Today is the 11th day of the month of September, and virtually every person on the planet acknowledges this particular day as an anniversary.
We’ve now taken the big circle around the Sun twenty times since THAT DAY…a day that literally changed the world. It hardly seems…wait that’s not the correct word….it hardly FEELS like it can be true. Was it really two decades ago that we all found ourselves recoiling in horror? We sat motionless as we watched thousands of fellow humans perish in real time before our very eyes, and we were shocked to the depth of our souls. Yes, it’s been that long. Has the march of time lessened the pain?
No, it most certainly has not.
We all have those large “signposts” in our personal histories, where you can instantly tell someone where you were and what you were doing when ………… (fill in the blank). Mine include the following events: the day JFK was assassinated, the moment Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon, the day Elvis died, and the day John Lennon was killed. They all come under the heading of “earth shattering”, and even “shocking”, and excel in not only importance, but in some cases even excitement and/or certainly sadness. But that second Tuesday, in the month of September those two decades ago was different…it was all of those things, but infused with a massive dose of steroids (obviously, sans the excitement).
I’m ashamed to say that on each anniversary of this horrific event, I hear those that utter nonsense to the effect of, “How long are we going to do this? How many more years are we going to “memorialize” this? Should we even be doing this? Is it healthy to keep re-living this each year?” To them I offer the simple answer…” We should remember the horror and bravery of this day until evil crawls back into its hole, and leaves innocents to live their lives.” Each year, as we remember this event, we acknowledge the horror of this evil act, but (more importantly) in our remembrance, we CELEBRATE the lives of those so tragically taken on that day.
We celebrate the bravery, the selflessness, the sacrifice, and the love we saw beating back the horror and the evil. The television screen brutally showed it to each of us, and in those horrible hours of confusion and pain, the world changed. In the months that followed, we all became one huge, humanity-linked “family”. The horror, the pain and the anguish changed us. We left our differences, our prejudices, and our pettiness aside, and people actually became something I had not seen in many years…they became kind. I saw it at the airport, I lived it on the airplane, and I felt it in my soul. When we finally took to the skies again, as each and every passenger I flew deplaned, they looked me deep in the eyes, said “thank you”, and I knew they meant it. We airline crews were NOT the incredibly brave firefighters, or the police or the EMTs, but it took a certain level of “bravery” to step back onto those flying machines and do our jobs. We pilot-types sat behind newly hardened doors, but our incredible cabin crews had no such “armor”. They had their professionalism, the love of their work, they had each other, and they had the (in some cases) newfound respect and gratitude of the folks they were there to serve. That morning changed the airline world forever…in some ways long overdue. Aviation has a time-honored saying, “All big changes in aviation are written in blood.” It’s was true with Orville and Wilbur, and it remains true today.
My “day of days” was special only in the realm of a five-year-old. We had celebrated her fifth birthday just over a week prior, and that Tuesday morning was her second day of school. I had dropped her off, and moments after I had walked through my front door, a friend (non-pilot) called to ask if I knew anything about the “plane crash in New York”. My first question was concerning the weather in the Big Apple, for my initial thought was an IFR day with low clouds, poor visibility, and an errant private jet accidentally impacting one of the many towering structures of Manhattan. I switched on the television moments before the second big Boeing slammed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. I saw it happen, I recoiled in horror, and moments later, my “pilot brain” kicked into gear.
I was holding the phone, and spoke something to the effect of, “Olie, this is not accidental, this is terrorism, I’ll call you back…”. I hung up and almost immediately my dear wife called from a business training conference. We spoke briefly, I offered her the same thoughts I had given my friend, along with the comment…”I think this is the work of a guy named Osama bin Laden”. Our recurrent training at the airline always spent time on “security issues”, and this monster’s name had been discussed many times. I spent the rest of the day glued to the television (like most of humanity), on and off the phone with concerned friends and relatives, doing the “Dad thing” with my three wonderful kids (two of which were old enough to grasp most of what all this meant), and living in the dull ache of a worldly nightmare. The nightmare continued for what seemed like weeks.
As an airline pilot, I was living in a daze as the government grounding of the entire United States civilian aviation fleet began to effect my very professional existence. It was a whirlwind of emotions, to include the collective realization that evil had once again, heinously killed a vast amount of innocent people (to include many children). As I’ve mentioned before, this event caused a tsunami of changes in our airline cockpits. As the days progressed, we received emails from the company and/or the pilot’s union on an (almost) hourly basis. It was a paradigm shift of epic proportions. We weren’t actually making it up as we went along, but we weren’t far from it. How do we “harden” the cockpit door? How do we change our communications with the cabin crew? If an attack occurs, do we do things like aggressively maneuver the jet to bounce the attackers off the ceiling? What about weapons in the cockpit? Where 99% of the threats against the machine used to come from the outside of the jet (thunderstorms, windshear, ice, crosswinds, mid-air collisions, etc), we were now facing the prospect of deadly threats from WITHIN our vessel. Hijackings had occurred in aviation prior to 9-11, but those were of the “take me to _____________ (fill in the blank)” type occurrences. This was something far deadlier, this was unprecedented.
About a month later, as I began to recover from the shock of this horrific day, I looked to the keyboard to express myself. My dear parents had been gone for over 8 years (and a sibling roughly ten years before that), and inwardly I yearned for their thoughts, their love and their guidance. I penned a piece in the form of a letter to my father, it helped immensely, and I posted it up to the website I was writing for a the time. Fourteen years later, after another series of disgusting, gruesome, abhorrent acts of terror (the Paris and the San Bernadino attacks in late 2015), where hundreds of innocent people woke up not knowing that day would be their last on this Earth, I re-blogged my original piece here with a rather lengthy pre-amble.
In my humble opinion, they are both relevant on this anniversary date, so I decided to re-blog it in its entirety.
I (once again, with a pre-amble) give you, “Dear Dad”…
(this originally posted in December of 2015)
The sun remains an hour below the eastern horizon, and I should be sound asleep, but I’m not. I’m wide awake, and in front of this lousy keyboard.
That’s actually quite a statement from me, for one of the better traits that the good Lord has bestowed upon this body, is (was) the ability to sleep soundly in almost any time zone. Unfortunately, that seems to have changed in recent times, and it’s less than great. So the question becomes why? Why the insomnia of the last few months? Truly, it’s been a puzzle that was as troubling as it was annoying; however, a few hours ago (lying in the dark), the answer finally came. You see I, my soul, my heart, my “humanity” is in mourning. I have the feeling of being in the long, dark hallway that we’ve all seen in our childhood nightmares, but worse than that, I know that I’ve been here before, and I know not where it will end.
The following piece I penned shortly after the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001. It was in the form of a letter to my most trusted advisor, my mentor and a dear departed friend. I’m speaking, of course, of my father (hence the title “Dear Dad”). Like most of the world, I was still in a state of shock by the recent events, and I felt like I had to talk to him. It was as if I had to get the words out or I would burst. He and I shared a lifetime of love and joy with our flying machines, and these monsters had used their graceful beauty to kill and maim innocent people on a scale previously unheard of.
I now find myself at that same place. My soul and the very essence of what it is to be a human being, is greatly troubled…sickened really. Not for me, but for my children, their children and what lies ahead for my wonderful country (and the world). Birds must fly, fish must swim, and writers must write. Hence my insomnia coupled to a keyboard.
The world has seen Islamic terror for years, but recently on a scale of horror that’s almost unimaginable. A few weeks ago, it spread death on the streets of Paris, and less than forty-eight hours ago, it once again came to the shores of America, and it came hard. In Paris, it left several hundred murdered and maimed, and in California, over a dozen innocent people dead, almost two dozen wounded, and truth be told, we were lucky. The demons (in this case, a radicalized man and his equally demented wife), were of the “sleeper” category, and only their ineptitude with explosive devices kept the carnage from being much worse.
At the risk of being labeled a political piece, I offer you the following thought. These innocent Americans were killed as much by the current culture in my homeland, as they were by Islamic jihadist. There exists a faction of the population of my country that simply cannot (WILL NOT is more accurate) acknowledge that true evil exits. This segment of our citizenry shares a view of the world that is so out of touch with reality, so “childlike” in their view of the world, that they exist in a bubble that is not only foolish, but also very dangerous. The true evil that I speak of is, of course, radical Islamic terror, and its wish to kill those of us that don’t believe as they do. Part of America simply refuses to see this, and crimson pools of blood run cold because of it.
The simple fact that days after the attack here, with EVERY shred of evidence pointing to Islamic terror, many in our government (and media) simply refuse to call this heinous act by its true name. This is shameful beyond words, for it cheapens the bravery and heroism of the men and women that rushed toward it and killed this evil. It’s like watching famed journalist Edward R. Murrow sheltering in the London subway during the Blitz of 1940, and hearing him say, “Well, we can see and feel the bombs falling, and Herr Hitler has indeed declared war on England, but since its dark, we can’t FOR CERTAIN tell if it’s the Luftwaffe doing the bombing.” What in the world has become of journalistic integrity? Has truth and honor given way to agenda and politics? Wake up America! The wolf is at the door, and it’s OK to call it a wolf, just as it was OK to call them Nazis and Fascists.
What makes YOU so smart Mr. BBall? How do YOU have all the answers? Simply put, I don’t. I will offer however, that even though six decades of heartbeats has taken its toll on this body, it has also given me (and many of my age) one thing in return…and that is clarity. Clarity in thought and deed. That we may no longer be young is offset by the fact that we are blessed with the knowing of certain things. We know that the majority of the world wants peace, prosperity, and to be simply left alone to live and love our children as God intended us to. But we know something else. We know that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, real evil lives and walks among us. We know that there exits an evil so horrible that we shudder at its thought…and it takes many forms. The form it took a few days ago cannot be ignored, cannot be wished away, and no form of “political correctness” will stop it from coming back.
Just as important as this knowledge, is this difficult truth; we know that we must face it, that we must fight it, and that we must prevail. This simple thought is the ideological crossroads where the aforementioned segment of my culture and I diverge. They are simply wrong, and the consequences of their folly are dire. Their most erroneous (read dangerous) construct is the following: since they refuse to face TRUE evil, they manufacture their own version of a Boogey man… a “straw man of evil” if you will. This begs the question…why do they do this? It’s actually very simple, and it’s where history will paint them with a cruel brush. If they acknowledge evil, then by their own human sense of morality, they are obliged to fight against it.
But this cannot be for them, for they believe that ANY type of fighting or war is worse than a war to vanquish evil. They believe that global warming (or “climate change”…or whatever the “nom du jour” currently might be for this) is THE BIGGEST THREAT to humanity. I have offered to those of this ilk, the following question. What do you think our climate would look like if these demons detonate a nuclear device in New York, London and Tel Aviv simultaneously? In my opinion, that monumental change in the atmospherics of this planet, would do far more harm than the carbon footprint of my F-150. Strangely, they never seem to have an answer to this query. Usually at this point in the conversation, the focused shifts to how horrible a person I must be…and again, the question that begs an answer (deserves one really), is left an orphan.
They also believe that second-hand smoke is evil, that sugared “big gulp” soft drinks pose a huge threat, that income and gender “inequality” is a horror beyond words, and that legally owning a firearm is worse than wrong. But, in my opinion, the most damaging idea of all, is that they believe that I, myself, must be somehow horrible, bad, even evil, because I don’t believe that these things are. Where I believe that they are wrong, mis-guided and foolish; they believe I’m the worst kind of despicable human one can imagine. Remember the word “clarity”? The collective conscious of the free world had it 70 plus years ago on the beaches of Normandy, the jungles of New Guinea, and on the streets of America, London and Paris, but unfortunately, many of us seem to have lost it. I fear that radical Islamic terror will force us to pay for our lack of this clarity…and that scares the hell out of me.
A certain leader of this country had it in spades a few years ago, but I was in my 20s/30s and mostly ignored him (and politics in general), to my shame. He once spoke these insightful words:
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
His name was Ronald Reagan, and he was beyond right. EVERY generation faces it’s own existential threat and is tested. My parents generation was tested in the fields of Europe, and on the seas (and islands) of the Pacific. Mine in the jungles of Vietnam and the sands of the Middle East. My children now find themselves in the midst of their test, and it will be in the cities and towns of America (and Paris, and London, and Sydney), and on every street corner where freedom and liberty call home.
A certain group of people have been fighting this evil monster for years…long before they were an actual country. The people that surround them, that hate them, and wish their demise have slogans such as, “We love death more than the Jews love life.” They live with this horror daily, and have for generations. So now we must do the same. My heart weeps for them, it weeps for us, and it weeps for the world.
In a few days, my wonderful wife (my dearest friend and confidant) and I will take that next step in this war against actual evil. We will engage in weapons training (over the years, I’ve had many hours of formal weapons training, this will be her first time), and enter the world of the “sheepdog”. After becoming licensed, we will be legally armed while in public (truth be told, at home, I’m never more than just a few feet from a weapon). The circumstances that now have us thinking, acting and LIVING tactically sadden me, but the thought that evil Islamic terror lives in my beloved (free) America angers me past that sadness. America is at war…in the streets, the workplaces, the malls, the playgrounds, and yes, even our houses of worship. Regardless of the fact that the leaders of this country (and a certain segment of the population) can’t see it, simply doesn’t change the truth. I once had a person in my cockpit from the “other side” of the political isle than myself, speak these troubling words, “the truth is relative”. I recoiled at the comment, but he believed it to his soul. The blood of history has left this gory message; the truth is most certainly NOT relative. The unsettling truth is that we are in a fight for our very lives.
Several years ago, while in training to carry a firearm in the cockpit, my training class and I were subjected to a talk from a gentleman that lived his life amongst this evil. His former job was in the service of the IDF (Israeli Defense Force), and he was currently acting as an advisor to our group. He told us that America must suffer two more 9-11’s “before you will wake up to the kind of evil you are facing”. We all were a bit shocked, but his words ring true. Was the most recent attack by Islamic radical monsters our second “9-11”? I honestly don’t know. Do we need to “wake up” as a country, look this monster squarely in its bloodshot eyes, and send it back to the hell it most surely came from? The answer is obvious…at least to me. Maybe a few days ago, on a bright sunny day in California stained with the blood of innocent people, was the day everyone in America became an IDF fighter.
Do I love life (and liberty) more than the Islamic terrorists love death? Ask that question to the Jewish nation, then ask me again. I fear the next few decades will test America and the free world. I only hope and pray we have the clarity, courage and faith of our brothers and sisters across the globe from us. God bless them, and God bless the free people of the world
With that, I give you…
(originally penned in October, 2011)
I know it’s been several years since I’ve written, but surely know that I think about you every day. How are you doing? I have many, many questions to ask you. Someday I hope that we can meander some distant golf course together under sunny skies, and just chat like we used to. How are Mom and Teresa? Please tell them that I am doing O.K., and that I love and miss them very much.
You must be wondering why I’m writing. I know that you received word about my health experiences of the last couple of years. Yeah, at times it was pretty rough. I was subjected to some rather ugly stuff, but through it all, I somehow knew that I would be strong enough to weather it. I watched you very closely as a young man, and when times got tough in your life, you did just what I hoped I could do. You toughed it out, and you shifted the focus away from you and directed it toward others. Last winter, I lay awake many nights and “talked” to you (and the Big Guy) while times were at their worst, and it helped immensely. Just the thought that you might be listening really eased my mind…you were right, there are truly no atheists in a foxhole.
The reason that I’m writing is to open my heart to you. You see, a cancer has returned, and I need your help. To be clear, it’s not my personal cancer cells trying to kill only me; it’s something far bigger, and far more evil. Please don’t be shocked, for you’ve seen it before, and you showed me how to handle it then, as I’m sure you will now. There is but one cure for this type of disease, and I’m not sure that I won’t see the cure without many, many days of pain and suffering.
Right now my heart is heavy, and I get by with thinking of the wonderful things in my life. I’ve been truly blessed with a loving wife and family. They are my pillars of strength, and my anchors in every storm. Plus, I’ve also been given the gift of many really wonderful people that I can call “friend”, and they too are what keeps me going. They’ve seen me through many bad times in my life, and I know they will be there for me again. And then, of course I have my airplanes.
I’ll never forget the morning that I made that momentous decision (as momentous as any 17 year old can make) that I wished to become a professional pilot like you. We were working on one of the many cars in our life at the time, and when I broached you with the subject, your response was, “you better go talk to your Mom about that” (I’m pretty sure I could see you grin as I walked into the house). Her answer was a roll of the eyes, and something on the order of, “oh great, another pilot”.
You and I began that wonderful journey together many years before that day, when you would take me with you out to the Army airfields. You were planting the seeds then, and now those seeds are towering oaks. I remember the time I asked you about taking the night freight job flying the Piper Navajo out of Albuquerque. This was to be my first “real” flying job out of college, and I needed your expert guidance. Your response was, “it’ll be great experience if you live through it, and if you don’t, it won’t matter will it?” (hehe, I loved the pragmatism) It was the perfect answer. Since that first “command”, I’ve had many wonderful experiences. The last 18 years with Northwest have given me so many wonderful aviating memories, that sometimes I feel a bit guilty. The flying machine in my life now is truly an incredible combination of grace, beauty, and raw power. I wish you could feel her in your grasp just once…you’d fall in love in an instant…just like I did.
But Dad, something terrible has happened. Something so incredibly bad that I can hardly understand it even now, many days later. I know you don’t get the news where you are, but you’d better sit down, this is truly a sad story. It’s almost impossible for me to understand this, but unspeakable evil has seeped into our daily lives. Evil that almost none of us can comprehend. The mongers of this curse, just a few days ago, unleashed death on such an unspeakable scale that it tears my soul just to think about it…and Dad, they used our beautiful, peaceful flying machines to do it. I know you’ve seen death on the battlefield, honorable death. But that was not this. This was no Gettysburg, no Normandy, no Dien Bien Phu…it was in the skies, and on the streets of America.
An armed group of terrorists hijacked four airliners (I can’t even use the word hijacked, for that speaks of commandeering an airplane to go to a different destination…what they did was murder the crews and take command of the jets), and then plunged three of them into prominent structures in New York and Washington D.C. In the process, they took many, many innocent civilian lives. Apparently, on the fourth jet, the passengers knew their fate and fought back. They died in their attempt to re-capture the machine, but they did what I know you (and I) would have done…they fought the bastards. They fought like their lives depended on it, as well they did. No matter what the outcome, they won…just by fighting back, they won.
I cringe when I imagine what happened on those jets…I just can’t understand it. I will NEVER be able to look to the skies, at one of those lovely machines again, and not think of those brave people. In a very real sense, something died in all of us that fateful day. Was it our sense of security in our respective worlds? I don’t know, but I do know that humanity lost something; something very precious. I remember writing in my journal about how, after losing you and Mom, I now viewed the world as if through a veil of tears. Maybe we all do now.
This is my new cancer Dad, and it’s spread throughout the world. ALL of humanity has it, and ALL of us will have to find a way to fight it. It’s a disease of hate, death and destruction. We are in for a very long fight, one that I’m afraid will take some of the best of us from this world, but I know what you would say to that. You would say, “Anything in life that’s worth having, is worth fighting for”, and you would be very, very right. Our peace and freedom most certainly fit into that category, right?
I know that you would tell me that this kind of scum has risen its ugly head before, and descent, peace-loving people of the world have fought it back to the hell it surely comes from. They fought it from the shelters of London, the streets of Stalingrad, and the caves of Okinawa, and they won. They won with the cost of much blood, pain and heartache…but in the end they prevailed. I know that you understand why we must do what will be done, and not just as Americans, but as a collective group of people sharing the same rock in space. We want only to live our lives and raise our families, in a world that doesn’t include in-discriminant killing of innocent men, women and children in the name of (religion, government, land, etc) ___________ (fill in the blank). The cancer of hate and vileness that these people spread, just simply can’t be stronger than our love for peace and freedom. It can’t be, it WON’T be.
I know you understand where my heart is now. The pain, the confusion, and the anguish I’m feeling…I’m sure you would be feeling it too. You are in a place that knows not of such things…and for this I am truly thankful. You live in a world were peace and love are the only things that prosper, where cancer under any name is unheard of. Someday, maybe we can have that here too.
Please take care of Mom, Teresa, yourself, and all of our loved ones. Also, please know that we here are trying our best day in and day out to be what you (and the other wonderful parents) have taught us to be. When you feel the gentle wind blow, and feel the warm sun on your face, please send some of that peace our way. Oh, and Dad, you’ve probably seen a lot of new faces about since a few days ago. Give them a hug, hold their hands, show them around, and realize that they’ve been through a very, very tough time.
Your loving son,