Big Apple Salutes Veterans In Small Town Way
Big Apple Becomes Small Town On The "Eve of Destruction of Evil."  Veterans' turnout in NYC is sparse.  But those who come to pay honor are Purists of Vigilance.   They make the city hum with community, like any small town in America.  The Chamber of Commerce warms the event.   I wonder if all those who didn't come to salute the veterans realize they died and risked their lives for the "Right To Dissent?"  I wonder if they know American warriors fight so protestors can protest, and for the rights of others to protest without fear of recrimination or death?   I am proud I fought for the Right to Dissent.  I am sad others forget to honor that right.


Tuesday--November 12
, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 426
"On The Eve Of The Destruction Of Evil..."
The Day The Big Apple Became "Small Town America!"

Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

       GROUND ZERO, New York City, Nov. 12 --The Big Apple became "small town America" yesterday as a small but patriotic cross-section of New York City's 8 million people braved the drizzle to honor the Veterans of America's "Wars of Vigilance."
       While organizers of the parade may have been disappointed at the slim turnout, I enjoyed it.  It was close, compact, a rich "small town" community event.   It reminded me of Veterans' Day parades in Hood River and Cascade Locks, Oregon, of Helena, Montana and Laguna Beach, California.
        Small town America is far more patriotic than its massive metropolli.   People seem to blend together for common causes and with greater ease in smaller numbers.  When "small-towners" wave their flags it is more from the heart than in hopes some camera will capture them and they'll see their faces in a newspaper or television news clip.
        Yesterday's parade reminded me that all Goliaths are comprise a host of small David's standing on each others' shoulders.  The close-knitness of the parade made me feel more a part of New York City than I have in the nearly three years since my wife's and my immigration from Orange County, California to NYC.
       In my view, the limited number of people lining  5th Avenue represented New York City's true Sentinels of Vigilance--the men, women and families who carry their Shields of Vigilance and Swords of Vigilance daily, and don't just polish and wear them on holidays.  They were what I call, "hard-core patriots."   They were like the ones I knew in "small town America."

       I grew up in small town Patriotic America.   Cascade Locks, Oregon didn't have more than 1,000 people when I was a kid.  Cascade Locks is about sixty miles east of Portland, nestled on the banks of the Columbia River.   The legendary Bridge of the Gods, a beautiful white structure linking Oregon and Washington, is the town's claim to fame. According to legend, it was originally created by the "gods" to breech peace between two warring Indian tribes located on opposite shores.   The "Bridge of Vigilance" was, according to legend,  formed by volcanoes that erupted in anger to the violence and Terrorism that raged between the tribes.  It forced them to find ways to live in peace not war.
       I also lived in Hood River, Oregon, another thirty miles east of Cascade Locks.   Today, Hood River  is the wind surfing capital of the world.  However, back when I was a kid, it was an apple-growing town and the pathway to Mount Hood, a magnificent mountain that takes one breath away as it snow capped peak appears to tickle the underbelly of the heavens.

Veteran's Monument in East Helena, MT.

        My wife is from East Helena, Montana, another very small town of about 1,500, just outside Helena, Montana's state capital.  In the center of East Helena is Veterans Park, where an old tank sits next to children's swings.  A once profitable lead smelter lies abandoned nearby and a marble monument bears the name of veterans who served in the various wars. My wife's father's name, who served in the Army Corps of Engineers, is inscribed on it.  He was awarded the Bronze Star for his work on D-Day.  East Helena is also the hometown of a former major leaguer named Herbie Plews.  The towns throughout the state are filled with Patriots who never forget the price of liberty.
       My grandfather was a veteran of the Spanish American War.  He lived in Cascade Locks.   He told countless stories about his war experience.  Floyd McPherron was a member of the local Cascade Locks VFW and the Royal Order of the Cooties.  These were clubs where the men went to drink beer and play shuffleboard while reliving the past.  As a child, I was always impressed when he donned his VFW  hat with all its pins and ribbons, cocked it over his wrinkled brow and headed off to the lodge house.  It was as though he was going to "relive war."   When he came back with beer on his breath, my tee-totaling grandmother did wage war on him.
      On holidays such as Veterans' Day, the whole town turned out.   Apple pies, cookies, hot chocolate, and picnics were part of community celebration that included a grand parade.  If anyone missed the event, their Patriotism and support of the community was frowned upon.  But hardly anybody missed such events.  Unity involved commitment.

 Parade in Small Town, USA

      In small towns, everyone knows everyone.   Kids, parents, grandparents marched and waved.    Smiles radiated.   There was also a true reverence for the dead, and great honor for those who had risked their lives and wore their symbols of participation--hats, insignias, old uniforms, armbands.
     Such  ancient feelings of small-town community came back to me yesterday as New York City shrank from a mass of humanity to a tight ball of Patriots.   These Patriots braved the wetness and lined the streets.  They were the "Vigilant Corps" of the Big Apple.
       They represented the men and women who would be the first out the door to do hand-to-hand combat with Terrorism.  They were the "anonymous leaders" who, in times of trouble and turmoil, would inspire the Complacent to not surrender to Terrorism's Fear, Intimidation and Complacency. 
         They were the keels and rudders of New York City's "Ship of Vigilance."
         Because of crowd was small and intimate, I was able to work my way to within an arm's length of Mayor Bloomberg at the Eternal Light Memorial ceremony in Madison Park.   I joined the Press Corps taking pictures of the Mayor switching on the power to the Eternal Light Memorial.  The Eternal Light, originally established following Armistice Day after World War I, had gone out two years ago.   Due to the priorities of reestablishing power to Ground Zero, repairing it had fallen second to getting the World Trade Center devastation repaired.   After 24 months, it was rewired by ConEd.  Yesterday, the Mayor ignited it--resurrecting a symbol of Vigilance that according to ConEd, would "glow as bright as a full moon."  When the Mayor threw the switch, it was as though he was preparing the city to shine on the darkness of Terrorism, casting it out of the city as the possibility of war on Iraq hastened nearer.

Mayor helping lay the wreath

        Following the lighting, the Mayor laid wreaths at the Eternal Light Monument.   Again, there were so few people present I was able to stand face to face with the leaders of the world's most famous city of Freedom.  New York, the home of the Statue of Liberty and site of the inauguration of the first President of the United States, is the homeland of Vigilance.   It is an island of Vigilance, an entry through which millions have passed under the Arches of Freedom.
        But yesterday, NYC wasn't the biggest city of Freedom in the world--it was  Cascade Locks,  Hood River,  East Helena.
        It was "small town America" reincarnate.  It was a group of citizens honoring their friends, loved ones, and price of Freedom.
        I thought about those not in attendance--those who missed the glory of the event.  They forgot their rights to "Liberty" had been established and reinforced by the bones and blood of all those who died to preserve them.  Had they remembered the words of Thomas Jefferson, "Eternal Vigilance is the price of Liberty," they would have been there to offer their thanks.

       Many of the non-attendees were celebrating Veterans' Day at Macys instead.  There were taking advantage of sales, buying the world's finest commodities at the most competitive prices in a land where our poverty level for a family of four is $17,650, compared with countries where Freedoms such as ours don't exist whose citizens average income annually is less than $500. 
         I wondered if the non-attendees knew that since 1776, 39 million Americans had fought "Vigilance Wars"  to preserve the same rights to freedom that everyone in America enjoyed.  Or that over the years, we had helped millions upon millions find and retain Freedom to live a life of prosperity rather than one of Terrorism and poverty.
        We marched up 5th Avenue.   I walked backwards in front of the Mayor, shooting pictures of him waving his flag at the sparse line of spectators no more than one deep. I noted the gaping holes on the police barriers, a reminder that fewer and fewer people cared about honoring those who died to preserve freedom, and perhaps even less about those willing to die to keep it alive in the near future. 
         From 23rd Street to the end of the parade route at 58th Street, the mayor marched holding a small American flag. Alongside him were Senator Charles E. Schumer and Col. Robert L. Caslen Jr., the chief of staff of the 10th Mountain Division, who was recently stationed in Afghanistan.  

From the right Col. Caslen, Mayor Bloomberg, Major General Richard Colt are among frontline marchers

      Earlier, during speeches given by the Mayor and others in honor of Veterans' Day at Eternal Lighting Ceremony, Col. Caslen had opened his remarks with:  "On the eve of the destruction of evil...."
        His speech foreshadowed the impending war with Iraq.   He was telling us all to prepare ourselves for a battle whose endpoint would be the elimination of a Terroristic regime, and, hopefully, the installation of a Vigilant one.   His words echoed that we were entering the "Era of Vigilance."
       The parade was moving rapidly.  I walked as fast as I could backwards, my wife holding onto my shirt to insure I didn't stumble into the NYPD police band just behind me.  I thought of Cascade Locks.  I thought of my grandfather marching with his buddies from the VFW, saluting, waving, being honored.

       Along the route stood the stalwart spectators, leaning against the police barriers in the drizzle.  They waved and applauded, the sounds of their hands clapping dulled by the mist and overcast.  There were a few families pressed up to the steel barriers, some draped in American flags.  One woman with twins smiled and drummed the beat of a John Philip Sousa marching song being played.   "Old soldiers" stood with their baseball caps snuggled tightly on their heads.   The front of the caps blazed with their branch of service.  Many offered a rigid, sometimes arthritic salute, as the American Flags passed.   Some faces were solemn, as though remembering the sadness of war and the loss of comrades whose blood soaked foreign soil so that others might have the same taste of freedom Americans enjoy.  

Cliff McKenzie - Ready for Vigilance

         I had on my Marine Corps shirt, and wore my Vietnam Vet cap.  On my right arm was my black Semper Vigilantes armband in honor to those who died on September 11, 2001.   As a survivor of Nine Eleven, I consider the deaths at Ground Zero equal to the deaths of the warriors at Normandy, or Mo Duc, the Battle of the Bulge, the Chosin Reservoir, or Kabul, Kuwait, Concord, or Iwo Jima.   All sacrificed their lives to ward off Terrorism and preserve Freedom.

       As I shot pictures of the American Flags, I was reminded that the seven red stripes represented the blood of all those who died to preserve and fight for freedom.   I recalled Colonel Leon Utter, my commander with the 7th Battalion 7th Marines in Vietnam. Prior to battle he gathered us in our makeshift chapel in Chu Lai and held a prayer meeting..  Like Knute Rockne, he motivated us to fight to the death for our alma mater--Freedom.  At the peak of his comments, he clutched the American flag in his fist, and  thrust the red and white ball of silk forward. It was his way of telling us if we died that day, our blood would flow in the fabric of the Flag, along with all the Warriors of Vigilance who had given their lives before us.   It made us all more ready to destroy Terrorism so that Vigilance could thrive.  Each flag I saw along the route, I thought of Colonel Utter.

      Even though the crowds were small, I was honored by their presence.  They were, in my view,  the "pure believers" of Vigilance.   They were New York City's "small-town Americans,"  culled out of the mass of the Big City Complacent.   They reduced the megalopolis of New York City into a Cascade Locks, a Hood River, an East Helena, a Laguna Beach.
      A few years ago I marched in the Veterans' Day Parade in Laguna Beach with other Vietnam Vets.   The entire town of 25,000 showed up, or at least it seemed like it.  There were marching bands, and children and flags.  Yet yesterday I felt the same radiation of pride from the small number who lined 5th Avenue as I did those who jammed Main Street Laguna Beach.
       I called those attending the parade yesterday  "Big Apples Few and Proud."  They were the "apple pie" of Big Apple Americans, the Colonel Utters' for whom you are truly willing to die.   They were the Mothers and Fathers of Vigilance, thanking us for risking our lives for their children's Freedom, and their children's children's right to preserve it..
       When I saw the children's faces beaming, I did too. Even though many people lining the streets may have opposite political opinions regarding the war in Iraq, they set those dissents aside to honor us. That is the key to Liberty.
       America is a melting pot of opinion.   It was formed on the "Right of Dissent."      

The Right of Dissent

       Too many critics of American foreign policy forget when our warriors fight and die for the principles of freedom, they are fighting the "Right to Dissent."  Each warrior offers his or her life  for Freedom that includes the right to protest, the right of the minority opinion to shout its discontent,  the right of the disenfranchised to rail for equal rights and the right of the poor to become rich by hard work rather than class or creed. 
        True Patriotism isn't about a power-hungry war-machine America, it's about saluting the right of different beliefs to co-exist in peace and harmony.  It's about the right of someone to say "Hell No, No More War," as well to say: "America, Right or Wrong!"   It's about the Freedom of Speech, the Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Economic Opportunity.  It's about the Far Right and Far Left having an equal say about their disdain for the other's point of view.

        Veterans' Day is not a celebration for those who wish to tyrannize others into swallowing one point of view, to exclude others from believing what they want to believe, no matter how outrageous.  All American Patriots who died in all our wars, died so a protestor could protest.  They died so someone could burn the flag and not be shot, or spit on the Constitution and not be thrown in a dungeon, or form rallies and tell the world why America was a "monster" trying to impose it's "will" upon the oppressed without fear of being put in jail, tortured and then beaten to death. 

         All who have fought for Liberty and Freedom have shed their blood so people could, if they chose, turn their backs on a Veterans' Day Parade and go to Macys to shop.  
           Even though I was spat upon when I returned from Vietnam, and called a baby killer, I knew I had fought for such dissenting freedoms as the one I listed above.   I knew those who berated me and the others who fought in Vietnam had the right to their opinion, even though I knew they had no idea what fighting for freedom was really all about.   I had knowledge they didn't.
         I defended Vietnamese villagers in the first Democratic elections ever held in Vietnam.  I watched villagers brave threats of death by the Viet Cong to cast their votes for freedom.  I witnessed my fellow Marines die on Vietnamese election day so the oppressed who lived in tyranny could vote for the right to dissent, to vote to not be forced to live under a tyrant's view. 
       Despite all the critics, I  know we didn't lose the war in Vietnam.  We might have lost the battle because of poor leadership, but the war on Terrorism of Oppression will ultimately be won.    It was won in Russia, and it will eventually be won in Vietnam.  One day that country's citizens will have the same right of dissent as Americans.  So will the citizens of Iraq.
       The impending war with Iraq isn't about the misuse of American power.  It's about Vigilance.   Despotic leaders like Saddam Hussein have to be stopped before they grow into bigger monsters.  Anyone who gasses 50,000 of his citizens to death--men, women and children--falls into a special category of Terror that the world cannot ignore.
       The American public may have forgotten that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt warned the United States in 1939 that Hitler must be stopped and that he was massing his power to take over the world.  Roosevelt  urged preemptive strikes, not unlike George W. Bush.   But he was blocked by opposition that "it wasn't our business."  


     Leaders of Freedom are not tyrants as many would paint them.   True Freedom Leaders are Terror Hunters who seek to Liberate not enslave.   But that message gets twisted by dissent.  Those who have no idea of the history of American blood letting forget the white in the American flag--those six pure strips beneath the seven red ones--represents the goal of Freedom to the oppressed.  They signal to the world we seek to set free rather conquer those for whom we fight and die.  The purity of American Patriotism is that we do not make try to possess the nations we free.
       Europe and Japan are two powerful examples.   Neither flies the American Flag.  Had we not stepped in, they might be flying a Nazi or Rising Sun Flag.  The American Flag also does not fly over Kuwait, or South Korea, or Afghanistan. That's not our style.   It won't fly over Iraq either, as many dissenters would suggest.  We do not conquer.  We Liberate.
       In the war against Iraq, as in all wars we fight, Americans will die anonymous deaths.  Their blood will soak into the sand as it has the soil of all nations we fight within to release the citizens of that country from the grips of Terrorism.  When the Iraqi war is over, few may wish to remember the price Americans have been willing to pay to offer Freedom--the Right of Dissent--to others.  They forgot to remember yesterday, and probably will forget again in the future.
       But those who did show up at the parade brought enough inspiration for all those who didn't show.   I saw that inspiration in the faces of the Patriotic who lined the streets of 5th Avenue.  Bright,  flickering flames of Vigilance glowed in the eyes of parents, grandparents and children who, small in number, were sent giant beams of  pride and respect as we marched up 5th Avenue. 

The 'President's Own' United States Marine Band

        Following the parade, we went to Alice Tully Concert Hall in the Lincoln Center to hear the "The President's Own" United States Marine Band.   Sponsored by the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce and PARADE Magazine, the music was uplifting.   As a former Marine, I was deeply honored to be in attendance.  I was glad I became a Marine.  Marines volunteer to be warriors, they know they are volunteering to be the "first in and last out" in any conflict. They volunteer to die for others' Right to Dissent.  Marines are proud of that decision.   They are the front-line of Vigilance.

Ms. Hirschfeld and Mr. Jaffe from the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce in foreground

       I felt a "special" part of the New York City community during the concert.   The Chamber people were gloriously polite, and reminded me of "small town America" in their eagerness to honor those in attendance.   The image of "cold New York" was dismissed by warm graciousness and respect.    It made me feel I was in a small town again, with friendly, concerned people who represented the Chamber.   
       As I was taking pictures of the event, Chamber Director, Rachel Hirschfeld, encouraged me to move about and take as many pictures as I liked.  Mark Jaffe, Executive Director, hosted the event and presented the band with tributes, including a special bottle of wine bottled in the city.
       It was a warm home-town celebration.   The hall was filled with veterans of all services.  At the end of the concert a medley of Armed Forces songs was played. As each service's theme was presented, the audience was encouraged to stand in salute if they were members of that branch of the Armed Services whose theme was being played.   Many rose with tears in their eyes, remembering the price of war and its pain.
       When the Marine Corps Hymn started, I rose with the majority of the audience, former Marines there to celebrate the Corps' 227th anniversary held on November 10th.   I felt the Muscles of Vigilance flex as the Hymn made me feel elite, part of the Cornerstone of Vigilance whose end result is peace and prosperity for all.
       The Hymn also swept me with sadness.  I knew a war with Iraq would force many Marines to face death--perhaps the most horrible imaginable if Hussein uses biochemical warfare to retaliate.  Pride and pain flowed through my veins as I listened, felt and prayed.
       When the band bowed for the last time, I looked around the concert hall.  It was filled with those who offered up their lives for Freedom--for the Right to Dissent.   How frivolous, I thought, those were who slashed at the ideals of Patriotism with diatribes and insults that America was a war-monger, a power-hungry nation bent on dominating the world with its power.

       How sad, I thought, they don't pay respect to those willing to die for their Right to Dissent.

        The Greater Chamber of Commerce for New York  helped soften that sadness.   They, and the organizers of the Veterans' Day Parade, and the re-lighting of the Eternal Light, and those stalwart few who lined the streets of Fifth Avenue, assured me the Flames of Vigilance still flickered.
        They assured me that "small town America" was alive and well in the Big Apple, even though it was the "eve of the destruction of evil..."



"Old Soldiers" - Vigilant and Proud


Nov. 11--Veterans' Day--War Of The Worlds--Terrorism vs. Vigilance

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