Saturday -- June 15, 2002—Ground
Zero Plus 276
Graveyard or Garden Of Vigilance?
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York City,
June 15-- Yesterday my wife and I marched in New York City's Flag Day
Parade through 18 blocks of Lower Manhattan, past Ground Zero, in tribute
to our flag and the fallen of September 11. We marched with the
Sentinels of Vigilance.
We marched for our daughters, our
grandchildren, our future grandchildren, for Bill Biggart, the only
journalist killed in the attack of September 11 and brother of a dear
friend of mine. We marched for the 2,800 Spirits of Vigilance
who died on September 11, including the 343 firemen, and 27 police and the
K-9 dog, Sirius. We marched for the 189 who died at the Pentagon,
and 44 who were killed on Flight 93 when the passengers attacked the
hijackers and stopped the plane from smashing into the White House or U.S.
We marched for more than 5,000 children
left fatherless or motherless as a result of the Terrorist attack, and for
the 300,000 friends, relatives and loved ones of those who died on the
Second Tuesday of September, 2001.
We marched for all my buddies who died in
battle in Vietnam--over 47,000 of them, and the millions of Americans who
have given their lives in defense of freedom over the past 227 years.
But we felt alone in our march.
There were only about a dozen
of us "civilians" marching.
I was amazed. So was my wife.
When we arrived at City Hall at the
staging area for the parade, I was sure we would encounter hundreds of
family members of those who lost their lives on Nine Eleven.
The night before we had registered our names on-line for the march,
and took the computer print out with us to the parade, sure someone would
check us in and guide us to the right area.
I went up and down the parade line
taking pictures and looking for other "civilians" who were to march.
The website specifically for families and friends of the victims, offered
various options--march with the police, the firemen, the Marines, other
family members. We expected to be joined by many.
As the parade started, we noticed a
small group of civilians falling behind the police formation and joined
it. I thought we might pick up a herd of others as we progressed.
But we were it. Twelve of
us if that many. Twelve out of 300,000 friends, relatives and
loved ones of all those who had died that fateful day.
"Something's wrong," my wife finally
said. "It can't be just the rain."
It was drizzling. But the rain
wasn't harsh enough to drive away the ones who wished to pay respects to
their flag and the fallen. No bad weather could deter one from
"Maybe they didn't want anyone to
know...maybe they didn't tell anyone about the parade," my wife suggested.
Earlier, she had been amazed the parade wasn't listed in Time Out, New
York's central source of vital "what's happening" information.
I had stumbled on the website for the march on-line because I couldn't
find any information on it. Channel One, the local news
station, announced the parade on the morning news, so we knew it was not
Still, it was ominous--marching
through Wall Street, past the New York Stock Exchange, past the first U.S.
Capitol where George Washington was inaugurated as the President, past
Ground Zero, past those brave sparse souls who stood in the rain clapping
Where, I wondered, were the 300,000 love ones, friends, relatives of
the nearly 3,000 who perished? At the absolute least 100
people knew each fallen victim--direct relatives, wives, children,
mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces, nephews, sports buddies,
workmates, old boyfriends and girlfriends.
They say everyone
knows 250 people. If a person dies or has a wedding, at least
250 names pop up on an invitation list to the wedding or funeral.
I cut that figure well in half for my own calculations. If
only 1% of them showed up that would be 3,000 people. And if only a
tenth of 1% showed, it would be 300.
But a dozen?
It made no sense to me or my wife.
We marched in a
sort of Twilight Zone haze. It was as though we weren't
supposed to be there. We both sensed an "unwelcome" aura.
Earlier, I had spotted Michael Handy, Director of the Mayors Office
of Veteran Affairs. I met Mike
(figure on right in photo)
at the previous day at the World's Largest Duct Tape Flag unveiling.
Prior to the parade
starting, I asked him about the absence of any comments by Brigadier
General John Hawkins about Nine Eleven during the general's speech about
the world largest duct tape flag. I told him I was
concerned the general had neglected to give any tribute or recognition to
the fallen and wondered why.
"There's been so much said
about Nine Eleven," Handy replied. "It's been saturated.
The general wanted to make his speech about Flag Day, not about Nine
I asked Mike if he had
suggested or influenced the general about not making any comments.
"Did you suggest he avoid comments about it?"
"No, not at all. The general's
words were his own. You know, we've been inundated by requests about
Nine Eleven. Each day I get hundreds of emails from people wanting
flags that were flown over Ground Zero. We don't have the time
or money to answer them. If we gave everyone a flag who asked
for one, I'd need someone running up flags every day for hours."
I took a step back. "What's so
wrong with that," I answered sharply. "Why wouldn't you want to give
everyone who requested a flag a way to remember Nine Eleven?"
"Time and money. We don't have the
budget for that."
My mouth hung open. I couldn't
believe it. It was as though the requests for a flag were a noxious
plague, flies swirling about that had to be swatted so the "normal
business" of the day could be conducted.
"But a flag from Ground Zero is a reminder
to those who want one of fighting Terrorism--it's a Flag of Vigilance.
The people who got them would be supporting Vigilance. You
could sell them. People would pay for them. Charge them
the cost of labor and materials. What's the price of Vigilance?"
Mike smiled at me. I felt like
a noxious fly talking to a man who had other things on his mind than
running flags up a flagpole, boxing them and sending them out to people
who had requested them.
"You know, Mike, I don't agree with the
general's lack of comments about Nine Eleven, and about not offering
people flags--even if you have to charge for them."
"Difference of opinions make America
great!" He said it with a politician's smile.
I shook his hand and stepped away, reeling
from the conversation. My mind was in a whirligig, spinning
about at the denigration of honoring Nine Eleven by a general, and by the
mayor's representative of Veteran affairs.
To me, New York City and Ground Zero
represented the Alamo, the Battle of the Bulge, Dunkirk, Khe San, Pork
Chop Hill, Concord, Iwo Jima, Omaha Beach and any other great battle
ground which hallmarks America's courage to fight for the Freedom of its
The nonchalance of swatting away requests
for flags from thousands of Americans was, to me, both an insult to those
who requested the flags and an utter state of Complacency by the city of
New York--site of the most horrendous attack on America since the War of
As I marched with the handful of other civilians, I began to wonder
if the City of New York purposely was trying to wash away the blood of
Nine Eleven--to antiseptically cleanse it from the soul of the city.
Earlier, I had heard criticism that Mayor
Bloomberg made a comment about a small "memorial," raising the ire of
family members of those who gave their lives on September 11.
The comments were the mayor didn't want Lower Manhattan thought of as a
war memorial as it might impede business development. "No one wants
a business next to a graveyard," was one of the comments thrown about.
I have a lot of respect for the mayor and
take with a grain of salt much of what I hear, but all of a sudden, having
heard the general's comments the day prior, and listening to Mike Handy's
less-than-enthusiastic response to keeping the memory of Ground Zero
alive, I began to wonder if the city might be trying to bury the memory of
Nine Eleven rather than extol it.
Certainly there was a lack of promotion regarding
inviting the families to the Flag Day Parade.
As a Citizen of Vigilance, I am duty-bound
to trumpet the Cause of Vigilance. Instead of looking upon
Ground Zero as a "graveyard," I see it as a thriving Garden of Freedom.
The blood of those who died that day has
not soured with time, as some wines do and not "turned" the blood of those
who perished, but has mellowed and matured. Ground Zero
represents for me the Home of Vigilance.
It is the site where the Spirit of
Vigilance was born at 8:46 a.m., September 11, 2001, when the first
Terrorist plane smashed into the World Trade Center.
I can still feel the dust on my skin from
that day, when the bowels of the earth erupted.
From that conflagration rose up not the worst in
human nature, but its best. American heroism of all sizes and shapes
came to life that day. Courage, Conviction and Right Action
If anything, the Terrorists killed a cancer that
had been growing in America's colon for the past few decades.
That cancer was Complacency. The eruption gave birth to
Vigilance--a fresh new sinew of American individuality and esprit de
corps. It unified a nation. It brought dissenters
together, and crossed over ethnic, political, social, religious and
cultural barriers that had pitted Americans against one another.
It made the red-white-and-blue of the Old Glory
That's why Mike Handy's comments bode ill with
New York City should be the spearhead of the City
of Vigilance. It should hoist flags by the thousands over Ground
Zero, and sell them as Flags of Vigilance, not as Gravesite Memorials.
Each flag should contain the Pledge of Vigilance,
and a story with it about how this flag represents America's strength--its
economic, political, social and moral fibers, tightly weaved, immune to
Terrorism of all kinds.
Ground Zero should become a memorial to
Vigilance--a place where a business would want to be located for it would
draw upon the strength of those whose spirits rest beneath the ground,
urging America's economic might, political might, social and religious
might to grow and prosper in the face of Terrorism.
I believe New York City should take a
second look at Ground Zero and see it for what its name denotes--Zero--the
beginning not the end of a formula for renewing America's strength as a
It is not a graveyard.
It is a Garden of Vigilance, a Garden of
Opportunity for those who are willing to hoist a flag over it!