Saturday, September 10, 2011

Roy Herron~Remembering 9/11

State Senator Roy B. Herron~ District#24-Tennessee > 9/11

Written by Roy B. Herron

Editorial : I encourage you to read this article in its entirety !

I had decided not to run the New York City Marathon in 2001. Then came September 11.

That morning a friend told me to turn on the television, and I watched as the second jetliner crashed into the World Trade Center. Like millions around the world, I was stunned. With three young sons, my wife and I strictly limit television time. But on September 11 and for several days following, the television stayed on almost constantly. Like many, I thought the New York City Marathon might be canceled. But when plans for the marathon went forward, I felt I had to go. As much as the terrorists’ acts and the media coverage had affected my children, shouldn’t I show our sons we were not giving in to the terrorists or to our own fears?

The Day Before

The day before the race, my 11-year-old son Rick and I go to the race expo at the Jacob Javits Convention Center to pick up my number, chip, and race packet. The very location reminds us of September 11 since Pier 94, where the expo was previously scheduled, now served as a temporary morgue. Security requirements include a photo ID just to get into the expo. I pick up my number, my chip, and my race packet. But just as importantly and more ominously, each of us is given a special bag for race-day gear. The bags are clear so that police and security personnel can easily examine the contents.

Race Morning

Early on race morning, I kiss Rick and leave him asleep at our friends’ Manhattan apartment. Matt and Lisa Wiltshire will come with Rick to the race. I walk over to catch one of the buses to travel down to Staten Island. An army of us wait in line, yet I encounter a marathoner friend from Tennessee. We agree that neither of us has experienced anything similar to New York City post-September 11. Everyone is anxious, not only about the race, but about security. The tension is not lessened when some guy tries to get on the bus with an equipment bag that is anything but clear. Worse yet, when he opens the bag for security, he has several opaque plastic bottles. They look like water bottles, but there are more of them than any marathoner would need. Police wearing bulletproof vests are all over him.

The bus finally departs, and we roll through a Manhattan that is enjoying a beautiful day; the city appears peaceful.

We finally cross the bridge onto the island. I worked in New York City one summer in Hell’s Kitchen, but I never made it to Staten Island. The buses are backed up, so we creep forward and sit, over and over. Finally, we are allowed off the bus. We go past more security and eventually join thousands of other runners. I find the worship service in a tent, but it is almost over by the time I arrive. I sit on the grass in the back to stretch and rest, and worship privately. I recall that line about there being no atheists in foxholes. Today it seems appropriate. I lie on my back on some grass and look up at the beautiful blue sky. The temperature, I’m told, is mid-50s. It will be warm during the race, maybe even hot. As I gaze upward, I look at the top of the suspension bridge. Eventually I realize the little specks on top of the bridge tower are three people. They are wearing dark blue. Police sharpshooters.


One loudspeaker announcer is urging us to go to the stage to see the mayor and another is saying to go to our places to line up for the race. About 10:00 a.m., a woman begins to sing “America the Beautiful.” Many, perhaps most of us, rise and stand in respect. I have not seen so many American flags since the Democratic National Convention a little over a year earlier. And I’ve never seen so many variations of the flag worn in so many ways.

Music is playing on the loudspeakers at the bridge while the mayor tries to speak over the loudspeakers at the PowerBar stage. I cannot understand much of what he is saying. Besides the other distractions, the helicopters are adding to the cacophony. Perhaps I’ve listened to too many elected officials to listen too carefully. The mayor concludes, “God bless all of you, God bless your marathon, and God bless America!” Walking nearby is a woman runner, Lady Liberty, complete with a Statue of Liberty headpiece. More runners are in more red, white, and blue than you can believe. Someone sings
“The Star-Spangled Banner.” Many of us join in. Then Danny Rodriguez of the New York Police Department sings “God Bless America.”

The Start

Four helicopters are circling. No. Make that six. White doves released behind us swirl up and away. Suddenly a cannon goes off and we start slowly trying to walk forward, listening to loudspeakers blaring “New York, New York.”

To the left toward Manhattan, a Coast Guard ship protects us. A fireboat shoots water high into the blue sky with a beautiful rainbow spreading out south of it. There are at least six different strands of water, one red and one blue and the others white, all coming out of the white and red boat. I’ve never seen anything like it.

I run beside Rob; he’s carrying an American flag. When I point to the boat spouting red, white, and blue water, Rob says, “It’s beautiful. It’s the same every year.” Pause, then he adds, “But I miss our two buildings. That’s not the same this year.”
We look out over the fireboat at the southern edge of Manhattan where the Twin Towers stand no more. I don’t know what to say, so I just run silently and try not to cry. Under the bridge, we are in shadow, but everywhere else around us sunshine reigns. The shadows in which we run seem symbolic of the shadow under which New York and many of these people still live.

An International Gathering

Spectators are out in wheelchairs. Babies are covered with Italian flags and American flags. In front of Bayridge United Church stands the choir in their bright robes. They are looking and sounding good.

At the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, our green-coded group merges into another group of runners. A virtual sea of runners. And now the crowds are really thick and loud. On my right some guy suddenly stops running and swerves out of our crowd. He grabs and hugs a woman in a choir robe at the Fourth Avenue Presbyterian Church. She is laughing so loudly I can hear her over the crowd. Kids are holding out their hands to be slapped. Lots and lots of kids are doing that. I slap some, trying to get the hands others in front of me miss. There are lots of American flags. Some fellow running to my right is shouting in Spanish about Mexico (pronounced Me-he-ko) to the crowd in hopes of drawing cheers. He gets a few.

Fire Fighters

A runner has a firefighter’s photo silk-screened on the back of his singlet. I pull up behind a woman named Gia Boulous whose white letters on a red shirt read: “This run for George Cain, FDNY, Ladder 7, gave his life 9 11 01.” I ask Gia about George Cain, and she explains that his father lived next door to her and the Cains used to spend holidays with Gia and her family. Gia says Cain’s father was a firefighter for 31 years. After his son went to Colorado, he tried to get his son to stay there and not come back and be a firefighter. The father sat the son down and told him all the horror stories. But George Cain said, “Dad, I’m going to do it your way.” And he came back and worked as a firefighter.

Recently, George Cain and his girlfriend bought a house in Colorado, and they were going to move out there soon. But on September 11, when Cain finished working the night before, his boss asked if he wanted some overtime. George Cain responded: “Sure. Where the heck do I have to go?” The last they heard from him, Gia says, Cain and his team were on the 26th floor of the World Trade Center. Gia explains that George had run this marathon for the first time two years ago, then ran it again last year, and he was going to run it again this year. He had already registered.
We run together in silence, then I thank Gia, and finally I move on. At mile eight, all runners merge for the first time since the cannon went off at the start. We create another still larger sea of bobbing heads.

At an intersection, to my right in the cross street, firefighters stand and sit on a fire truck. They have erected a tie-dyed bedsheet bearing these words:

We will never forget our brothers. Running for Causes I come upon a fellow in a purple singlet with “Fred’s Team USA” on the back. At the bottom are the words “Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.” A piece of paper pinned to the singlet reads, “I am running for Mark Rosen. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.” That cancer center is where my late uncle practiced medicine. As I run, I think about following my uncle to New York from the same house where he and I both grew up and from the same university where he went to medical school and I went to law and divinity schools. He has been gone a long time, an oncologist killed by cancer. But I keep remembering him, keep finding traces. “United We Run” is on shirt after shirt. Sometimes it’s “United We Stand.” More often on the runners, however, it is the race theme, “United We Run.” An African American gentleman passes me. He has a big “4” on the left of his jersey and then on the right are these words, “Mom, Life, USA.” As in “For Mom, For Life, For USA.” At the bottom of his shirt, again I read, “United We Run.”

Children on Shoulders

Between 4th Avenue and 21st Street, a little boy of about two sits on his father’s shoulders. Each hand grasps an American flag. The red, white, and blue flies just above his dad’s ears. We pass a hard rock band, then taped music of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” with its “Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!” That’s followed by a band playing marimbas and various other Latin beats. About mile 14 or a little past, someone who has run up beside me calls my name. It’s my friend Joe Kennedy from Franklin, Tennessee. I haven’t seen him in months since we ran long together in his home county. What a pleasant surprise. We talk nonstop, catching up with each other. We cross the bridge and have an incredible view from underneath. Once we are over the bridge, the crowd in Manhattan is phenomenal. As we move up First Avenue, the crowd becomes simply amazing.
Joe hears someone yelling, “Roy!” I turn to the left and look all the way across First Avenue. My son Rick sits on Matt Wiltshire’s shoulders holding a patriotically painted sign that says simply, “Roy.” I wave and wave. As I run on, I remember Fourth of July celebrations at Matt’s family’s farm when I carried Matt and his sister, Carrie, on my shoulders. Now he’s an Ivy League grad doing investment banking and things financial well beyond my reckoning.

The Finish

Somewhere around mile 20 or 21, Joe and I hear through a loudspeaker that there is a new New York City Marathon course record. Neither of us gets the name or nationality of the new record holder. (Actually, by this time there are new records for both men and women.)

In Harlem I hear what I call blues and Motown sounds. One song is “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now!” I hope that is right. And I know it is, though I have slowed and Joe has gone ahead. Meagen from New Zealand and I pass and re-pass each other.

We run down beside Central Park. The sun breaks through the trees in spots, yet much of the time we enjoy shade. I wonder why I am slowing so, particularly since I have taken it pretty easy along the way. “Maybe,” I wonder, “maybe running 26.2 miles is just hard on you, even when you are not racing it.” We turn into Central Park and I know the end is near. The crowds in the park are awesome and right on top of us. About mile 24 or 25 I hear Matthew and his wife, Lisa, and sister Carrie and my son Rick calling my name again. I look back to my left, and there is Rick in his orange University of Tennessee jacket once again on top of Matthew’s shoulders. I give them a big wave and smile while trying to avoid tripping over anyone. I kick harder. And then it is over. No explosions. No one harmed, so far as I know. People are not acting like anything bad has happened. Still, it is not over yet, I think. But I do not think the terrorists have chosen to take us on this day.

God bless runners, marathoners, New York City, and God bless America. And God bless all the people from all over the world who chose to be New York City marathoners.

United We Run. (This was excerpted from an article I wrote in Marathon & Beyond.)

At a time in which this country seems more divided than ever, isn’t it time we affirm that what divides us is not nearly as important as that which unites us ?

Editorial: My Prayer : God Bless Roy Herron, God Bless America and Thank you for making/electing Roy Herron my Tennessee State Senator !

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