We all have a Terror Switch and a Vigilance Switch in our chemistry.
Which one flicks on in a crisis? That's the issue
facing the Port Authority transcripts. See if you have
your Vigilance Switch ready to turn on.
30, 2003—Ground Zero Plus 717
Turning On The Switch Of Vigilance
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZER0, New York, N.Y.--Aug. 30, 2003-- I got
choked up this morning reading about a mother telling a Port Authority
switchboard operator the times her child would be out of school and
where to pick her up. The mother, trapped in the
Windows of the World restaurant as fire and smoke raged upward at her,
was preparing to die. But before she did, she was insuring
the safety and security of her child.
A New Jersey Judge ruled a July agreement between
the NY Times and the Port Authority was valid
Transcripts of communications passing to and from
Port Authority officers were released a couple of days ago.
Judge Sybil R. Moses ruled a July agreement between newspapers and the
Port Authority calling for the release of transcripts was valid and
The Port Authority lost 84 employees, 37
officers, in the attack. The transcripts numbered about 2,000
pages and covered more than three hours of recorded conversation
between agency employees, rescue workers and people trapped inside the
towers. In passionless black and white, without the background
of crackling fires or screaming Voices, the words of those about to
die and those watching them die are recorded.
Frank De Martini, and a construction inspector, Pablo Ortiz, saved
this group (50 total) on the 88th and 89th floors. The
I remember the calmness in the midst of the panic
of that horrific day of Terror. As the buildings collapsed
around us, we, who had been looking up at those leaping from the
buildings, suddenly were stripped of spectator privileges. We
were among the combatants as millions of pounds of concrete and steel
shrapnel shot at us.
I remember my own transcripts. The women
next to me wailing in mournfully as the earth shuddered and heaved and
we all thought this was the end: "We're gonna die...We're all
gonna die....We're gonna die..."
Like the transcripts ring in the ears of the
switchboard operators at the Port Authority that day, so do the Voices
next to me ring in my ears today, and every day when someone or
something triggers the issue of life and death, or when the value of
life is questioned.
I remember grabbing the women next to me, two in
one arm, one in another, and shoving them up against a brick wall to
keep them from being trampled by fleeing people stampeding in the
horror uptown, and to provide shelter from the projectiles being
hurled at us as the Twin Towers, just a few blocks away, imploded.
My own transcript replays that moment.
I remember saying to the frightened, sobbing women as the pall of
death shrouded down upon us--a thick black nothingness of ashen waste
we were sure was laced with biochemical--"If we're going to die, let
our last thoughts be of something beautiful. Think of something
Nature has a way of making death shine in the
eyes of those about to die. In my case, I chose not to cry
or sob or wail. I had seen much death before in
Vietnam, much more than my share. And I wasn't
afraid of death, not quick death. I feared writhing on the
ground, my lungs and throat seared by some chemical gas that prolonged
death. I didn't want to die slowly, in agony.
whose transcript I read was thinking of her child's safety
In a flash, those thoughts ignited in my mind as
I held the women up against the wall, as though I might protect them
from some invisible enemy. My words coughed through
the veil of deadly blackness...."Think of something beautiful...."
Reading the transcripts released by the Port
Authority recording the conversations of Nine Eleven, the one between
the mother and officer about the time to pick up her child struck me
The mother was seeing and thinking about
something beautiful--her child's safety. No
Terrorist could take away her duty as a Sentinel of Vigilance.
There was no room in her heart at that moment for Fear, Intimidation
or Complacency. She was filled with the Courage,
Conviction and Right Actions necessary to protect her children, and
serve as a model for their Children's Children's Children.
I thought about the Vigilance Switch.
Inside us all exists two switches. One, the
Vigilance Switch. The other, the Terror Switch.
One ignites our Fear, Intimidation and
Complacency. The other our Courage, Conviction and Right
Actions for future generations.
There were bodies leaping out of the World
Trade Center holding hands, brave and courageous acts of fellowship
between human beings facing death in handsome way.
They were defying the Beast of Terror who sought to turn them into
groveling masses of selfish flesh seeking their own survival over
had his Vigilance Switch on during Flight 93
Their Vigilance Switch was set in the on
position all the way down.
The mother who called the Port Authority
about her child that day had her Vigilance Switch on.
Death became a secondary issue to the safety of her child.
Todd Beamer and other members of Flight 93
must have felt their Vigilance Switch snap on when they elected to
attack their captors. Beamer's last words: "Let's
Roll!" were words issued from a man whose Vigilance Switch was on
high. The actions of the passengers on Flight 93 led to
the crashing of the Terrorist plane in a field in Pennsylvania rather
than into the White House or the Capitol building. It also left
a legacy of Vigilance, of people more concerned for the safety of
others than for themselves.
There were many people that day whose
Vigilance Switch clicked on, shutting down the Terror Switch that went
on automatically. Terrorism seems to automatically
ignite the face of the Beast of Terror.
Instinctively, we duck and weave and cower and flinch when the first
wave of the attack comes.
Then, we face a choice.
Do we remain cowering at the mercy of
Fear, Intimidation and Complacency in the face of Terror, or, do we
conjure the Courage, Conviction and Right Actions necessary to rise
above it all and do what is right to help others?
Terrorism breeds selfishness.
I still remember the faces of people running up the street when the
buildings started to collapse, eyes glazed, knocking down anyone in
their way, rushing to save their own skins.
Switch must be ready to override our Terror Switch
They had their Terror Switches on.
They hadn't yet reached up with the Hand of Vigilance and switched the
Vigilance Power on.
Part of my Vigilance Switch on Nine
Eleven was turned on by my younger daughter. She's a federal law
enforcement officer, and I kept wondering where she was?
Was she trapped under the rubble. I fruitlessly called and
called on my cell phone to reach her.
And, when I sat down to write the
visions of the Sentinels of Vigilance I saw that day, I was recording
the events for my grandchildren, and their Children's Children's
Children. Nature, survival, made me think ahead to
the future and not the present. It forced me to be like the
mother up in Windows on the World, calling the Port Authority to
insure they would pick up her child, repeating the time and place and
schedule of the child's activities so that when she died, she would
know that her last effort had been the safety and security of her
I personally believe each of us needs
to insure our Vigilance Switch is well-oiled and ready to override our
But, to insure that, I also believe
we all need to be subscribing Parents of Vigilance. We
need to stand up and be counted now so that when the next Terror
attack comes, we are not ill prepared to face it with Courage,
Conviction and Right Actions.
That means we all need to find something
bigger than ourselves to think about during any crisis, whether it be
a physical, mental, emotional or spiritual Terrorist attack.
In the Pledge of Vigilance below, I cite
the importance of vowing to protect the Children's Children's
Children.... I believe anyone can make this vow,
whether he or she is a parent or not.
We have a duty
to leave the world a little safer for the children
A teenage boy or girl can make the vow,
just as the single man or woman can. All of us, as human
beings, owe our lives to the future of the world. We
may deny the obligation and think we have a right to be selfish and
not care about the future of the world, but when we sit in the quiet
of our humanness, and we look up at the moon and stars and listen to
the rustling of the wind in the trees, we know we have a duty to the
That duty is to leave the world a little
safer for the kids.
The mother atop the World Trade
Center knew that. Her last words were all about securing
the safety of her children.
As Citizens of Vigilance, if we were all
facing our last breath, and we all had but one message to deliver
before we died, what would it be? To whom?
Perhaps we need to think about the
question: "To whom and what do you say if you are about to issue
your last words on earth?"
Would you leave a message for the children?
For your sons or daughters, grandchildren, nieces, nephews?
powerful messages are those passed on to the children of the world
In the great legacy
of life, the most powerful messages are those passed on to the
children of the world. It is easy to pass on
messages to adults, but not so easy to pass them on to children.
The reason is we sometimes don't think about the importance of
children until the last minute, and often the last minute is too late.
Maybe it would be good for everyone to think
about the last words they would say to the children of the world,
their own and others.
What words would you say? Why?
If you do this exercise, you'll turn your
Vigilance Switch on.
And, when it's on, you'll hear the Voices
of the Sentinels of Vigilance. One of those Voices belongs to a
mother who died on September 11, 2001, talking to the Port Authority
about insuring her child would be picked up.
29--Gasping Breaths Of Terror
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