HE SPOKE FOR A NATION
by Vin Suprynowicz
From The Libertarian Enterprise, Issue #175
May 27, 2002
It's a different Memorial Day, 2002.
This first weekend of summer has long since become a time of picnics and
barbecues and trips to the beach. To their credit, Americans never actually
forgot the sacrifices of those who gave the final measure to protect the
freedoms we now hold so casually. But their sacrifices were safely pigeonholed
in a brief ceremony at the cemetery, a few moments of young kids scrambling to
pass out flags in the sun ... even that, these days, more often than not
observed on TV.
More convenient that way. Not so distressing. The corpses of the frozen dead
at Choisin Reservoir or massacred at Malmedy? Another world.
Memorial Day, 2002 was supposed to be another holiday like that. Proper lip
service to the sacrifices of America's heroes, you understand ... but they would
be, as ever, heroes distantly remembered, symbols conveniently abstract, words
of some historic speech memorized and recited by the best student in the class.
That was the way it was supposed to be, the way we expected it to be, again
as ever ... up through September 10th, anyway.
The formulations came trippingly to the tongue: "Our boys at the
front" ... "Our men and women in uniform."
Of course, America's independence was won because the French threw in on our
our side, those many years ago. Franklin couldn't convince King Louis' ministers
to do that till the colonials proved they could win a real pitched battle
against British regulars -- not just some skirmish against a sleepy mercenary
garrison, like Trenton or Princeton. A real battle to prove our Revolution had a
chance of success.
Washington couldn't produce that victory -- he was busy fighting a competent
but doomed withdrawal from Philadelphia before Lord Howe's superior advancing
army, in that late summer and fall of 1777.
No, the one vital, necessary victory was won by the Revolution's greatest
hero, New Haven shopkeeper Benedict Arnold, not even officially in command,
grievously wounded but rising again and again, rallying the troops from the
front as one horse after another was shot from beneath him, rallying his forces
to defeat an army of stunned British regulars emerging from the northern New
York forest at Saratoga under the command of General "Gentleman
"What forces?" both Ambassador Franklin and King Louis of
France wanted to know. Washington had the entire regular Continental Army with
him at Philadelphia. What army had won the great battle at Saratoga?
No army, came the answer. Men without uniforms. American farmers in homespun,
answering their country's call. The militia.
Plenty of America's heroes do wear uniforms. Americans have again seen the
full measure of their bravery, as Navy SEAL Neil Roberts found himself alone on
the ground in Afghanistan March 3, and seeing no other way, decided to take the
fight to the enemy. He was still fighting long after the ammunition was gone.
Not knowing for sure that Roberts had already earned his medal and his flag,
the First Platoon of Alpha Company, 1st of the 75th Rangers, dropped in to join
the rescue mission, climbing to a 12,000-foot ridgeline under fire. There,
Rangers like Bradley Crose and Matthew Commons of Boulder City, Nevada again
reminded Americans what is meant by the full measure of devotion.
But, as in all our wars, not all America's military heroes today wear
Todd Beamer, 32, was an Oracle Inc. executive from Hightstown, N.J. Jeremy
Glick, 31, was a sales manager for Vividence, an Internet service provider.
Thomas Burnett, Jr., 38, was CEO of a California firm that manufactures medical
devices. Mark Bingham, 31, a 6-foot-4 giant with the San Francisco Fog amateur
rugby team. All four were on United Airlines Flight 93 when it left Newark bound
for San Francisco at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 11.
The plane never arrived. Hijackers armed with knives seized the flight,
turned it around somewhere near Cleveland, headed for their chosen target in
Todd Beamer's wife, Lisa, says he had a contagious catchphrase everyone knew
him by. "That's Todd," she said, upon receiving a call from the GTE
supervisor who had talked to Beamer on his cell phone during the last 13 minutes
of Flight 93's journey. "My boys even say that. When we're getting ready to
go somewhere, we say, 'C'mon guys, let's roll.' My little one says, 'C'mon, Mom,
let's roll.' That's something they picked up from Todd."
After making her promise to call his wife and their two boys, David, 3, and
Andrew, 1, Todd Beamer told GTE supervisor Lisa Jefferson that he and the
others, finding themselves separated from the main body of the 38 passengers and
herded together at the back of the hijacked Boeing 757 -- and now aware thanks
to their cell phones of what had happened to three other hijacked flights that
day -- had decided they were not going to stand by and remain mere pawns in the
Without uniforms, without orders, disarmed by a government that seems to have
temporarily forgotten what it is that's "necessary to the security of a
free state," Todd Beamer, Jeremy Glick, Thomas Burnett Jr., and Mark
Bingham may not even have thought of themselves as militia.
But as Todd Beamer extracted his promise that Jefferson would call his
family, as he dropped the phone, leaving the line open so the phone company
supervisor could hear his final words, as he headed for the front of the plane
to force it down in a remote strip mine area of Somerset County, 80 miles
southeast of Pittsburgh, Todd Beamer spoke for a nation.
He said, "Let's roll."
And then there was silence.
Lisa Jefferson hung up the phone at 10 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, realizing
no more would be heard from Flight 93.
Memorial Day. The bugles blow, laughing children place flags on the graves of
the fallen, the surviving comrades of the silent dead squeeze into too-tight
uniforms (could they ever really have been so thin?) to march a block or two
beneath the flag.
But today the dead are no longer so distant.
In that one brief moment, Todd Beamer and Jeremy Glick, Thomas Burnett Jr.
and Mark Bingham ceased to be "civilians."
Surely they've earned their medals and their flags -- and surely those who
follow in their footsteps should no longer be disarmed by their own government
-- do you think?
Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the daily Las Vegas
Review-Journal, a monthly contributor to "Shotgun News," and the
author of "The Ballad of Carl Drega" and "Send in the Waco
Killers" (no, it's not about Waco.) For information on his books or his
monthly newsletter, dial 775-348-8591, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org,
or write 561 Keystone Ave., Suite 684, Reno, NV 89503.
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