Wednesday, January 2, 2002—Ground
Zero Plus 113
Remember To Never Forget!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
of complacency include our haste to "put the past behind
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.
To Diary, Jan. 1--The Vigilance Resolutions