The VigilanceVoice
Monday-- March 4, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 174

The Sweet Smell of Napalm
Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

        GROUND ZERO, New York City, Mar. 4--When the movie screen filled with  roiling balls of orange and black fists of fire and hell, I let out a gasp, turned to my wife in the darkness of the theater and reverently said,  "God, I loved napalm!"
       I was glued to my seat, reliving the past in Randall Wallace's brilliantly directed We Were Soldiers, a movie from my viewpoint about the grueling test of men fighting to the death not for God or Country but for themselves--warriors fighting for the glory of their own survival.
       "We Were Soldiers," starring Mel Gibson as Lieutenant Colonel Harold Moore, commander of the 7th Calvary, America's first airborne attack unit deployed in Vietnam, is void of political oppression common to most war movies--especially those about Vietnam.  It was not riddled with moral agendas, didn't seek to issue indictments as to the "good or bad," or the "right or wrong" of war itself--but rather served as an anatomy of why men fight to the death for their leader, for their comrades.
       I thought it fairly depicted both sides of the war--the American goal of defending Freedom, and the North Vietnamese goal of erasing foreign invaders from their troubled country. 
      As one of the first U.S. Marine Corps Combat Correspondent to land in Vietnam in 1965, I was trained to fight and kill first, and secondly, to write and praise.   My mission was to report the individual heroism of the warrior, to extol the courage, conviction and action that override a man's fear, intimidation and complacency when he looks into the face of death.
      Some may call me a propagandist, a hack who was paid to glorify war, to promote the ugliness of destroying others, to shade the horror of young men dying for some futile political cause.   Those who say those things, or think those thoughts, have never been in battle, never committed themselves to the protection of their buddies, never been trained to crawl out in a hail of bullets to drag a wounded comrade to safety even if such an act meant one's own sure and sudden death--or at least the highest risk of its occurrence.
      "We Were Soldiers" was a well-stated story of men dying for other men, risking their lives for others on their team--regardless of their race, color, creed, sexual preference, politics.   It was the purity of brotherhood, the ultimate in the courage of warriors fighting to achieve victory over fear of death.
       September 11th was like that.   Men and women dropped their individual prejudices, bigotries, wealth, poverty, their social rank and became "warriors" risking their lives to help and save others from the horror of war.  While they did not sign up for the role, they performed it gloriously, many risking their lives to help the less able out of the burning World Trade Center.  Some even gave their lives so others could live.
      We Were Soldiers was a movie about courage, not about war. 
       I abhor most modern war movies for the simple reason they are laced with acrid contempt for the truth.  They riddle the script with attacks on corrupt military or political ideals twisting the true story into a gagging array of scenes that make the viewer think only of the horror, not the glorious moments, when men put their lives on the line for others.  It has been said that until a man is willing to die for something, he never knows life's true meaning, he never puts his soul on the line.  The same goes for women.
       That's why I loved the napalm.   It rose up on the screen to level  the overwhelming odds of over 3,000 North Vietnamese versus 450 American warriors in the first major battle of the Vietnam War.   So many times in my own experience the napalm had come to save us from destruction when our units were trapped by the enemy, when men were dying next to me, their blood splattering on my face.  Then, out of the clear blue sky it rose, flashing heat that boiled the earth, giving us time to regroup, to prepare for the next stage.
       Then there was blood. It was real.  I knew the movie was more than Hollywood when I saw it.   When the medical evacuation choppers shuttled the dead and wounded back, I leaned over to my wife and said..."They don't need to lift them out of the chopper, the blood is so thick they slide out."  Just as I whispered those words to my wife the scene on the screen showed a soldier dumping a bucket of water on the floor of the chopper, washing the blood off the deck.  I watched it drip out, my mind whisked back thirty-five years earlier when I clambered aboard choppers so slick with blood I was afraid I would slide out as we lifted off.
      Like so other would-be warriors, I had joined the Marine Corps to learn to be a man, not to become a war correspondent.   The Marine Corps made that decision and assignment  for me.   I wanted to be a warrior with the best of warriors.  Fortunately, I served under a man so much like Mel Gibson's Lt. Colonel Moore character (see actual picture of Lt. Colonel Moore) it was frightening.  My "Mel Gibson" was a man named Leon Utter, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines.   Like Gibson's character, we prayed before battle.  Utter told us about the glory of dying for our cause.  He was the first in and the last out.  He stood and gave commands when bullets hailed at us as thick as swarms of angry hornets, more concerned with leadership than safety.
     Men died for him, not for flag or country or Corps.  He inspired leadership, fueled one's courage in the face of certain death and limitless mountains of fear.
     There were other revelations for me in the movie.  One was UPI Joe Galloway. (see picture on left of him with camera and weapon)  I saw myself as him--a man who captured the battle not only with pictures, but with words.   In a way, he was me--torn between being a "non-combatant" and a "reporter."   There were times in Vietnam when I was so disenfranchised from the battle that all I could see was pictures, and other times when all I could see was the end of my sight on my M-16 and the muzzle blast.   Fighting a war and recording it simultaneously is hard work.  Eventually, the reporter became a warrior, just as the warrior in me finally became a reporter.   It is one thing to take a picture of blood, it is another thing to create it.  Both ultimately merge into one.
     Joe Galloway may be chided by some for picking up arms, when the role of the journalist is to be independent.   But as Sam Elliot, who played tough Sergeant Major Basil Plumly said when he told Joe to get a gun, "there are no noncombatants today."   Joe was awarded the Bronze Star for bravery by the U.S. Army in 1998, a retroactive award to when he helped save many lives at his own risk.
      "There are no non-combatants in war."   Whether we agree or disagree, we know when that moment arrives that we must "fight or die."   On September 11th, the people who were caught in the hell of the attack know this truth.   As I stood and watched the buildings collapse and the debris shot at us, there was no difference between observer and participant.  We all faced death.  Some survived, others didn't.
      While I cannot, and would not promote that Vigilance is about carrying a gun or dying for a cause, I will firmly say that Vigilance requires Courage over Fear, Conviction over Intimidation, and Action over Complacency.
      In the movie, both the North Vietnamese and the Americans were equal in expressing theirs.   I found that powerful.  
     On September 11th the resolve of innocent Americans to fight against incredible odds of death and destruction were also heroic.   The fact that over 20,000 people escaped death that day is a tribute to acts of courage that far surpass those of the fire and police and emergency workers on the scene.   I continually remind my readers that the overlooked heroes of that day, the people not put up on posters around the city, the faces not plastered on 42nd Street billboards, the lavish honors not reaped go to the thousands of "grunts"--the civilians inside the building and outside, the men and women not trained to fight to save another, but who fought to save others.
     Not that I diminish the acts of heroism by a fireman or policeman who rushes into a burning building, but rather I know the real heroes, the unsung, were those men and women who stopped to help or save another human being not because they were "on duty to do so," but because they had a innate "duty to do so."
     The North Vietnamese and American Soldiers had innate duties to die for their causes.  This was so brilliantly expressed by the scene in the movie of the North Vietnamese administrative solider who wore glasses and wrote in his diary to his wife and then sucked up the courage to attack, almost bayoneting the Mel Gibson character.  It was touching that the diary was sent to his loved one, a symbol of honor among warriors.
     As I researched my feelings about this movie, I came across a story about one of the men who was a vital part of the battle of November 14-17, 1965 in the Ia Drang Valley.   He performed many heroic acts that day.
     On September 11, three and a half decades later, he also performed heroic acts saving hundreds of lives in the World Trade Center attack.  I haven't seen his picture on any posters around New York City, but he should be among them.   Below, I have reprinted part of the story of his heroism.  I provide a link to the rest of the story for readers who want to know more about the courage, conviction and action a person takes in time of crisis.
     There are many more like him.  We might never know all their stories.  But they are, what I call, the Sentinels of Vigilance--a composite of human courage that stands above the battlefield of the World Trade Center, men and women, mothers, fathers, grandparents, cousins, nephews, nieces, uncles and aunts--who, as bravely as the 1,800 North Vietnamese who died in battle or Americans in the Ia Drang Valley, deserve the title:  "We Were Soldiers!"

"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with
me Shall be my brother." (Shakespeare, Henry V, Act IV, Scene 3).

                           Partial Reprint of Story--on Rick Rescorla--

A Tower of Courage
On September 11, Rick Rescorla Died as He Lived: Like a Hero

By Michael Grunwald
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 28, 2001; Page F01


"You watching TV?"

Rick Rescorla was calling from the 44th floor of the World Trade Center, icy calm in the crisis. When Rescorla was a platoon leader in Vietnam, his men called him Hard Core, because they had never seen anyone so absurdly unflappable in the face of death. Now he was vice president for corporate security at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., and a jumbo jet had just plowed into the north tower. The Voices of officialdom were crackling over the loudspeakers in the south tower, urging everyone to stay put: Please do not leave the building. This area is secure. Rescorla was ignoring them.

"The dumb sons of bitches told me not to evacuate," he said during a quick call to his best friend, Dan Hill, who had indeed been watching the disaster unfolding on TV. "They said it's just Building One. I told them I'm getting my people the [expletive] out of here."

Keep moving, Rescorla commanded over his megaphone while Hill listened. Keep moving.

"Typical Rescorla," Hill recalls. "Incredible under fire."

Morgan Stanley lost only six of its 2,700 employees in the south tower on Sept. 11, an isolated miracle amid the carnage. And company officials say Rescorla deserves most of the credit. He drew up the evacuation plan. He hustled his colleagues to safety. And then he apparently went back into the inferno to search for stragglers. He was the last man out of the south tower after the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, and no one seems to doubt that he would've been again last month if the skyscraper hadn't collapsed on him first. One of the company's secretaries actually snapped a photo of Rescorla with his megaphone that day, a 62-year-old mountain of a man coolly sacrificing his life for others.

It was an epic death, one of those inspirational hero-tales that have sprouted like wildflowers from the Twin Towers rubble. But it turns out that retired Army Col. Cyril Richard Rescorla led an epic life as well. In this time when heroes are being proclaimed all around, when brave actions are understandably hailed as proofs of character, here was a man whose heroism was a matter of public record long before Sept. 11.

At the same time, Rescorla's own fascination with heroism and hero-tales was a matter of private record. He even co-wrote a screenplay about the World War II infantry legend Audie Murphy. Rescorla was a man of introspection as well as action, and some of his final soul-searching e-mails provide an eerie commentary on his final day.

Rescorla, after all, was once an infantryman himself, declared a "battlefield legend" in the 1992 bestseller "We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young." Another photo of Rescorla -- gaunt back then, unshaven, carrying his M-16 rifle with bayonet fixed -- graced the book's cover and became an enduring image of the Vietnam War.

The survivors of the 7th Cavalry still tell awestruck stories about Rescorla. Like the time he stumbled into a hooch full of enemy soldiers on a reconnaissance patrol in Bon Song. Oh, pardon me, he said, before firing a few rounds and racing away.

"Oh comma pardon me," repeats Dennis Deal, who followed Rescorla that day in April 1966. "Like he had walked into a ladies' tea party."

Or the time a deranged private pulled a .45-caliber pistol on an officer while Rescorla was nearby, sharpening his bowie knife. "Rick just walked right between them and said: Put. Down. The. Gun," recalls Bill Lund, who served with Rescorla in Vietnam. "And the guy did. Then Rick went back to his knife. He was flat out the bravest man any of us ever knew."

Rescorla was also a passionate and complex man, a writer and a lawyer, as well as a blood-streaked warrior and six-figure security expert. At his home in suburban Morristown, N.J., he carved wooden ducks, frequented craft fairs, took playwriting classes. He wrote romantic poetry to his second wife, Susan, and renewed their vows after just one year of marriage. "He was a song-and-dance man," she says. He was a weeper, too. He liked to quote Shakespeare and Tennyson and Byron -- and Elvis and Burt Lancaster. He was a film buff, history buff, pottery buff -- "pretty much any kind of buff you can be," says his daughter, Kim. He liked to point his Lincoln Mark VIII in random directions and see where it would take him.

In his last days, Rescorla had been reading up on Zen Buddhism and the Stoics, contemplating the directions his own life had taken him. A few years ago, he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer that had spread into his bones. His doctors had given him six months to live. But the cancer was in remission, and he couldn't help but wonder what it all meant. In a Sept. 5 e-mail to his old friend Bill Shucart -- once a medic in Vietnam, now the head of neurosurgery at a Boston hospital -- he mused about kairos, a Greek word for a cosmically meaningful moment outside of linear time.

"I have accepted the fact that there will never be a kairos moment for me, just an uneventful Miltonian plow-the-fields discipline . . . a few more cups of mocha grande at Starbucks, each one losing a little bit more of its flavor," he wrote.

But Rescorla's moment was coming soon.

'A Natural Number One Man'

This American story began in England.

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