripts of conversations between pilots and controllers are riveting. And the tales are not limited to the four airliners lost that day. The book includes the perspectives of controllers trying to piece together what's happening, military pilots trying to track the hijacked planes, other commercial pilots desperately trying to land while worrying whether there is a hijacker onboard their planes, and FAA and Pentagon personnel struggling to communicate.

Spencer, a commercial pilot and flight instructor, has the expertise to understand what was going on in the skies on 9/11. She also clearly did her homework, listening to thousands of hours of taped air traffic conversations, and interviewing dozens of pilots, controllers and military officials who were on the front lines on 9/11. The transcripts provide the book with a sense of immediacy, as though the reader were in the cockpit or control tower, while the interviews offer important background and context.

If there is fault with Touching History, it is that its momentum slows in the final chapters. When the fourth hijacked airliner—United Flight 93—crashes in a field in Pennsylvania, it reduces the impact of the remaining stories of confused and fearful pilots and controllers still operating in other parts of the country. And Spencer's conclusion that the military was responsive and in control of the skies differs sharply with the opinion of the 9/11 Commission, which concluded that military pilots appeared slow and unsure of the location of the hijacked planes. Indeed, after readingTouching History, some readers might come away with the frightening feeling that the FAA, the Pentagon and the president didn't really know what was happening, had no clear lines of communication and no coordinated plan. Still, Spencer's book is worth reading as a thoroughly researched, clearly written account that offers new insights into that fateful day that changed America forever.

John T. Slania is a professor at Loyola University Chicago.

Superior Compilation of the Government Response on September 11, 2001
June 6, 2008
George Primbs "Book Hunter" (Washington D.C.)

To understand what happened on September 11, 2001 you must read this book.

This superb book, written by a pilot, ties together all the different government responses to September 11 into a very interesting and readable book.

The book sheds new light on the numerous unprecedented actions taken that day by many different agencies and pilots.

Touching History begins the morning of September 11, 2001 with air traffic control sensing that something is wrong. The book tells how the FAA, NORAD, Air National Guard, Air Force, Department of Transportation, Secret Service, White House, Department of Defense and the pilots handled and responded to the events of September 11.

You will understand the thoughts and emotions of ground controllers, administrators, military pilots and commercial pilots as they respond to the surprising and confusing events of 9/11.

The book examines the mindset of those on the ground and those in the air and provides a broad overview of how the major players responded that day.

There were air traffic controllers preventing mid air collisions, airline pilots trying to land at evacuating airports, fighter pilots rushing to battle, agencies trying to communicate with one another and local commanders trying to set up protective zones over New York City and Washington D.C.

Tough decisions about which fighter jets to send up and with which weapons and their orders are discussed in depth.

Touching History will provide an exhaustive in depth understanding of the events of September 11. Other than listening to the released NORAD tapes, which is recommended, this is a definitive book of events that day.

While some Generals say that the 9/11 report has a political agenda, this book gives a better historical and accurate look at who made what decisions and what their thought processes were.

July 18, 2008 by Tom Challies

I think we all remember where we were and what we were doing when, on September 11, 2001, we first heard that a plane had slammed into the World Trade Center. It is one of those moments we will undoubtedly always remember, just as so many people have never forgotten where they were when they heard about the assassination of J.F.K.. They are seared forever into our memories. They are utterly unique moments in history. How could we ever forget?

While the story of what happened on that day has already been told in many books and in several movies, none of the accounts has told it from the perspective of the pilots of the 5000 planes that were in the skies that day or from the perspective of those on the ground who were responsible for the air-control and air-defense systems that controlled the skies over America. In Touching History Lynn Spencer tackles the story from this new perspective and in so doing writes a book that is both fascinating and riveting. A commercial pilot herself, she is well acquainted with the decisions and the responsibilities faced by pilots and controllers across the nation.

In an interesting literary decision, Spencer opted to write the book in the present tense rather than the more obvious past tense. This makes the book read less like history and more like current events. It transports the reader to the day itself, giving a moment-by-moment breakdown of the actions and decisions of the day. The book effectively takes the reader back to that day, stirring memories and evoking emotion perhaps long forgotten. Though the reader knows how the story ends, it makes the journey no less interesting.

Meticulously researched, the book actually makes some important corrections to the official 9/11 Commission Report and introduces some interesting new details to the account. Even those who have read other books on the subject will find new information here as the author deliberately covers some of the lesser-known drama. For example, she writes quite extensively about Delta flight 1989, an aircraft officials became convinced had also been hijacked. The plane was refused landing on the East Coast and was eventually forced to land in Cleveland where it sat for hours on the tarmac before a SWAT team finally approached and cleared the plane. She tells such stories from the perspective of those involved, not as abstract history but as personal narrative. She writes also of fighter pilots who, flying unarmed planes, were ready and willing to sacrifice their lives by crashing into hijacked airliners to save lives on the ground; she writes about air traffic controllers who were faced with almost unimaginable stress and the nearly-impossible task of, for the first time in history, grounding every plane in the country. Spencer has a knack for detail and for finding and describing interesting stories.

Touching History is a book that drew me in and wouldn’t let me go until I had finished the last page. In fact, I took concerted effort for me not to destroy a whole work day reading it. It is that good. Anyone who wants to have a better understanding of what transpired on September 11 will want to read this account.

This book was expertly written. The personal accounts of pilots, air traffic controllers and the military are, at times, almost too incredible to believe. The timeline the author uses engrosses the reader and at times it feels like "all this" is happening over the course of a day or two, not a matter of just a few hours. If you are really interested in how the skies of America were shut down that day, then this is the book for you. Even if you don't have any sort of airline, air traffic or military background, the accounts are easily understood. Highly recommend!!

- M.S. Milwaukee, WI

Ms. Spencer's book is evocative of Sebastian Junger's "Perfect Storm" in its ability to relate a story where the reader already knows the ending but cannot help but be drawn deeply into the superbly rendered minute-by-minute account of that terrible day. The author does an excellent job of explaining complex military and aviation procedures in an interesting, completely understandable way. We are introduced to many people who most of us probably never heard of before but whose response to 9/11 should place them on the honor roll of heros of that day. Ms. Spencer's writing lets us feel their shock, frustrations, victories, doubts and triumphs. It is obvious, from page one, that Ms. Spencer's research was painstaking and meticulous. There are no short-cuts. The title is absolutely correct; this was an "untold story" and one that needed to be told. It is fortunate that a writer as skilled as Ms. Spencer decided to tell it. The book reads like a finely crafted novel yet throughout it hits you; this really happened and these were the people who were there.

The Marine Corps has a saying: "Improvise, adapt and overcome." Ms. Spencer shows us how the airlines, FAA and military did just that.

- M.B. Rochester. NY
By Joe McCain, MSgt, USAF (Retired) (Rome, NY) - See all my reviews

This review is from: Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama That Unfolded in the Skies Over America on 9/11 (Hardcover)

Mere words cannot begin to describe the gripping reality that Ms. Spencer captured in this book. From the cockpits of jet fighters, to the flight deck of the airliners, to those who tried to make sense of it all from behind radar screens, Ms. Spencer captured the anxiety, frustration, complexity, and at times, feeling of helplessness of all those who tried desperately to protect this country. This isn't a book so much about the what happened nearly as much as it is about those whose blood, sweat and tears went into their attempts to stop it and then come to grips with it. Having spent over 3 years of her life dedicated to this project, Ms. Spencer went to the people and listened to their stories, heard the quiver in their voices and saw the pain in their eyes as they spoke. This book takes you there. It puts you on the "inside" to see first hand what was happening and allows you to witness the many obstacles that had to somehow be overcome to fight against a never before seen enemy using a never before heard of tactic against American civilians, on American soil. I can tell you that Ms. Spencer got it right and tells it in a manner anyone can understand and appreciate. She captured the heart and soul of everyone involved.

5.0 out of 5 stars Like being there, June 7, 2008
By Mark (Washington State) - See all my reviews

This review is from: Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama That Unfolded in the Skies Over America on 9/11 (Hardcover)

This is one of those rare books that are non-fiction, but pull you in like a great novel- just like you were there! The author, Lynn Spencer has done a superlative job of putting together the facts in a way that even though we know the eventual outcome we still want to read all the way to the end.

When I first began reading, I thought the story would center on the four hijacked flights- but those stories have already been largely told. Rather, she tells the "big picture" of how those four incidents touched off an incredible series of events that affected tens of thousands of people that day and how individuals in extremely tense and difficult circumstances made the decisions that kept a very bad situation from becoming catastrophic.

It can be seen in retrospect that our air traffic control system had many faults in dealing with this crisis, but it was the individuals involved that rose above the technical difficulties and "standard operating procedures" to make our skies safe that awful day.

This is their story and we all owe a debt of gratitude to them for what they accomplished- all of the air controllers, civilian and military, leadership on the ground and of course all of the many, many pilots and aircrew who had to deal with something completely extraordinary.

This book brought it all back and made me feel many of the same emotions I felt on 9/11.

Personally, I feel we all need to remember what took place that day so that it will NEVER happen again.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, detailed story of a day of chaos, July 1, 2008
By Bruce Trinque (Amston, CT United States) - See all my reviews


This review is from: Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama That Unfolded in the Skies Over America on 9/11 (Hardcover)

Lynn Spencer's "Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama That Unfolded in the Skies Over America on 9/11" is an engrossing, compelling book about a tremendously complex event. Based upon numerous first-hand accounts and interviews, "Touching History" covers in great detail the entire breadth of 9/11 in the air: the air traffic control system, the airports, the airplanes in the sky, the air defense jets scrambled to respond to an unprecendented event.

Spencer herself is a commercial pilot and flight instructor, so she brings a particular sensitivity and understanding to a complex subject, and she tells the story superbly well. Along the way she addresses a number of misconceptions about what happened, and did not happen, that day. The depth of detail is extraordinary, rendering an unusually vivid picture of events. "Touching History" is filled not with cold, hard facts, but with moments of great human drama. In the end, I was left with a strong feeling of admiration for those men and women -- pilots, air crew, air controllers, National Guard pilots -- who acted so swiftly to bring manageable order out of extreme chaos

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