I had a great childhood in a home provided by two loving parents. I am a baby-boomer. Dad served in the Army Infantry, landing at Normandy on D-Day + 4.
I learned about World War II in school. December 7th was a day that, “Would Live in Infamy.” I did not understand all of the underlying meaning of those words, but I knew the meaning wasn’t good.
I remember seeing news reels in school recounting the Pearl Harbor attacks on film. It was like watching a Hollywood movie, except much more somber.
Dad took the family to reunions of his army unit each summer. The “old man” would reminisce with his buddies about life at a very different time. Dad enlisted shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Over the years, I heard Mom say numerous times that Dad left for the army a boy (19 years old) and he came home a much different, hardened man.
Dad was a consummate patriot. I did not fully recognize the depth, breadth and profound nature of the mark he made on me with his patriotism until after I heard ‘TAPS” played at his funeral.
He was the greatest man to ever be in my life.
If I can only be half as good as he was, I will be remarkable, indeed.
MOMENTS OF TRUTH IN MY LIFE
I remember exactly where I was an precisely what I was doing when:
- I learned that President John Kennedy had been shot in Dallas and then when I learned that he had died. “This cannot happen in America,” I thought. “We are better than that.” That was a transitional moment in my life.
- I watched his brother Bobby, a presidential candidate, be assassinated on live TV.
- I learned of the assassination of Martin Luther King.
- I recall how I felt going to a New Years Eve party knowing that at the stroke of midnight, the Vietnam war would come to an end.
Even as a college student, I wanted to believe that this stupid, idiotic, uncivilized behavior happens in other parts of the world. But, not here.
THE SELF-AWAKENING OF September 11, 2001
Back then, I got to the gym at 5:00AM. Not that day – for some reason, I arrived around 8:00AM.
About 8:45, I finished a set of shoulder presses and looked to the cardio area. Every person was stopped. People stood like wax figures. I gave it a moment’s thought and went back for my next set.
Two sets later, they remained frozen. “What’s up with that?” I wondered. Do they think they are really doing any good by just standing on the machines?
I wandered over to see what they were so intently watching on the multitude of television sets. Every set showed the same picture. It was a sight burned into the memory of every American, everywhere.
I wondered as the news folks talked: An accident? A small single-engine plane? Sure, must be what it is.
Then, WHAM! I watched the second huge airplane strike the second tower. The words from my mouth were immediate: “WE ARE AT WAR.”
There was not a shred of doubt in my mind. There was no hesitation. I could feel the adrenaline rush instantly. “What do I do, now?” My mind raced for an answer.
I quickly got my street clothes back on, considering a myriad of options. I must get home to my wife. Kids are both away in college. My son is 70 miles away in East Lansing. My daughter, on the other hand, was in southern Illinois and the one-way drive would take most of a day.
I raced home. Somewhere in the mix came the news of a commercial plane hitting the Pentagon. “Is nothing safe?” I wondered. The flood of news continued.
The first tower collapsed. Then, the second tower went down.
All air space over the U.S. was immediately cleared. Yes, IMMEDIATELY. The official order: land every airplane at the nearest capable spot. Lastly, there was Flight 93.
Obviously, we didn’t know then if Flight 93 would be the FINAL violent act of the day. I lived in the Detroit area – a manufacturing hub. There was Los Angeles, Chicago, and a bunch of other places that we thought would be targets for terrorists.
What was their plan? When would it end?
Americans, stood as a single people, agape at our collective loss.
The technology of the time allowed us to immediately share all events, everywhere. We saw our brethren in business attire running for their lives away from the dust cloud of the collapse of the towers.
Prior to that, we witnessed others who simply gave up and jumped to their deaths 110 stories below. We heard last phone calls of trapped fathers/husbands to their families reminding them that of their undying love.
We heard the heroes on United Flight 93 as they uttered those words which will live forever, “Let’s roll!” SWAT, SRT Teams and cops around the country have adopted those two words in the years since as their call to immediate action.
For a brief time we saw the REAL picture of the first flag being raised over the World Trade Center (see inset). It is not racially balanced. It is not in color. It does not have any first responders other than our brother COPS. It was taken about an hour after the second tower collapsed.
As that day wore on, every American clung to the media. We hoped there would be droves of injured arriving at Lower Manhattan hospitals who needed treatment. Sadly, that did not happen.
By dinner time, other buildings on the WTC site (#7 among them) collapsed, as well.
It was clear as I ate that evening meal, that there was no huge mass of survivors.
I watched my TV and saw ordinary citizens walking the streets of Lower Manhattan. People were holding poster boards with pictures of their loved ones. They contained words like, “Missing” or “Have You Seen” or “I Love Him” or “Help me find my husband.”
The faces of those people told stories that reports could not have conveyed in a hundred years.
We walked with a mobile camera crew as they showed us a make-shift memorial and information center. It was the wrought-iron fence surrounding a small church in the next block.
The fence was covered with placards, signs, ribbons, banners and pictures of pain. Even seeing it though the eye of the camera brought a level of angst in my gut that I will carry for the rest of my days.
Collectively, we Americans saw the icons of our society destroyed.
- There were fire trucks and rescue squads crushed by falling debris.
- There were NYPD cars turned into a lump of metal.
- There were police cars and fire trucks.
- The taxicabs.
The emblems of our lives covered in the dust of destroyed human life.
IT WAS THEN THAT I UNDERSTOOD
I understood why my Dad enlisted after Pearl Harbor. I was too old to enlist in the military in 2001. I volunteered to be assigned by my sheriff to a detail in support of U.S. Customs at the Detroit/Canada border.
I worked 45-50 hours every week for the next few years, because U.S. Customs was so short-handed.
“WE ARE AT WAR”
In April, 2002, I connected with an NYPD brother in New York. We tinned our way onto the WTC site. We spent roughly 4 hours late on that April afternoon absorbing all that was there.
On the now-flattened underground floor were two teams using very small rakes to sift through debris by hand. Once cleared, it was loaded into a truck which, when full, drove it away up the ramp. An honor guard team from NYPD and FDNY waited at the top of the ramp.
If even the smallest body part of a first responder was found in the debris at the bottom, the appropriate honor guard stepped in and did what honor guards do with the remains of their fallen brothers. It choked me up to watch.
I think it is important for me to always remember how I felt in those days.
- I was hurting.
- I was angry.
- I was hopeful.
- I felt more anger than I’ve ever experienced.
- I felt a bond with other Americans. We were a single people.
As the 16th anniversary comes this year, I want to take this opportunity to remind my brothers and sisters to pause for a moment for reflection and prayer.
Regain your focus on America and what it means to you to be an American. Rededicate yourself to defending our Constitution and our way of life.
REMEMBER: WE ARE AT WAR
We didn’t barter with Hitler or Mussolini. We won’t bargain with, appease or attempt to placate the radicals who want to kill us now. We will attack those who support, aid or abet those radicals with every vicious ounce of muscle that we can muster.
There are no fence-walkers. There is no, “middle of the road.” Each person is either “with us” or they are “against us.”
On the night he wrote the Star Spangled Banner, author Francis Scott Key was a prisoner on a British Naval Ship. The ship was bombarding Ft. McHenry which lay at the shore of the Chesapeake Bay.
The British attack was brutal, relentless and resulted in the deaths of many Americans.
The British sent word: take down your red, white & blue flag and the bombing will cease.
Each time a bomb would take out the flag and kill its holder, the flag and the holder would be replaced.
Dozens of lives were lost that night to keep our flag waving. Those Americans in history would not compromise on our values or principles then.
We won’t compromise them now.
Fighting through cold weather and a horrible winter, men were hungry and often without proper clothing or boots, the volunteer army led by George Washington during the Revolution did not waver. Nor, will we waver.
There were many who spent years suffering at the hands of the North Vietnamese as Prisoners of War. Those men did not surrender. Nor, will we surrender.
Today, our country, from top to bottom is:
- Just as able
- Just as determined
- Just as angry
As we have EVER been.
We are single people, a single culture, a single body. As I’ve said before, if you don’t buy into that line of thinking:
Canada is north.
Mexico is south.
Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out of the country.
At the bottom line, it’s all about saving just ONE life.
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