Five Years Waiting: The Un-built Bridge

On a beautiful September day in 2001, the veil of innocence was torn away from the eyes of our nation. We were introduced to a form of murderous barbarism that has been the norm for centuries in other parts of the world.

Once again, each of us is pausing to mark a sad date this week. On a beautiful September day in 2001, the veil of innocence was torn away from the eyes of our nation. We were introduced to a form of murderous barbarism that has been the norm for centuries in other parts of the world. We were attacked by criminals, the likes which are rarely seen amongst civilized people.

Ah, but there is the difference. We are not like those people. We never were and never will be, and for one simple reason. In spite of our many flaws as a nation we still place a strong emphasis on the life of each individual person who occupies space in our great nation. Yes, I said great.

A recent article in the American Legion magazine addressed this very topic. We have always been different in the way our military seeks to preserve the sanctity of human life in the midst of that crucible of destruction known as war. We will eventually triumph over these murderous thugs because of the value that our nation places on life.

Many have been the words expended on this, the fifth anniversary of the senseless murder of thousands of innocent people in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Many are the ways in which this infamous date is being recalled, remembered, and commemorated. Many have been to the memorials erected to this tragedy and the sacrifice of our brothers on the New York City Fire Department. All of the actions are fitting and proper. That is how America is.

However, like I said, we are different from most of the world. In every one of these instances we have been celebrating the lives which were lost on the sunny September morn. We have focused on the people and their sacrifices. We remember the accomplishments of those who were torn from the buxom of our bountiful realm that day. We do not celebrate that they died, like some cultures might. We mourned their loss and gave thanks for the lives they lived and the things that they accomplished.

In the years since that fateful day, many have been the prayers, songs, and eloquent speeches. All of these acts have made us feel like something has been accomplished in the wake of this life-altering event. Yet my friends, I personally am greatly disquieted within. It is one thing to sing and pray for the deceased. It is another to ignore the plight of those whose lives were irreparably damaged by the effects of the toxic poisons which swirled around Ground Zero.

The bridge from that terrible time to a better future for the living victims of that madness has yet to be built. Thousands upon thousands suffer daily the effect of that sad day. Our government (at all levels) needs to own up to the fact that these suffering souls deserve more than our gratitude. They need our constant, on-going support to live what remains of their disaster-shortened lives with dignity and security.

There is a reason for my feelings, and I want to share it with you. Maybe you will begin to feel as I do that many fine and brave people have been left high and dry by the powers that be in our nation, or perhaps you will think that I am off base. Your call there my friends.

Think about it my friends. Do you know what has not yet happened? No one in authority has stepped forward to assume the responsibility for the thousands of people who did not die on September 11, 2001, but whose lives have been irretrievably damaged or destroyed by their personal involvement in the rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero.

Being in the New York metropolitan area, I watch my news on the New York media outlets. Over the past several days I witnessed the sorry conduct of the City of New York. Mayor Michael Bloomberg appeared clueless as he spoke of doubting the findings of the reports on the source of so much misery amongst those who worked at Ground Zero or lived in the nearby neighborhoods.

I watched as my former New Jersey Governor, and later EPA Administrator Christine Whitman indulged in a flurry of fanatical finger pointing. What is wrong with our government? Doesn't anyone have the guts to say, "We screwed up." These scenes reminded me of the old cartoon character made famous in Bill Keane's syndicated cartoon The Family Circus. One of his great creations is a character called, "Not Me."

A cartoon panel will show a broken window, or some similar event. The father or mother will then be seen asking the assembled children who did it. While the angelic-looking kids are maintaining an aura or silence, a little character named "Not Me" can be seen off to the side smiling in a sly, knowing way.

Who in the hell do these politicians think is responsible for all of the devastating lung damage being experienced by thousands of 9/11 responders and civilian workers? Do they think it is the bad-luck fairy? Are they betting that everyone will die before they have to put their hand in their pocket? Do they think it is just a case of incredible bad luck that somehow thousands of people, who worked in the same place, at the same time, just happen to be having the same problems?

Give me a break. I have seen this governmental inability to accept responsibility before. I am, my friends, a veteran of the conflict that took place in a little country by the name of Vietnam. I remember the battle that many of my fellow veterans had (and still have) over the issue of Agent Orange.

I remember the denial dudes telling the whole world that Dioxin was just a harmless little chemical made up by the gang at Dow Chemical to kill a few weeds. My friends, I served on the fire department at a U.S. Air Force base in Vietnam where one of the Operational Ranch-Hand units was located. We were trained to deal with might happen. Thankfully nothing bad happened on my watch at our base.

However, I can recall the instructions given with regard to potential incidents at that end of the air base. If there was a fire in the Ranch Hand compound, we were to see that the area was evacuated and let the complex burn. Sound familiar? In the event of a crash involving one of the C-123 aircraft that sprayed that vile toxin, we were to attempt a rescue, if there was no fire.

We were told to avoid all contact with the sticky sludge that was in the barrels with the orange strips (Agent Orange). Those of us on the air base were safe. Sadly, how many of our forces in the field lived, ate, slept, and worked in areas which had been saturated by this terrible toxin. They were not so lucky.

As the years passed and formerly young and healthy men and women began to die, our brave government took the ostrich position, heads firmly ensconced in the sand. It took years of pounding in the courts of our nation to get any form of justice. All the while our government took the "Not Me" role in this unfolding drama. Countless people died while waiting for help.

Let us jump ahead to 1991. Have you ever heard of the "Gulf War Syndrome"? I know I have. Once again our noble government kept its head in the sand as evidence about the effects of toxic exposure in Kuwait tried to surface out of the government's secrecy bunker. Healthy people were suddenly sick. Brave warriors were suddenly reduced to weakened shadows of their former selves.

What did our government do? It practiced the age old problem-solving approach known as "deny, deny, deny". I am sick and tired of my government getting us into these situations and the pulling the old magicians trick of yanking the table cloth out from under the flower vase and place setting.

Hell these are the same people who started a war that is killing and crippling thousands. They are also the same people who never seem to find enough money for the Veteran's Administration. Damn it, someone is responsible. So too is someone responsible for the human wreckage left in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Is it any different in the case of September 11, 2001? If the finger-pointing festival of the past week is any indication, I think we are in for more of the same. Hell, there are Korean War veterans who are still fighting over the cancers they have suffered from the massive asbestos exposures which were common in the days before the hazards of that material were recognized.

I want to suggest that the best possible monument to the victims of the 9/11 Tragedy would be a government program to cover the debilitating injuries suffered by both the uniformed forces and the civilian workers who labored at the site of this tragedy. Nothing less than a full coverage of these issues is acceptable. The families of the deceased were covered, what about the living?

I do not mean to diminish or demean anyone, but for God's sake, do not tell me it is too expensive. If we can makes scores of private corporations rich off of the current War on Terror, then we can spring a few bucks for the helpless victims of this tragedy who were just doing their jobs. They were just doing the right thing.

Why has it taken five years to come up with the current round of medical protocols which seem designed by lawyers more to save money than to take care of people? I will tell you. Let me be blunt and I sure as Hell hope you get mad. This has happened to us all because we have become a nation of ciphers to our government.

In the eyes of our politicians, we are no longer the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. We have become the Land of the Dollars and Cents. When they gather together in our town halls, state capitals, and the hallowed halls of our nations' capitol their sole purpose is to make a buck. Oh, there might be the occasional person who really cares about you and me, but that is getting to be a rare commodity, because on the whole, you and I cannot compete with the people with the big bucks.

Do I seem a bit cynical here? You bet your ass I am! And that is just what you bet each time you roll out on an emergency. You expect to be supported and cared for if something goes wrong. I once thought this way. After coming home injured a number of times, and being treated like a resource-swilling drain on society I began to think differently.

I can recall being treated for an injury in Newark after a skylight dropped in on the area where I was operating as sector commander. Our fire director actually came up to me in the hospital and bitched about the cost of the tests that had been given to me. Now there was a warm and fuzzy moment if ever there was one. Did he suppose that I had ordered the skylight to be dropped up us? Needless to say, my attitude toward the City of Newark shifted just a bit that night.

My friends, our government has the opportunity to create a true, living monument to the sacrifice of our honored dead on September 11, 2001. They can step up to the plate and create a true, all-encompassing support mechanism for each and every victim of 9/11.

They can get up off of their dead, pontificating butts and doing the right thing. It is time for them to build a bridge. That bridge must reach from place where the disease-riddled, struggling victims who were just doing their jobs live in a world of doubt, pain and uncertainty. That bridge should span the abyss of uncertainty and reach a place where their health and economic concerns receive the proper attention. We cannot make them whole, but we sure can stop busting chops over who is going to pay the bills.

I can recall a popular slogan of the 9/11 period. I believe it went something like, "All gave some and some gave all." My call this week is for someone in government to wake the hell up and start giving something to the some who gave some. Will they?

I shall be out on my front porch enjoying a nice cigar while I wait for the flight of pigs to pass over Adelphia. See if I am holding my breath the next time we meet.

May the souls of the dear departed rest forever in Heavenly Peace at the Right Hand of the Lord.