Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9-11-01: Remembrance

There are so many images from that day. There is one picture that deserves iconic status like the flag-raising at Iwo Jima.

Firefighter Richard Rattazzi snapped it shortly after the first tower fell. The street is choked with the white dust cloud. A firefighter, his back to the camera, is walking to Ground Zero to look for survivors. You can see the picture here and read about the firefighters.

Rick Rescorla’s story can’t be repeated too many times. His actions saved hundreds of lives that day. By all means let’s remember the old warrior in the stairwell singing his own version of “Men of Harlech” as he saw to the evacuation. But let’s remember the real reason he saved so many lives: For eight years he insisted that Morgan Stanley practice its evacuation plans.

In a crisis, you don’t rise to the occasion; you default to your training.
Thanks to Rick Rescorla’s stubbornness, the people he worked with had training to default to.

Mark Steyn understands what was at stake on United 93. This column is one of his best:

When an opinion-former’s caught unawares, he retreats to his tropes, however lame, as Lahr did, and Pilger, Chomsky et al. But the clearest way to understand the meaning of the day is to look at those who were called upon to act rather than theorise. We now know that the fourth plane, United Flight 93, the one that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, was heading for the White House. Had they made it, it would have been the strike of the day. It might have killed the Vice-President and who knows who else, but, even if it hadn’t, think of the symbolism: the shattered fa├žade, smoke billowing from a pile of rubble on Pennsylvania Avenue, just like the money shot in Independence Day. Those delirious Palestinians and Danes and Montrealers would have danced all night.

That they were denied their jubilation is because the dopey hijackers assigned by al-Qa’eda to Flight 93 were halfway across the continent before they made their move and started meandering back east. By the time the passengers began calling home on their cellphones, their families knew what had happened in New York. Unlike those on the earlier flights, the hostages on 93 understood they were aboard a flying bomb intended to kill thousands of their fellow citizens. They knew there would be no happy ending. So they gave us the next best thing, a hopeful ending. Todd Beamer couldn’t get through to anyone except a telephone company operator, Lisa Jefferson. She told him about the planes that had smashed into the World Trade Center. Mr Beamer said they had a plan to jump the guys and asked her if she would pray with him, so they recited the 23rd Psalm: ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me....’

Then he and the others rushed the hijackers. At 9.58 a.m., the plane crashed, not into the White House, but in some pasture outside Pittsburgh. As UPI’s James Robbins wrote, ‘The Era of Osama lasted about an hour and half or so, from the time the first plane hit the tower to the moment the General Militia of Flight 93 reported for duty.’

Exactly. The most significant development of 11 September is that it marks the day America began to fight back: 9/11 is not just Pearl Harbor but also the Doolittle Raid, all wrapped up in 90 minutes. No one will ever again hijack an American airliner with boxcutters, or, I’ll bet, with anything else not because of predictably idiotic new Federal regulations, but because of the example of Todd Beamer’s ad hoc platoon. Faced with a novel and unprecedented form of terror, American technology (cellphones) combined with the oldest American virtue (self-reliance) to stop it cold in little more than an hour. The passengers of Flight 93 were the only victims who knew what the hijackers had in store for them, and so they rose up, and began the transformation of Osama into a has-bin Laden
.

Oliver Stone based his movie “World Trade Center” on the rescue of Port Authority Policeman Will Jimeno. The reality is even more inspiring than anything Hollywood can crank out. Dennis Smith included Jimeno’s first person account in his book Report from Ground Zero:

I say “Hey Sarge, I don’t know if we can make it overnight.” I am thinking of my wife Allison, and my daughter, Bianca. She’s just 4, and I want to see them again. And my wife is having a baby, a girl. We’re going to call her Olivia. I ask God to let me see my little unborn Olivia, and somehow, in the future, to let me touch the baby.

Suddenly, now I hear a voice. “This is the United States Marine Corps. Is anybody here: can anybody hear us?” This is Staff Sergeant David Karnes and a Sergeant Thomas. I start wailing, “PAPD Officers down, 8-13.”

Before I know it, he is on the pile above us, and I ask him, I say, “Please don’t leave us. This is Officer Jimeno, who has a little girl and another on the way, and Sergeant McLoughlin down here; he has four kids. Please don’t leave us!”

And he says, “Buddy, I am not leaving you
.”
Karnes’ story is covered in two must read Slate articles:


An Unlikely Hero

Only 12 survivors were pulled from the rubble of the World Trade Center after the towers fell on Sept. 11, despite intense rescue efforts. Two of the last three to be located and saved were Port Authority police officers. They were not discovered by a heroic firefighter, or a rescue worker, or a cop. They were discovered by Dave Karnes.

Karnes hadn't been near the World Trade Center. He wasn't even in New York when the planes hit the towers. He was in Wilton, Conn., working in his job as a senior accountant with Deloitte Touche. When the second plane hit, Karnes told his colleagues, "We're at war." He had spent 23 years in the Marine Corps infantry and felt it was his duty to help. Karnes told his boss he might not see him for a while
.

How the rescue really happened

As for Dave Karnes, his role as one of two Marines to locate McLaughlin and Jimeno by searching the pile when the professional rescuers had backed off is based on reported accounts and fictionalization, since he didn't cooperate with the film's producers. Rather than work on a picture in Hollywood, Karnes re-enlisted in the Marines at age 45 "to go after the people who did this so it never happens again," as he told me. (When his first tour of duty didn't take him to Iraq, he re-upped for a second tour and made it to the combat zone, serving 17 months there.) In the movie, Karnes leaves his Wilton, Conn., office, dons his old Marine fatigues, stops to get a Marine Corps haircut, and visits his pastor on his way to Ground Zero. While these events are mostly accurate, the film seems to overplay his zeal without conveying his motivations and reasoning. In reality Karnes wanted to dress the part of a Marine for access to an all-but-sealed Lower Manhattan. In the movie, many of Karnes' lines are cryptic religious references that make him seem like a robotic soldier of Christ- a little wacky and simplistic. This may be why test audiences didn't believe he existed, according a report in Newsweek. The man I interviewed, while he embodied extraordinary inner conviction, was a real human being who took risks that most of us didn't.

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