ZERO PLUS 1097 DAYS,--New York, NY, Sunday,
September 12, 2004--Last
night, around 9 p.m., I sent the spirit of Bill Biggart floating
down the Hudson River, one of his great loves during his life
on this earth.
a kinship with Bill Biggart
the only news person killed at the World Trade Center on September
11, 2001, was a war photographer. He and I shared a kinship,
for we both served as combat correspondents who captured war
through the lenses of our cameras, attempting, as any journalist,
to preserve war's horror so that future generations might
seek to avoid the pain, suffering and anguish it creates.
didn't personally know Biggart, but I spiritually knew him
as one might know a brother.
sister, Emily and I, have been close friends for years. Emily
constant told me how much I reminded her of her brother, an
avid sailor as I was, who owned a boat and kept it docked
in a slip in the Hudson during the summer months.
was with Emily the morning of September 11, 2001, having coffee
at an outdoors Starbucks when overhead, the glinting belly
of a jetliner screamed as it flung itself low, ultimately
bound to smash into the Twin Towers and ignite the War on
Terrorism we daily face.
I packed up my computer to rush to Ground Zero, Emily screamed
at me not to go. She told me I was as crazy as her brother,
always running into the mouth of disaster, risking my life
to record events at the edge of death.
smiled at Emily and told her: "It's my job, Emily. I
can't help it."
gave me a big hug and yelled at me to be careful. At the same
instant, unbenownst to her or to me, her brother rushed down
to Ground Zero with his cameras. It would be a one-way trip
from Bill Biggart. He would die pointing his camera into the
face of the Beast of Terror.
the last pictures taken by Biggart before his death
on Nine Eleven
would live to tell about it.
was horrible over the next few days as Emily waited to hear
about her brother. No one had seen him, heard from him. This
wasn't uncommon. When Biggart went to report wars and disasters,
he was often gone for days, weeks and even months. Often,
he was thought dead until his photos popped up, reflecting
the ugly, pathetic face of war or disaster in close ups, a
trait Biggart was respected for because he liked to shove
his camera into the face of disaster rather than use his telescopic
Bill took pictures of Nine Eleven, I wrote about it
of taking pictures of Nine Eleven, I sat in the rubble and
wrote about it. My pictures were words, verbs, nouns, adjectives,
preserving as a photo the impact of war on the imagination.
Following the collapse of the buildings, I sank down in the
rubble and pounded the keys of my laptop as the debris of
disaster rained down on my head. I too wanted a picture of
the Beast of Horror, only mine would be in black and white
with spaces between each line, and requiring a spellcheck
to finally develop.
Emily saw me the first time after Nine Eleven she ran and
threw her arms around me and gave me a great hug. "You
crazy sonofabitch," she exclaimed. "I'm so happy
the ceremonies at Ground Zero representing Bill's sister
the moment she did not know Bill had died. I didn't realize
I was her surrogate brother, or that over the next three years
I would honor Bill as I would my own flesh and blood, or,
treat him as my soul shadow, the part of me that died that
day so I could live.
have always found it ironic that the two journalists--one
a former combat correspondent from Vietnam--and the other
a modern war photographer--would be so eternally linked by
the events of Nine Eleven.
Bill's name on a piece of concrete
odds that Emily Biggart would be one of my closest friends,
and that her brother would die at the same instant at Ground
Zero that I survived, and that both of us were there on a
mission of reporting the Beast of Terror, is more than coincidence.
It is as though the universe takes one thing and gives another,
and etches into granite the reinforcement that everything
happens so some reason we may not comprehend or understand,
but, in the ultimate playing out of destiny, has a clear and
Bill also loved sailing, another enjoyment we shared
Emily found out her brother had been killed, she went into
a rage, not only against me, but against the insanity of war
and people who put themselves in harm's way to face it. I
held her as she cried, and over the following months and years,
served as a bridge to her brother in my own particular way.
gave my wife and me the family number that provided access
to all events for family members so that we could represent
her in honoring her brother. She could not handle them herself.
went down into the original pit--the empty, ominous grave
of Ground Zero when President Bush came to console the victims
of Nine Eleven. Then, it was only a recently spaded grave,
towering some hundred feet up, and reeking still of the smell
etched Bill Biggart's name into a slab of broken concrete,
paid our respects. I had deep chills. I felt I was walking
on the bones of the dead--and I was.
the course of the past three years, we have attended many
events in honor of the dead. Our presence is to honor their
lives--the legacy that they still exist hovering over Ground
Zero, reminding us all to be Sentinels of Vigilance...to fight
the Beast of Terror with Courage, Conviction and Right Actions
for future generations rather than succumb to the Triad of
Terrorism--Fear, Intimidation and Complacency.
night, we honored Bill Biggart in a special way.
floating lantern ceremony commemorating the WTC victims
was held at Pier 40.......
Pier 40, a group of Buddhist monks arranged a tribute of lights,
a traditional floating lantern ceremony commemorating the
victims of the WTC. The ancient custom of "Floating Lighted
Lanterns" in the waterways is a symbolic way of respecting
the lives that have gone before us. Also, it can represent
a light of hope for peace and harmony that are sent out over
the waters of transmigration.
my wife and I painted Bill Biggart's name on one to
honor his memory and the light he gave the world through
wife and I painted Bill's name on a sheet of paper cut in
the shape of a lantern that was then draped over a frame that
composed a floating candle. We also included the logo of the
VigilanceVoice--SV--for Semper Vigilantes--always vigilance.
night descended, kayaks paddled to the pier and pulled the
lighted candles--over 120 of them--around the harbor. It was
perhaps Bill Biggart's last official sail on the Hudson.
a few blocks away, two lights speared up from Ground Zero,
symbolizing the mystical remembrance of the Twin Towers. Inside
the beams of light danced sparkles, fireflies of the soul,
igniting as though they were the spirits of Nine Eleven circling
in the beam of light.
we walked home to our East Village apartment, I called our
grandchildren. Sarah, our six-year-old, answered. I told her
about going out in her backyard and looking up at the lights
in the sky.
are they, G-Pa?" she inquired.
are ladders to Heaven," I said, prompted to do so by
my wife who was listening.
to Heaven...wow, G-Pa. That's cool." I listened as she
paused. I could hear her voice ringing out to her mother:
"Mommy...mommy...can we go see the lights outside...up
in the sky...G-Pa says they are Ladders to Heaven...can we...mommy...can
thought about Sarah's eagerness to see the Ladders to Heaven
told my grandaughter the lights shooting up in the sky
were "ladders to heaven"
thought about the sparkles in the shafts of light that appeared
to dance and sparkle, as though they were the souls of all
the Sentinels of Vigilance. Part of me wanted to discount
the sparkles as mere dust caught in the shafts, but the other
part knew they were far more.
did my granddaughter. She knew the Ladders to Heaven were
real even without seeing them.
is so that I know Bill Biggart is in the middle of the Circle
of Vigilance, taking pictures of the Sentinels of Vigilance
battling the Beast of Terror. He has not stopped living--even
if he's not here on this earth in physical form.
saw his pictures last night.
were the sparkles in the light.
were the Ladders to Heaven.
from Ground Zero September 11, 2004
from Floating Lanterns Nine Eleven Ceremony