There is great pain and suffering when a loved one dies in war.
One questions the validity of violence as a tool to achieve peace.
On April 18, 2004, Captain Richard J. Gannon, USMC., was killed in
a fierce 14-hour battle in Iraq. He leaves behind four children,
from ages 2 to 12. But, he also leaves behind a
legacy of Vigilance, one that cannot be easily demeaned by mitigating
the value of his death fighting the Beast of Terror.
Thursday, April 29,
2004—Ground Zero Plus 960
A Tribute To A Fallen Marine Sentinel Of Vigilance
GROUND ZER0, New York, N.Y.--April 29, 2004 -- Father
Gannon is the local parish priest here in the East Village. He
leads his flock of Hispanic and English-speaking Catholics through the
trials and tribulations of life. On April 18, 2004, his
flock gathered around him to give him spiritual strength, for the
Beast of Terror fell upon Father Gannon's shoulders like a bolt of
lightening striking his altar.
Captain Richard J. Gannon died serving in Iraq
His nephew, Captain Richard J. Gannon
of the United States Marine Corps, was killed in Iraq during an ambush
that resulted in a 14-hour battle near the Syrian border in a town
Captain Gannon and three of his other
Marines were killed. Ten Iraqis were also killed and thirty more
wounded in the fighting.
But part of Father Gannon died that
day. So did part of my daughter, Sabra, who works along with
Father Gannon at one of the oldest churches in New York City, the
Nativity Church, at 44 Second Avenue.
I was at the elementary school that day
waiting to pick up my two grandchildren, Matt, 7, and Sara, 5.
Sabra, their mother, was going to meet me with her third child, Angus,
nearly 2. It was violin day, and Sabra was going to
take Sara to class and the two boys, Matt and Angus, were to spend the
afternoon with me, G-Pa.
Sabra is a passionate peace advocate.
All her life has been dedicated to others in pain. She recently
was graduated from Union Theological Seminary with a Masters in
Divinity, and now teaches part-time at the Seminary in addition to
serving as an assistant to Father Gannon, helping arrange the events
of the church.
She and her husband Joe have been teaching
catechism at Nativity for years since they are both bi-lingual and the
population the Church serves are mostly Puerto Rican and Dominican.
I remember on Nine Eleven following the
Terrorist attack walking up the street with Sabra and having her
collapse in my arms from the sorrow of the deaths of so many through
such a senseless massacre. She was also worried about the
safety of her then two children, Matt and Sara, wondering if she
should move to some mountain enclave in the high hills of Montana to
void herself of the danger of her children being harmed by some
Terrorist act launched at the helpless, the innocent.
I had seen the
horror of Nine Eleven and survived Vietnam
We talked about her pain and sorrow, for I
had seen the horror of Nine Eleven at Ground Zero that day and
survived the holocaust, as well as my hundred combat missions in
Vietnam. I held her while she sobbed, her soul
flushing out the sadness for all the victims of the tragedy, plus her
own Fears, Intimidations and Complacencies as a mother for her
children, and all children.
A month later she announced she was
pregnant. The conception date was Nine Eleven, as though her
part in the reconstruction of life after death was to bring another
beautiful being upon this earth, one who might help spearhead more
peace than war, one who might serve as a Sentinel of Peace and
Vigilance over a world that now shuddered at the thought that at any
moment a plane or bomb or some poison gas or biological agent might be
released upon the innocent bystanders by a bully seeking to become a
So when I saw Sabra's face approaching the
school on April 18, 2004, she was wearing the Mask of Pain.
Her face was white, almost blank as she pushed Angus toward me, her
eyes staring ahead as though transfixed in some other world, her mouth
motionless, frozen as though she were a corpse on Six-Feet Under, an
The hackles on my neck
stiffened. She stopped and just looked at me, an
empty stare as though the light in her soul had been snuffed by some
putrefied hiss of a horrible beast trying to drown her magic, her
spiritual light that shined from within and turn it off, remove from
her the life that flowed through her and made all who were near her
feel happy about her presence because she gave far more than she took.
"What's the matter?"
"I just got off the phone
with Father Gannon. His nephew was killed today in Iraq.
Dad, he had four kids, from two to twelve."
I took her in my arms and
gave her a hug. Her body was limp. The marrow in her
bones was sucked out by the sorrow of war, the sorrow of a friend's
suffering, the sorrow of a woman left alone with four children, the
sorrow of people killing one another, the sorrow of the slaughter of
"He died fighting for his
beliefs," I said. "For him, there could be no higher
I knew Captain
Gannon was a warrior of peace willing to die for God and Country
I said it automatically.
I had no intention to harm, or elicit my daughter's frustration and
sometimes anger over violence as a tool to resolution of human
conflict. She was a peace advocate not a war justifier.
Her life was about protesting violence and killing, not condoning it.
But, the words fell from my lips for I knew Captain Richard J. Gannon,
USMC, was a Sentinel of Vigilance, a warrior of peace willing to die
for his God and Country, and for such a person, their death is not sad
Thirty six years ago I
had been willing to die not only for my country but for the freedom of
a people oppressed and tyrannized. Despite all the
slime hurled at the Vietnam War, I remember watching the people vote
for the first time in their lives as we defended the polls the V.C.
had threatened to destroy, including a death warrant on any person who
cast a vote. Still, the people flooded out of the jungles to
vote in Mo Duc that day. While all the critics of the war in Vietnam may
sing their songs of jubilation over the quagmire it turned out to be,
in the end, those people in the jungles got one shot at freedom, a
memory that will never die. One day, when Vietnam is free, the
people will look back at the war and remember that Americans came to
die for that right, and while they might have shamefully left in
defeat, the victory of freedom will overshadow that defeat, and the
Vietnamese will one day thank us.
I knew the same was true in
Iraq. Today, the pain and anguish of fighting for
freedom seemed so senseless to the loved ones of those killed or
maimed by war. Freedom's price is pain. It always has
been; it always will be.
My words to my daughter may not
have penetrated her pain. But I knew. Maybe
the words were for me, to assuage my own pain.
Warriors of Peace, Sentinels of Vigilance...."
Later we talked about the
deaths in Iraq. I reminded her that the Americans
dying there were all volunteers, not draftees. And, I
mentioned that Marines such as Captain Gannon were taking the brunt of
the bloodshed, along with the Army's Special Forces.
"These are Warriors of Peace,
Sentinels of Vigilance who go to battle willing to die for the ideals
of others. I know you don't want to hear this, but just don't
forget that Father Gannon's nephew died fighting for the Children's
Children's Children. Marines are trained to go in first, to
fight to the death for the rights of others. He should be
granted the highest honor, not sadness. For him war
is a road to peace."
I knew how difficult, or
impossible, it would be for my daughter to accept that war had some
juxtaposition to peace. But I knew it. I knew
that the bullies of Terrorism had to be driven back, suppressed, and
sometimes killed for peace to rule the land.
often written in the blood of victims of war
Freedom often is written in the
blood of victims of war. Only in the aftermath does the value of
a war come to the surface, for it is expressed by the right of those
children and grandchildren of oppression and tyranny to protest for
peace, to be able to carry signs and rant and scream and otherwise
demand the end of war. Democracy is all about protest, but
the price of the right to protest is, sadly, gauged by the death of
heroes who offer their lives so that strangers might one day enjoy the
gifts they have been granted.
Captain Gannon had a unique job in
Iraq. He was building roads and rebuilding schools, thrust out
in the front of battle to pave the way for others, and to reconstruct
the foundations of a country ripped apart by war and a quarter century
of tyrannical rule by Saddam Hussein.
His death was sad to the family he
left behind, and to the children who will not have their father to
guide them through life.
But, if one is to believe in the
Sentinels of Vigilance, and to believe that the deaths of those who
fight for liberty and freedom have value, Captain Gannon did not die
on April 18, 2004.
was, I believe, reborn as a Sentinel of Vigilance
In a way, he was reborn in another shape,
another form--as a Sentinel of Vigilance, guarding and watching for
the Beast of Terror and issuing warnings to his children and other
children to be wary of the Fear, Intimidation and Complacency that
allows tyrants to rule, and forces the world, or at least some of it,
to one day stand up to the bullies everyone else has allowed to gain
power over others, to abuse them at will, to deprive them of their
natural rights to freedom.
In my book, Captain Gannon has joined
the Ring of Vigilance around Ground Zero, locking hands with the 3,000
victims of the Terrorist attack, and the more than 700 Americans who
have died to date in Iraq, legacies of the price one is willing to pay
for other's freedom and safety.
Hopefully, his children and
grandchildren and their children and grandchildren will see him there too, watching,
whispering in their ears: "Vigilance...Vigilance...Vigilance..."
The Beast Of Pain