Wednesday, January 2, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 113

2002 Message: 
Remember To Never Forget!

Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

             Terrorism revisited Times Square on New Years Day.
            Throngs of people squished and shoved and laughed and gawked at the power of a city that lights up the world of Hope as a magical ball drops down at the stroke of midnight to usher in a new era, a new venture into exploring humanities strengths and weaknesses over the next 525,600 minutes that comprise the unfolding year of 2002.
            I was eager to take pictures not of the crowds or the joyous thrill of being at the epicenter of a city that has hallmarked the beginning of history annually since 1904, but instead, was anxious to take pictures of the litter—the aftermath of the celebration--the fallout of New York's Midnight Madness.
            Squares of red, white and blue confetti swirled in the bitter cold air.  They escaped thousands of stomping, shuffling feet marching up and down Times Square, some belonging to tourists, others to residents, and some not knowing where they were or where they were going.  As I watched the brisk wind shovel the confetti up and cast it about to dance and glitter in the bright neon lights ushering in the new year, my thoughts were blown back to September 11.
            I remember standing near the Twin Towers, my neck craned to view the flames and black smoke roiling out of the rupture where the Terrorists’ planes had eviscerated the world- famous structure.    Like the confetti flying in the air at Times Square, millions of pieces of paper had been ejected from the Twin Towers by the impact of the planes.  The papers whirled around the building, forming what seemed to me at firsts as an eerie flock of winged creatures. The papers swarmed like vultures, watching, waiting for the buildings' knees to buckle, for its life to exhaust itself and crash forever into a mass of twisted metal and rubble and human sacrifice.
            As I knelt on the cold pavement to shoot the confetti at Times Square, the vision of those papers being whipped by the fire’s heat and tossed by the violent winds of the holocaust one-hundred and thirteen days ago, reappeared in my mind.   A chill surged through my bones far greater than that which the frigid wind caused as it coursed down my neck and bit at my naked fingers trying to push the shutter down.
            I remembered being puzzled by those flying pieces of papers around the Twin Towers, thinking they were pigeons circling around the disaster.   It didn’t register that the sky was filled with the remnants of busy, industrious businesses who, prior to 8:46a.m. on the Second Tuesday of September felt safe and secure inside one of the world’s great architectural icons.   Then, human bodies started jumping from one-thousand feet above me..   Figures flailed in the sky, tumbling like rag dolls through the layers of memos and letters and customer files dancing on the breath of Hell’s updrafts.  That's when I realized the papers weren’t pigeons, but instead, death warrants for those trapped inside, and for those heroic firemen and police and emergency workers dashing in to save as many of the victims as possible.  They had been signed my the Terrorists who slammed their plane into the heart of America.
            As I stood and listened to the sounds of people laughing and talking at Times Square, I thought of the twenty-five thousand people were saved that day.   Over three-thousand were lost—many still buried in the crush of a majestic building by fanatics from afar who raped and pillaged America’s security that day, and wantonly targeted the helpless, the unaware, the unprotected--but here, in the heart of America's most powerful city, life teemed despite their efforts to cripple our resolve, to strike fear in us, to intimidate us.
            I felt a great weight on my shoulders as I took one picture after another of the Times Square litter.   I hadn’t expected to be reminded of September 11,  in the midst of a monumental celebration of a new year.    I forgot that September 11th was a moment of Terror that had been branded in my soul, making it hard for me to not see remnants of it in everything.
            As I searched the "eye of the camera" for pictures, I stumbled upon a small, bronze plaque attached to the side of the Armed Forces Recruiting Building in the heart of Times Square.  On its surface was chiseled the names of New Yorkers who won the Congressional Medal of Honor.   I asked my wife to look and see if my good friend from Vietnam, Father Vince Capodanno’s name was included.    It was there.   I took a picture of the plaque.  Again, my thoughts were swept to another time when Terror reigned.
         I had spent many days and nights in battle with Father Vince, and written stories about his “spiritual heroism,” and how he crawled through hails of bullets to salve the souls of the dead, the dying and the frightened with only a cross to protect him from harm.    He was killed attempting to save wounded Marines—my personal hero of a day when America spat upon its heroes and called them “baby killers.”   I gave a moment's reflection to the heroes of another era, men whose acts of bravery were buried in a quagmire of political discontent.
            As I looked up for more pictures to seal the New Years Day, I spotted  a magnificent photo presented by Kodak of an exhausted fireman cradling an American flag in his hands.  His head hung in respect and sadness at the loss of our innocence, at the futility and senselessness act of war that had taken his comrades and shattered the lives of thousands of families.
            My hero, Father Vince, and America’s heroes, the police and fireman and emergency workers who gave their lives so that others could live, were all being honored in their own ways.   All of those who died on September 11--the firemen, police, port authority police, emergency workers and the civilians killed in the attacked--all deserved the Congressional Medal of Honor.  All went “above and beyond the call of duty.”  All were heroes in an "act of war."   All died in "defense" of their country, in a heroic sacrifice worthy of the nation's highest tribute.
            As I stood in the sharp, cutting wind with the confetti flying about, I wondered if America would remember to be Vigilant each day, or just treat September 11th as an "event in history?"
            Would we “forget to remember?”    Would, over time,  the names of those who died on the Second Tuesday of September end up on a small bronze plaque behind a building that one had to stumble upon to notice?   Would America let up on its need to remain Semper Vigilantes--Always Vigilant--and its patriotism for the moment drain into complacency, creating more vulnerability to more future attacks?
            Brave men and women throughout history have died to remind us that Freedom requires Vigilance.  America is the envy of the world as a modern democracy that offers unlimited rights and privileges to all who seek its Constitutional sanctuary.  There are those who would deny its right to exist as a symbol of Freedom, and seek to destroy it to prove that their way of life is better or more "righteous."   Envy, jealousy and rage rule their thinking.
           I wondered if we might forget the "enemy" was not outside our borders, but inside our minds.   The real enemy of Freedom is complacency.    It is when we think we are unbeatable, invincible, not vulnerable.
          The signs of complacency include our haste to "put the past behind us."  
           I wondered if we saw the confetti of celebration as a sign that Terrorism was gone?  Or, would we remember that Vigilance and a dogged determination to protect our children, our neighborhoods, our community and our children was the real message of 2002?   Would we post a Semper Vigilantes logo in our homes and remind ourselves and children that Terrorism must be fought daily, or would we mark September 11th on a calendar and wait until it came to remember?
            I hoped we would remember never to forget.

Go To Diary, Jan. 1--The Vigilance Resolutions

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