September 11, 11 Years Later - Have You Forgotten?
No sane person wants to dwell on tragic events solely as an opportunity to wallow in endless misery. Rather, in scenarios like the September 11, 2001 attacks on America's homeland, lessons should be learned and systems put in place to help mitigate the probability of similar misfortunes ever befalling the United States again. Then we move on. Is that what has happened? Have we learned a lesson and adopted a new mindset where sucker-punched citizenry now eternally guards against the forces that threw the fatal blow to over 3,000 souls? Sadly, it seems not. In an age of short attention spans, the country 's collective memory has all but been erased.
A line from the song Have You Forgotten? goes like this, "They took all the footage off my TV, said it's too disturbing for you and me. It'll just breed anger, that's what the experts say. If it was up to me, I'd show it everyday." That was wayyyyyyy back in 2003, a mere two years after the attacks. Eleven years have passed now and the amnesia problem is infinitely worse. A constant pounding by the mainstream media day in and day out admonishing - even threatening - us to not remember exactly who the perpetrators were or where they came from has resulted in egregious actions by our government to the opposite extreme. Not only are the radical Muslim extremists who sympathized then and now with the likes of Osama Bin Laden NOT EXCLUDED from gaining access to venues of national security, but they are ACTUALLY INVITED to help policy makers reform virtually every aspect of our government. Military and law enforcement manuals and training materials have had every reference to radical Islam purged from their pages. Active members of extremist groups that are (or were until recently) on the list of terrorists organizations are regularly admitted access to some of the most sensitive material that is supposed to be safeguarding this nation's resources and citizens. If you have not heard of any of this, refer to the lines of the aforementioned song and then do an Internet search.
"Have you forgotten how it felt that day? To see your homeland under fire, and her people blown away? Have you forgotten, when those towers fell? We had neighbors still inside, going through a living hell."
The September 2012 edition of the ARRL's QST magazine ran an article titled "At Ground Zero," which is the story of an Amateur Radio operator who volunteered for duty in the belly of the beast on America's second date which will live in infamy. Bob Hejl, W2IK, was a teacher at the Farmingdale Public School on Long Island. He had just gotten to work and was preparing for class when he heard the news of an airplane hitting the World Trade Center. He, as did most people, wondered whether it was the result of a mistaken flight path or could it have been intentional? Any doubts were erased minutes later when a second jet slammed into the second of the twin towers. Bob trained extensively for and put into practice on multiple occasions skills he honed as an Assistant Emergency Coordinator (AEC) for the Amateur Radio Emergency Service® (ARES). This was nothing like he ever imagined having to manage. You might be tempted to incant the old line about how you can't train for a situation like this, but the fact is you can, and he did. So have thousands of others across this land.
Prior to being dispatched to what would become ominously referred to as Ground Zero, Bob coordinated with his local hospital in preparation for receiving wounded tower inhabitants. After watching the towers fall he thought, "There might not be many victims to be transported to our hospitals;" i.e., they're probably all dead now. A few hours later he and other veteran ARES operators were on a train headed for New York City. An extended-duty go-kit, a dual-band 50 W, VHF/UHF radio, an AC/DC power supply, a magnetic mount antenna, and a handheld transceiver were his tools of choice. During the ride in he wondered whether he was up to the task that laid ahead. History answered the question with an resounding "Yes, he was both ready and able."
Shortly after checking in at the make-shift Red Cross command center in Manhattan, Bob boarded a van that would take him to a location which would turn out to be his home for three days of continuous duty as the lone radio operator in that locale. It occurred to him that when the twin towers fell, many antennas providing cellphone and commercial radio repeater functions were lost, so his independent communication system would be in dire need for assisting with rescue and evacuation efforts, as well as for passing survivor and victim status along to family members.
"As we entered the disaster area, it looked as if several blocks of the city had been bombed out, a vast expanse of ruins." "I got out of the van, but before I could turn to say anything to my Ham buddies in the vehicle, it sped away to deposit its passengers at the next location. My 'old world' had just left in that Red Cross van. I felt alone. It was now up to me to handle one of the most important communications tasks I or anyone might ever be assigned." Sobering, to say the least.
Because the extent of the terrorist threat was not yet known, command post operators were instructed to not send messages that might betray their exact locations. Nobody knew if there were terrorist cells lying in wait to attack and take out strategic operations. Bob sent bogus messages to make it appear that he was at the rescue shelter rather than at his true location at an elementary school very close to the demolished buildings. It wasn't just the potential Muslim terrorists that communications workers had to worry about; they were equally worried that members of the media, who monitored all the voice traffic, would misinterpret something said and make erroneous reports to the public. It was even necessary to shift frequencies on a predetermined basis in an effort to thwart the media's obnoxious and harmful practices.
Throughout his three days (which was supposed to be a 12-hour shift) Bob not only carried out his radio operator duties, but also volunteered to assist with whatever tasks he could manage. That included unloading cots for and distributing food and water to rescue workers, and running temporary power cables for electrical equipment. As WTC Building #7 fell and the ensuing dust filled the air, covering everything in sight, it occurred to Bob that the dust was not just the remains of a lifeless building, but it also contained a sample of the building's cremated human remains. He had the presence of mind to fill a large bottle with the dust, which in the aftermath he transferred into sealed test tubes and presented to the families of expired victims so that they would have something material to bury in memory of their loved ones and help with the healing process. How many people would have thought to perform such a magnanimous service during that time of tragedy?
In the midst of the uncertainty and turmoil, rescue workers were informed about the potential exposure to toxic mixes of materials that could be naturally and spontaneously generated as a result of chemicals present in the fallen buildings including, horrifically enough, a form of mustard gas. As we all recall and commemorate to this day, those men and women on duty chose to jeopardize their own well-being in order to assist complete strangers. Nobody cared about the political party affiliation, skin color, religious beliefs, or financial status of those in need. Americans did what Americans do best - help their neighbors.
Bob was finally relieved of duty after another Ham radio operator saw a plea for assistance on a WABC television report. On his ride home, Bob was deservingly the recipient of numerous displays of appreciation by people who recognized his white (although much less so that threes days earlier) uniform and ARES patches. Bob's full story can be accessed on his W2IK.info website. It is a good read.
In the days, months, and years following the September 11 terrorist attacks, the national mood transformed from one of a "never forget" mindset to a "what?" mindset. News outlets have formulated rules prohibiting even uttering the phrase "Muslim terrorist" and we are not allowed to remember that it was, without question, extremist Muslims who planned and then carried out the attack. We all of course understand that not all Muslims are terrorists and many are extremely patriotic Americans; we are reminded of it frequently. What we are not allowed to be reminded of is that surveys taken throughout the Middle East have always shown that the "Death to America" attitude still persists among the vast majority of the people there. The motto of "The Quran Is Our Law; Jihad Is Our Way" is fervently proclaimed out of the sight of Western media cameras, but a quick Google search shows the mindset is ubiquitous not just in the Middle East, but in Europe and America. Our method of dealing with it is to pretend the threat does not exist while increasingly robbing American citizens of their civil rights. When you are subject to a full body search at the airport, do you ever stop to think why it is that it is happening to you? Is it the possibility that a 90-year-old grandmother from Ottumwa, Iowa (Radar O'Reilly's home town) might be harboring a bomb in her Depends? Is it because members of a Boy Scout troop might be concealing explosive materials in their merit badges? Why is it that your phone calls and e-mail and text messages are subject to constant government surveillance and why are drones now flying patrols over our cities and why are cameras posted on every street corner? Is it because the Southern Baptists are planning a big tent revival in Charleston, WV, and they might cause trouble while offering free refreshments to attendees? Do you know that the mass shooting/murder at Fort Hood carried out by Army Major Nidal Hasan in the name of Allah has been officially designated by the U.S. government as "workplace violence" rather than an act of terrorism? Similar examples of the now routine committing of national suicide are legion. It's death by a thousand cuts. We're in deep doo doo, people. Wake up, please.