If tomorrow all the things were gone, I'd worked for all my life,
And I had to start a new one with just my children and my wife,
I'd thank my lucky stars to be living here today,
'Cause the flag still stands for freedom and they can't take that away.
Upon our return home, Rick and I decided to close the door on Europe for a while, and focus our time, attention and travel dollars on cities of cultural significance within the United States.
When daughter number two, the Fashion Diva, graduated two years later, she requested a trip to New York City, so off we went for a long weekend. After a stroll down Fifth Avenue, a photo op at Tiffany's, and a stop at the Empire State Building, we made our way to Battery Park, where we caught a ferry across New York Harbor to Ellis Island, the sight of the famous, turn-of-the-century, national immigration center.
On approach, we were struck by the imposing nature of the structure on the tiny island. We took a walking tour of the beautifully restored main building, and Great Hall, which is awe inspiring in its breadth and scale; but, as impressive as the architecture is, the true stars of Ellis Island are the stories of those that walked the great tiled corridors toward freedom.
I was humbled by the tales of the desperate souls who'd left everything they'd ever known behind - family, language, culture - for the chance to begin life anew, on an unspoiled foreign soil, perceived to be rich in freedom of opportunity. My heart ached for those who'd arrived, only to be told they were unwelcome because of illness, infirmity, or criminal history but, I understood. The government has a responsibility to protect it's own from villainy and disease.
Rick and Bridget on Ellis Island
We took turns having our photos taken on the walk along the seawall, with the awe-inspiring silhouette of Manhattan in the background. From the island, the city looked like a painted backdrop on a Hollywood movie lot - too perfect to be real. In looking back at the photos of our trip, I am struck by the ingenuous mood of the subjects - ourselves.
The photos were taken on August 17, 2001. In less than four weeks, New York's famous skyline would be obliterated by terrorists bent on destroying that which is American.
Lady Liberty, unflinching in the face of adversity.
On the fourth of September, less than three weeks after returning from New York, we took our youngest daughter, the Informer, to Washington D. C. to celebrate her sixteenth birthday. We toured the Mall, starting with the great war memorials. I never fail to shudder at the names of the thousands engraved on the Wall, or to be teary eyed as I walk among the ghostly faces of the fallen, at the Korean War Memorial.
We walked past the buildings of the Smithsonian, and up to the Captial building before heading over to the Pentagon, and a very late lunch at the shopping center across the street.
Mom and Dad in front of the people's house.
Unfortunately, between the New York and Washington trips, I suffered a riding accident and hyperextended my knee. As a consequence, I had no choice but to limp around D. C. in a hot and heavy, black, foam, brace, that extended from my ankle to thigh, completely immobilizing my knee.
In order to climb the steps of the Capitol building, I had to remove the brace, which Rick tucked up under his arm. Everyone laughed when I suggested that the brace resembled a rifle case, until a security guard approached and asked to see what Rick was carrying. The guard didn't appear overly concerned, and waved us on with a nod and a smile, when Rick light-heartedly showed him the brace.
Three generations of American women, representing the past, the present and the future of a great nation.
The view from the terrace of the Capital building is amazing, and offers an expansive view of the Mall and other monuments. While catching our breath, Mom marveled at the fact that we were able to move so freely around the building, and we joked that only in America, would we be so uninhibited. There were no guard towers or policeman with automatic weapons standing about in plain view, as witnessed in many cities outside the United States.
Having traveled widely in Europe and South America, I felt a tremendous sense of pride in our nation and it's capitol. In Argentina and Chili, our guides were quick to point out the machine gun strafe marks on the government buildings, scars left as reminders of military coups and rebellions. In the United States, the buildings stood tall and unsullied, like giant silent sentinels guarding the authority of the citizenry over petty dictators, and politicians.
Before returning home to California, we took a day trip to Baltimore Harbor, and visited Fort McHenry, the site of the Revolutionary War's, Battle of Baltimore, where Francis Scott Key penned his famous poem about the American flag. The poem later became our national anthem.
Six days after we returned from Washington, terrorists slammed a plane into the Pentagon, a structure symbolic of our nation's strength and power abroad, bringing down a substantial portion of the building, murdering hundreds. It was the first real attack on our capital since the War of 1812.
We had no idea, when we toured those two great American cities, that they would cease to exist as we saw them, in just a few short weeks. At the time of the attacks, I had the photos of Rick, Bridget and I, taken against the skyline of New York, stuck on the refrigerator. I had to blink back tears, as I removed them from the door, my eyes fixed on the twin towers standing so solidly behind us. I'd paid no particular attention to them prior to that moment.
The terrorists had attacked buildings and innocents, on the other side of the country, but they might just as well have driven a plane into my own front yard. Standing there, holding those photos, I felt personally violated.
The attacks of September 11, forever altered my perception of America's vulnerability. We were taken by surprise, without warning or provocation, by a culture yearning for the destruction of all that we hold dear. As Americans, we must now walk wide-eyed to the dangers posed by those that mock and scorn the values and traditions upon which our great nation was founded.
In light of the attacks, what I'd experienced on our recent trips back east, had a profound impact upon me. I was no longer the ingenuous, innocent that posed for the photos on Ellis Island. I am now acutely aware that there are people and ideologies that threaten our democracy.
I sincerely believe, that as a descendant of those who came from foreign shores, sacrificing everything, simply to BE Americans, I are morally obliged to see that their forfeiture was not in vain. As the beneficiary of those that gave their lives defending the freedoms enumerated in the Constitution, I again, have an obligation to remain vigilant of those who might usurp our liberty, whether the threat be foreign or domestic.
I am no longer willing, nor can I afford to be a member of the silent majority, cowering in the face of injustice or wrong doing; and, I must do what I can, to hold our elected officials accountable when they stray from representing the will of the people. As citizens of this great nation, we must proudly project our values to those who mean to harm us, and demonstrate a willingness to fight back when threatened.
Apologize no more for who we are, The People, of the land of the free and home of the brave!
Country artist, Lee Greenwood's early '80s hit, God Bless the USA, found a new audience after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
The last line of the first stanza says, the flag still stands for freedom and they can't take that away. Sadly, there are those that actively seek to severely limit or curtail, the freedom and liberties for which our great flag stands; and the sooner we realize this truth, and express our unwillingness to follow blindly along, the better chance we have of sustaining ourselves as the nation our forefathers intended.
Dad and Rick handing their wallets over to the folks at the Federal Reserve.