TUESDAY... January 8, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 119


Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

            September 11th created many heroes.   For me, it created a father—a Father of Vigilance.  His name is Rudolph W. Giuliani.  I call him, Mayor Rudy.
            Mayor Rudy is my kind of guy.   The kind of guy I always wanted for a father—tough, caring, a leader, and fearless.  Plus, he let his son do most of the talking when he was sworn in as mayor of New York City eight years ago.  And he was proud of the little guy for doing it.
            I never had a “real” father.   My biological one split and left me “fatherless” when I was nine-months old.   When I was five, my mother re-married a man who I looked up to not as a father figure, but as a giant monster who, if provoked, would bite off my head.   I kept the wary distance any child does from a snarling dog.
            In my life, I molded it around leadership.   In most situations, I became a leader—trying to be the father to myself I wanted to be, but always walking on quicksand because I was never sure of my footing.   Confidence has limits.   I always wished I had a mentor—a father who would have taught me how to be a strong man rather then stumble through manhood by trial and error, and taking all the arrows in the back that go along with “learning the hard way.”
            In Vietnam, I looked up to Colonel Leon Utter, the battalion commander of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, as a “warrior father.”   He led us into battle like the heroes out of comic books and John Wayne movies.  He was always up front, barking orders, never ducking or worrying about his own safety as .50 caliber bullets smashed by his head, or chewed around his feet.   He was quintessential leadership.   Before battle, he would gather us in the chapel, a straw hut with makeshift benches, grab the flag with one hand, and tell us about the blood of warriors before us that had fought for freedom and died to preserve it.  And how we, as U.S. Marines, as men of dedication, were the most honorable of all because we too were willing to die for other people’s freedom at the expense of our own lives.
            Chills go up my neck just thinking of those moments.  It made the bullets the enemy hurled at us seem like marshmallows, and sharpened our canine teeth so that our battalion became the most successful in our combat zone.   I elevated Leon Utter to a pedestal.   He was my ideal father in any combat situation.  I would have followed him to Hell.   And, he was human.  He cared.   He would come up and sit down next to you, and talk quietly.   He would tell you how he felt inside, then tap you on shoulder and thank you for being a Marine, and go about his business of leadership—which, in his case, was preparing boys to die like men.  A tough job indeed.
            In business, I elevated a man to a father figure.  I did everything in my power for him.   He was CEO of one of the world’s largest companies.   He gave me power and authority to fight battles for him in the world of marketing.   I threw myself into the thick of it, always defending him, always feeling as though I was his “son” and he was my “loving father.”  I enjoyed the sense of his caring and loving until it came time to sell the company.  Then, when the chips were on the table, the stock he promised me disappeared into his pocket.   I felt like I had felt knowing my real father abandoned me.  I felt like the Knight the King Left Naked.  I stood in the wasteland of defeat…watching him walk into the sunset with all the gold and me with nothing but blood on my hands.   On that day, I chose to never make anyone my “father figure” again.   The pain was too much.
            Then I came to New York City.  
            We moved here two years ago, but had been visiting our daughter who lived her over the past eight years.   We saw New York City transform under Mayor Rudy’s leadership from a place of decay and violence, to a sparkling, vibrant city of prosperity.   When I first came here, I wouldn’t have dreamed in a million years I would consider leaving the beauty of Dana Point, California for the madness and desperation of New York City life.   But as the years progressed, and our daughter gave birth to two lovely grandchildren, the urge to be near our children and grandchildren overpowered the stench of a city full of crime and violence and constant conflict.
            By the time we reached the critical decision to move to New York, Mayor Rudy had produced a miracle of rebirth.   The once cracked and weathered face of dying metropolis had been refaced, rejuvenated into a city of magic.  Even Mickey Mouse wanted to come to New York, and Toys ‘R Us and even K-Mart.
            I had no real affection for Mayor Rudy as a father figure when I came here.  I had respect for him as a leader who didn’t take crap from anyone regarding his mission to put New York City back on the map as the Empire City of the world.   He was just a good leader in my book, who had made the city safer for my children and grandchildren.  For that, I was thankful.
            Then, at 8:46 on September 11th, 2001, my fatherless world changed.   Like the mayor, I was at Ground Zero when all hell broke loose.   I had rushed down to the site after the first plane hit the Twin Towers.   My agenda was to report history, to be in the thick of the battle so that I would see, experience and know the event as only an eye-witness could.   I was also concerned about my other daughter, who, as a federal law enforcement agent, was somewhere in the midst of the melee.  I wanted to find her if I could, to see if I could be of any help—to protect her as best I could even though she is trained to protect herself and others by the finest warriors in the world.
            I witnessed the horror and destruction of that day.   I felt the impact of another war zone, and sat in the rubble pounding my laptop, preserving the feelings, extolling the need for Vigilance in a new era of Terrorism.   I thought about Leon Utter as I sat there, wondering who would lead the troops through the madness that lay ahead.

Through the events following September 11, I glued myself to every press conference the mayor held.   I watched him grow in stature as a leader in the midst of a horrible crisis.  I saw him glue together the souls of the disenfranchised.   I saw him rally the will of a city whose spirit had been crushed by a devastating, senseless assault.  
            He became the spokesman of courage, honor and compassion.  He was at almost every funeral.  He stood in at weddings to give the bride away because her father had been one of victims of Nine Eleven.   He spirited the Yankees as a fan in the midst of a sad and depressing stitch in time, sitting with his son, being a father to all the fatherless, a husband to all the widows, a brother to all the heroes who faced death that day.
            His own life had almost been lost on Nine Eleven.  The command post he had visited at Ground Zero was turned to rubble just a few minutes after he left, killing a host of his top advisors.   He stood tall in his own grief, showing everyone that we must move forward, shoulder the pain and loss, and work together as one unified body to overcome the devastation.
            I was proud of him battling to try and extend his leadership as mayor despite the ending of his term.  Had it not been for one candidate who refused to go along with him, he might have won his urge to remain as commander-in-chief of New York City’s reconstruction—both physically and emotionally.  But he lost the battle with grace and dignity.  And the one who refuted his extension was beaten at the polls, a sign that one who attacks the “Father Of The City” suffers the angst of the children.
            All my life I had been wary of politicians.  They spoke from two sides of their mouths.   They dealt in compromise rather than conviction.   They leaned left then right, then to the middle—seeking always “public approval” rather than what was “right.”    Rudy seemed to fly his plane in an opposite vector.   He stood up for what he believed, and fought with tooth and nail for every inch of his convictions.  He epitomized Winston Churchill’s comment:  “Stand For Something Or Be Nothing.”
            I fell in love with Mayor Rudy.   He became my father figure.   I began to see him as the man I wanted to be, even though the difference in our ages is minimal, the goal he laid at my feet was still worthy, still achievable in the tiny steps a man takes on his journey to evolve himself.
            I had forgotten the loneliness of not having a mentor, an idol, a symbol upon which to base or gauge my own behavior as a man.   But the more I studied Mayor Rudy’s actions, the more I watched him grab the flag of New York City and clutch it in his hands, and dedicate himself to rallying the troops around the rebuilding of their lives and the “greatest city in the world,” I began to let the walls down.   I let Rudy become my father figure. 
            I called him:  The Father of Vigilance.  

            He became, for me, a man of Courage, Conviction and Action—the three tools I believe are necessary to fight Terrorism both from without and within.   For the battle to be won, Fear must be replaced with Courage, Intimidation by Conviction, and Complacency by Action.    Whether this applied to family who suffered devastating losses as a result of Terrorism, or to the rebuilding of the city, Mayor Rudy radiated what I termed in my writings as the Three Shields of Vigilance—Courage, Conviction, Action.
            These, in my opinion, were the cornerstones of a great father.   These qualities were the precious commodity of a few.  And, they only came to life in the midst of crisis, for they were the mettle of a real man.   They were the marrow of his being.  If they weren’t, then he would crumble under the pressure, weaken under conflict, he would compromise rather than risk his favor.
            To the best of my knowledge, Mayor Rudy held his ground throughout the battle.  At the end of his term, he went out in flames—literally.
            It was a cold, rainy night when it happened.   I told my wife I wanted to see Mayor Rudy bring the Olympic Torch into New York City.  She is as much a fan of the Mayor as I, and we bundled up and made our way to Rockefeller Center.  We stood in the cold for hours, in a key spot where we could witness him running the last leg with the torch.
            In front of us, an honor guard of firemen and police, dressed in their finest uniforms, stood at attention.   When the time came, Mayor Rudy ran down the row, the Olympic Torch blazing above his head.  He stopped and shook the hands of those present, the commander-in-chief bidding his Warriors of Vigilance goodbye.    I took a picture of him shaking hands with the men and women under his command.  His face was washed in the light of the Olympic Torch.  There was a glow about him.   The crowds cheered.
            I thought about the statement the Olympiads are noted for speaking before they compete:  “Let me be Victorious or my attempt Glorious.”
            I looked up Mayor Rudy as an Olympic Champion.   Whether he won or not was as important as his attempt—which, in my opinion, was indeed “glorious.”   He had proven to me that I could let another man in my heart.   I could look beyond myself to a symbol of “fatherhood.”   I could allow myself the luxury of “loving a man of honor.”  
            And I did.  At that precise moment, as I stood in the rain, freezing cold, I felt a warmth inside me.   I had adopted Mayor Rudy as my “Father of Vigilance.”  
            I was not alone anymore.


                                         Go To  Jan. 7--THE TERRORISM EPIPHANY

©2001 - 2004,, All rights reserved -  a ((HYYPE)) design