September 11, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 364
9.11.2002--5:30 a.m.
The Dawn Of Vigilance

Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

       GROUND ZERO, New York City, September 11-- I am going back to Ground Zero this morning with my wife.   We will be there at 5:30 a.m. for a sunrise service at Robert F. Wagner Park in Lower Manhattan.   As the sun dawns upon the day, I will see Hope on the horizon.  It will be riding on the backs of the Sentinels of Vigilance.

     I know many will shed tears this day.  Some will drop like acid upon the soil of Ground Zero; others in sweet sorrow.  Some will not cry; their tears have long evaporated from their souls, leaving the linings leathery, numb, worn by grief.
        Still others will not be there.  They refuse to relive the moment of horror that haunts them daily over the senseless loss of a loved one.

        Along with hundreds of other family members, I am planning to lay a flower upon the earth at Ground Zero.   I have become a brother to those who died—in my soul if not in flesh and blood.   I have lived with those who died each day for a year.   I set aside that day, September 11 as Ground Zero Day.   I count forward from it, Ground Zero Plus.  Today is Ground Zero Plus 364.
      I have seen their faces for the majority of 1440 minutes of each day, times 365.   I've heard their words of encouragement when I stumbled in the darkness of my doubts, wondering if what I was doing was truly worthy of them, or if I had a right to configure them as Sentinels of Vigilance, to breathe life in the marrow of their death.

        I have felt their presence guiding my fingers over the keyboard--becoming my readers, my audience.   Few others have been, but the Sentinels'  presence in my mind and heart has been more than enough to urge me on when I fell, to ignite the reason to get up each morning and carve them out of the marble of my memories.
    With respect, I have dressed them in clothing suitable for Sentinels of Vigilance.  I've given them wreaths to wear upon their heads, Swords of Vigilance to hang at their hips on golden ropes tied around their waists. 

      My wife has helped me create a Shield of Vigilance burnished with Courage, Conviction and Right Actions to aid the Sentinels of Vigilance in their tasks of warding off the Terrorism that slithers in the dark shadows below Ground Zero and beyond, stalking my children and grandchildren, and preying on other children--the innocents of the earth.
     I have listened to the cries of their loved ones who live after their death, and held them in my arms when they teeter on the edge of a breakdown, suffering the emptiness of the loss of ones so close.  I've known their loved ones were wounded, chunks of their hearts and souls carved out by the senselessness of  loss.   
     I have held them as a brother might a sister,  for they were all my family, my Brothers and Sisters of Vigilance.
     I don’t think I’ll cry tomorrow.

     If I do, I will cry tears of joy for their presence, not their departure.
     I have spent a large percentage of the limited life I have yet to live on this earth memorializing their memory, giving them as much elan vital  as I possibly can muster with clumsy words.   I know they appreciate it.   They thank me in many ways.
      I also know they appreciate my wife who has dedicated an equal percent of her remaining lifespan to bringing pictorial life to the Sentinels of Vigilance.  Were it not for the pictures she strategically positions next to the vital organs of my words, few would visualize the message as thoroughly as they do when a “perfect picture” sums it up.   She is a family member also, a Sister of Vigilance to those Sentinels of Vigilance who will look down upon all the tears falling at Ground Zero.
      Tomorrow I will pray for the innocent who do not fully understand why their Uncles and Aunts of Vigilance died that day.   Part of the innocent include our grandchildren.   They are the sparks that ignited the Torch of Vigilance in my wife and I to keep the Sentinels of Vigilance alive.  Were it not for the innocence of our grandchildren, and all children, I might think that writing about the Sentinels of Vigilance each and every day was an effort in futility, especially when few people read what was written. But I know better.

Vigil Candle At Washington Square Park 9.10.02

        My wife has helped keep the Sentinels of Vigilance Torch burning through her Sophia’s Wisdom writings.  They are the stories of Vigilance for parents to read to children.   They come from her experiences with Matt, our six-year-old grandson, Sarah, our four year old, and, the newest addition, Angus, conceived on September 11.  He  is approaching his third month.
      Our grandchildren are Children of Vigilance.   They were witnesses of the destruction.   Sarah cried one day when vigil candles that had burned from the first day of the disaster were removed from a store window a number of weeks following Nine Eleven.  Each day, on the way home from pre-school, she wanted to sit on the window ledge and look at them, and ask questions about the people they were burning for.   She cried the day they were removed.  Children know so much more than we can imagine.
        Then there was the time on the bus when Matt excitedly yelled as he looked out the window, “Look, the Twin Towers are back!  Look!  Look!”
        It was a large semi-trailer passing by, with the logo of the Twin Towers on its side    

       Our daughters have also been Sisters of Vigilance.   Our older conceived a child on September 11.   She and her husband brought another life into this world with a legacy of Vigilance; proof Terrorism has no shadow large enough to drive away the beauty of life. 

       During the aftermath of September 11, our older daughter continued her studies at Union Theological Seminary, and in May, received her Masters of Divinity.   She walked across the platform to receive her diploma with Angus in her belly, and her children at her side—symbols of the New Hope, Children of the Era of Vigilance.   She is family too, for those who died.   She carried in her womb the seeds of replacement, in honor to those who gave their lives for all of us.
       Our younger daughter is also a Sister of Vigilance.   Only unlike her older sister who carries a cross, our younger one carries two 9mm Glocks.   She’s a federal special agent, working under cover, so I cannot define which agency she works for.   I often tell people I am thoroughly protected in New York City by one daughter carrying a cross, and the other,  two guns.
       On September 11, and for days and weeks following the attack, our special agent daughter volunteered to dig trough the rubble.  She searched for signs of life, mostly at night, after her working hours.  She found a scalp one evening, and while it was horrible in one sense, it was comforting in another--her discovery led to the confirmation of a loved one's death.  

      There were other things she witnessed and experienced rummaging through twisted steel and concrete and ash, things only one who has dug through a graveyard of horror knows.    She is surely a Sister of Vigilance, for the Sentinels of Vigilance know her well, as they know all who gave their hearts and souls for them.
         Then there is Emily.
          Em, I call her.
          We were friends before September 11, 2001.   But on that day, we became brother and sister.   She was at the coffee shop with me when the first plane screamed over.  She was there when I packed my computer and ran toward the Twin Towers to report the event, to witness history being made—which at the time I had no idea what it would be, only that it would be monumental, for a plane smashing into the Twin Towers had to be historic.

Cliff McKenzie combat ready

        She gave me a big hug and told me I was crazy for going, and begged me to stay safe.   She knew I was a writer, a former Marine Combat Correspondent with lots of war experience.  She had read parts of my book I was completing, The Pain Game, my memoirs on being a Marine warrior.  It dealt with me being charged with the duty of “killing  the enemy,” and immediately after the last bullet was fired, donning another hat as a correspondent, a muse, writing about the glorification of war, always torn between being the poet and propagandist.   

        As I dashed toward Ground Zero, her brother, William Biggart, was charging up his war correspondent cameras and weaving his way into the thick of battle along with the firemen.  Em didn’t know that when I left.  She found out later when her brother was reported  missing.  A few days later a part of him was found, enough to confirm his death—the only news person killed that day.   Bill Biggart had traveled the world shooting pictures of wars in the far corners of the earth, and died in combat in his own backyard.  His photos and equipment from Nine Eleven are now in the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.

         Over the past year, Em and I have become brother and sister of the soul.   We often talk about the insanity of war correspondents wanting to get as close as possible to the bullets and bombs, eager to stick their heads up into the thick of it all to record the madness of human destruction.    I volunteered for over 100 combat missions in Vietnam; so it was in my blood to record the Beast of Terror’s face in full frame on September 11.  So was it for Bill Biggart.
       Just the other day Emily was over at our apartment.  We talked about that day, a year ago.   I offered to walk with her tomorrow, to be at her side if she needed me.   She told me thanks, but she was going to be okay.   I gave her my cell phone to call me just in case.   

       My wife and I had paid tribute to the Sentinels of Vigilance in many ways over this past year.  We walked with the families up West Street, at the Ground Zero Closing ceremonies in May.  It was presumptuous they shut the door on any hope of recovering anyone from the rubble.  We carried Ezekiel Walking Sticks given to us by those lining the road, eager for us to have something from them.
       We have come to know the Sentinels of Vigilance so well, we feel a part of them.  Besides our writing and promotion of the Sentinels, we have walked and talked daily about the importance of their lives--not the ones they have lived, but the ones they are living now, and will live in the future for those who believe in their purpose, who will take up the Sword of Vigilance and Shield of Vigilance to protect the children of the world from future harm.   

         Each day I walk around the city with my digital camera and shoot pictures of scenes that illustrate Vigilance.  Over this past year, I’ve seen the Flags of Vigilance fly with dignity and pride, and then disappear as the city sought to forget the events, to return to normalcy.  I was upset when the 11,000 cabs in New York City stopped flying their flags.   I was upset when the stores stopped using them to embellish their window displays.

         Now, the flags are being dusted off and reinstalled.    I noticed that Starbucks who had them up originally and then took them down, placed new ones in their stores.  The creases of the new wrinkles could be seen, evidence of a resurgence, if only tertiary.
        Then there has been the Terrorism that we don't talk about.  The Terrorism that isn't about Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein.
        Over this past year I’ve seen Constitutional Terrorism at work, as the government stripped certain rights away without a murmur from the citizens, without an uproar by parents who let their children’s rights be whittled away by the incendiary nature of the present problems.  
      Corporate Terrorism has raised its ugly head, ripping off people of their life savings, crumbling the institutional concept of financial security and integrity with the same devastation as the Terrorists’ planes ravished the World Trade Center.
      Spiritual Terrorism  had its day.  The exposure of the Catholic Church’s child molestation problems shook the foundations of trust among millions, and in others, shattered the image that there was one sanctuary free from the Terrors of the world where a child might be safe.
      Now, a new Terrorism looms on the horizon—war with Iraq.   I wrote about it yesterday (see story link below) in a “conversation with God” about the Eve of Destruction.   There is a pessimistic side of me that trusts no one.   That’s why I need the Sentinels of Vigilance to remind me that there is Hope, that there is a Dawn of Vigilance rather than an Eve of Destruction.
       As the Dawn of Vigilance rises tomorrow, it signals my work isn’t finished.   Neither is it for anyone who thinks the events of tomorrow represent the end of anything.  
       It is the beginning.  
       Tomorrow will only prove that  Terrorism thrives, and that we haven’t progressed much in a year to eliminate it.  The next day (September 12), President Bush will seek the support of the United Nations to attack Iraq.  
     I am convinced we won’t defeat Terrorism with bullets and bombs, or airport security, or raiding our children’s Constitutional Rights.  Terrorism is a shadow, not a form.   It can't be killed.   It can only be contained.  Light will eliminate the shadows.
         Only when Citizens of Vigilance take a Pledge of Vigilance will the lights go on strong enough to drive Terrorism under rocks.  
         When each citizen of America, and other nations of the world  Pledge Vigilance over Terrorism within their homes, as part of their lives, will the Terrorists of the world start to cringe.  When each person takes on the duty to hold the Torch of Vigilance up, Terrorism will lose its grip over us all.
        Despite the Sword Rattlers of Violence, Terrorists aren’t out to “kill” people.   They want to Terrorize them with Fear, Intimidation and Complacency.   They are sociopaths, not maniacal killers.

      Terrorists are bullies.   When the community bands together, they run.
       Our enemy is selfishness.  Alone, we are helpless.   By ourselves, we are mere grains on the beach, subject to Fear, Intimidation and Complacency.
       But when individuals take it upon themselves to stand up for the innocent, the helpless, the vulnerable, a new strength is found in all who make that choice.   No longer are they dominated by selfish fear.   By committing one's purpose for living to the protection and preservation of the innocent, we all become selfless.   The Fear, Intimidation and Complacency, which haunts us when we only care about ourselves is replaced with Courage, Conviction and Right Actions.  We rise to a higher calling.   Societies always have when their children are threatened.
       When the sinew of Vigilance is weaved into the muscles of our individualistic society, Terrorists will flee.   They will have no one to Intimidate.
       This includes Terrorists from abroad, as well as those within our borders—our government, our businesses, our religious leaders, and the bullies of the streets.  
        Terrorism begins at home, not in Iraq.   It is bred when we treat our children with abuse—neglecting their need to be shaped and strengthened from within as future Sentinels of Vigilance.   
       We, ultimately, are the Terrorists who make our children fearful of telling us their fears, cause them to be intimidated to share with us their dreams and hopes, and make them complacent about evolving.  
        Until we dedicate ourselves as Citizens of Vigilance, Parents of Vigilance, Grandparents of Vigilance, Uncles and Aunts of Vigilance, Cousins of Vigilance, Nephews and Nieces of Vigilance, or just as Loved Ones of Vigilance, we haven’t really turned the tables on Terrorism.

Eternal Flame of Vigilance

          It all begins with us, each of us, recognizing that Terrorism is a process of thoughts that lead to actions.   And if we can direct our thoughts to those of Vigilance—Courage, Conviction and Right Action—and steer them away from Terrorism—Fear, Intimidation and Complacency—then we’re on the right path.
       The day one takes the Pledge of Vigilance, he or she becomes a Brother or Sister of Vigilance.  A family member.

   That’s the day one can reach up and join the Circle of Vigilance that hovers over the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the lonely field in Pennsylvania where the Sentinels stand guard.

         Tomorrow morning I’m going to witness the Dawn Of Vigilance.   I’m going to see millions of hands joining the Circle of Vigilance, and hear the Sentinels of Vigilance chanting to me—Semper Vigilantes… Semper Vigilantes---Always Vigilant---Always Vigilant.
      You can join the Circle of Vigilance too.   Just take the Pledge of Vigilance.    And you’ll hear the Sentinels of Vigilance  whispering in your ear:  Semper Vigilantes....Semper Vigilantes.

Go To September 10 --Eve Of Destruction

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