The VigilanceVoice
Tuesday- March 12, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 182

Unsung Heroes Of Vigilance
Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

        GROUND ZERO, New York City, Mar. 12--There are loud heroes and quiet heroes in every disaster, every battle, every conflict of human nature.   Then, there are the unsung heroes--the ones who never stand out, some who can't be seen, others who refuse to be recognized.
         Today, Ground Zero Plus 182, is the day I celebrate the "Unsung Heroes Of Vigilance" of September 11th, 2001.
         One of those is a guy who opened a door.  I never saw his face.  I only heard his Voice yelling, "Come in.  Come in quick."
         After the North Tower imploded, I stumbled through the fog of destruction toward the epicenter.   I wanted to be as close as possible to Ground Zero, to help if I could, to witness and report one of history's ugly stains on the character of humanity--and, to capture the heroism of warriors at work.
        My focus was not the bravery of the fireman and police who are trained to face death daily, but the average man and woman, the sinew of humanity, who draw upon a deep well of courage in times of crisis, who shed their fears and risk their lives for no other reason than the innate drive to offer themselves up for others. 
         The Indians mastered the technique of bonding universal Vigilance with children.  When a child was born the women of the tribe all nursed the child.   The child fed from each of their breasts, suckling the milk of maternity from the group.  It was a way of bonding the child to the whole of tribe, to make it part of the universe of humanity, to accept it as one's own.   When a crisis happened, every child in the village was equal.   The Parents of Vigilance sought no child as more important than another to provide it security, safety, love, wisdom.
       The guy who opened the door for me and the others when the South Tower crumbled was one of those Unsung Heroes.   I found a small group of other people huddled up against a wall.   They were covered with ashes, ghosts of the disaster.   We could see the other tower burning, flames belching, black smoke gouging angry fists in the sky as the heat battered at the structure.   Suddenly, it separated, as though some hand had reached down and ripped the top of the structure, cleaving it from the firestorm.
      "It's going!"   There was no place to run, no time to escape.   "Cover your face and lean into the wall," I said, having had a similar experience a few minutes earlier when the first tower crumbled.   We huddled close, noses against the brick, covering our faces as the roar of the second building crashing thundered.   Just then a door next to us opened, and the anonymous Voice beckoned us in.
      We stumbled and grabbed each other's clothing, like a bunch of children playing "choo-choo train," blinded by the soot.   Inside the building was a stairwell and staircase.  We all climbed up the staircase to the second floor landing.   There were people with rich clothing, expensive suits made for Wall Street, and workers, and tourists.  One man had a cell phone that worked and passed it around so we could call loved ones.
      I tried to call my daughter, a federal law enforcement agent, to see where she was, to try and find her in the madness.   She didn't answer. 
      There was no time to thank whomever it was that opened the door.   Everyone was glad they were alive, stunned, worried, waiting for whatever might come next.   It seemed the whole city was under attack.  No one knew what was happening.
      On the streets people from the tribe of humanity stopped and helped others, regardless of wealth or poverty, color or creed, religious or sexual preference.   Witnessing the compassion of tragedy's aftermath gave rise to the power of the human spirit, it reminded me at the marrow of our being is a care for one another, a love for the other that traverses all differences, that provides a baseline for hope that one day humans might learn to live in a peace between the souls of one another, as was expressed by the heroism of one person helping another, comforting him or her, hugging, guiding, soothing the pain of fear, the grief of loss.
      After the first tower fell, I had made my way toward the epicenter.  The fallout was so thick I could barely see when a young man appeared, a Secret Service Agent in civilian clothing, and told me to take respite in a doorway with another person.  He had no idea what was happening, but wanted everyone to be safe.
      Inside the doorway was a young girl, perhaps nineteen or twenty.  She held a disposable camera in one hand and was crying.   Her name was Lisa.  "I've got to find my friends.  We got separated. I've got to find my friends."
      We held each other for a moment.  "It's going to be okay," I said. 
       When the fallout lifted enough to see faint images ahead, we decided to make our way out of the alley.  The Secret Service Agent asked if I had anything he could use to cover his face. I dug through my pack and found a washcloth I used to wipe my computer off and gave it to him.   He remained in the alley to direct people, and I guided Lisa to the street.   "Go north, uptown," I said.  "Are you okay?"   She repeated she had to find her friends and disappeared into the chalky fog.
       I  watched her figure disappear in the ashen rain.   Her friends rose above her own safety.   The power of the tribe was stronger than her instincts to protect herself.
      Over the ensuing days story after story of heroism appeared on the news.   The focus was on the firemen and police.  It grew more and more intense as the funerals increased.   Over three-hundred firefighters died, and nearly thirty police.  

     I saluted them all because I knew the greatest glory of any warrior was to die in battle and not while killing the enemy or trying to, but the highest honor was dying in the attempt to save another.   The Marine Corps had instilled that in me--rooted within my marrow the priority of saving the wounded and dragging out the dead even at your own life's risk. In combat I had experienced that responsibility, had dragged another wounded Marine from a hail of bullets.  My closest friend, Father Vince Capodanno, had died in battle administering help to the wounded.   For his actions, he received the Congressional Medal of Honor, but at the expense of his life. I knew well the price of human bonding, where one's life is not more important than another's.  I knew it wasn't heroism that drove such actions, but rather the force of the "tribe." I knew such acts represented the fundamental baseline of ultimate human compassion and equality.
      In trying to see the glory of human struggle in the heart of horror, I began to focus on the tens of thousands who escaped the tragedy.   As the heroism of the police and firefighters captured the headlines, I thought of the hundreds and thousands of "unsung heroes"--the civilians, the mothers and grandmothers, fathers and grandfathers, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters and cousins of humanity-- inside the burning, ravaged building who had guided others out, shouted words of encouragement, fearlessly stuffed their own safety behind that of others.
      We would never know all those stories.
      They included the guy nobody liked at work who was the last one to leave the office, ushering out everyone before he left.   They were the quiet, no-personality wallflower who was so anonymous few knew she existed who shouted commands to other frightened souls, becoming the captain of the sinking ship while her boss was fumbling to get all the important papers from his desk.
      There was the illegal alien busboy, who spoke little English, a fly on the wall in a building of power and might, who took a woman's hand and walked slowly with her down the stairs, smiling up at her, radiating a glow, a beacon that helped her escape her own fear.
      I honor these Unsung Heroes today.
      Some of them lived, many of them died.   Their stories will never be told, but for those they helped, urged, encouraged to rise above their fears, to bolster the courage to escape certain death, they live forever.   These Unsung Heroes are the Breast of Humanity.   We as a tribe, need to salute them with the same passion we do our police or firefights or emergency workers.
     If you haven't yet, stop and say a prayer of thanks for the Unsung Heroes!

                  Prayer To The Unsung Heroes of Nine Eleven
                                                    Cliff McKenzie

    Oh, faceless, nameless guides of Courage and Bravery, we salute you.
    We know not who you are, but we do know what you are.
    You are Seeds of Hope and Belief planted in the holocaust of  human horror.
    You are sprigs of Pure Love, sprouting from the soil of human compassion.

    You put yourself at risk for us, for no other reason than being you.
    You held out hands of sacrifice for others, offering light in the midst of storm.
    Your soothing Voices grew to beacons of Faith and Courage in a world of Terror.
    We sing praises to your faceless, nameless, selfless seeds that they may grow in us!


     Go To Mar. 11--Shafts Of Light

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