It was a shock to awaken this weekend and learn of the helicopter crash in Afghanistan, and the loss of life of so many of America’s best and bravest. Death is inevitable in war, and I mourn, and pray for each and every American and their families, who has paid the ultimate price for our freedom. Here in Tampa, whenever possible I stand watch along the roadside with thousands of others as the the procession carrying a fallen hero to his final resting place passes.
For me, personally, I’ve found these last few days that my mind turns back to April 24, 1980, Operation “Eagle Claw” the failed attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran. Possibly it’s the way I learned of that event. I was in midtown NYC, having dinner with clients, took the train home, and when I got to my car in the station lot, turned the radio on..it was midnight, and the news was just released. It was WNEW, ( a rock station) and Alison Steele, the “Nightbird” ( and one of the golden voices of radio, and also sadly dead way too young) read the AP bulletin. Then she read it again. She cried. And then she played, twice, Glenn Miller’s “American Patrol.” In an odd way, it was a “perfect” moment.
Like the SEALS who died this weekend, the “Eagle Claw” forces were attempting to engage the enemy when they died. Both were rescue missions ( though the details of the SEAL effort are still unclear.) And truly, “greater love has no man than he that lay down his life for his brother.”
Perhaps the tragedies here, why they so resonate with me, is that they never had the chance to attempt the mission, to engage the enemy. I don’t know. These deaths are NOT in vain, not by any means. “Stuff” happens, especially in war. And just as we learned the reasons for the failure of the Iranian rescue mission, we will, in time, understand how the way our mssion in Afghanistan is being conducted may have contributed to this crash.
But it’s interesting to contemplate how we view other losses of life on such a scale.
Some events fade with time. Not one in ten thousand Americans today could understand the sheer carnage of trench warfare in WW I. How the British could toss away 25,000 men in ONE DAY’s battle on the Somme, for no gain whatsoever. We attempt to estimate whether 40 or 50 MILLION people died in WW II.
We remember, and celebrate, the courage and sacrifice of the troops in France on D-Day, or the Marines on Iwo Jima. No one remembers April 20, 1944, six weeks before D-Day, when a landing exercise was ambushed by a squadron of German E-boats, and 946 GIs died, including some 300 by friendly fire when British destroyers practicing “covering” the landings, opened fire on the E-boats, and hit US troops in error.
My beloved Marine Corps suffered the deaths of 241 Marines in Lebanon on Oct 23, 1983. Everyone remembers it. I was stunned, physically ill when I heard the news. At the time..there was no real perceived threat. They were sleeping for the most part, no doubt dreaming of home and loved ones. To this day, I still can’t understand how it could have happened, how someone could have made so erroneous an assessment. It was so very preventable.
Yet just two short years later, there was an even greater loss of life, and other than the families, I daresay no one recalls. December 12, 1985. ArrowAir, a charter flight bringing 248 members of the 101st Airborne Division home for Christmas, crashed into the ocean after taking offf from a refueling stop in Gander, Newfoundland.
Like the Marines in Lebanon, I suspect than many on boardwere sleeping, thinking of being home for the holidays, of Christmas presents they were bringing, of wives and children…some not yet seen or held. Could anything be sadder, more heartwrenching?
Usually, when I write, when I diary here, I’m fairly focused. I’m all over the place here..yet not quite sure why. There’s a lesson, and a message somewheres…just that I’ve yet to figure it out. So to those who are kind enough to read this, I apologize for being somewhat distracted.
Possibly it’s because we’re approaching the 10th anniversary of 9/11. “Tragedy” will soon become the most used, and abused, word in the English language. I was in lower Manhattan that day, going to meet my daughter, who worked right across the street from WTC 1. We both survived. She is still haunted by the people who jumped to their death, and the bodies that landed mere feet from her on the plaza.
“Freedom is indeed NOT free”..it has a price, a heavy cost.
We, as a nation, have to be worthy of those who willingly take up the challenge, and the burden, on our behalf.
And be prepared to once more cry, and to mourn for some of them……