The VigilanceVoice  

Wednesday.. January 23, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 134


Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

       GROUND ZERO, New York City--Jan. 23--I am standing on the platform at Ground Zero with hundreds of others, waiting my turn to look into the gaping emptiness that was once the Twin Towers.
       I am a survivor of Nine Eleven.
        On September 11,  I stood,  neck craned, helplessly witnessing human beings leaping from the building, stunned as I watched their bodies flailing in desperation to escape the holocaust--plunging to their death.
        Balls of black and orange smoke belched out of the ruptured building.  
       Flocks of papers swirled in the updraft, forming an eerie halo around the ravished building.   A policeman shouted for us to move and herded us down a narrow street.   Fortunately, the small crowd I was with ended up on a corner just a few blocks from the epicenter.  Then the first building collapsed in a thunderous cracking roar.  It sounded as though the bowels of the earth had exploded beneath our feet.
           The street heaved.   Debris shot from the buckling, crashing edifice, once an icon of America's financial strength and power throughout the world, now bucking at its knees..   The policeman who had herded us away from the danger had turned to return toward the building. I watched him suddenly retreat as the ground erupted,  sprinting frantically toward us.  Behind him came a hurling mass of dust and  chunks of concrete and steel hammering its way down the narrow street.  It formed a huge convoluted black-and-grey angry fist, bent on smashing into the gut of America's security and crushing her womb of protection from third-world violence.
         Instinctively, we hugged the wall, not knowing if we were going to live.  The roar of the explosion rang around us as it smashed its hatred through the heart of Lower Manhattan.
       At first we couldn't breath.  The air turned thick with black ash, erasing the bright sunny day and replacing it with a ghoulish darkness that choked and gagged everyone.   I gulped for air,  wondering if it was contaminated with chemicals, poisons--thinking this was my last breath on earth.  
        Then the ghostly silence and fallout slowly settled upon us, turning everything into the pasty color of the dead.  We became the Night Of The Living Dead, shuffling, gasping, coughing, crying as we stumbled to find our way out of Terrorism's Hell. 
                                                                 * * *
         These memories ricocheted off the signs and flags and thousands of messages lining the fence of the Trinity Church as I stood in line at the Nine Eleven Viewing Platform with my wife and my friend Todd, from California, on Tuesday, January 23, just 192,960 minutes in the aftermath of the Terrorists' attack
          Our world had changed as of 8:46 a.m., September 11.   No longer were we impervious to the hand of death from afar.  Terrorism's claws had reached out from a foreign land and crushed the life from over 3,000 of our innocent citizens.  It shattered the foundation of our isolation from the world of Terrorism.   We were now "part of the real world"--subordinated to the constant threat of violence to our homes, our children, our protected way of life.  The Terrorism playing field had been leveled; Goliath had fallen.
        I hid my apprehensions by shielding my face with my Kodak 3400 digital camera.  I shot pictures so no one could see the pall that overcame me as I took long deep breaths,  masking the return of fear and the intimidation of being so helpless that day.
        During my life I had witnessed and participated in much death and destruction.  You would think I would be inured to it.  I racked up over 100 combat missions in Vietnam as a U.S. Marine Corps Combat Correspondent.  I wasn't just a journalist.  I was a warrior-writer, a member of the sword and pen club.  My job was to fight first and write second.
          I knew about the senseless destruction of human lives.  I had seen the faces of war's victims so many times that I often awoke in the night seeing the eyes of Vietnamese children staring at me blankly as they knelt beside the torn, ravaged bodies of their mothers, fathers, grandparents or loved ones.
        I had been a Terrorist to them.   I had been one of many who brought death and destruction to their homeland.   As I inched my way to the edge of the Nine-Eleven platform and peered out  at the empty hole in my own backyard, I thought how Terrorism scoops out the marrow of a child's innocence, hollowing it, and leaving a Black Hole in the soul.   I thought about my grandchildren, my children being vulnerable.
        I took pictures of my friend Todd, a stockbroker whose headquarters was nestled in the heart of Wall Street.  Earlier, he had talked about the economic vacuum left by the destruction, and how it was having rippling effects on the economy.    My own mission had been to educate as many people as I could about the impact of Terrorism on a child, the residual fallout of fear, intimidation and complacency--and how to fight it with courage, conviction and action.
       Standing on the platform overlooking the gaping hole in the ground, I felt the power of that day 192,960 minutes ago filling my heart and soul with sadness.  I took pictures of the etched messages written on the American flags draped over the side, and those scrawled into the wood that formed the platform from people all over the world.
        I noted a Japanese family with a young daughter, speaking in hushed tones.   Their country had been ravaged by war, and blasted by an atomic assault.    I wondered what message they were conveying to their child about Terrorism--about the fears and intimidations and complacencies of violence.
       As I studied the earth where the devastation had been, it looked purified, carved by machines into a foundation for some future edifice.  The stench was gone from the air--the twisted remains of the ruptured buildings had been hauled away.  To the unaware eye, it looked like a giant excavation project, not the scene of a holocaust.
       I knew under the earth was the remains of thousands of victims.   Their souls were buried in particles of earth, compressed back into basic organic components--"dust to dust, ashes to ashes."   But on that day nearly 200,000 minutes earlier, as I sat draped in ashes, pounding on my laptop to capture the moment for my diaries, I had felt the spirits of the dead rise above the horror.
       They had become for me, the Sentinels of Vigilance.  They had transformed from victims of a tragedy into legends, symbols of vigilance whose mission was to never let us forget to protect ourselves from the Terrorism of fear, intimidation or complacency.
       As I let my eyes fall reverently on the scene of the disaster, I could hear their Voices singing to me the song of vigilance.  They were there, compressed into one body, looking out over the horizon.   They were men and women of vigilance, from eighty different countries.   They understood every language, comprehended every ethnic, religious, and social point of view. 

       They were our reminders that Terrorism comes from both within and without--that it attacks not only the physical but also the emotional roots of a nation, a people.
        I  looked again at the Japanese family.   I wondered if they could hear the Voices too, whispering to us all the Latin words "Semper Vigilantes....Semper Vigilantes"--always vigilant...always vigilant.
       Then I turned and walked down the platform, my wife on one side of me, my friend Todd on the other, and behind me, the muted but powerful Voices of thousands reminded me to say "always vigilant."

Go To Daily Diary, Jan. 22--The Price Of Respect

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