September 5th, 2001 found my wife and me standing on the south bank of the Hudson River staring alternately at Ellis Island and the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The Statue of Liberty which lies just south of Ellis Island is a breath taking sight and if you as an American have never made that long drive to New Jersey to lay eyes on it, do it.
My daughter had just graduated from Flight Attendant school in Houston for Continental Express and being barely 19, she was on the minimum end of the age requirement. She was assigned Newark, New Jersey as her first Hub location and my wife and I panicked because our baby girl was going it alone for the first time after graduation from R.E. Lee high school right here in Baytown.
My sweetheart and I loaded up her little Honda car and made the 1600 mile drive up there (that’s the way we Texans view everything north of…well, Texas). Our goal beside delivering the car and making sure our baby was okay, was to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The World Trade Center was just a curiosity, like the Empire State building, which is up river and clearly visible from where we stood. We could see Battery Park and the Brooklyn Bridge and the Staten Island Ferry also. It was ‘cool’.
Being an amateur photographer I stared at the sight of these giant towers across the river. Now fellow Baytownians, I do not exaggerate when I say these two towers were impressive in a big Texas way. They literally dwarfed everything around them and when you see pictures, it just does not impress upon you the sheer magnitude. They were so big, that across the river they looked like they were solid stone, not the view of thousands of windows that we saw on television.
I could have sat all day and watched the view. I took a couple of photos, like everyone else. I yawned. I bought a pretzel on Ellis Island. I found a few names on the list of immigrants that I thought I might be related to. We stood in line to go inside the Statue of Liberty, riding the ferry and enjoyed the views. We were like the Twin Towers; totally unaware of approaching disaster.
In my wildest dreams I never imagined my 17 year old son would be completing his 60th mission as a sergeant in the U.S. Army on the streets of Baghdad, Iraq five years later. “Have you shot your weapon, Son”? “Yes, Dad, I have”. “More than once, Son”? “Yes, Dad, more than once”.
My father’s brother, Captain Harry Marshall asked me if we could stay on a couple of days so I could attend a meeting with him at Battery Park. He is a senior member of the Marine Society of the City of New York and has a building wing named after him at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y. I respectfully declined, citing work back in Texas. My cousin Michael had an office on an upper floor of the second building the day they were destroyed, but thankfully he was in Florida on business.
Our story of 9-11 is not much different than many here in the Baytown area. In one way or another we were all deeply and personally touched by the 9-11 tragedy. America changed forever just 5 days after we returned to Baytown. The World Trade Center was like a giant American chin sticking out in an offending manner, just waiting to take a blind uppercut and take one we did. Hopefully we as a Country will never again allow ourselves to become so over confident that it takes another Pearl Harbor or a WTC disaster to open our eyes to terrorism.
Here in Baytown and surrounding areas we host very important Oil and Chemical industries and if the truth be known, we are still very vulnerable. Most of us know this and live with it every day. The one area we can not grow weak in has nothing to do with tanks, guns and American military might, but with our resolve. Our grandparents had it when WWII suddenly changed America and we need it now.
Ho Chi Minh proclaimed to everyone that America would fall from within during the Vietnam conflict; a simple war of attrition is all it would take to finally beat us and that proved true. We need a backbone like a saw-log in 2006 to stay the course and let time go by. Patience has never been our strong suit, but we need to get some of our old post 9-11 grit back. Many are crying out to do this and do that and go for a quick fix. We do not need a quick fix. We need integrity on a personal level and if our government is not getting the job done, then we need to be patient and vote in a new leader who has America’s best interest at heart and quit all the bickering which will destroy all our forefathers worked for.
Frank Zappa put it this way: Don't clap for destroying America. This place is as
good as you want to make it.
© Bert Marshall 9/5/2006
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