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9/11 Memories

I love my country. Of all the traits instilled in me by my Mom and Dad, a sense of patriotism is among the ones I hold most dear. I’m free to express my opinions and pursue a career I wouldn’t be able to in most other nations throughout human history. I’m inordinately blessed to be an American today. That Patriotism also requires a look back at the saddest chapters of my country’s history. Today is one such milestone, and one I was alive for.

September 11th, 2001 is a day marked by fear and pain. I was only seven years old that day, but I knew as it unfolded that something horrible happened. I grew up in West Hartford, CT. It’s a border town. It’s 50/50 between Red Sox fans (New England/Massachusetts based folks) and Yankee fans (New York based). I knew people who’s parents worked in the World Trade Center or had family in New York. I didn’t know any of them, but my parents had coworkers and business associates who lived in and worked in the city. I was aware that my mom and dad went to New York for business. And my grandparents (Mom’s side and obviously knew well) were native New Yorkers from Manhattan. I myself am a son of New England, but I have my share of New York connections.

I remember seeing the teachers of my school seeming distressed that day. I think they knew what we would come to remember 9/11 for before us kids did. We went home early. I could walk to my elementary school, and walked home by myself. When I got back, I walked into our den where my brother and Au Pair were parked in front of the television. I turned the corner and saw the second tower come down. I don’t remember if it was live or if it was a clip of an earlier happening. But regardless, I didn’t fully understand what I saw, but I knew it was awful. Our Au Pair, who normally was pretty talkative was completely silent, shocked by what we all saw.

My dad regularly talks about how they wheeled out televisions into their office, unusual to have in 2001, to watch the ongoing news. My mom was abroad, traveling to Poland. She was intending on traveling back the next morning, on her birthday no less, and was stuck in Poland for a week after the attacks.

Beyond the immediate aftermath, I grew up in a political world shaped by that day and the reaction to it. I still remember debates about how to conduct the War on Terror, discussion around the 9/11 attacks in the 2004 election cycle, and the days when Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Ladin were captured and killed. It is the single most significant and impactful day, politically and practically speaking, I’ve ever experienced. I recently had the chance to remember and reflect on that day at Ground Zero.

Back in August, I covered The Northern Trust golf tournament held at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City. There are spectacular views of downtown Manhattan from all over the course, most notably from the 18th fairway (where this picture is from). It’s the most distinct and famous skyline in the world. The Freedom Tower is a beautiful piece of that skyline today, almost an iconic piece along with the Chrysler Building or the Empire State Building. Even still, there still is a visual hole in the string of buildings with just one tower that looks different from the original Twin Towers. I don’t have a clear memory of seeing NYC before 9/11. But even I can tell there’s a hole that shouldn’t be there.

On an early day of the week, when it was just practice and interviews, and after I submitted my pieces for the day, I took a trip into lower Manhattan and went to the World Trade Center. I had been there only once before, back in 2006, as part of a family trip. And it was a construction site back then. The Memorial fountains weren’t installed and the Museum wouldn’t be opened for another eight years. But it was still harrowing to imagine that bustling stretch of New York under siege by hijacked commercial airliners. Since then, the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum opened and serve as a beautiful reminder of the terror and heroism on display that day.

I didn’t get to the museum. It had closed for the day and my friend who works there was out of the country. But seeing the memorials and the fountains in the footprints of the Twin Towers was a harrowing experience. The air around there is somber. The memory of the day and what existed before 8:46 AM has never left the area. Seeing the memorials and names of the workers in the buildings, pilots and crew on the planes, the police, Port Authority officers, and firefighters is a gutting thing. The site is so beautifully maintained. Yet, I could not help but imagine hearing the sounds crashing planes, fearful pedestrians, and falling metal that have been seared into my memory from all the news clips and documentaries of the day. The contrast of the sounds with the present day site is a remarkable contrast, and an inseparable one for me, despite being 122 miles away from Ground Zero that day.

Reflecting on 9/11 is sad. I didn’t directly know any of the victims, But my country was irreparably changed that day. And it’s impossible to look at the pictures and names and not be saddened by how raw the day was. It from the first hijacking to the second tower collapsing (a time which included the Pentagon attack and the United 93 crash in Shanksville) was only about two and a half hours. And the world changed permanently in that time.

It’s also invigorating in a way. The heroism of the firefighters, police officers, people like Welles Crowther, the amazing civilians on Flight 93, and many more are a wonderful reminder of how much good exists and how the human spirit is resilient. May God be with the families of the victims this day and forever. And God bless the United States of America.

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Heroic American Freedom Stories

I’ve been wished a Happy Fourth of July for much of my life, including many times this week. While I appreciate the sentiment, I’m not a big fan of celebrating the Fourth of July. It’s a day on the calendar, the 185th on a non-leap year calendar, which 2019 is. It’s not that different from July 29th, or August 10th, or any other day in the summer. So why do we set it aside? Because the actual holiday is Independence Day in the United States. I always wish people that instead, wanting people to join in the holiday being celebrated, not just some random day in the middle of the summer.

It might be unfashionable to call it Independence Day, but that is the holiday. It’s the day the Declaration of Independence was approved and delivered to the public. The separation was actually voted for by the Continental Congress on July 2nd, but the wording of the Declaration was debated a little longer to ensure everyone was on the same page. John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, predicting that the legal separation would become the day of great celebration.

The second day of July 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

Well, only two days off, John.

Still, Independence Day is a great time to celebrate the history of this country. So I’ve found a few stories of remarkable American figures who’s stories remind us of our heritage and past. Enjoy!

Samuel Whittimore

On April 19, 1775, the British Regulars marched to take the munitions held by the Massachusetts Militia in Concord. Along the way, they encountered 77 Militia on the Lexington Common for the first skirmish of the American Revolution. The Regulars marched onto Concord and were turned back. On the march back, 78 year old Samuel Whittimore, a veteran of King George’s War and the French & Indian War and retired farmer in Menotomy (present day Arlington), saw a rescue brigade led by Earl Percy headed aid the retreat.

Whittimore rallied to join the fight. He loaded his musket and dueling pistols, and equipped a sword. He took position along a wall and fired his musket, killing a Regular. He then unloaded his pistols, killing a second and mortally wounding a third. The Brits figured out where he was and rushed him as Whittimore drew his sword. He engaged, though it ended poorly. The 78 year old was shot and bayoneted many (some say 18) times, and beaten with the butt end of a rifle. The Brits left him for dead in a pool of his own blood.

When the colonial forces found him, not only was Whittimore not dead, he was reloading his musket to get another shot off. The locals took him to Medford’s Dr. Cotton Tufts (yes, as in that Tufts family who’s name adorns a prominent university in Medford). The good doctor proclaimed there was no hope for Whittimore’s survival. In fact, not only did the man live another day, he lived for 18 additional years, passing at 96 years of age on February 2nd, 1793. He is interred at the Old Burial Ground in Arlington and is memorialized with a monument on the town common. In 2005, Massachusetts proclaimed Whittimore as the Commonwealth’s official hero.

The Samuel Whittimore Memorial in Arlington, Massachusetts

Declaration Signers

A year after Lexington and Concord, the Second Continental Congress gathered in Philadelphia unanimously approved the Declaration of Independence, as it exists today. What happened to the 56 singers of that revolutionary document? Well, many lost money, fortune, family, property, and their own lives. Paul Harvey’s telling of their stories is so good that I will simply link it below. It’s a tradition of mine to watch this and be awed at the courage present in America’s birth.

https://youtu.be/SRSHA7F3mIw

John Clem

Its often I look on the course of my life and realize I’ve had it easy compared to my ancestors. But no story has so thoroughly given me that feeling than the tale of Civil War hero John Lincoln Clem. Born in 1851 in Newark, Ohio, his mother was killed in a train accident when he was 10 years old. Shortly thereafter, Clem ran away to try and join the 3rd Ohio Infantry as a drummer boy in the Union Army. They rejected him because he was too small. He then went to Michigan and tried to join the 22nd Michigan Regiment. They didn’t allow him in, but he followed behind and was adopted as a mascot and drummer boy. There is plenty of myth surrounding his service, but what is clearly true is a rapid rise up the Military ladder.

In September, 1863, a Union offensive was pushed back at Chickamauga, in Northwestern Georgia. Over the course of three days, from the 18th to the 20th, nearly four thousand soldiers died and an additional 24 thousand injuries. It’s one of the bloodiest battles in American history, only edged out by Spotsylvania Courthouse and Gettysburg. Famed journalist and Investigating Agent of the War Department Charles A. Dana wrote of Chickamauga: “My report today is of deplorable importance. Chickamauga is as fatal a name in our history as Bull Run.”

In the midst of the Union retreat, Clem was in the grasp of a Confederate Colonel and shot his way out of danger. For his bravery in the fight, the Drummer Boy of Chickamauga was promoted on the spot to Sergeant of the Army of the Cumberland. He was 12 years old at the time. He continued fighting and a month later, was captured in Georgia by a Confederate Cavalryman. He was included in a prisoner exchange shortly after and was most upset about the confiscation of his uniform, including his cap with three bullet holes. His service in the war was actually used as Confederate war propaganda. Many newspapers in the South asked the question “What sore straits the Yankees are driven, when they have to send their babies out to fight us.”

Clem, despite his young age and small stature, fought bravely in the Union Army and helped win the Civil War. He continued to serve in the American military until 1916 and was the last living Civil War veteran at the time of his passing on May 13th, 1937. He was 85 years old.

Lance Sergeant John Lincoln Clem

These are just a few of the heroes who sacrificed life and limb to create our home and give a free nation to us today. I call the Fourth of July Independence Day because of the heroes who went before us. And I’m eternally grateful to those who lived and died to make this country a reality.

Happy Independence Day everyone!

Patriots Day/Marathon Monday Facts

Today is a day off for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In Boston, it’s Marathon Monday, a day for people to run a long ways to test and push themselves while the spectators down as much beer as physically possible, because Boston needs another reason to drink. Ok it’s not that simplistic, but many people seem to think it is, for some reason. So I’m taking a little time to write up a few things to know about Patriots Day itself, why the day is celebrated, and why it’s important. And I’ll also throw in a few things to know about the Boston Marathon, both this year’s race and the history of it. 

Patriots Day

  1. What is actually celebrated on Patriots Day?

The first battle of the American Revolution. On the night of April 18th, 1775, Paul Revere made his famous midnight ride to warn the countryside of the military’s attempts to sieze the colonists’s storage of militia weapons at Concord. And no, Revere did not say the famous words “The British are coming”. He had to ride quietly through the night and the colonists thought of themselves as British already, so there are no grounds for claiming he said this. Revere was captured before he finished his mission, but others got the word out, and the British were met by armed resistance on the village green of Lexington. A small skirmish ensued. Then the Redcoats marched to Concord before being pushed back at the Old North Bridge. The Redcoats responded by locking down Boston, and the American Revolution began.

There is one other event also commemorated: The Baltimore Riot of 1861. This is considered the first blood shed in the conflict of the American Civil War. On April 19, 1861, members of the 6th Massachusetts Militia were traveling to Washington DC for federal service after the fall of Fort Sumter and the beginning of the American Civil War. Maryland was a border state and was even though it did not actually succeed to the confederacy, it was still not friendly to the members of the Northern military. When the 6th Massachusetts Militia arrived in Baltimore on April 19th, tensions boiled over. A riot broke out when confederate sympathizers and anti-war Democrats, the largest political entities in Maryland at the time, recognized military from the Republican north. The riots were ended, but not before 4 Massachusetts soldiers were dead and 36 others were injured. 

    2.   When was Patriots Day first celebrated?

There were long standing municipal days of remembrance called Lexington Day and Concord Day in Massachusetts and Maine, which until the Missouri Compromise in 1820 was a part of Massachusetts. There were not any large scale celebrations though. Then in 1894, the governor of Massachusetts, Frederic T. Greenhalge, abolished the long standing Fast Day, and announced a new holiday for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: Patriots Day. The day was set up to commemorate people who gave their lives for the freedom of Massachusetts in both the American Revolution and the American Civil War. Maine followed in 1907 and replaced its Fast Day with Patriots Day. The holiday was celebrated on April 19th, the actual date of the battles, until 1969, when the schedule was changed to Patriots Day being celebrated on the third Monday of April, which is what we have now. 

     3.    Is it officially recognized as a holiday anywhere else?

Well, yes actually. It is primarily a Massachusetts and Maine holiday, but other states do recognize it. Wisconsin lists the day as a “Public School Observance Day”. It is recognized as an important day in American history. There is still school, but time is taken to recognize what happened on that day. Florida law also encourages people to acknowledge the events of the day, but does not treat the day as a holiday. Massachusetts and Maine are the only states that recognize Patriots Day as a holiday.

Marathon

  

  1. When did the Marathon begin?

The first ever Boston Marathon was run in 1897. It was inspired by the success of the 1896 Olympics in Athens, the first modern Olympic competition. Patriots Day was selected for the marathon because of the symbolism found in the Olympic marathon. The race is called a “marathon” because it was supposed to recreate a famous event in Greek history: the run of Pheidippides from the site of the Battle of Marathon to Athens to announce victory to the Athenians. The Boston Athletic Club modeled their own race of 24.3 miles, same as the 1896 Marathon, to commemorate the spirit of the Patriots in the Colonial age. The original plan was to have the route run from Concord to Boston, but the distance wasn’t enough for a regulation marathon, so the starting line was placed in Ashland. A field of 15 amateurs ran the first ever Boston Marathon, with John J. “JJ” McDermott winning the race with a time of 2:55:10. 

     2. How does the Marathon work now?

The sarcastic answer to this question is “Well people run a long ways and other people watch.” The more technical answer is that the route has changed significantly since 1897. For one, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) changed the distance of an official marathon from 24.3 miles to 26.2 miles. To bring the Boston Marathon up to standards, the BAA changed the distance to 26.2 miles, and changed the starting location to the Hopkinton Green. This has been the starting line since 1924.

The other major change is the process of qualification. The Boston marathon is the oldest continuously run marathon in the US and is the most famous race in the American runners community. The people who qualify to run are among the most skilled runners in the American and international community. The first marathon had a field of only 15 runners. This year’s race has 30,000 runners competing! So how does one qualify for the marathon? Well the race is open to any runner 18 years and older, but they have to have completed a full length marathon before with an official time that fits in the qualification times for each age group. These are the qualification times. 

 
      3. Random Pieces of Marathon Trivia

These are just a few pieces of interesting trivia regarding the marathon. 

  • The first 35 marathons saw an American or a Canadian win. The 36th saw the first winner from outside North America, Paul de Bruyn of Germany, triumph in 1932. 
  • The race has seen huge diversity in its victors over its history, but not much recently. In the Men’s Open Division, 19 of the last 25 winners have been Kenyan. Though the last time a Kenyan won was in 2012 when Wesley Korir won. 
  • The most recent American victory was in 2014, when Meb Keflezighi became the first American victor since 1983 when Greg Meyer won. 
  • Women were not officially allowed to run the Marathon until 1972, though women had been unofficially running since 1966. Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb is recognized by the BAA as the first woman to complete the marathon course. Katherine Switzer, who registered as K.V. Switzer, was the first woman to finish the race with an official number, though race official Jock Semple famously tried to rip off her number. All female finishers from 1966 to 1971 have been recognized by the BAA. 
  • The Boston Marathon was he first in the world to add a wheelchair division. The first male winner was Robert Hall in 1975. The first female winner was Sharon Rahn in 1977. 
  • The course record for the men’s open division was also the world record for a time. In 2011, Geoffrey Mutai ran a staggering 2:03:02, the fastest marathon ever run at that point. It has since been topped by Dennis Kipruto Kimetto’s 2:02:57 at the 2011 Berlin marathon. 
  • Walter Brown, who was the founder and longtime owner of the Celtics and has a hockey arena at my school, Boston University, named after him, served as the chair of the BAA from 1941 until 1964. His most famous and negative moment came in 1951, during the height of the Korean War, when he banned Koreans from participating in that year’s race. 
  • Two runners have actually died while running the race. An unnamed 62 year old Swedish man died in 1996 because of a heart attack. And Cynthia Lucerno, 28, died of hyponatremia in 2002. 
  • The marathon goes on about the same time as the Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park, who have been scheduled to play every year at home since 1959 on Patriots Day. The Patriots Day game starts at 11:00 AM, the only scheduled morning game on the major league schedule. 

So there are a few things about the meaning of Patriots Day and the history and workings of the Marathon itself. I hope people take some lessons from it! If you’re in Boston today, enjoy the marathon! And don’t get too crazy today. Happy Patriots Day everyone!