April 18, 2002—Ground
Zero Plus 219
Sorrow On Independence Day
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York City, April 18--I felt sad for
Joe. There was blood on his Independence Day.
Terrorism shrouded any joy of liberation. Sadness
oozed from his eyes. His jaws clenched. His
Voice was strained.
he said, his Voice choking as he stabbed a finger at the picture
in the New York Times of rubble and bodies strewn about his
homeland of Israel. "My God, booby traps..."
Since September 11th I had made friends with Joe, a former Israeli
intelligence officer and now a U.S. citizen. But
regardless of citizenship here, he was there, in Israel, suffering
the pains of his homeland.
His Voice trailed as he repeated the words..."booby traps...my
I stood on the patio
outside Starbucks at Astor Place. Joe was seated at a
table next to group of young people from New York University.
The young people were chattering away, Voices full of life and
excitement, immune to the pain my friend was suffering as he
reflected on the state of affairs in the Middle East, and the
threats to the security of the Israeli state.
It was Independence Day, Israel's Fourth of July, hallmarking
their presence as a nation and the growth they had created over
the past five decades of turning sand and marshlands into a
prosperous, thriving homeland for the Jewish people.
But it was not without
a great cost.
The price was bloodshed.
Freedom's penalty was living
in constant Terror a suicide bomber would appear and set off
a deadly blast anywhere at any time. Or, that
armies of Islamic warriors would mass at the borders and engage
the six million Jews who had taken possession of the land 54
I thought about both sides, the Palestinians who were fighting
to get what they thought was right, and the Israeli's battling
for their beliefs. It was a mess, one I was only an observer
"I just can't believe
it..." Joe grimaced, staring at the newspaper as the cackle
of young Voices laughing over mundane issues clashed starkly
with the sadness of Terror both sides in the Israeli-Palestine
conflict were suffering. To the Palestinians, a "foreign
invader" had taken their land over a half-century ago,
and to the Israeli's, they laid claim to the land of their ancestors.
I couldn't say anything.
I only absorbed Joe's sadness.
He reminded me of a wounded
buddy in Vietnam whom I held in my arms as he bled to death.
A claymore mine had exploded,
killing most of the Marines around me. I was just
very lucky. The blast only knocked me down. But
my buddy caught a piece of shrapnel in the throat, and it severed
his carotid artery. I remember cradling him in my
He looked at me with
pleading eyes of sadness as the blood from his mortal wounds
oozed from his body. I rocked him, providing the final
rights of solace between two human beings, trying to bridge
the gap between one who was alive and the other on the brink
But he was going too fast
to appreciate the comfort of my arms.. His blood drenched
my jungle utilities. It was warm at first. As the
air swept over it, it turned an eerie cold. I was unable
to say anything, just like with Joe, for there is little one
can say to another at the moment of death except to hold them,
to press one's life against their impending death, to try and
bond one's soul with the one about to exit the light into the
darkness and whatever exists, if anything, beyond..
I will never forget what my dying
Marine buddy did in his final gasp of life. He reached
up and clutched my shoulder, his fingers digging into my flesh,
grabbing onto the soiled fabric of my sweat-drenched fatigue
shirt. He pulled his face near mine, eyes
pained, dulled by the agony of knowing only a few seconds were
left for him to inscribe his epithet of life upon me, something
I would carry to my grave. I saw his mouth quiver, a rivulet
of crimson blood coursing down his chin.
Our eyes locked. I leaned closer.
Then I heard his last words. "Why me? Why not
I stared into his soul. His eyes
were blank pools, sedentary. I saw the fear of nothingness
in them, the eternal void that dead man's eyes radiate so that
one is forced to close them and not be reminded of the dullness
of death. I felt something inside me urging me to
perform a final act, a ritual between the living and dying.
As though the hand of God was pressing on the back of my neck,
urging me, I leaned down and kissed his forehead. The
salty taste of his sweat
and blood anointed my lips.
I didn't know what else to do.
Perhaps it was my way of blessing his death, or giving gratitude
to him for dying for me. I will never be sure.
Then he slumped, his head lolling back, the twisted knot of
fabric he clutched on my right shoulder gave way to death;
his fingers slid slowly down my arm, limp, lifeless..
I continued to rock him until the corpsman
came. My hands were thick with his blood, which
had now congealed, forming black smears that wouldn't wipe off.
I stopped trying to rid myself of his blood, wondering if it
was on my hands to remind me I would forever be his blood brother,
bound to him by the kiss of life upon the face of death.
I was right. I heard his Voice as Joe stared at
the paper whispering to me: "Why me? Why not you?"
I saw the dead man's gaze in Joe's
He was watching his nation bleed to
Joe didn't have any blood on him.
There were no visible mortal wounds endangering his life.
But I knew inside his soul the carotid artery was severed--at
least for the moment, at least in that instant when he looked
up at me with dull pain of man wounded by his helplessness to
resolve the ravages of war.
On this independence day he was seeing the
darkness of death, not the joy and liberation of resurrection.
His homeland was standing on one leg. There was
no end in sight to the Terror of living in a world surrounded
by enemies, all opposed to the presence of a vibrant democracy
in the midst of a feudal society that believed in principles
so opposed to those of Israel that their children were trained
to carry bombs upon their backs and kill themselves and anyone
who represented the Jewish right of land-hold.
Strangely, I understood the suicide
bombers as well. I had witnessed young children in Vietnam
sacrificing their life against the Terrorism of democracy.
They ran toward us hoping we wouldn't shoot because they were
children, their hand on cord that would detonate the explosives
on their back. They believed in their way, in their
right of land-hold.
I knew the Palestinians
grieved as Joe grieved. All victims of war eventually
grieve, for war has no conscience, offers no moral judgment
on where a bullet or bomb will land, or upon whom.
It is indiscriminate by its nature.
The day before Joe had been angry that
Secretary of State Collin Powell's visit to Israel had been
unsuccessful in demanding some end to the violence.
He saw the failed visit to end the bloodshed as "a nail
in Israel's coffin."
Today, one day after Independence
day, he saw another nail--a picture in the Times of bodies
strewn on the street, pictures of his brothers and sisters of
Israel, victims of retaliation by those who want to assimilate,
absorb or obliterate the presence of the Jews in the Middle
I knew a little about the equality
of sadness. My son-in-law had gone to Israel and Palestine
with the Catholic Worker, a peace-oriented movement that protests
violence. On their trip the pizza restaurant was
bombed just a few hours after he and his friends on the peace
mission had eaten there. They found a young Palestinian
girl who had been wounded in the head by a stray Israeli bullet
and was destined to die if it wasn't removed. It
was a delicate operation.
My son-in-law and his fellow Catholic
Workers arranged for her to be flown to the United States and
one of the top brain surgeons offered to remove the bullet.
The operation was a success. I had taken my son-in-law
to the bus to catch his flight to the Middle East, and had told
him how proud I was of his Vigilance, his Courage, his Convictions
and his Actions to stand between the swords of Terror with only
his faith in humanity to protect him. I told him
he was a better warrior than I, with all my combat experience,
for he was fighting for peace, and I, as a warrior, fought for
victory. I told him there was a great difference
between the two. He understood.
The pain I felt for my Israeli friend
at Starbucks was not just because he was a U.S. Citizen or a
Jew, or because Israel, like America, promotes democracy in
a land of opposite political and religious beliefs.
I felt the pain for any man or woman, for any Parent of Vigilance
or Citizen of Vigilance who had to suffer the agony of war.
As I walked away from Joe the other
day, I thought I could hear the agonized whisper from an ancient
Voice rising up from within him, one that didn't speak from
his lips, but rather from his soul.
"Why me? Why not you?"
I had an answer. It was
to create a world of Vigilance not Violence, to find a common
denominator between all peoples that would become the key to
ending strife. I knew in my heart that if the world
became Parents of Vigilance, its children would not become Citizens
Go To April 17--Blue