Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

A friend and I spent a long time talking this weekend, as we took a quick and welcomed overnight run up to Glacier National Park – our annual September trek.  Neither of us wanted to watch the 9/11 remembrances today; we even avoided going to the church were we have been long-term members.  I tried to turn on TV to watch out of some sense of loyalty, and turned it off again.

It’s too heavy.  We remember too well.

For my part, it renews thoughts that perhaps we could have seen it coming.  Here’s a list of the attacks against the U.S. leading up to 9/11:  List of major Islamic attacks & plots against America

See the listings for 1996?  My son, John, was there at Khobar Towers.  He was driving across the base when the bomb went off, headed to the towers to relieve another airman from duty and take him for further training.  The other airman – who happened to be from Montana, close to where I lived at the time – ended up being the person who sounded the alarm when he looked down from his guard position on the rooftop and saw a truck that didn’t look right.

John got to the towers before any ambulance did, and he radioed his commanding officer requesting permission, which was granted, to enter the building to help.  He spent the next 18 hours helping to pull out bodies and body parts from the site.

I’d received a phone call at work about 4 p.m. that day that a bomb had gone off.  I went home to wait for word, not knowing if my son were dead or alive.  Friends came to wait with me.  I was one of the lucky ones: three or four hours later, the phone rang, and the minute I heard my son’s voice, I burst into tears.  He said, “I can tell you’ve heard the news.”

There were families who waited all night that night for word.

He came home about six weeks later, and we went up to Glacier, where we hiked from the top of Logan Pass, along the Highline Trail, 7.4  miles back over another pass to Granite Park Chalet, then 4 miles almost straight downhill through thick brush to the Loop in Going to the Sun Road.  My theory was that seeing so much stunning beauty might replace or at least co-exist with some of the terrible images now burned into my son’s mind.

I thought about that hike a lot as we got to the top of Logan Pass yesterday, and watched others start out along the Highline Trail.  The beginning of the trail is tough: it’s cut into such a sheer cliff face, and is so narrow, that the Park Service has bolted a garden hose with a chain running through it into the rock, so that you have something to hang on to as you walk that first half mile or so.  It seemed much longer than half a mile at the time, but perhaps it’s not.

That green hose with the chain in it became my security on the first part of that trail; it was just so scary.

You have to look ahead down the trail and prepare.  You have to do a little research.  You have to have the right shoes, carry water, be ready to make noise so that you don’t surprise grizzlies.  There had been several grizzly sightings along the trail in the days just prior to our visit; in fact, just below Granite Park Chalet we passed through an area that was the scene of a renown fatal grizzly attack back in the 1960s, memorialized in the book “The Night of the Grizzlies.”  (I didn’t tell John that part until later.)  I was singing along the trail in a loud voice when we rounded a bend in the brush and came upon a park ranger.  I apologized for sounding kind of strange – and he said “No, you’re doing exactly the right thing.”  You don’t hike silently at Glacier; you make noise.  It’s a safety measure, and if you plan ahead, you’ll be informed of that.

I’ve always wondered if, as a country, we were looking ahead before 9/11/01 – or just reacting.  I’ve wondered that about airport security ever since; we seem to put new measures in place based on past incidents, as if any terrorist would try the same thing twice.  I’m not sure that – even today – we are anticipating very well.  I don’t have inside information, so I could certainly be wrong; but somehow, I still wonder.

In any event, Khobar Towers was itself too heavy then, and is too heavy now.  My son lived; but he now lives with the memory of being told to stand down, that it was no longer safe to enter the building – and hearing the screams of those remaining until the screams faded and were no more.

Ten years ago today, I was helping others across the country to plan a protest against our government’s anthrax vaccine policy  – that of forcing U.S. service members to take this experimental, unproven, highly reactive vaccine against their wishes, when batches of it had already been found to be contaminated or aged or simply unsafe.  I’d traveled to Washington D.C. the year before to witness Congressional hearings, and met many of the young men and women whose health had been permanently ruined by the anthrax vaccine, and whose government did not want to reimburse them for the damages done.  I still run a web site for that issue today – a total of 11 years later, now.

I got up on the morning of 9/11/01 to a phone message that perhaps we should cancel our planned protest in light of what had happened at the Pentagon, and of course immediately went to the TV – and learned of all the events.  I saw the second plane hit the second tower.  I remember thinking, “This isn’t an accident – not twice.”

It’s too heavy.  I still remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when President Kennedy was shot; when Martin Luther King was shot; when Bobby Kennedy was shot.  I don’t know at exactly what point I began to wonder what country I was waking up in each morning.  Perhaps it was after I became aware of the Pentagon conducting medical experiments on our troops – something Congress acknowledged and wrote about clear back in 1994 with something called the Rockefeller Report.  Perhaps it was when I read “In the Spirit of Crazy Horse,” about the massacre at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the 1970s, as I tried to understand more about some projects I was working on with Native Americans on reservations in Montana.  I don’t know when I began wondering.

But I can’t stay there.  I have known for years that t would rob me of any last vestiges of sanity.

What do I do for our own future?  One of the things I do is I teach.  As I teach at the university level, I find I am developing a renewed faith in the generations coming up in our country.  They don’t understand everything yet; they simply haven’t lived through enough yet.  But I think there are many, many of them who are trying to figure out what they can do to make the world a better place.  One of the things my colleagues and I try to teach them is strategic thinking and planning; looking forward, scanning the environment, anticipating.

I hope they make it.  I work in the faith and the belief that they will.  I hope they don’t have to wake up wondering exactly what country they are living in, and having to fight through those dark, dark clouds of doubt.

My ancestors came over here in 1732.  They fought in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Mexican War, World War II, Viet Nam, and the second Gulf War.  There are probably more instances that I haven’t finished researching yet.  I can’t look at all they did and give up on this country.  I can’t look at all that my children and grandchildren and I have been given in this life and say this country isn’t worth it.  It is.

But we do need to re-ignite the dream; we do need to be better at anticipating; we do need to cherish each other and drop the anger.  When I saw hikers on the Highline Trail yesterday, I could only hope that the stunning beauty of Glacier National Park was healing for them as well.



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