Sentinels Of Vigilance Created - Press Release



GROUND ZERO, New York City, October 15--A former U.S. Marine Corps Combat Correspondent Vietnam vet, who brushed the face of death September 11 when he dashed down to the World Trade Center to witness America’s surprise terrorist attack, came out of the rubble determined to help children and parents fight the “Beast of Terrorism.”

            Cliff McKenzie, 58, has created the “Sentinels of Vigilance,” a living memorial to the thousands who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.  He urges parents across America to take the Pledge Of Vigilance as a message to terrorists around the world that American families will not allow their children to be bullied by fear, intimidation or complacency.

            Minutes after the first plane slammed into the Twin Towers, McKenzie threw his laptop into his backpack and rushed to Ground Zero from the East Village to capture the historic event in words.  His journey almost cost him his life.

            “The police made us move away from the burning building.  We were herded down a couple of blocks and then it collapsed, shooting debris and dust everywhere,” he recalled.

            McKenzie, a veteran of more than a hundred combat operations in Vietnam where he was assigned as one of the first U.S. Marine Combat Correspondents to report the war in 1965 and 1966, helped protect four women from the fallout and then moved closer to the epicenter to capture the horror of the tragedy for his “combat diaries.”

            “I had two missions at Ground Zero,” he said.  “The first was my reporter’s instinct to witness one of America’s most historic events--a horrible one to say the least.  The second was my daughter.  She’s a federal law enforcement agent. I wanted to see if I could find her.”


            As McKenzie moved closer to see what he could to help, the second tower started to fall.   “It hung for a second as though suspended by strings, and then crashed down like a rock,” he said.

            Again, he dodged the building’s shrapnel, only this time less worried about being stricken by biological agents.

            “When the first building went down we thought the ground exploded and the terrorists had released some chemical agent.   As I took a breath of the black rain, I was sure it was going to be my last one,” he added.

            McKenzie recalls when the first building fell he was huddling with four women against a wall, unsure what was going to happen next.  He put his hands on their shoulders and said, “If we’re going to die, think of something beautiful.  Don’t cry.  Think of something beautiful.”

            In combat, McKenzie said learned fear wasn’t an ally.  “You had to want to live to survive,” he commented. “Those who were afraid, died quick deaths.   To stay alive, you had to put fear in the back seat.”


Sitting in the rubble against a lamppost near Ground Zero, McKenzie pounded his laptop to capture the emptiness, the loneliness and the horror of streets littered with rubble.  He wrote as thousands of pieces of paper fluttered to the ground. “The papers kept coming, falling like feathers of destruction,” he described.  The streets, he said, were covered with a deathly caulk from the explosions, and pieces of human body parts were scattered about.  

            “It was like the end of the world.  Certainly, it was the end of America’s innocence as an impregnable nation of peace and security,” he said.   “I knew this was a moment of great historic change for America.  I felt the fear, intimidation and complacency of our nation seeping into my bones.  Then I had an epiphany in the center of Hell.”

            At that moment, McKenzie says he decided to dub himself the New York City Combat Correspondent and launch an uphill battle to convince Americans to become “Parents of Vigilance” to help them fight terrorism’s fallout in their children.  He has two grandchildren, ages three and five, who live near him in the East Village.  “I saw their innocence being threatened, their security being placed in jeopardy,” he says.

At Ground Zero, he pounded out his first New York City Combat Correspondent diary.   It was about America’s need to fight terrorism’s fear with vigilance. To give his words credibility, he reflected upon his private battle with what he calls “The Beast Of Terror.”


            “In Vietnam, I came face-to-face with the ‘Beast Of Terror,’ many times,” he explained.  “I saw it in the faces of little children—innocent kids in villages we bombed or strafed or destroyed—or the Viet Cong destroyed.   I saw it in the face of young men gone mad by the taste of killing, and, in my own self when I became a beast, when I forgot I was human.”

            McKenzie claims he is an expert at fighting terrorism because of his private battles with it over the last thirty-five years.   Just prior to the attack on September 11, he was putting the finishing touches on his Vietnam memoirs, called The Pain Game.  The book deals with how the "Beast of Terror," had consumed him in war, and left him full of fear, anger, and resentments he battled with the rest of his life.

            “I’ve fought the battle of terrorism both inside my soul, and outside for most of my life,” he stated.   “When I saw America being raped and pillaged by the Beast of Terror at Ground Zero, I felt something snap inside me.   I knew it was time to battle terrorism on its true front—to drive it from the minds of children and their parents. Terrorists plant the seeds of fear in the minds of parents and children.  They fertilize this fear with each new anthrax or bomb scare, or mere threat of the next attack.  Terrorism is an emotional disease, far more insidious than anthrax.  We have to fight it with emotional as well as physical shields.  My mission is to fight terrorism with what I call The Shield of Vigilance—to create a wall of courage, conviction and action that stands between terrorism and our children so parents can protect them from fear, intimidation and complacency,” he said.  
           McKenzie says he's proud that he was able to arm his two daughters with the strength to fight the terrors of life.   "I taught my children to be wary of the Beast of Terror," he said.   "Today, they fight that beast in their own individual ways."
         One of his daughters is a federal law enforcement officer in New York City.  The other works with the homeless and disenfranchised, and is attending Union Theological Seminary to receive her Masters in Divinity.  "I joke that my two daughters are on duty each day fighting the Beast of Terror," he says.  "One carries two 9mm Glocks to do her job, and the other carries a cross.  But both are fearless in facing life's terrors, and that makes me proud," he added.


            Upon his return to the East Village on September 11, where he lives with his wife, Lori, the six-foot four, two-hundred and sixty pound former Marine, polished up his first story and delivered it to the New York Times.  For the next ten days he wrote furiously, delivering new stories daily to the Times but getting no response.

            “I finally got an e-mail from one of the editors who told me they were deluged with material.   I realized that what I had to say would only get published if I published it.  So I started my own --the short form for New York City Combat Correspondent.”

            With his wife’s help, McKenzie designed the website and started publishing his call for Americans to form Parents of Vigilance Teams in each community.  

A skilled marketer, McKenzie was the original senior vice president of Century 21 International Real Estate.   He quarterbacked the marketing of the company from a handful of offices in 1972 to over 7,500 generating more than $50 billion in gross product sales by 1980.  When the company sold that year, he resigned and began consulting with other national and international franchise systems.   He says he’s familiar with what it takes to communicate with America’s heartland.  “The word franchising means to be ‘free from servitude,” he commented.  “And ‘Vigilance’ means to me to be free from fear of terrorism.  They are very similar.”

Using his franchising background, McKenzie is sending his website to over 8,000 mayors who head up America’s communities of 30,000 population centers.  He encourages them to adopt the Semper Vigilantes theme for their communities.   There is no cost or obligation to his format—he offers it free for the taking.

“You can’t sell a principle of freedom.  It doesn’t have a price tag,” he said.


            His Pledge Of Vigilance, he says, helps parents vow to protect their children, their home, their neighborhood and community from terrorism’s greatest threats.  He calls them the Three Horsemen of Terrorism’s Apocalypse.

            “Terrorism’s primary purpose is to create fear, intimidation and complacency in the people it attacks.   The material damage is incidental to the emotional wounds it thrives upon.   To fight the fear, intimidation and complacency we need to replace them with courage, conviction and action.   So we developed the logo, Semper Vigilantes.  It’s Latin for Always Vigilant.  It serves as a symbol and constant reminder of strength and commitment.   When a parent is Semper Vigilantes," he says, "it's like digging a moat around the children's minds.   It sets up barriers that help a child fight the crippling feelings of powerlessness and intimidation that result from terrorism.  Children never forget horrors like this one.  The horror sinks deep in their marrow and hides there until the lights go off,” he said. 
"Semper Vigilantes is a child's security blanket from terrorism."


            McKenzie is an advocate that history predicts the future.   He searched his resources for a historical reference and found it with the help of his son-in-law’s father, Joseph “Skip” Hamilton Jr., a retired New York City attorney who lives on Staten Island.

            “I asked Joe to help me come up with a Latin term that illustrated constant vigilance.  He not only helped me develop Semper Vigilantes, but  pointed me in the direction of an ancient story that gave life to the symbol,”  McKenzie said.

            At the suggestion of Hamilton, McKenzie reached back over 2,500 years to 480 BC to the Battle of Thermopylae where a handful of Spartans held back tens of thousands of Persian “terrorists” invading Greece.  A small group of Spartans were given the mission of protecting a narrow pass to hold back the invading Persians so their main army could regroup, McKenzie recalled.  The defenders achieved their goal but were all killed in the defense of their nation.  But they didn’t die in vain, he added.  They were turned into a legend by Greek poet Simonides who memorialized their spirits as “sentinels of vigilance,” standing guard over the land, protecting it from invasion, attack.  The Spartans’ “living spirits," McKenzie claims,  are a constant reminder to all the citizens of Greece to remain vigilant throughout time.

            “I didn’t want to see the deaths of the thousands of people at the World Trade Center, or the Pentagon, or those who died fighting terrorists in the crash in a lonely field in Pennsylvania, go down as a tragic memorial.   I wanted to create a ‘why they died’ memorial to them—to keep their ‘spirits alive’ as the Greek poet Simonides did the Spartans who died at Thermopylae.  Hopefully, I’ve done that.”


            McKenzie calls those who died at the World Trade Center and the other sites of terrorism, America’s “Spartans of Vigilance.”  He claims it would be a travesty if we continue to call them “victims of a tragedy.”   He believes their spirits stand above the rubble, watching, guarding, warning, protecting everyone to remain Semper Vigilantes--Always Vigilant.  To punctuate his point, he created a black armband he wears daily.  On it are the words Semper Vigilantes, the date 09-11-01, a U.S. Flag, and under the flag, the words: “Unified, In Death And Life!”

            He wears the armband each day for a number of reasons.   “First, it reminds me to stay vigilant—to not give in to the pressures of quitting what I’m doing.   It is easy to get complacent and think the government is going to stop terrorism.  That’s not possible.  The government can’t kill fear, intimidation or complacency.  Only individuals can combat those enemies.  Only when we are not afraid will the terrorism stop, because it will have nothing to feed upon.  We can starve terrorism with courage,” he stated.

            The second reason McKenzie says he wears the armband is to alert others who want to forget that terrorism still lurks in the shadows,  they can’t afford to  “When I see people looking at the armband, seeing the words, Unified In Death And Life, I know the armband is telling them they can’t afford to forget.  I only wish more people wore them.  I don’t believe we can ever afford to forget that we, the Parents Of Vigilance, are the front-line defense against terrorism.  But we will," he said, " if we don’t force ourselves to remember America is no longer impregnable.   There will be others who will try and duplicate what bin Laden, or whomever, has done.  Bin Laden is not the source of terrorism.  Hate is.  And fighting hatred will take some time to resolve.  In the interim, we need to defend ourselves over the long haul toward peace,” he added.

            McKenzie does not sell any products on his web site.   He offers the design of the logo and armband to any and all who chose to adopt the symbol.  He includes a logo page where visitors can copy the design.

            “I’m a writer not a merchandiser.   I know I could sell millions of armbands and other adaptations of the Semper Vigilantes theme, but I’ve chosen to give it to the world—it’s my gift to the children of terrorism.   My job is to write, to create tools that help people remember when they don’t want to, to stay vigilant when they get complacent,” he added.

            To fund his web page, McKenzie asks any visitor to the site to send $1.00 if they feel they have received value from his words.   “I’m a writer,” he says, “and if I make any money, I want it to come from the value of my words, not things I sell.”    He also is seeking corporate sponsorships to aid in the funding of his website.

            “I’d love to have a Gerber’s, or Starbucks, a Century 21—any of the major companies who are concerned about families and the security of the nation—help support me.   But they have to believe that only when we--the parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, nieces and nephew--take a public stand against terrorism will the root of the problem go away.   To think a Home Security militia, or bombs and bullets, or killing the head of the snake will eliminate terrorism is a false strategy, I believe.   But a nation of parents who will not kowtow to terrorism’s fear or intimidation or become complacent—that, I believe, is our great offensive defense against terrorism,” he commented.


            “When a child asks his mother or father why this attack on America happened-- why bad people hurt good people--I believe it is critical that we as a nation have an worthy answer at our fingertips.   The Sentinels of Vigilance provide a child with a magical way of seeing the deaths of many in a positive framework.   Instead of the deaths of thousands striking fear and intimidation or complacency in the hearts of children, the Sentinels of Vigilance give the children heroes who stand ready to defend them, to sit with them in the dark of their bedroom ready to drive the bogeymen of fear away.”  

            The  Semper Vigilantes symbol isn’t just the privy of American parents, he added.  It is designed to be used parents of any nation.

“Semper Vigilantes can be used by parents worldwide to symbolize their stand against terrorism at the grass roots level. All they do is put their nation’s flag on it, and translate ‘Unified, In Death & Life!” in their language,” he said.

                                       FAIRY TALES TELL STORY  OF VIGILANCE
McKenzie’s website is rich with various messages to promote confidence and vigilance.   He has included
a page called “Sophia’s Wisdoms,” geared for women, written by women.  Currently, his wife, Lori, writes stories for children based on her relationship with her two grandchildren.  They are called “G-Ma Stories.”

            “Sophia’s Wisdoms gives the maternal viewpoint to helping children understand and deal with terrorism of all kinds,” McKenzie explained.   “Terrorism isn’t just solely the battle against foreign enemies, but also how a child feels about himself or herself inside.   Vigilance builds a child’s self-worth and self-confidence.”

            “Fairy tales are used to explain various questions the children have.   They provide a great vehicle to express answers in ways children can understand and relate.”


            On the political front, McKenzie worries about the citizens of America abdicating their responsibility to fight terrorism to the government.

            “There is a fallacy in our country that the government can do anything for us.   It can’t,” he said.  “So I have a lot of dialog focusing on the responsibility we have as parents to not become complacent and think the White House or the new Home Security Cabinet post is a solution.   If anything, it creates a false sense of safety.”

            One of McKenzie’s historic heroes is Thomas Paine, who wrote the pamphlets Common Sense that helped stir the citizens of America into revolting against England to seek their independence.  

            “Back in the pre-Revolutionary War American, citizens formed their own militia.   They realized that government limited their freedoms.   I believe Semper Vigilantes means that we as parents and citizens should stand up in our communities to fight not only terrorism from outside our borders, but the insidious intrusion of it inside our borders as well.”

            He shudders at the words “Home Security,” and can see the liberties of America being sacrificed as Americans turn more and more power over to the government to fight terrorism.

            “One of the great terrors that can result from the attacks of September 11 is that our children’s freedoms become limited.   I believe Parents Of Vigilance should be as alert to defending their children’s rights and freedoms as they would their physical or emotional safety,” he said.

            But, he adds, the first step on any journey is getting his message to people.   “I’m one guy with a small Voice who needs lots of support,” he commented.  “Each day I write, publish and promote.   I will continue as long as the threat of terrorism exists—both from without and within.   And, when I get burdened and frustrated, I just go visit my grandchildren and look in their eyes.  Then I know why I wear a Semper Vigilantes armband, and why every parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt, niece, nephew and cousin should too.”

            McKenzie’s website is   His address is New York City Combat Correspondent Team, 45 E. 7th St. Box 127, New York, NY, 10003. 

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