Monday.. January 14, 2002—Ground
Zero Plus 125
Montana Vigilance Challenges
Terrorism Out Of The Chute
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
.HELENA, Mont.--January 14--Terrorism makes a wide swath
around the Rocky Mountains, especially avoiding the borders of
Montana. It knows Montanans will ride them down, hog tie them, and
perform some range vigilance if necessary.
At least, that's the impression I got when my wife returned
to New York City from her last visit here in December. At the Helena
airport she was literally body searched--patted down in private
places--asked to remove her shoes, and a lethal weapon was
confiscated--a fingernail file.
My wife is a home-grown Montana girl, a graduate of the now
defunct Catholic High School, class of 1960. She is about as far to
the right of appearing like a Terrorist as Pee-Wee Herman is to
looking like Gary Cooper. She has blonde hair, sharp blue eyes,
dominant genes passed on by her Teutonic mother, Charlotte Lane
(formerly Charlotte Schneider).
When she decided to go on this trip, I offered to join her
to get a taste of Montana Terrorism Vigilance. Since September 11th
Lori and I have been publishing the Terrorism Diaries daily, relating
our experiences at Ground Zero and expanding the idea of Semper
Vigilante--Always Vigilant--to every aspect of life.
Even in New York, the hub of Terrorism activities, I
couldn't imagine my wife being body searched. But then I forgot
about Montana's independence, its rugged individualism and it dogged
determination to "keep the bad guy away from the camp fire."
I grew up in Oregon, a northern tough-minded state that
thrives on its individuality and despises intrusions on its rights to
be sovereign within a union. Also, over the past thirty-five years
of marriage, I have visited Montana frequently, enjoying the fly
fishing at Rock Creek and the Gallatin--those special places my
father-in-law, Stan, would show me that only locals who have earned
the right to fish there knew about.
Years ago I had a couple of other great experiences here.
One, I interviewed Cowboy Rodeo Champion Larry Mahan for a major news
syndicate when he was competition at the Last Chance Stampede and
learned from him what it was like to have a 1,500-pound bull crush you
with his weight and then after healing,, climb aboard a bucking beast
whose simple goal was to terrorize you off his back.
The other event was watching the Royal Lipizzaner Troupe
dance their majestic horses around the fairgrounds to music that was
being played out of sync. I remember part of me wanting to laugh,
and the other part awed by the power of the horsemanship. Even the
worst accompanying music couldn't stop the performance.
There was a third classic event that comes in two parts.
One, I left Helena to go to Vietnam. I was
on leave saying goodbye to my fiancée, Lori, and boarded
the plane with the family car keys in my pocket.
Only when I landed in San Diego, Calif. did I realize
I still had them. On the phone, Lori told
me after the plane left another Northwest flight landed,
and her mother thought the plane had turned around and
come back to deliver the car keys. She ran out onto
the tarmac, waving, expecting me to toss the keys to her
on the run. Those were the days--when
you could run out on the tarmac of the airport.
The second part of the classic event I recall about Montana
was my encounter with Sheriff Spider Rose of East Helena. Lori and I
had been married in Helena upon my return from Vietnam, and I was
finishing up my degree in journalism at San Diego State University.
We came to visit that summer and pulled my motorcycle I used to travel
to school from Pacific Beach. I warned Lori that I would probably get
a ticket just because I had a motorcycle with California plates and,
at the time, was wearing a beard.
Sure enough, old Sheriff Al (Spider) Rose pulled me over in
the heart of East Helena. Back then, East Helena was a known speed
trap, with speeds posted every few yards so that if you didn't
decelerate just exactly on time, old Spider would pop out and write
you up. Revenue for the city and his sources of income.
To this day, I refute the violation Sheriff Spider alleged I
made--an illegal "U" turn. I had been very cautious, knowing the
booby traps Spider spread out for guys with California plates and
beards. Sitting in the police car with Spider, angry at being
pulled over, I tried to talk my way out of it at first.
"What are you doing in these parts?" Spider grumped as he
looked at my driver's license and began to write.
"I'm Stan Lane's son-in-law. Former Marine. Just back from
"Oh, yeah," Spider responded. He kept writing. I tried "Mr.
Nice Guy" again.
"And your wife, sir, (I always use sir to be respectful until
I get really pissed), she sewed my wife's wedding dress--the one for
Lori Lane. Do you remember that?" It was less than a year before
when we were married.
"Yeah, I remember," Spider said, writing away, non-plussed by
anything I said.
"I mean, sir, I didn't make an illegal U turn, and if I did,
don't you think a warning would be appropriate since you know who I
am, you know who Stan Lane is, and your wife sewed my wife's wedding
dress. After all, doesn't that mean anything?"
Spider turned to me, squared me in the eyes with his, twitched
a smile onto his face, and handed me the ticket pad to sign. "Don't
mean a thing to me, son," he said. "You sign here and you can pay me
now, or you can show up in traffic court on Monday and pay the judge."
Now, I was pissed. Here I was, a vet, a semi-local, linked
by marriage threads to his seamstress wife--surely I shouldn't be
ridden hard and wet and then left on the roadside to catch cold.
"Look, this is a railroad job, Spider. Hell,
you're just writing out tickets to anyone.
I protest I'm not going to sign it."
Spider was cool. He reminded me of our chief interrogator.
When we took prisoners this lieutenant with a deep southern accent who
spoke fluent Vietnamese would talk to the prisoner in
English--southern English--real nice and soothing and quiet--and would
tell him him how he was going to cut his throat if he didn't tell him
where the booby traps were, or the ambushes waiting for us were
positioned. He would press his lips right next to the VC's ear, and
almost whisper to him as he held a sharp Bowie Knife to the VC's
He never raised his Voice, but if you were squatting with him,
watching, listening, a cool chill ran through you for in the soft
aplomb of his Voice was a deadly firmness, a knowledge of the power of
life over death. The prisoners almost always started to rattle off
information, blurting out everything we needed to know.
Old Spider turned to me with that same demeanor, and in a
soft, quiet Voice said: "Now, if you don't sign this here ticket son,
I'm gonna have to arrest you: put you in jail for the weekend;
impound your cycle. Then you can rant and rave to the judge on
Monday, or Tuesday. Or, you can just pay me thirty-five dollars and
sign this ticket and be on your way. I'll even give you a receipt,
It dawned on me.
I was a stranger, no matter how hard I tried to be a local.
No matter to whom I was married. No matter who sewed my wife's
wedding dress. I would have violated one of Spider's ubiquitous
speed-trap signs if I had walked my bike through the town.
And, my wife, despite her blonde hair and blue eyes and birth
certificate that says she was born in East Helena, Montana--well,
she's now a New Yorker. She's molted off her Big Sky skin. She
obviously isn't a native anymore.
Vigilance, I thought.
Yeah, I could hardly wait to prowl the streets of Montana in
search of the signs of Vigilance.
But then I realized that they had the gates to the state
pretty well covered.
If a blonde with a nail file couldn't get past the Montana
Sentinels of Vigilance, I doubted that Osama or his crew would try to
penetrate the Blue Sky Country.
To Jan. 13--THE PEACE AND VIGILANCE OF A FLAG
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