September 6, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 359
The Naked Skies Over Ground Zero
Leave New York City Children Alone

Cliff McKenzie
   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 ceased.
       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 advanced. 

      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 target.    

       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 way.
    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.

F-15 Eagle

      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 Nation.
      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 safety?
      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. 

  The 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 unsuspecting target.
      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 target.
      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 should too.  
      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.


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