Dec. 27—Thursday—Ground Zero Plus 107
THE STENCH OF DEATH AND PERFUME OF HONOR
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
The stench of death. It is acrid. It
assaults the nostrils. It drives life away, as though testing the
resolve of the living to reach into the bowels of death. Some have that
courage. Most don’t.
I saw the stench of death last night put to the test. It was
the perfume of Terrorism—ugly, vile, corrupting to the senses of any one
who caught a whiff. The smell was of that of Hell—of the horror and
debasement of all human principles when innocents are chosen as victims,
when those who seek glory find it in the destruction of the helpless, the
weak, the unsuspecting citizens of peace.
Hitler knew that when he stuffed body after body into ovens
and shallow graves, to rot and choke the air with the holocaust.
Osama bin Laden also knew the same when he sent planes packed
with innocent passengers into buildings packed with innocent citizens.
His goal, as Hitler’s, and all other tyrants who use the death to strike
fear, intimidation and complacency into victims and onlookers, was to
cripple the will of the people with death and destruction. His tool:
But the stench of death strengthened rather than weakened the
fiber of America. Instead of driving those who caught the scent away, it
drew them closer, knotting and cinching the belief in fighting Terrorism
with courage, conviction and action, rather than cowering to it.
I watched last night how a father of a 27-year-old fireman had
been searching through the rubble of the World Trade Center since
September 11 for the remains of his son. The father had been a fireman,
and then switched over to the police department. His son became a
fireman, and lived at home with his family. When he was reported missing
after countless trips into the World Trade Center to help the victims of
the tragedy, his father volunteered to help search for bodies, hoping that
he might find his son, or his remains.
On Christmas Eve he and other searchers found his son.
carried his remains reverently, U.S. flag draped over the body, to an
ambulance—the stench of death clinging to the air but not intimidating
anyone who knew that honor and glory and pride were far more powerful
scents than death’s.
The father found his son’s fire helmet and took it home. On
the television, it showed the helmet resting in the backyard of the house,
covered with the ashes of destruction. The father was being
interviewed. He calmly stated the helmet was a symbol of his son’s
bravery and courage, and that it was soaked in the smell of death. For
105 days it lay buried in the grave of horror, covering the brave and
glorious deeds of a young man who put his life second to the lives of
others. When the stench dissipated, the helmet would be placed inside
the house. The father stated that it would take a long time for that
smell to go away, but that didn’t matter. He would wait. He would honor
the helmet despite its odor.
I was moved by the courage of the young man, and the power of
his father to override the smell of death with his love for his son.
In Vietnam I had smelled death many times. It has a peculiar
odor that smashes against the senses like a left jab from Mohammad Ali.
It reels one almost to his or her knees, and forces the gagging responses
to engage. Its goal is to drive one away, to strike a primal fear
within. As the fires smoldered in the weeks after the attack, a pungent
odor filled the air. People asked, “what is that awful smell?” I didn’t
tell them. It was the smell of death. I caught its scent. I knew its
Love and respect and duty and honor seem the few antidotes to
the scent of death. I saw that in the father’s face; it rang in his
Voice. I thought about his constant search for his son, and the
vigilance it must have taken within him to believe in the possibility of
finding his remains when so many thousands are yet not confirmed to be
dead, and may never be.
Vigilance never ends in the face of Terrorism, I thought.
The father was a symbol of a Parent of Vigilance. He would
never forget the need to stand up to Terrorism. He would never let the
memory of his son, or the need for our society to not forget leak out of
his mind or being.
As the quest to find and eliminate bin Laden winds down, I
wondered how many citizens of America had been driven away from Vigilance
by the “stench of death.” I wondered how many were in a hurry to forget
that we were vulnerable, and to return to a life where Terrorism no longer
dominated the news or their thinking.
It saddened me to think that as time marched forward, and the
Seasons Of Life changed and buried the Season Of Death, that
we might, as a society, slip back to a state of complacency,
allowing ourselves on an individual basis to become vulnerable
once again to the next set of Terrorists, to the next madman
who sought to strike fear and intimidation into our hearts.
I knew that if those who wanted to turn their backs had ever
smelt the stench of death they would never want to forget to
remain Semper Vigilantes—Always Vigilant.
To Diary--Dec. 26
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