Tuesday, September 11, 2012

An essay on 9/11.

This essay was written by my son, Mike, who is in the Air Force getting ready for his second deployment.

I was at work, caulking cracks around baseboard so we could paint the new house the next day.

Mike, my boss, always insisted on the radio being tuned to an oldies station -- something that made me wear this ridiculous headphone-radio contraption so I wouldn't have to listen to it.  But, as luck would have it, I was out of caulk in the tube I was using, so I came out of the master bedroom with my headphones around my neck, looking for wherever the guys had stashed the rest of the case.  Walking by the radio, I realized that the deejay sounded...weird.  Like his dog had gotten shot, or something.  I was 16, that was the worst thing I could imagine happening.  So I listened for a second.  He said that a second plane had just hit the World Trade Center, and that nobody really knew what was going on.

So he played a Beatles song, or rather a Paul McCartney song -- Yesterday.  It sounded more sad than I remembered.

I remember calling home and finding out my dad was already at the Navy base (he was supposed to be off that day, I think).  At that point, the news was starting to speculate that it was a terrorist attack by some guy I'd never heard of, Osama bin Laden.  He lives in Afghanistan? You're kidding me, some yokel in Afghanistan attacked the World Trade Center?

And now they're crumbling...with people still inside...deejay is crying on the radio.  I still don't get the magnitude of what's going on, I never had anybody close to me die, and now I remember my uncle Tommy works in New York City.  Is he okay? I can't even remember if he worked in Manhattan...


I didn't understand, didn't feel the sadness and rage that most of you felt, for eight years.  On September 11, 2009, mere months before I joined the Air Force, I rode the VRE train from Fredericksburg to Alexandria, to work at the Media Reseach Center.  My job was to watch the news for political bias, you see.  I didn't think much about what day it was -- there was a little joking around the office regarding how the media would present the news of the day around the anniversary of the attacks, and still remain as hopelessly in the tank for the left as they possibly could.  We wondered how they would do that, and not further destroy whatever shreds of credibility they had left.

I got off the train at roughly 8:30AM -- thankfully, no delays.  I walked the ten or so blocks down to South Patrick Street, picked up my bi-weekly bag of Mischa's Ethiopian Harrar (still the best coffee I've ever had, by far), went upstairs, started the coffeemakers, and settled into my chair by about 8:55AM.

The news came back from a commercial, and my first thought was that they must be using a terrible camera -- the picture was awful.  Then, I realized that NBC was playing their complete coverage of that morning from 2001.  It was the first time I had ever seen the video, believe it or not.  Youtube was not as ubiquitous then, in 2001, as it is now.

They broke into their normal morning-show pablum to report that the World Trade Center appeared to have been struck by an aircraft of some sort.  NBC had some kind of roof camera on a building nearby, so they showed that angle for the next few minutes while the hosts dithered about what to call it.

Then, I saw the wingtip of the second plane come into view.  I have never, not in any horror movie or on any roller coaster, been more crushed to know what was coming next.  I wanted to scream at them to run...but it was eight years ago, how would that do any good?  No feeling is more terrible than being completely unable to do anything to save someone from disaster.

That was the first time I cried.  My boss walked in and saw me weeping into my coffee, stopped to watch with me, and told me that it never got easier for him to watch, either.


Fast forward to May 1, 2011.  I had just completed SERE training -- which, for people who experience it, is especially entertaining (read: painful) -- and was coming home from dinner in Spokane with my friends.  I check the news on my phone habitually -- one of the side effects of having worked at NewsBusters is that I can't stop reading the news.  I just NEED to know what's happening, all the time.  Anyway, there was a short-notice drop on a network-televised, very important Presidential speech, due for 10-ish that night.

Everything I know about politics and media says that this just DOES NOT HAPPEN.  You don't save earth-shattering news, requiring a Presidential speech on all networks at once, for Sunday NIGHT.  You leak Thursday night, drop a couple details on Friday, negotiate Sunday show appearances on Saturday, and break the big news on Sunday MORNING, when everyone reads the papers and watches TV.  So I knew that whatever it was, it was big, and it just happened.

I ran up to the dayroom, and told the guys that their crappy movie had to wait an hour.  They weren't too happy...until I started explaining to them WHY this speech was different.  The timing was all wrong -- so it had to be something that the White House didn't completely control.  It wasn't another budget speech.

The speech was delayed, at first.  We were all speculating, hey maybe this is why we upped the security stance.  Has anyone seen the pizza guy yet?  Hey throw me my Gatorade, willya? until, just after ten our time, Chuck Todd confirmed that a team of Navy SEALs had fast-roped into Osama bin Laden's front freaking yard, kicked the door in, and shot him twice in the face.

It was bedlam.  These kids, most of whom were in middle school when 9/11 happened, went completely banana sandwich.  One guy fired the Oreo he was holding across the room so hard, it shattered into dust on the wall.  Left a dent there too, if I remember correctly.  Between the smiles and high-fives, there was a feeling...one, of grim satisfaction, and two, that somewhat ridiculous frustration that we weren't the guys who got to kill him.  But most of all, I remember one of the older guys (okay, he was my age) in the group muttering something under his breath as he left the room to catch some sleep before the next day's punishment.  This was the way he said it:

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands.  One nation, under God, with liberty.

And justice, for all."


These are the things I remember when I'm about to deploy.  I think about why I'm going, about what that yokel in Afghanistan did to my country -- what effects he still has, every day that we live here, and we don't even realize it.  This is the new normal, after all.  But most of all, I remind myself of this: Justice, sometimes, is disproportionate.  If some kid is getting bullied, gets hit once in the face, nobody complains when he body-slams the bully.  Heck, nobody would complain if he kicked the bully while he was down -- it's a bully, you're supposed to crush them.  That's justice.

And I know that some people would disagree with me on that.  So for those people, let me remind you of the best way to not get crushed: Don't bully the weak son of a biker-gang chief on the playground.  He'll hit you with brass knuckles, and you'll deserve it because you're stupid for trying to bully the son of a biker-gang chief.

And especially, don't pick on Manhattan.  They'll just sic the Brooklyn rats on you.  And no, I'm not talking about the actual animals.


God bless you and your teammates, Mike. Thank you for your service to our country.

Be thankful ~


Sarah said...

May I have permission to share this? On Facebook and/or my blog?

Karen said...

Sarah, Absolutely!