Diary 12-1-11-30

  The VigilanceVoice      
Dec. 1, Saturday--Ground Zero Plus 81


          Today, obviously, is not December 7, the day sixty years ago that America was attacked by  the Japanese.

          Instead, it is the first day of December.  It is a time of Vigilance.  A time to prepare for what “did happen” sixty years ago.   A time to remember we can never forget what can happen if we fall into a state of complacency; if we aren’t keeping one eye open all the time to the message Terrorism brings to us—the message of Vigilance.   If we forget to remember, then Terrorism seizes upon the opportunity to attack when least expected, as it did on Sunday, December 7, 1942, or, on September 11, 2001.   In this case, we have six days to prepare to remember Pearl Harbor.   
            Over a half-Century ago, America was complacent about being attacked.   Even though Hawaii was thousands of miles from the mainland, and, at the time, not even a State of the Union, the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor represented an assault on America.  It launched us into a World War, just as the attack on September 11 has done.   Some historians say it was the result of complacency—a lack of preparation of mind and attitude that led us into the disaster.
            Back then, Americans flooded to the recruiters stations across the land to sign up and fight the “evil ones”—to defend Old Glory, and to remember the memories of the men and women who died that day, the “day of infamy.”
            On December 1, 2001, we can turn our clocks back and look down the road at what happened on December 7.   If we look carefully, we will see a nation that wasn’t vigilant—unprepared for Terrorism from another land far, far away.   Like the Terrorists of today, the Japanese agenda was to instill fear, intimidation and complacency on America.   Their sneak attack was designed to “cripple” America’s fighting spirit, and shun us from attacking them.  

            The reverse happened.  America’s power and might grew from a grass roots foundation.   Men and women went to war--civilians went to building ships and planes.   The entire country rallied in support of the war effort.  Unity ruled.   The Evil Ones bonded America.  
            Similarly, America today has thrown its grass roots convictions and actions into defending our country from future attacks.  Rare, is the anti-war agenda.   Jane Fondas of the world are muted by a spirit far greater than activism has known for decades.   Not one single Voice in Congress voted against the “act of war.”   
           Today, we are bent on the “destruction of the enemy.”  Back a half-Century ago our final knock-out blow against the Japanese came in two nuclear bombs, dropped on a country that had thrown the “first punch.”   The random killing of people in Japan ended the war, and, we thought, warned any nation that an attack on America would be met with brutal retaliation.  It was a warning to the world—“don’t mess with America.”

            But the world of Terrorism has faint memories.   The bin Laden’s of modern times know that annihilation of their armies is impossible.  They are not sovereign entities, but rather bands of gangsters who shove guns in children’s faces and threaten their parents with the destruction of their children if they do now kowtow to their demands.    These are not the warriors of the past.   They are the monsters of the 21st Century—men and women who will kill anyone and anything to achieve their ghoulish goals.
            What makes December 1st  important, is that it signals the necessity of preparedness in the future.   Had America been more vigilant back then, perhaps the American fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor, and the 1,500 who were killed that day, might be living today.   If we had kept one eye open to Terrorism then, we might have thwarted Japan’s boldness and aggression.
            Today, December 1, we must remember Pearl Harbor as a symbol of never forgetting to remember what can happen when we let down our guard.

One day, the desire to keep one eye open to fight Terrorism will grow tired.  The eyelid will droop.  We will want to forget September 11.  We will let it fade, as we let Pearl Harbor fade.  As our eyelid grows leaden, the Terrorists of the world will watch it shut.  And, as complacency grows, so will Terrorism’s boldness.   When our eye finally shuts, when we feel safe and secure, then the unexpected will happen.   The gates to our kingdom will be opened to all the ghouls of the world.

           So, today, December 1, start remembering Pearl Harbor.   Keep one eye open.   Don’t wait until December 7 to remember.    Then, we might remember to not forget September 11 or the need to be Semper Vigilantes—Always Vigilant—in our fight against Terrorism both within, and without.

Nov. 30, Friday--Ground Zero Plus 80

            I was once told by a wise old man to find at least One Percent Good in the worst of things.   Using that simple formula, I looked hard to find something good in the aftermath of the Terrorists’ attacks on September 11.
           Searching for my One Percent Good Factor was like hunting Osama bin Laden in the ancient caves of Afghanistan.  However, I was luckier than our Special Forces scouring a far-off land in search of the “evil doers.”  My hunt ended at the annual Rockefeller Plaza Christmas Tree

Lighting ceremony, which had its humble beginnings in 1931 when construction workers stuck an undecorated pine in a pile of muck as they built Rockefeller Center.
            Since then, the tradition has grown into a national and international event.  It has become a signpost that the “Season of Peace” is upon us, and joy and happiness reigns no matter what ails the world.   This year the ceremony honored the fallen victims and heroes of Nine Eleven.
            I took my five-year-old grandson, Matt, to the historic event.   I wanted him to experience the “joy” of being at the famous tree lighting, especially this year when our nation was healing its wounds from the recent assault of Terrorism.  I figured it might not mean much to him at age five, but as the years passed, perhaps the memory would glisten and he could “remember back” to Nine Eleven and how his G-Pa took him to see the magnificence of a national event honoring those who gave their lives for others.
              We left the East Village for Rockefeller Plaza around 4:30 p.m. I thought the tree lighting was going to take place around 6 or 6:30.   Unfortunately, it didn’t occur until nearly 9 p.m.  Over a hundred thousand people attend the event.  They were all politely pushing and shoving to jockey themselves for a prime view of the 81-foot Norway Spruce towering in the center of Rockefeller Plaza from its humble beginnings seventy years ago.
         The towering “Tree of Peaceful Perfection” stood magnificently dark as Matt and I were jammed into a corral of people from all over the world waiting for the “Magic Switch” to be thrown by Laura Bush and New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.   The switch would ignite 30,000 red, white and blue lights individually wrapped around each branch of the 71-year-old tree that was donated to the city from the backyard of Andrew and Kelly Tornabene.  Five miles of lights were used to turn darkness into life.  

           I had read the history of the tree’s lighting.   In 1941, just after the attack on Pearl Harbor, New Yorkers lit the tree but not candles in the buildings’ windows, as was originally planned.  Until 1945, they exercised a blackout on the tree lights to preserve electricity and to keep the city safe from “sneak attack.” 
          Times have changed.  In 2001, sixty years after Pearl Harbor, the citizens came to celebrate their heroes of September 11 in blazing color.   They came to honor the “victims,” and to “rejoice” in America’s recovery from a stunning blow to her security and sanctuary.  The Associated Press quoted a24-year-old, Breena Salberg, of Rockland County, who summed up the power of Americans to stand tall in the face of danger.
           “I figured that after all we went through,” she said, “we might as well come down and face our fears.   New York is still the best!”
            Salberg’s comment and the lighting of the tree were two more symbolic arrows in the quiver of America’s Vigilance to stand tall in the face of Terrorism’s nefarious shadow.   Terrorism’s goal is to inflict fear, intimidation and complacency upon its victims—both during the attack, and in the shock waves that follow.   Fortunately, America hasn’t cowered.  It held its World Series with the President of the United States throwing a perfect strike.   The wife of one of the victims of the flight heading to crash into the White House rode on the same flight her husband took that ill-fated day, sitting in the same seat he had been assigned to show Terrorism fear wasn’t an option.
            America, despite the anthrax attacks and warnings of bin Laden that he would attack us again, has fought Terrorism’s fear with courage, its intimidation with conviction, and complacency with action.  The “evil one” hasn’t fragmented America, but instead, has unified it.  And the Rockefeller Tree Lighting was just one more punctuation point I wanted my grandson to lock into his thesaurus of memories.
          I felt all these glorious feelings about the tree lighting for about an hour.   But as the clock ticked and the waiting and standing and pushing and jostling began to wear on me and the 45-pound five-year-old I had safely tucked on my shoulders to avoid being crushed into mulch, I grew more and more restless.
          I’m six-feet-four.  Matt, sitting on my shoulders, had a prime view of a dark tree and the backs of people’s heads.   I asked him how he was doing.  He leaned down and yelled loudly in my ear:  “G-Pa, I’m bored!”

          After two hours of him squirming on my shoulders, draping himself around my neck like a human scarf, telling me stories about how the tree’s roots held it in the ground, and why the star was shaped the way it was for angels to sit on—we finally asked somebody what time the lighting was going to take place.
          When they said “about nine-o’clock,” Matt immediately had to go to the bathroom and so did I.   We had already been mushed into a sandwich of “early-bird” bodies for over two hours.  Staying meant another two-hours of being crunched until the lights went on.   We decided to bail out for one good reason.  I didn’t want Matt to remember the historic event as the night he peed on G-Pa’s neck.
          “Want to go to the toy store?” I asked, knowing the answer before the question passed over my lips.
          “Yes!  Yes!  Yes!” Matt exclaimed.
           We jumped the restraining fences corralling the crowd. There was no way we could push and shove our way to the front to be released by one of many hundreds of police herding the masses.  As we left, we immediately collided with throngs of people mashing and squishing their way toward the Plaza.  The battle to move forward was not unlike swimming upstream in a flood. Finally, we broke out onto 5th Avenue and started walking up the street toward the toy store.  
            That’s where I found the One Percent of Good.
            Everywhere I looked, American Flags prominently blended into the Christmas decorations.   The Christmas lights--usually white--were a mixture of reds, whites and blues.   The finest stores in the world displayed America’s colors, some with masterful elegance, others lighting up Peace Symbols artfully so the political versus the seasonal didn’t clash.  Elizabeth Arden’s front window displayed a graceful American Flag along with the words “Peace To All.”

           Patriotism was still alive, I thought.  As the Season of Joy neared, I had wondered if perhaps America’s previous complacency might settle in and  evaporate the unification that had been the hallmark of the Terrorist fallout.   Pre-September 11, America was divided into social, political, economic, ethnic and religious camps—each fighting one another to either gain or retain control as the “dominant” source of freedom, or the greatest “victim” of it.
          As Matt and I strolled up 5th Avenue, peering into the windows of some of the world’s most renowned stores, America’s Flag flew at high mast.    Store window after store window glittered and sparkled, not with just the commercialization of the Holiday, but instead brightly reflected the spirit of American strength and commitment.  Norman Rockwell, who had so reverently displayed on the covers of The Saturday Evening Post Americana in its most humble and simplistic forms, would have been proud.
         I realized I was witnessing the Spirit of September 11--not just at Rockefeller Center, in the symbol of a giant Norway Spruce with 30,000 lights and a star atop it—everywhere I looked.   I saw people consuming the joy of unity.
         I thought about all those who had died that terrible Second Tuesday of September in the tragic event that scarred America’s heart and soul.   I thought of the power of their sacrifice to unify a nation—five-thousand citizens—giving their lives so that 300 million other Americans might cast aside their prejudices, their bigotry, their self-pity, their separatism, their disunity.    I felt their presence in the atmosphere.   Their spirits were not limited to Rockefeller Center;  they were the ambience of the night.  They were alive and re-spiritualizing the value of being an “American.”
          Matt’s joy underscored that feeling.  He danced and skipped up the street, eyes agog as he stared into store windows gleaming with figures and characters of the Holiday.  Each display was anointed with red, white and blue lights, or the American Flag, or some message designed to make the viewer proud of our homes, our country, of our citizenship.
          For the first time in thirty-five years, I felt proud of America.  When I came back from Vietnam, Americans spat on me, called me a “baby killer,” and admonished me and all my comrades

for fighting a “dirty war.”   The ripping and shredding of America’s patriotic threads post-Vietnam seemed to be re-stitched, re-strengthened—at least for me.  It was as though those 5,000 heroes of September 11th had sewn back the fabric of Americanism—not just the “rah rah rah” militaristic patriotism—but the kind that makes you proud to be one.  The kind that crosses ethnic, political, religious, cultural barriers as a brotherhood and sisterhood of citizenship should be.
         As Matt and I waltzed through the Walt Disney store on Fifth Avenue, and his face beamed at a part of the magic that has made America great, I felt that those who had died on Nine Eleven left a legacy of unity for all of us to cling to in desperate times.
         While there was no justification for their deaths, there was “value” in their sacrifice.  The compensation for their loss of life came in the unification of a nation around their memories as Americans who died in honor, not as victims of a tragedy.
         In memory of them, I daily wear a black armband with the words Semper Vigilantes on it which stands for “Always, Vigilant.”   It has the date, 09-11-01 stitched under the Latin phrase.  There is an American Flag in the middle of the armband, and underneath it I had the statement embroidered:  “United, In Death and Life” to symbolize the power of their memory—that they live on as Sentinels of Vigilance, reminding me and anyone I talk to, that we must stay unified in respect for their sacrifice.
         The founders of America knew symbols of unity were vital to the preservation of a nation of diversity.  They designed a slogan then that is as apropos today as it was over two-hundred years ago.  E Pluribus Unum—Out of many.  One. 
         As Matt danced about, face beaming, I felt the Tree Of Unity being lit.   It was inside us.  It was shining out through Matt’s eyes, and all the children in the store, on the streets.
         Semper Vigilantes!  E Pluribus Unum.  

          Yes, I thought.  The lighting of the American Spirit of “unity and vigilance” was the One Percent Factor.   The good that resulted from the horror was the unity of a nation and its families and its children.  
          Now, the challenge was to keep the vigilance so that the unity would last beyond the Holiday, and into the coming year, and the years following.     
          If we could always remember to be Semper Vigilantes, then those who died would never have died in vain.  
          Vigilance would keep them sitting on the  star atop the Christmas Tree as long as we didn't forget to remember.


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