The Skies Belong To Us-Love and Terror In the Golden Age of Hijacking by Brendan I. Koerner

I’ve spoken of this scenario before. I see a book at the library. I pick it up and think it looks cool but ultimately end up putting it back on the shelf. That repeats itself 3-5 more times before I finally get the book out. 9 times out of 10, the book I put back all those times turns out to be fucking badass when I finally do take the plunge. I can’t help but wonder if said book would be as cool if I grabbed it the first time I spotted it.

So this true story is a forgotten piece of history and it’s a doozy. Fuck I just used the word doozy. Anyway moving right along, the concept of hijacking an airplane is an old school phenomenon. Throughout the 60s and 70s it was almost a daily occurrence. People did it for all kinds of reasons. Some wanted money while others were pissed about Vietnam. Then you had the flat out nutjobs. Most wanted to go to Cuba while others didn’t have a clue what they were going to do once in the air. The airlines were more concerned with making money and keeping the passengers happy then any kind of security measures. It may be hard to believe but there was a time where you could have anything from a .44 Magnum to a kilo of heroin in your carry-on bag.

This book centers around 2 people. Roger Holder is a black Army veteran who saw heavy combat in Vietnam that left him very traumatized. He was released from the Army with a dishonorable discharge despite having performed brilliantly in combat. Cathy Kerkow was a white party girl and sometime prostitute. Her main goal was to live an exciting life and erase as much of her small town upbringing as possible. Together their chemistry allowed for an adventure that was a true product of the times.

Holder had a grievance pretty much against the whole world. He came up with a plan to hijack a commercial passenger plane as a vague protest against the war. Kerkow went along with it because she and Holder were very much in love and as I said before, she wanted adventure any way possible. Well, they got $500,000 and wound up living with Eldridge Cleaver in Algiers. At that point things got interesting. The scope of the story is epic and global. The minute Holder and Kerkow stepped onto the plane they had control of that flight but forces in the world around them were already lining up against them.

I couldn’t put this book down. It amazed me. In the post 9-11 world, all the history surrounding the hijacking of airplanes, I couldn’t believe some of the things that happened in the past and the fact that nobody learned a thing. This book is well worth a read. It’s American history of the highest order. I hate flying. It gives me massive anxiety. As I read this, I kept trying to imagine what it would be like to be on a hijacked plane and how during a period of time in this country, there were very high odds you would experience just that.

Dave Wahlman