Zero Plus 359
The Naked Skies Over Ground
Leave New York City Children Alone
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
F-16 Falcon flies
over NYC in September, 2001 Smoke from Ground Zero is visible
GROUND ZERO, New York
City, September 6-- I listen but I don't hear. I look but I
don't see. I feel naked.
Following September 11 I went to bed late
at night and arose early to the sound of the F-16 fighter jets overhead,
patrolling the city of New York from further attack. It was
comforting. I felt there was a Sentinel In The Sky, warding off
anyone who thought he could penetrate our air space.
The 24-hour-a day vigilance ended with a
whimper, not a bang. On March 18, 2002, the flights were stopped.
However, the night and day patrols over Washington D.C. were not.
This raised hackles on the political necks of New York Senators, as well
as on the necks of those who feel exposed now that the flights have
What makes me nervous about our skies being
barren is the memory of the sound of the first Terrorist plane.
I was sitting having a cup of coffee, writing as I did every morning on my
memoirs from Vietnam. They are titled The Pain Game,
and included a collection of the horror and glory of war as seen by a man
who was charged with fighting and killing first, then writing about it in
the aftermath. I was a U.S. Marine Combat Correspondent, one of the
first to report the war in Vietnam.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I
heard a screaming jet engine overhead. I looked up at its
silver underbelly, shocked it was so low and traveling at incredible
speed. My instincts were to duck. I knew
something was wrong. Huge jetliners don't hug the ground over
major cities unless they are in trouble. Little did I know.
The rest is the story of 21st Century
infamy. The plane was a bomb full of innocent hostages,
hurtling toward a new page of Terrorist history--the kind of history that
makes one wonder if mankind will ever climb out of his primordial ooze.
I know a little about the value of air
support. In Vietnam I chalked up over 100 combat missions,
volunteering to be in the thick of action so I could experience the most
about war. As a fighter/writer, the price I paid for capturing
stories was to be part of them--to be at the leading edge of combat so
that after the smoke cleared, I could scrawl out first-hand stories of
victory, or, in some cases, defeat.
Were it not for our air support, we would
have lost that war much faster than we did. Whenever we engaged the
enemy, our first call was for air support. Screaming fighter
jets would dive down and release tumbling, steel napalm "eggs" on
top of enemy positions, igniting the verdant jungle in orange-black balls
of flame and smoke, snuffing out our competition.
Once, pinned down by a machine gun bunker
dug into the side of a hill, a Marine pilot jammed his jet full throttle
and released a napalm bomb that slid right into the bunker opening.
We cheered. It was the finest display of marksmanship we had
ever seen. The pilot's accuracy probably saved countless lives.
Then there were the helicopter gunships.
They attacked like locust from the sky, sliding silently down to release
rockets and machine gun fire on enemy positions, routing them as we
Were it not for our air support, the Viet Cong would
have bitten us to death like ducks, for our eagle's eye came from the sky
not the ground. I knew air support saved lives. I knew it had
saved mine many times.
September 11 wasn't the first time
24-hour-air patrols protected New York City. During the Cuban
missile crisis in 1962, military fighter jets flew night and day
sorties around the number-one populated target for any enemy.
When you have 8 million people jammed onto one rock, it makes for an easy
U.S. Senator Charles
Schumer (D-NY), questioned the decision to stop the 24-hour vigil over the
city. He was not impressed that the Pentagon authorized night
and day flights to protect Washington D.C., while the Big Apple, was
left unguarded by over flights. "If Washington D.C. still
needs this kind of protection, why the heck doesn't New York?" he asked.
Money was the big reason for stopping the
flights, reported Craig Gordon of the Newsday Washington Bureau.
He noted that the Air Force had spent $500 million on the flights,
involving 200 fighter jets and 10,000 Air Force personnel from 30 bases
around the country.
But the problem was response time.
The Pentagon said it could have a plane in the sky and on any enemy in 15
minutes. That seemed far too late if a plane leaving local
airports was turned on the city. A fighter jet from Atlantic
City, Vt., traveling at 1,100 miles per hour would need five and a half
minutes to cover the 100 miles to Manhattan.
Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) joined in
the quest to get answers about why the flights were stopped, but Victoria
Clark, Pentagon spokeswoman, refused to give details of how New York was
to be protected from the sky, other than noting that random flights would
be launched, and, as with the 4th of July, and other high security events,
flights would be increased.
It comes down to the Parents protecting the Parents,
but the Children being exposed.
I often think of story about a mother in the frozen
north taking her children to another town in the 19th Century on a sled
pulled by a horse.
A pack of wolves approached, threatening
the family. The mother had a daughter and a new born.
She pushed the older daughter out to feed the wolves and continued on her
I sometimes wonder about the logic of leadership.
I think back to George Washington, the Father of Democracy,
as he was called. What kind of parent would protect themselves
at the expense of their children?
To a Terrorist, New York City would certainly be
the first target rather than Washington D.C. for one simple reason--it is
most vulnerable. Washington D.C. is heavily armed to stop
attacks, while New York City is more into attracting tourists by opening
its arms to all. In contrast, Washington D.C. barricades
Pennsylvania Avenue and has machine-gun toting guards posted at all
corners of the avenue.
Maybe my uneasiness isn't just
the fact I don't hear the sweet, comforting sound of an F-15 or F-16 engine singing in my ears as I
sleep, as much as the idea that the US. Government would rather spend its
time and money protecting our "leaders" than our children.
I wonder if the President and his Cabinet were
aboard a life raft full of kids in the middle of the ocean, and food and
water were scarce, who would be the first to be thrown overboard?
This isn't a harsh evaluation of government.
It is a reality. Importance breeds contempt for others.
The more elevated one becomes, the more diminished others are in their
eyes. It's a matter of physics. And a principle of
government. Government believes it is the Father of the
children, and has rights over them. These rights include who is
charge of locking the door at night - and who gets fed to the wolves.
If the government subscribed the Pledge of
Vigilance and asked the question: "What's in the best interests of
the children and their children's children's children?" they wouldn't have
stopped the fighter jet flights over New York City. Out of a
population of 8 million, 2.1 million are children under the age of 18.
Each child is in the cross hairs of any Terrorist seeking to show the world
their power over America. The World Trade Center was the prime
target in the September 11 attack, and New York City is the Ground Zero
for future attacks. Attacking New York is attacking the heart
of America's power, for like Paris or London, it represents the Birthplace of a
George Washington was inaugurated as the first
President in New York City. Our first Congress met here.
And it represents the financial and cultural hub of the world.
So why would the jets be stripped from the sky? What is the
ratio of $500 million dollars in cost versus 2.1 million children's
As we approach September 11, I am worried we will
bury the past. I worry that the city and its parents didn't
shout in alarm when the F-16's stopped circling our city.
issue slipped through the cracks. I didn't realize it
myself until awakening this morning at 3:30 and hearing silence in the
sky. Most early mornings I was lulled into comfort by
the sound of the jet overhead, prowling the sky as a hungry shark, eager
to taste a Terrorist trying to slither through the sky toward some
I was met instead with a deadly silence.
I thought of my three grandchildren and two
daughters sleeping soundly, unaware the roof of their city was exposed,
laid bare by the politicians who elected to turn their heads away from the
city of New York, and aim their guns on Iraq--a far more noisy political
Instead of protecting the children of New York
City, the decision, it seems, is to bomb the children of Iraq.
Will it never end?
The answer is yes, it will.
Were we, the citizens of New York City, all to
take the Pledge of Vigilance, and to consider all decisions the government
makes in terms, not of budget or national security, but of and for the
children's security, we would have barked loudly as any watchdog, invoking
the Sentinels of Vigilance wrath upon those who pulled the security
blanket off our children's sleeping beds.
We might have bargained.
Since Washington D.C. and the District of Columbia has a population
half that of New York City, with half the children, we might
have lobbied for splitting the air patrols--1/2 New York City,
1/2 Washington D.C.
Complacency caught us all
asleep on this one. It is a signpost, warning us
to stay more alert. And it is a warning from Washington
D.C. about who has priority.
If we don't take a stand
and stand up for what we stand for, then we are the Terrorists--we
are the ones who put our children at risk.
I'm as guilty as anyone.
So I'm not pointing fingers at anyone except myself.
I'm going to start lobbying for
the fight jets. As long as Washington D.C. has them, we
That would be what the Sentinels
of Vigilance would say, and I agree. If you do too, take
the Pledge of Vigilance today and then dash off a letter to
your Senator or Congressperson, and speak your mind.
If you don't, Terrorism will slip in where Vigilance is vacant.
To Sep 5: Where Is My Mommy? My Daddy?
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