Wednesday-- May 29, 2002—Ground
Zero Plus 260
Eve Of The Death Of Vigilance...
Or, The Birth Of It?
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York City,
May 29--Officially, today is the Eve of the Death Vigilance. It
is a time of reflection. For many, it is a time of great sadness because
Vigilance's grave will be abandoned tomorrow morning. Officially,
after tomorrow, there will be no more searching
for its remains.
At Ground Zero tomorrow morning
at 10:29, the time of the collapse of the north World Trade Center tower
on September 11, 2001,
five bells will ring out four separate times in the traditional Fire
Department salute to firefighters lost in the line of duty. As
the bells ring, an honor guard will heft a flag-draped
stretcher--representing more than 1000 victims whose remains have not been
recovered--and place it in a waiting ambulance. After nearly
Ground Zero will be washed of all physical memories of the disaster as a
58-ton steel beam known as the "last load" is lifted onto a flatbed truck
and driven down West Street through the Battery Tunnel.
NYPD helicopters are slated to do a
flyby and bagpipers from the NYPD and FDNY are to send grieving notes of
sorrow for the loss of all that day. At the end of the
ceremony, the gravesite will officially become a construction site. No
more rescue operations will be conducted. Symbolically, life will continue
after the remnants of death are hauled away. The last tears will
drop tomorrow--officially, that is.
However, as a survivor of Nine
Eleven, tomorrow doesn't represent the end of an era. Instead, it is
the watershed of a new beginning. May 30th, the official Memorial
Day, signals not the Death of Vigilance, but its birth. It hallmarks
the final gestation point, and symbolizes the labor pains our nation has
suffered in trying to understand and defend ourselves against future
While others may see the
sadness of the closing of a gravesite, I will see the Sentinels of
Vigilance rising out of Ground Zero's womb one more time, to live forever
above the site, watching, guarding and serving as a warning to us all to
not let Fear, Intimidation or Complacency tarnish the memory of September
11 or of the 2,800 Souls of Vigilance whom I believe hover above the site
on constant Terrorist alert.
I will celebrate the Birth of Vigilance tomorrow, not
grieve its final burial.
will always look upon September 11, 2001, as the day Vigilance was
conceived. While its conception was seeded amidst the horror
and senselessness of a Terrorist attack that took the lives of thousands
of innocent people and hundreds of brave police, fire and emergency
workers, its birth is as pure and as faultless as the birth of a Messiah,
or the birth of a great nation whose singular goal is to right the wrongs
of human frailty and provide the children of the future a safer, more
secure world in which to grow and prosper.
There can be no ceremony to give closure to
those of us who were part of the horrors of Nine Eleven. But, from
the ashes of death can be born a new purpose, a new beginning toward the
end of Terrorism. Those of us who were there can honor the sacrifice
of those who died on the Second Tuesday of September by recognizing their
spirits and souls live as Sentinels of Vigilance. Instead of
grieving their death, we can salute their perpetual presence by taking a
personal Vow of Vigilance to fight Terrorism each and every day, in their
name, to honor their birth.
It won't be easy to remember the
glorification of the Sentinels of Vigilance whose spirits will swirl
around the site tomorrow morning. There will be many thoughts
and feelings of pain and suffering that September 11th digs up in those of
us who were that day. Pain will flow from the hearts and minds of
the wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents,
cousins and loved ones of the victims of the tragedy. Rescue workers
who dug and sifted and cried in vainglorious search for life amidst heaps
of death for fragments of body parts to serve as identification in
finalizing the death of a "missing one" will feel the weight of a job
I will do my best not to dwell on the
horrors of my own memories of that day. But it will be hard not to
remember the screaming of the Terrorist's plane overhead, packed with
passengers en route to certain death. I will try not to look up and
see its gleaming underbelly as
it shot at nearly 500 miles per hour toward its target--the security of
America. I will try not think of the cruelty and senselessness
of their death.
I look at the hole in the ground, I will try not to remember
the bodies leaping from the building, and the gasp of the crowd
watching as flailing arms and legs descending nearly a quarter
of a mile through space. I will not try to see the
halo effect of what appeared to be thousands of doves flying
around the burning building, circling again and again as though
to bless the dying, the soon to die, only to realize the halo
was not the formation of thousands of doves, but rather millions
of pieces of paper suspended in the air, swirling wildly in
updrafts from the raging fires and causing me to think
I was seeing a ring of Hope around a symbol of death.
When the subway rumbles under my feet, I will also try not to recall the
helpless feeling that the bowels of New York City were exploding
under me as the South Tower, to everyone's horror, buckled, hung for a
second as though by some puppeteers strings, then crashed down like a bomb
exploding. I was sure Hell itself had belched. The
street buckled as the roar deafened the ears and debris rocketed
everywhere, crushing thousands as a black angry fist of ash slammed at us,
causing those nearest to me to cry in Voices that still ring in my ears: "We're all going to die...we're all
going to die!"
I can't easily pushed the memory out of my
mind of pulling the women standing next to me against a wall to protect
them from herds of stampeding people running for their lives, eyes glazed
with the fear of death as the debris shot past. I also can't explain
where the words I spoke to comfort the women I clutched against the wall
came from as they sobbed, fearful of death. "If we're going to die,"
I said, "think of something beautiful. Think of something
beautiful if it's our last thought."
I will try to erase that final breath
I took as the ominous black cloud of ash fell upon us, smothering
everything in its wake with a sickening shroud, not unlike Death's hand
shoved against my face. I was sure whatever it was that
exploded was filled with biochemicals, and that as soon as I took a breath
of it I would begin to writhe, my body jerking and twitching as my nerves
and muscles clung to the last moment's of life.
It will be hard tomorrow not to see
Death's Eyes upon the faces of the living who ran like zombies to escape
the inevitable, or to forget those who didn't run fast enough and stared up
with a dull emptiness into ashen sky as they lay lifeless on the sidewalk.
Instead of those thoughts, I will force myself to
see the "beauty of the Birth Of Vigilance," not its abortion.
I have never believed in the
distinction between life and death. Instead, I believe upon death we
from a material to spiritual form. Our material bodies become mulch,
our spiritual ones travel on a mysterious journey. I have always
thought of death as symbolized by an old
leaf. It crumbles as it falls from the tree and returns to the earth
from which it
sprang, providing nourishment for the young seedlings. The leaf's
death is life to others. Its body feeds the saplings, urging them to grow stronger than
their mothers and fathers, fueling their evolution so they can fight
off the Terrorists of the forest who threaten their existence From a waste management
viewpoint, I believe we simply recycle, so there is no beginning and no
end to our presence and no true reason for our grief upon death.
But there is a reason for our joy and celebration, for the leaf's dying
purpose is to feed the young with wisdom and strength--to maximize their
We were, we are, we will be again through
our children, and their children's children's children.
That's why I don't cry at funerals.
I am not saddened by death.. I am only saddened by those who do not
seek to find a reason behind death, a lesson that makes death an extension
of life, rather a closing chapter on it.
The 2,800 souls who died on September 11
still live. They
have taken the form of Sentinels Of Vigilance-- watching, alerting, urging
all of us and our children, to Never Forget the reason they died for
us--the reason they sacrificed their
lives so we could evolve from Citizens of Complacency into Citizens of
I believe there is a purpose behind
all things, good and bad. Without such a belief, everything
happens at random, and if we are caught on the bad side of events, we
believe we are victims, with no purpose behind our misfortune. The
result is we live in Terror of bad events, and, if our luck is bad, we see
little Hope in the future.
That's why I chose to view September 11, 2001, as the
Birth Of Vigilance. Out of the womb of destruction and terror was
born a new awareness of the responsibility I and others owe to our
children, our loved ones, and their children's children's children.
The gift Terrorism created in my mind and
belief was the need for Vigilance to counter our new
enemy. Unlike America's previous enemies, this one was cancerous. It
sought to infect the living with the virus of Fear, Intimidation and
Complacency. Its purpose is to weaken our resolve from the inside
out. Blowing up things is only a tactic to employ the strategy of infecting
Americans with Fear and to Intimidate them into states of Complacency.
The recent cancellation of the Brooklyn Bridge birthday celebration is one
example. Trying to blame the President of the United States
for not forewarning us about a Terrorist attack is another. Holding
"final ceremonies" at Ground Zero seems to me to be yet another act of
When I sat in the rubble of Ground Zero 260
days ago, I believe I saw the Spirits of Vigilance rising out of the
ashes. I pounded the story out on my laptop computer, coughing and
choking on the dust that blanketed me. I saw the Spirits of
Vigilance form one body, a Sentinel of Vigilance, holding a Sword of
Vigilance in one hand and a wreath of Peace in the other.
I made a vow to them then to dedicate my
life to passing on the messages they knew others needed to hear--that
Terrorism must be fought with Courage, Conviction and Right Action by the
Parents of Vigilance, the Citizens of Vigilance, the Grandparents,
Brothers, Sisters, Uncles, Aunts, Cousins, Nephews, Nieces and Loved ones
of Vigilance. The 2,800 deaths were not in vain.
Their message or purpose cannot be buried. The symbolic
body on the stretcher being carried out tomorrow from Ground Zero will be
the body of Terrorism, not the body of Vigilance. Vigilance will
remain forever, on guard, to remind us all to fight Terrorism from our
homes, our minds.
I struggle daily to keep the Sentinels of
Vigilance alive. Fortunately, The VigilanceVoice has
published the message of Vigilance versus Terrorism from September 11
through this date, in one form or another. The volume is now nearing
With each word I write or rewrite, I ask
the Spirits of Vigilance to guide me so the message flies straight to the
target--to the heart of the Physical and Emotional Terrorisms that haunt
us, stalk us, and stunt our evolution by imposing Fear, Intimidation and
Complacency of all sizes, shapes and kinds upon our lives .
Sometimes I hear the Sentinel's Voices whisper in my ear as I am writing
and rewriting: "Be honest! Be thorough! Speak to those who owe
their children and loved ones the right to be free from all
forms of Terrorism. Make your words readable, but don't sacrifice
the Truth for effect."
Their encouragement provides me a Shield of Vigilance to ward off the
attacks of my own self-imposed Fear that no one will read what I write,
I am not the most worthy spokesman to speak for the Sentinels of Vigilance, and,
Complacency that often shouts I am wasting my time, and should move on
to something "more important."
I am glad I listen to them.
They speak to me in many languages, representing
the eighty different countries of the victims of Nine Eleven. They
me not to render them dead, not to bury their memories in shallow or
deep graves, but instead, to water the soil of their souls--to continue
planting Seeds of Vigilance in what appears as a barren field so that one
day they can sprout and grow to nourish the poverty
stricken who suffer Terrorism's venom of Fear, Intimidation and Complacency.
As the Sentinels of Vigilance give my words life, I try and return the favor.
Tomorrow I will go and watch a burial ceremony.
Many who attend this ceremony will think this is the end
of the "souls" buried at Ground Zero. I will be sad for all
who think Death is the end of Life. Quite to the contrary, Death's singular purpose
is to underscore the value of Life.
I should be dead many times over. I live for reasons beyond my
imagination. I survived a hundred combat operations in Vietnam,
colon cancer, fighting a bull in Spain, driving hundreds of thousands of
miles, flying as many, smoking and coming out alive from the rubble of Ground Zero are but a few of
the brushes of death I have encountered.
Yet I live. I
live to report that life has more value than we might think, and death is
not an end, but an opportunity to cherish life.
I live today to honor the Sentinels of
Vigilance, born by the midwife of Terrorism. My mission is to offer
tools to those who want to bury Terrorism not bury Vigilance.
One of the most valuable of those tools is
the Pledge of Vigilance. It is a simple vow one takes to protect the
innocent from Terrorism's Physical and Emotional fangs--to fight Fear with
Courage, Intimidation with Conviction, and Complacency with Right Action.
I believe the Pledge of
Vigilance was written with the blood of those who died on September
11. It symbolizes the gasping last words of Danny, a Port
Authority Policeman, lying
under the rubble next to his buddy and fellow officer, Hector.
Danny's chest was crushed. He awaited death. He said to
Hector who was later rescued by the U.S. Marines: "Don't
forget. I died saving you. Don't forget!"
All who perished on September 11th died
"trying to save us!" Their deaths represent a watershed in our
lives--one designed to help us turn our backs away from Fear,
Intimidation and Complacency and face these three hoodlums and bullies of
Physical and Emotional Terrorism with new-found Courage, Conviction and
And, from my vista, it all begins with a Vow of Vigilance.
It begins with a commitment to keep the Sentinels
of Vigilance alive, and not to bury them or their memory. It
asks all to become a Citizen of Vigilance, a Mother or Father of
Vigilance, a Brother or Sister of Vigilance, a Grandparent of Vigilance, a
Nephew or Niece of Vigilance, a Grandparent of Vigilance, a Loved One of
Each person who takes the Pledge of
Vigilance endorses the value of the lives of those who died on September
11 and reinforces they did not die in vain--but for a purpose--the purpose
of Vigilance. The World Trade Center Soldiers of Vigilance are not
alone in their sacrifice.
More than 2,500 years ago, 300 Spartans of
Vigilance faced hoards of Terrorists invading their country in the Battle of
Thermopylae. Hundreds died so countless thousands could live.
Their spirits remain to this day guarding the passageway that protects Greece from
Terrorism's harm. No one has forgotten them, or their mission
because their memory was immortalized by Greek poet Simonides who wrote of
them this legacy: "Oh, you who pass by, tell the Spartans
that we are lying here being obedient to their command."
I believe our "Spartans of Vigilance"
remain hovering over the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a lonely
field in Pennsylvania to protect us just as the Spartans of Vigilance
in Greece. Our Sentinels of Vigilance will only die if our belief in their
living presence dies.
If we see no lasting value in their
deaths, if we bury their memory and the lesson we should learn from their
sacrifice, then we have issued them a great disservice, and ourselves as
well. We have then buried Hope, the seeds of our future.
Tomorrow, I will convert the "death
ceremony" into a "life ceremony." I will see the
Honor Guard not carrying out a
stretcher with the last remaining souls of the lost on it, but instead, I
will try to see a giant Seeds Of Vigilance being carried, one just born,
ready to plant in the rich soil of Hope from which a great Garden of
Vigilance can grow.
No, they cannot "officially" bury this
Child of Vigilance. But we can. If we let ourselves think it