Back yesterday from Indian Territory… a great time on many levels and a few surprises.
I’ll be back to One Man’s War Against the Obama Coup tomorrow, but I have to write the below piece to feel better; but in the meantime… do your part to make GOP Benedict Arnold Sen. Olympia Snowe miserable:
DC Phone: (202) 224-5344
Toll Free: (800) 432-1599
DC Fax: (202) 224-1946
I have her on my cell speed dial and through the day I call often (along with thousands of others) so that her phone system melts and the interns quit to save their sanity.It was cold and rainy in the aftermath of a storm front that rumbled through Oklahoma City the previous two days.
I had promised myself that I would visit more than a decade ago, but as I arrived Sunday morning, I was unprepared for the emotional impact of The Chairs.
First….. you notice the absolute quiet and stillness.
The dead of the attack on the Murrah Federal Building are represented by 168 hand-crafted chairs of bronze and stone atop frosted glass cubes which are individually illuminated at night. On the front of each cube is etched the name of one of the KIAs.
When it comes to the casualties of terrorism, I refer to them as one should the war dead… they are not “victims”, they are the killed-in-action.
I came to pay my respects to all KIAs and WIAs, but especially to Capt. Randolph L. Guzman, XO of the OKC Recruiting Station, left, and one of his Marines, Sgt. Benjamin L. Davis, below.
The recovery of Capt. Guzman’s body stands as one of the great stories in the history of the greatest fraternity in the world… the United States Marine Corps.
Below, I defer to a Marine who was on deck at the time and acted in the finest tradition of the Marine Corps and the Naval Service. His story, below, was reported by CWO CWO Robert C. Jenks, Headquarters Marine Corps--1995.
Michael S. Curtin, a New York City police officer, and Marine reserve first sergeant activated under the Federal Emergency Management Agency Task Force 1, was part of the search and rescue effort in the aftermath of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building:
For the first 40 hours there was no rest. Sometime the morning of April 21, Curtin, almost spent of energy and only using adrenaline to keep moving and save lives, came upon a familiar sight.
The trousers were deep blue with a broad red strip -- the Corps calls it a “blood stripe.”
He was a Marine.
Officer Curtin knew immediately. He, too, is a Marine. A Marine reserve first sergeant.
"It was like I was driven," said Curtin, who has been a Marine reservist for five years after serving on active duty for 14 years.
After the first sergeant found the dress blue trousers, he cut away part of the fabric and saw that the man was white. He knew then that it had to be Capt. Randolph L. Guzman, the recruiting station executive officer. The other Marine who was still unaccounted for was Sgt. Benjamin L. Davis, and Davis was known to have been of Asian heritage and had darker skin.
Marines are always on duty; and so it was with the Skipper…. once the rubble was carefully cleared, Capt. Guzman was found seated behind his desk.
"When I found the Captain, I started asking around to see who among the rescuers was a Marine," Curtin said. "I found three former Marines who were part of the rescue effort."
Curtin located Manny Hernandez and Juan Garcia, both New York City cops; he needed one more; Ray Bonner, a paramedic, stepped forward;
First Sergeant Curtin now had his fire team.
Curtin approached the FEMA chain of command and told them he and a team of former Marines were taking a special interest in the recovery of Guzman's remains. Permission was granted to the Marines to accomplish this special mission, but they only had a four-hour window of time to work.
"It was something I had to do," Hernandez, a Vietnam veteran who has been a police officer for 22 years. "I had a squad under me in 'Nam and whenever we lost a Marine, he was never left. We have this tradition. We take care of our own."
The excavation took five hours and according to situation reports, involved a great deal of risk. The team was operating on the sub-ground level, with a lot of concrete and steel debris. There were apparently two major structural columns, one vertical and one horizontal, which were the primary obstacles to their recovery. However, removal was not possible because the beams were the only support for the heavy debris above and around the Marines. "We had to use an electric jackhammer to chip the concrete away from the captain," Curtin said. During this effort, the columns dangerously shifted twice before they were able to get Guzman free.
Kneeling beside the captain, former Cpl. Hernandez covered Guzman's face with his hand.
"I closed his eyes," said Hernandez. "For the glory of God and the glory of the Corps. It was just a little thing. We had to keep the tradition alive. The captain deserved the honor and respect -- like all Marines."
After placing Guzman's remains in a body bag, the word spread throughout downtown Oklahoma City the Marines were bringing out one of their own.
With the help of Dennis O'Connor, also a New York police officer; Peter Conlin, whose father served as a Marine in World War II; and Steve Smalls, a structural engineer from New York City, the Marines prepared to take Guzman home.
An unidentified Air Force colonel, upon hearing of the Marines' mission, found an American flag and sent it into the building.
"Before we lifted Guzman up and away from the rubble and carried him out, we draped the flag over him," said Curtin. "When we came out of the building I couldn't believe what I saw."
"Everything had stopped," he said. "You could have heard a pin drop."
"Cranes had stopped. It was completely quiet. Rescuers stopped and looked; people had lined the street outside the building. Everyone was watching in silence as we brought our Marine out."
"We were in a highly visible location ... engines were turned off ... people removed their covers ... bowed their heads ... covered their hearts. You could tell the veterans," Curtin said. "They were the ones saluting with tears in their eyes."
"When we came out with the flag-draped captain, I saw why I was a Marine once. It is because I know I wouldn't expect anything else from any other Marine if it were me in that body bag," Hernandez said. "It revalidated the esprit and brotherhood that I remember taught to me in boot camp years ago. It lifted me up."
"It was overwhelming. We are a Band of Brothers," he said.
Once Guzman's remains were carried from the building, two long lines of rescue workers and bystanders formed, without any order or direction, that made a corridor leading to the recovery vehicles that was taking remains to the makeshift morgue. "It was one of the most emotional experiences of my life," said Curtin. "People had taken their hard hats off and were offering respect anyway they knew how."
"It was symbolic of all the emotion that everyone was feeling, whether they were a Marine or not, we were all involved. The compassion for all the lost just seemed to surface all at once."
I asked one of the U.S. Park Rangers if he could show me the chairs for Guzman and Davis. He explained that he could not since there was some electrical work going on under the turf that surrounded the 168 chairs—it was open only to family members—but would point out their location.
He walked to the middle of the chairs and I took a shot; he said, “how long do you need?”
Twenty seconds, I said.
He motioned me to hallowed ground. I knelt and placed two of our Medal of Honor Host City Program lapel pins on the seat of each chair. I said “Semper Fi” to each and asked the Good Lord to bless them.
“Thanks… it’s important for Marines,” I said to the Ranger.
“No problem,” he said. “ I’ll take the heat if there is any. Thanks for your service.”
“Thanks for your service…. you’re a good man,“ I said.
On the outside perimeter of the memorial, there is a section of the original fence on which visitors left remembrances.
Curtin, who retired at the rank of sergeant major, was a veteran of Operation Desert Storm, served with the New York City Police Department for 13 years; he served with Emergency Services Unit Truck 2.
Curtain was killed in action September 11, 2001, along with 71 other law enforcement officers, many of them Marines, from eight local, state or federal agencies by terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Read both stories of Capt. Guzman and SgtMaj. Curtain here.
And because Marines never forget and never leave a brother behind, he was accorded the same honors he conducted for Capt. Guzman.
He was posthumously awarded the New York City Police Department's Medal of Honor for heroic action.
He is survived by his wife, three daughters, and brother.
Sergeant Major Curtain, 45, was not alone when he died; the spirits of Capt. Guzman and Sgt. Davis stood with him; there were many Marines coming for him, and legions more who would soon avenge his death.