March 11, 2002—Ground
Zero Plus 181
Shafts Of Vigilance
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York City, Mar. 11--Tonight, two laser
beams will shoot up into the sky from the epicenter of the World
Trade Center. To the world, it will be a six-month memorial
to the horrors of Nine Eleven, but to my wife and me, those
shafts of light will represent the Swords of Vigilance spearing
into the sky, a reminder that Terrorism lurks, waiting in the
shadows of Complacency for its next victim. And, the Shafts
of Vigilance will represent to us the reason why those who died
on September 11th still live.
I have avoided watching
the commercialization of Nine Eleven on television.
I don't need to watch a television screen to remember that day.
I just shut my eyes.
My mind replays the people jumping
from buildings, their arms and legs flailing, falling silently
through the cacophony of sirens and confusion as the buildings
belched black smoke and orange red flames licked out to suckle
the oxygen, nourishing its feast upon the icon of financial
might in the civilized world.
I can see bloodied bodies lying
on the street, surrounded by EMT workers, a woman's face, bleeding...a
young woman...legs twitching...her hair splayed out in an auburn
pillow on the sidewalk.
I can hear the policeman's Voice
screaming: "Get back, get back," and then the
headlong rush down the narrow street and the uproar, the growling
guts of the earth groaning, regurgitating the bile of horror
as the first Tower imploded.
Then there was the ball--the ugly fist
of the Beast of Terror, so convoluted with grey and black soot
and debris, rushing at us with such speed that one knew to run
would be futile, that there was only time for prayer.
No television scene can compare with
the panic on the streets as people stumbled and ran in a stampede,
pushing and shoving to escape the destruction bearing down.
I can still see one man's eyes, bulging with fear, opened wide,
glazed, not seeing anything as he ran, crashing past people,
women, hitting my backpack with his shoulder as his legs stretched
out as though he might be able to beat death's pounding hooves
The women next to me dazed, clutching
their faces, crying, whimpering: "We're all going
to die! We're all going to die!"
I remember grabbing them and shoving them
up against a wall to avoid being bowled over by the crush of
humanity rushing up the street and clutching their shoulders
as we pressed tightly against the ancient brick of a building
that had stood for at least a century, that had seen so much
in its history that this event, September 11th, was just another
crack in the bricks, another test of its foundations, another
test of its resilience to withstand the circumstances of time.
There was that final moment when I
had to choose between ultimate Fear of Death or the Courage
to Die. I had been there before, many times.
It not a pleasant place to be. It forces one to
stare into the face of one's mortality, to see one's life flash,
and to feel the sphincter of one's rectum rise up to the back
of the throat as you brace for the ultimate last thought, the
final breath of life, the final thought before all goes black,
before you return to the dust from whence you once came.
In Vietnam I stood at that doorway numerous times. When
I had a heart attack, I lay clutching my chest, watching my
world click by, frame by frame. Minutes before I
was operated on for cancer I had this feeling I might not come
out alive, and dialed an old friend on the phone to have him
wash the Fear with Courage, to prepare me for death or life,
but not to worry about either.
A little more than a year
ago, as I was calmly walking up 56th Street a man leaped out
of a window ten stories up and splattered at my feet, body twitching
as the nerves gasped their final shot of life's electricity
and then went dead.
And, September 11th. Debris
ricocheting, clouds of ash blackening the air, choking us as we clutched
the wall--tickling Fear's underbelly to incapacitate life, to freeze it so
Death's shroud could be easily draped on its victims. I
remember grabbing the women's shoulders, women whose faces were buried in
tears in their hands, faces I never saw, and saying: "If we're going
to die, think of something beautiful. Don't let your last thought be
of Fear, let it be of something wonderful, something beautiful!"
I had grown tired, I think, of fearing death.
It's face no longer shocked me. I was no longer stunned by the
awareness I could die. I knew I could. I knew I should
have many times, but for some reason, unknown to me, I was still alive.
I remember the horrible act I made in the face of
death. As the clouds settled and we were sure the Terrorists
had laced the explosion with some deadly gas, I took a breath of thick,
sooty air, gagging as I did for the particles were so large they coated
your throat, plastering it with the grime of death.
If this was going to be my last few breaths, what the
hell, I thought, and lit a cigarette. I stood defiant, like the guy
before the firing squad, no blindfold, smoking his last cigarette before
the muzzles exploded and the bullets struck the final note.
Then, with even more defiance, I moved toward the epicenter,
wanting to do whatever I could in this historic moment, swimming through
the fog of the fallout, wending my way through empty streets, feeling as
though I were the last man on earth.
What could I do to be of help? What could
Then I did what I was supposed to do.
I sat down in the rubble against a light pole.
Next to me were emergency vehicles with red lights flashing in the ash of
destruction, eerily casting their rotating lights through the haze,
tinting the gauzy grey with twinges of pink as the beams diffused on thick
particles of dust and thousands of sheets of paper parachuting down from
over a hundred stories high.
I pulled my laptop computer out of my backpack and
began to pound the keys, capturing the feelings, the moment, the horror,
the pain, the madness in word pictures I would never forget.
How long I sat there pounding the laptop I do not know.
I only remember continually wiping the screen with my hand as the dust
blinded me to its words, and turning the machine upside down to remove the
layers of dust that snowed upon the keyboard.
I recall a policeman with jack boots, a gas mask, and riot
helmet jamming a nightstick into my side, hand on his holster, demanding
identification, wanting to know why I was there typing on a laptop,
wondering if I was sending some message, signal to the Terrorists.
I showed him my identification, and proof my daughter was a
Special Agent with the Department of Justice and I was here to see if I
could locate her, and that I was a Marine Veteran of Vietnam, and also
that I was a New York City Combat Correspondent, capturing the moment for
He looked at me. I could only see his eyes.
He gave me the thumbs up, saluted and told me to sit back down, and then
barked at gawkers to move on, to head uptown, that the area was secured.
I returned to my laptop, pounding furiously.
I had not planned on being a New York City Combat Correspondent.
Just as I had not planned on being a Marine Corps Combat Correspondent in
Vietnam. The Marine Corps assigned me that duty when I
enlisted because I had a college background. They taught me to fight
and kill, and then to write about fighting and killing--to glorify it, to
turn boys with guns into heroes, legends so that their deaths would not be
in vain, that history might recall one or two of them sometime later when
a story about them was stumbled upon by some historian seeking to know
what the guts of death was like.
I had come to New York City with my wife to be near our
grandchildren and two daughters--one of whom was studying at New York's
Union Theological Seminary to receive her Masters in Divinity so she could
continue her path of helping the underprivileged, the marginalized, the
disenfranchised souls of the world. She has two children, and,
another on the way, a September 11th baby, conceived immediately after the
attack as though to replace, to continue life in the vacuum of death and
destruction. And, to be near our other daughter, a
Federal Agent, who patrols the streets of New York City with two nine
millimeter Glocks, fearlessly shoving her weapon into the face of those
who Terrorize and threaten the safety and security of our children, our
society, our nation.
But now, amidst the rubble of destruction, I felt the
growling of the Beast Within--the one I had been writing about prior to
September 11th in my Vietnam memoirs I titled the Pain Game.
The book dealt with my experiences as a warrior on one side and a poet on
the other, about the Sword and Pen Club, where a few selected men were
given the responsibility to both fight and write about war.
I had not expected to be stricken by purpose.
I had not uprooted myself from the Paradise of Southern California's Dana
Point to sit in a cloud of ash and be compelled to see the Beast of
Terror's fresh face snarling at me, threatening my grandchildren,
endangering my homeland.
My words grew into a mission on the cloudy computer
screen. I caught myself vowing to chase the Beast of Terror to the
ends of the earth. I felt the old anger rising up in my blood,
and the tips of my teeth sharpening as I sank the fangs of my words into
the Beast's underbelly, telling him that he was not safe--that I knew him
too well--that I had seen him kill and ravage and rape and pillage and
plunder too many times to let him go free in my homeland.
As the dust began to settle, and I could see fragments
of the sky above shafting through the gauze of Terrorism's signature on
American soil, I was sure I saw the Spirits of Vigilance rising up out of
the ashes of destruction.
Intuitively, I knew the death of thousands could not be
for naught. I had learned hard lessons in my life, but the one
I clung to tenaciously was that all things happen for a reason--no matter
how befuddling and insane the act might appear--there was something worthy
in the pile of crap it left.
I knew all those who had died that day, died for a reason far
beyond my grasp at the moment. I knew they were not "victims
of Destruction," but rather "seeds of Reconstruction." Much
death had taught me to not bury those who die, but to resurrect them.
And my mission was to find that reason for their death--that jewel of
justice in the rubble, that raison de etat for which all humans
live, and why they all eventually die, some early, some late.
The Spirits of Vigilance were rising. I
could sense their presence as I stared through the thick air to the sky.
They were massing above what was once the Twin Towers, forming a Circle of
Vigilance, hands of many colors, languages of many tongues, cultures of
varied backgrounds, but all unified in a common cause--a purpose.
They were there to remind me and my words, and anyone
who read them, that the Sentinels of Vigilance had been born that day.
They rose up and formed a body of a man and woman, standing back to back,
each with a hand on the hilt of a sword, and a wreath of peace in the
other held high above their heads. Each was looking to the
horizon, guarding our shores, protecting my children and
grandchildren from Terrorism's harm.
I heard them tell me that Fear, Intimidation and
Complacency were the tools of Terrorism, not bombs or bullets or jetliners
piloted into buildings. They told me Terrorism's greatest weapon was
Complacency, that feeling of being powerless to do anything, that
futility that one small Voice was meaningless in the face of such horror,
such vastness as Terrorism itself.
They trumpeted to me the message that to fight
Terrorism, one must learn to muster Courage in the face of Fear,
Conviction when cornered by Intimidation, and to take Action to neutralize
I listened to the stillness.
My fingers flew across the keyboard. Words
I had fumbled to find now began to flow.
They told me my grandchildren must be braced to fight
Terrorism both from the Physical and Emotional battlefields of life.
It was the children, they said, for whom they died.
Our national security, and that of all nations,
would only be strengthened when each citizen took a Pledge of Vigilance--a
vow to stand up to the Beast of Terror within themselves, to not cower in
its presences through ignorance or lack of knowledge.
My job was to glorify Vigilance!
Their job was to remind me that it was my duty to do
so, my destiny to spark the fires of Vigilance in as many homes, to as
many parents, and as many citizens of the world as humanely possible.
To achieve this they gave me a template--The Pledge of
Vigilance--and a story to support its veracity that was thousands of years
old, and stood as they, guarding the borders of Greece, embodied by men
and women who sought to overcome Fear with Courage, to replace
Intimidation with Action, and who had the willingness to take Action
rather than remain Complacent and turn the security of their homes, their
neighborhoods and communities over to another, or the government.
They told me that the Pledge of Vigilance should
be taken by Citizens of Vigilance, Parents of Vigilance, Brother and
Sisters of Vigilance, Cousins of Vigilance, Nephews and Nieces of
Vigilance, Grandparents of Vigilance, and, Loved Ones of Vigilance.
In this Pledge they would vow to fight their
Fears, Intimidations and Complacencies from both within where the
Emotional Beast of Terror resides, and without, where it manifests itself
I wrote and wrote. I wrote until my
computer died, choked to death by the ashes, unfixable.
Then I came home.
I dusted off the ashes and launched the New York
Combat Correspondent Team web page--VigilanceVoice.com. I kept my vow.
Each day I wrote about the Sentinels of Vigilance,
giving them life, form, structure.
wife joined in the battle against Terrorism by creating Sophia's
Wisdom, stories told about children's reactions to Terrorism,
and their thirst for Vigilance. She listens daily to our
two grandchildren, a boy age 5 and a girl age 3, and both learns
from them and teaches them the principles of Vigilance.
Together, we designed the Three Shields
of Vigilance--Courage, Conviction and Action, to fight off the
Beast of Terror who thrives on injecting children and adults
with Fear, Intimidation and Complacency.
We designed Pledges, Prayers
of Vigilance, Conversations with God about Vigilance, challenges
to the Media, Religious leaders, Politicians. We
created logos and themes to display one's stand against Terrorism,
and Principles of Vigilance to solidify the challenges of overcoming
Fear, Intimidation and Complacency.
Recently, we acquired the name VigilanceVoice.com
for our web page, to further the goal of reaching millions with
the message of Vigilance. We are revamping the website
to make it more navigable, more attractive, and extending its
marketing so many more can read it, learn from it, apply its
Those who think thousands died in vain
at the World Trade Center cannot be more inaccurate.
Those who perished not only at the World Trade Center, but on
the flight that Todd Beamer led the passengers to attack the
Terrorists and thwart their goal of destroying the White House,
and those whose lives were lost in the Pentagon, are all Sentinels
So, tonight, when the laser beams
spear up into the sky, I will see them as the Swords of Vigilance,
not as lights.
It will not be a memorial of
sadness for me.
I will not bury those who died so we
could learn to live in peaceful Vigilance!
Go To Mar.
10--Nine Eleven: Birthday Of Vigilance
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