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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 Johnny" Burgoyne.

"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 uniforms.

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 Washington, D.C.

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 hijackers' plot.

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, or write 561 Keystone Ave., Suite 684, Reno, NV 89503.

THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE is available at Web edition of TLE courtesy of Ken Holder.


Printer Version

Those, who have the command of the arms in a country are masters of the state, and have it in their power to make what revolutions they please. [Thus,] there is no end to observations on the difference between the measures likely to be pursued by a minister backed by a standing army, and those of a court awed by the fear of an armed people. Aristotle, as quoted by John Trenchard and Water Moyle, An Argument Shewing, That a Standing Army Is Inconsistent with a Free Government, and Absolutely Destructive to the Constitution of the English Monarchy [London, 1697].

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