The VigilanceVoice

Friday-- May 31, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 261
Taps & Tears For Ground Zero

Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

Day is done,
gone the sun,
From the hills,
from the lake,
From the skies.
All is well,
safely rest,
                                                    God is nigh.

GROUND ZERO, New York City, May 31--Tears washed over my cheeks as I stood saluting Ground Zero yesterday morning (May 30) to the sad lamenting tribulation of taps.   I was flanked by thousands of family members, police, fire, emergency personnel, rescue workers attending the ceremonies marking the end of recovery efforts at Ground Zero.
  As I stood in the hot sun, arm aching from holding the salute for what seemed like eternity, I whispered the 2,500-year-old words of Greek poet Simonides who legendized a small group of Spartan warriors who perished fighting hoards of Persian Terrorists in the Battle of Thermopylae:
       "Oh, you who pass by, tell the Spartans that we are lying here being obedient to their command."
While others were closing Ground Zero to any hope of recovering the final victims of September 11, I saluted not the departure, but the ongoing presence of the "Spartans of Vigilance,"--the sum of all the souls of all those who had died that day, whom, I believe, remain above the site, watching the horizon, reminding us all to become Parents of Vigilance, urging us to vow to protect our children and their children's children's children from all future Terrorist attacks whether they come from within or without.
Sobs from wives, mothers and loved ones of the victims of Nine Eleven  cut through the trumpet's slow, sorrowful notes.  Many could not contain their grief or the ultimate pain of loss.  Perhaps that's why I cried.
      My tears were symbolic of my silent screams of sadness.   For over three decades I have kept the sorrow of Vietnam hidden in my heart.  I never grieved those losses.  I never cried for the loss of over 58,220 Americans--my brothers and sisters whose names are etched on the Vietnam Memorial Wall--or the horror of knowing I had a hand in the death and destruction of more than one million Vietnamese who died in that war. 
       As the sounds of Taps swirled through the humid, still air,  faces of my lost friends flashed before my eyes.  I saw also the visions of the Vietnamese victims staring at me--innocent children's bodies broken and twisted, wives kneeling over their dead husbands wailing in anguish, and the unforgettable empty gaze of those surviving villagers who looked upon us as their Terrorists, wantonly destroying their land, their peace, their harmony.
      My Vietnam tears were mixed with sorrow and respect for the victims of Nine Eleven.  I remember their faces too.   At Ground Zero on September 11 I watched many of them leap from the buildings rather than burn to death.   I saw the face of a woman lying on the street, bloodied, eyes emptily gazing up, blood staining her face where the blast had  mortally wounded her.   I recalled the awful roar as the buildings collapsed, and the moment of fear when I was sure I had sucked in my last breath as the world exploded around me.  I remember the cry of the women around me as the cloud of ash and debris fell upon us:  "We're all going to die!  We're all going to die!"
      My right arm trembled as we held the final salute for an interminable time. 
      Next to me a firemen in dress uniform offered his salute to 343  of his brothers who perished trying to help those trapped in the burning infernos.   Lining West Street were thousands of FDNY, EMS, NYPD and Port Authority officers standing rigid, fingers stiffly cupped in their salute to their many heroes who also lost their lives that day--23 NYPD officers, 37 Port Authority officers and staff .  Husbands, wives, grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins and loved ones of nearly 2,800 victims of the disaster--only half of whom have been positively identified-- stood quietly as the drums beat a grim tattoo as the flag-draped stretcher, symbolically carrying the remains of the last souls of September 11, was marched from Ground Zero to a waiting ambulance.
       Standing directly next to me was a young man and his wife from EuroBrokers paying their respects to countless friends who had died that day.  The back of his t-shirt bore the design of an American flag, its design constructed with the names of all who perished from his company.  The names formed a wavy flag.
        Behind me Reverend William (Billy) Minson offered comfort to those in deep pain.  Reverend Billy had come from Los Angeles last September to visit New York and return home.  But after the attack he said he changed his life's plans, and elected to stay here and minister to the families of the victims as a volunteer.   Last night he held his final service at 5 p.m. at Murray and West Streets, for survivors, workers, police, fire and emergency workers he had offered spiritual solace to over the past eight and a half months.
        Flanking my wife and me were two Canadian police officers, a husband and wife team, Laura and Ross Nichols
(see photo on left), representing the Ontario Provincial Police.  They had helped raise funds for the Widows Survival Fund from our neighbors up north and came to pay their final respects. 
        As the ambulance crept slowly up West Street, crawling between the line of police and fire officials who stood as honor guard, family members and friends of the victims hoisted pictures over their heads of their sons, daughters, husbands, wives, lovers, uncles, aunts, cousins or close friends in a final salute of thanks for round-the-clock efforts to find them over the past 261 days of digging, sifting and hoping..
        Just behind and to the right of me a father held his flag-draped son on his shoulders so the young boy could see the final tribute.   A wife of a husband loss in the tragedy sobbed as she rocked the baby stroller containing her two twin sons, representing the extension of their father's existence.
        As the procession of bagpipers, firemen and police passed by, the family members, friends and survivors of Nine Eleven were allowed to join the march.  My wife and I walked up the West Street with the others who had been part of the horrors of Nine Eleven, appreciating the applause of hundreds of onlookers lining the street, offering their final acts of gratitude for all those who had suffered losses and braved the horrors of Terrorism.
       Rugged rescue workers wearing  helmets with flags and searchlights appointing them, men who had worked day and night for over eight and a half months, marched in a grim cortege behind the 58-ton final piece of steel wrapped in black muslin and draped with an American Flag. It was the "Last Load," the final piece of the 1.6 million tons of steel hauled from the site.  Using arc welders, construction workers had carved the names of many on it, plus the number of those heroic fire, police and emergency workers who died.  It contained the graffiti of heroism and stood as a symbol of the Twin Towers' ability to survive long enough for more than 20,000 people to escape before the structure crushed to the ground, an architectural miracle to many who believed the amount of victims would have been in the tens of thousands had it not stood until the final moment.
      Above, a flight of police and fire department  helicopters flew overhead offering their salute to the fallen.  Glancing up, I saw a jetliner passing between two tall buildings.  It reminded me of the screaming engines of the Terrorists' plane I heard 262 days ago, shooting toward the towers, on a deadly journey to inject Fear, Intimidation and Complacency into our peaceful society.   The hair on my neck stiffened.
      We followed a party of firemen and rescue workers, the last of those to be honored by the people lining the streets. The leader was a retired fireman dressed in firefighting gear.  He carried a large American Flag.   Since the onset of September 11th he symbolically carried the flag throughout New York in his fire fighting uniform.  It was his Act of Vigilance to remember the fallen, the brave who gave their lives so others could live.  At the end of the march his face was drawn, not from exhaustion, but from the idea his mission had come to an end--that there would be no more hope for the recovery of anyone from Ground Zero because the search had ended as of that moment he crossed the finish line.
      Earlier, onlookers leaning over the police barricade offered my wife and I Ezekiel walking sticks to help us on our final March of Vigilance.  They thrust them at us, pleading that we take one.  We did. 
      It is a beautiful stick.  Many marchers had them.  Attached to the stick was a small card with a powerful message on it.  Even though I am not a religious man, I was deeply moved by the sincerity and power of the gift and attending message I repeat it here so that you might enjoy its beauty as I did.
     On the front of the card was written:  "Ezekiel Stick.  This stick is a symbol of unity.  United we stand, one nation under God."   Inside was the following message:  I will try and repeat it exactly as printed, in the same format it was presented on the card:

   You are holding in your hand a walking stick of unity. God uses simple objects to speak clear messages. It was this way when God told the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel to go to His people and take two sticks and bind them together in his hand, making them a single stick. God was showing His people that after years of suffering and division, they were going to be united as one in His hand.
     God named one of the sticks Ephraim which means, "God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering."
  It is our prayer God will encourage you during these difficult days.
   When God told

Ezekiel to name the stick Ephraim, He was declaring a message:  I am about to take your incredible suffering and make it fruitful.
    God took His nation that was divided, disjointed and in immense suffering, and declared unity and fruitfulness through Ezekiel's message.   We stand united in the great cause of rebuilding and restoration.  And we believe that God, through His son, Jesus, will give you the strength to endure and know a new hope and a future.  Just call upon His name.  May God continue to unite us all in His hand as we "stick together."

                                               (Ez 37:15-28)

     I found the reading comforting.  Terrorism is all about dividing us from within.  The current finger pointing to government and the suggestion that the President of the United States could have, or should have done something to stop the Terrorists, is nothing more than Terrorism at work in another form.   As we begin to doubt our leaders, and the press and media sling more and more questions at the character of leadership, we become more and more fearful we are pawns to be used by powerful people.   We turn against ourselves, not our enemy.
     In families the symptom of blaming one another forms as more division.   Two children accusing one another of doing this or doing that to the other invites the parents to stand for one at the expense of the other.   Walls of division are formed.  
     Husbands and wives who have no common passions outside of themselves, no unified goal that supercedes their own human frailties, find living with one another onerous.  Communication begins to fade.   Goals and mutual ambitions cease.   In 50% of the cases, divorce results, and the Terror that brings to children through disunity is beyond any measuring tool.
     The abusive or negligent parents cleaves the family also.   Being too busy to communicate with the child on the deepest emotional level--with the child's fears, intimidations and complacencies--makes the child feel abandoned.   He or she retreats within where it safe, believing he or she isn't loved, or wanted, or appreciated.  If the child was, the parents would crawl inside the soul of the child, and walk with it through the maze of fears, doubts, confusions, intimidations and tangled feelings.  
      Then there is the emotional and physical abusive parent, who chides his or her child verbally, or uses physical force to inflict pain and punishment rather than a corrective lesson.   "You're not worthy," "I wish you hadn't been born,"  "Don't bother me," "Leave me alone," "Can't you get anything right!"   These are just some of many ways a child becomes Terrorized and grows either into a bully who issues more Terrorism to others, or a child of Intimidation and Fear, always shirking  situations or commitments that may put it at risk.   Such a child looks in the mirror and sees not an evolving bundle of energy designed to plow the fields of its imagination, but rather sees a reflection of an unworthy, limited being who better not make any mistakes or he or she will have to pay a terrible price.  The potential Garden of Eden for a child becomes its Ground Zero, a place where ashes and bones litter the soil of its existence.
      So I saw the Ezekiel Stick and its message of unity another reminder to me of the need to promote Vigilance to fight Terrorism.  Vigilance is the glue that unifies one with the world.   Its purpose is to drive Fear, Intimidation and Complacency into the open where the sunlight of Hope rather than shadows of Dismay will expose it and render its impotent.   As I walked with the Ezekiel Stick, I began to think of it as my Vigilance Stick--a reminder never to bury the victims Nine Eleven, but to keep them alive.
      There were many other people along the way who offered reminders that Vigilance was not dead, even though the search for the victims of the tragedy was over.
These onlookers held posters and placards thanking those who had searched and sifted and prayed for the recovery of countless victims.  They were saluting the Sentinels of Vigilance who had shined light on futility over the past nearly nine months.  I accepted my share of their gratitude, as did my wife, for I believe we have been Vigilant daily in the search for understanding and appreciating the value of life after September 11th.
       Besides ourselves, we were marching for our daughter, a federal law enforcement agent, who had crawled through the rubble after work to help find any remaining survivors.   We thought of her volunteering her time to find the lost, the trapped, the remnants of life.  We thought of our beautiful, dedicated daughter digging through the ash in search of a finger, a hand, a wallet, purse, anything to confirm a death--or, hopefully, a victim still alive.    Each night she came home saddened by the futility of the search, and worn by the anguish of crawling through the gravesite of Terrorism.  We thought also of her daily strapping on her gun and going in search of the Terrorists of the streets, hunting them down at her own risk, ready to give her life at any moment to keep others safe.
      We marched also for our friend Emily whose brother, Bill Biggart, lost his life photographing the heroic efforts of firemen and police.   Bill was the only reporter to die in the holocaust.   He, like I, was a combat correspondent.   We had both rushed to the site, he in one direction, I in another.  I had been enjoying a coffee the morning of September 11 when the first plane smashed into the Twin Tower.  Emily had given me a giant hug before I went into the bowels of Hell, begging me to return safely.   I did.  Her brother didn't.  We marched for Emily and for Bill as well as for all the others who died that day.  We marched for their loved ones, for their children, for their children's children in hopes that Vigilance would one day be the top news story, and its principles become important than the Terrorism of Fear, Intimidation and Complacency our society often finds more tasty than Courage, Conviction and Right Action.

         Along the march, my wife overhead a woman telling her daughter as we passed through the well-wishers lining the streets applauding:  "They're clapping for us, dear.  They're clapping for our family.  Isn't that nice."
       The young girl had lost her uncle in the attack.  He was her father's twin brother, a firefighter, Lt.Geoff Guja, Engine 82.   The young girl smiled up at her mother:  "Yes, mom, that's very nice of them."
      As the applause rang, I thought of my return from Vietnam. Instead of cheers I received jeers.  People spat upon me, calling me a baby killer.   I recalled the shame not the accolades of a nation that turned its backs on its warriors, young men like myself who ideally went to liberate a people from the strangulations and Terrorism of communism.  The glory of that mission got twisted, and we, as had the French soldiers returning in defeat from Din Bin Phu in 1954 became the scum of the country, relegated to constant indictment and buried in graves of shame and guilt that stuck to our souls and fouled our pride and dignity.
       The applause I heard yesterday softened that blow to my ruptured spirits of long ago.  In a small but significant way they salved my continuing sense I had failed my country and that my country had failed me.   I gave thanks to those who applauded for I realized that Ground Zero meant more than just a Terrorist attack, it meant the beginning of a new era.   I took a picture of a sign on a school that illustrated the new message, and my heart opened to healing of old wounds.
        But I knew the impact of Ground Zero would live painfully in many hearts and soil many souls as Vietnam had mine.  I saw the look of defeat on many of the rescue workers' faces.  They were etched with sadness and defeat because their work was not finished.  They were thinking of the thousand plus people who had not been found.  I knew they would live forever wishing they had done more, that the digging and sifting should have never ended.   I hoped the applause would help to heal those wounds, and someday, when they questioned their efforts, they would know they had done their best despite the outcome.  Now, thirty-five years later, I felt that way about my part in the Vietnam War.
       As we reached the end of the march, the bagpipers ahead of us broke into an honor guard.  They peeled off right and left, flanking both sides of the street, forming a path of Honor through which we, the last group, would pass.
    . The leader of "last brigade" was a retired fireman wearing his "combat fire gear" and carrying a large American Flag.  We stood silently as the bagpipers played the National Anthem and then began to slowly march forward, closing the gap toward the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.
      As we passed through the Hall of Honor, I puffed out my chest.  I was proud my wife and I had written daily articles on fighting Terrorism with Vigilance for the past 261 days--an accumulation of more than 400,000 words--each urging readers to become Citizens or Parents of Vigilance, to take the Vow of Vigilance, to fight Terrorism both within and without.
      I was proud of my daughter who crawled through the rubble, who risked her life for others safety and security.   I was also proud of our other daughter, who is about to give birth to Baby of Vigilance, conceived amidst one of the most horrible days in American history, a Child of Vigilance who hopefully will learn the power to fight Terrorism and drive it from our homeland forever. I was proud of my wife for writing her G-Ma Lori stories, helping others see ways to enter the child's world of Fear and Intimidation with Courage and Conviction.
      After the parade we stood with those who had also marched and talked.  Many were exhausted.  Some cried.   Others seemed to feel as though the Sisyphus rock had been pushed over the mountain. 
      We called our daughter, the federal agent, and left her a message we had marched for her.  She was busy chasing the bad guys, the local Terrorists who daily try and steal America's security through crime.   We told her we had gotten her an Ezekiel Stick, a reminder of her contributions to those who had been lost that day.
      We talked with many other people as we rested.   A family who had lost their son, Bill, all wore t-shirts with his name on it, and their statement of love for him.   A retired NYPD detective shared with us he had lost his son, and we offered our condolences.
       I had taken many pictures along the way. I took them not only for this website, but in memory of Emily's brother, William G. Biggart, her brother who died that day recording the face of heroes in the face of horror.
       Sweating but exalted we could participate in the final event, we stopped by Starbucks for an iced coffee then slowly walked toward the East Village where we lived, near both of our daughters. 
        The journey uptown reminded me of September 11th as I trudged out of the epicenter, covered with soot, past streams of crowds gawking at the burning ashes of America's most famous icons--the Twin Towers.   The farther I walked that day,  the less people seemed to notice me and the ashes on my clothes and backpack, or the hollowness of my eyes.   It seemed the more distance I put between  Ground Zero, the more life became normal, the less pained people were, the less concerned, the less involved.
      By the time we reached the East Village people were stopping us to admire our walking sticks, unaware they represented a long march through the pain of Nine Eleven.   It was as though we had passed his finger through a bucket of water, and few knew it had happened.
     It was okay though.   I understood.  Life must go on.
     We returned that night to see opening of Sheryl Crow's show at Battery Park, kicking off New York's River-To-River summer season.  Five-hundred free events have been slated, each designed to renew life and business into the ravished Lower Manhattan area.  After watching the opening songs of Sheryl Crow, rushed back to Ground Zero to attend Reverend Billy's last sermon.  We got terribly lost.  We walked all around the site, asking for directions to the services but found no one who could direct us.    It became late and we finally headed home.
      I urgently wanted to offer a final prayer for all those lost Souls of Vigilance and for their family and loved ones.  I was sad I missed the opportunity, but glad I had an unfinished job I could work on--one that would keep digging into Ground Zero and exhuming the Spirits of Vigilance.  
        I was aware that as long as I maintained Vigilance, and the elements of it--Courage, Conviction and Right Action--I would be driven daily to dig deep into the womb of the Ground Zero, searching for fragments and artifacts of Terrorism to spur my words about the Sentinels of Vigilance, and the need we all have to never bury their presence in shallow or deep graves.
     Most importantly, I knew Terrorism wasn't dead.  It didn't get buried in finality yesterday.   It is alive and well in many forms, both Physical and Emotional. 
     Each day, I knew, countless thousands of Terrorism attacks would be launched upon the minds and bodies of Americans--especially against our children.   Unfortunately, they wouldn't come from Osama bin Laden.  They would be "internal attacks" caused when a child didn't feel his or her parents loved him or her enough, or felt he or she was too poor, or not worthy enough, or smart enough, or popular enough.  These thoughts of depreciating self worth, born from Fears and Intimidations and Complacencies within the child's mind,  would gnaw at the foundations of the child's Twin Towers. 
      Sadly, some would elect to jump from the windows of life, unable to bear the heat or threat of more internal Terrorism, convinced their lives were unworthy..  Others would crawl in a shell of Intimidation, or jump at the snap of a twig from their frailty to Fear Fear, and most disconcerting, some would do nothing to change their thoughts.  They would fall into a state of Complacency where the difference between a rut and grave was only the depth.
      I couldn't let that happen--not without a fight. 
      I knew there was a reason for the Twin Towers attack.  It was to bring Terrorism out of hiding.  It was to alert us as a society that we must fight Terrorism daily, within our homes, in hour minds, in our children's minds.
      Terrorism's goal, I believe, has never been to destroy buildings, bridges or icons.  It's true goal is to infect Fear, Intimidation and Complacency.  Its mission is to weaken to shatter America's  foundations, forcing us to  turn against one another and blame others for our ills rather than take responsibility for our actions.  And to do that, we must take action--must take a Vow of Vigilance.  
      Terrorism of the Emotional and Physical kind would not pass on its own.  It must be shoved out of our minds and actions.   The military could bring a thousand Osama bin Laden heads on as many silver platters and it would not secure our nation from future attacks.   Only when our population--the parents of children, their grandparents, their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces vow to fight Terrorism Within will Terrorism realize it is wasting its time trying to drive wedges of Fear, Intimidation and Complacency into the hearts of our Courage, Conviction and ability to take the Right Action.
       If there is justification for the deaths of so many on September 11, it is that they have become America's Sentinels of Vigilance, just at the Spartans who died in the Battle of Thermopylae have stood for 2,500 years as Sentinels of Greece's Vigilance.  The modern Olympic marathon is said to have started from the Battle of Thermopylae when a messenger ran 26 miles as fast as possible to warn the city of approaching invaders.
      I will continue to march for Vigilance by creating legions of words and calls to actions, hopefully read by many, each of which will be designed to cause one more person to take the Pledge of Vigilance.

      My motivation is the knowledge that we can never bury our Spartans of Vigilance.  They stand eternally, waiting for future orders, and in the interim, as Simonides said over two millenniums ago, they warn everyone they have not died.
      My call to action for you is:  Don't let the Spirits of Vigilance die in your mind.  Vow to keep them alive.  Take the Pledge of Vigilance today-- fight for the security of your children, or your loved ones--and their children's children's children.
      And if you forget, I'll be here to remind you to remember.

      Semper Vigilantes--Always Vigilant!