Article Overview:    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

Cliff McKenzie

 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.

Marine Corp 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 called Husaybah.
       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 martyr.
       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 ambulatory one.
         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 life.
          "He died fighting for his beliefs," I said.   "For him, there could be no higher honor."      

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 to me.
          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.

"These are 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.

Freedom is 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.

Captain Gannon 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..."

April 22--Battling The Beast Of Pain

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