Tears In Heaven

Randy Leonard


Author's Note: This piece was originally posted on September 11, 2004.

I woke up feeling excited. The next morning I would be flying to the east coast to watch my son, Ryan, graduate from Coast Guard boot camp in Cape May, New Jersey. I had found a very cool, small hotel to stay at in Cape May that was just across the street from the Atlantic Ocean. I couldn’t wait to get there and see my son in his uniform, standing at attention saying “yes sir”. From a petite and fragile being that I cradled -even before his Mother held him- to a graduate of the United States Coast Guard. How could this be? I had to see it to believe it.

I lay there and played out my itinerary in my head. I would get off work tomorrow morning at 8am, drive directly to PDX, get on the plane, arrive in Baltimore, rent a car and make the 4 hour drive to Cape May.

Ryan and I would head to Philadelphia for a few days after he graduated. I love the east coast and all of its history. But to spend some time there with my oldest child as he began a new life in the United States Coast Guard was..., well, I was riding on top of the world.

But first, I had to work my 24 hour shift at the fire station that would begin in two hours. I was assigned to Station 17 where we had a fire engine and a fire boat. I loved my job and the guys I worked with. We loved working with each other.

I jumped up, saw a bright day beginning outside, said good morning to my wife, who herself was getting ready for work, and popped the “Best of ZZ Top” cd into my stereo. I cranked it up.

It was the morning of September 11, 2001 and life could not get any better.

As I headed to Station 17, on Hayden Island in the Columbia River, I took my usual route with my usual guy accompanying me, Les Sarnoff on KINK FM 102. I was still thinking about my east coast journey when I realized that I had been driving for 10 minutes and all there was on the radio was news chatter. Very unusual for Les. Focusing on my radio dial, I saw that it was in fact on KINK. I turned it up and heard a strange voice talking about a plane flying into a building in New York.

“Jesus,” I thought. I remembered reading about the plane that flew into the side of the empire state building over 50 years ago as the city was hidden in a fog bank. It must have happened again.

But an instant later, my reasoning was shattered by the man on the radio saying that a second plane had hit the building right next to it.

My first reaction to that announcement was that I was listening to a version of the radio spoof from the 30s when Orson Welles broadcast “The War of the Worlds” and everyone listening went into abject panic. I am too savvy for that, I thought. I am not biting. To think that two separate planes had slammed into two separate buildings was, well, unthinkable.

I will never forget where I was when I realized this day was no spoof.

I was sitting at a red stop light on NE Martin Luther King and Columbia Blvd. I was still convinced I was listening to some put on about an attack on the World Trade Center Towers in New York. As the announcer on the radio kept talking, I looked to my left and saw a woman sitting in her car next to me also waiting for the light to change. Her hands were clasped tightly over her mouth and tears were streaming down her face. Even when the light turned green she stared straight ahead and did not move. She just sat there horrified, crying.

I felt as though I had been hit in the stomach. As I finally began driving I tried to comprehend how this could happen. I remember becoming aware that this could be no accident. Someone was attacking us.

Of course, I thought about the innocents working in a building that had been transformed from a familiar work place to a living hell. But I could not help but focus on the scores of firefighters who would be entering the buildings to rescue those trapped hundreds of feet above the earth. Having been to many high rise fires, I knew the unique dangers of fighting a fire far above the ground –and safety- below. “God”, I thought, “Be Safe.”

As I went into the fire station, the on coming and off going shift of firefighters were huddled around the TV. The image of the two high rise towers burning evoked chatter amongst us of similar infernos we had all been part of battling in Portland. We were all worried for our colleagues across the continent, of course, but they were doing what firefighters do. We had all run into burning buildings while even the rats were running out. We had seen similar fires countless times in our careers. Its’ dangerous, but we know what we are doing.

And then the unthinkable. In all of our collective careers, none of us had ever seen or heard of anything like it. First one, then the other tower crumbled to the ground in kind of an exclamation point to the horror of this day. We sat in stunned silence knowing instantly what it would take others hours to come to grips with.

Anyone in either building when the towers collapsed was gone. In an instant, gone. No goodbyes, no second chances at life. Gone. In the gallows humor at a fire station, we often say “dead is forever”. We had never seen such a horrific example of it.

Eventually, we began our routine at the fire station that day, but it was different. We all had been to firefighters and police officer funerals where inevitably someone would say the officer or firefighter had “given their life”. We always knew that was a lie. None of us would ever “give” our life. It would have to be taken. We would fight to live until silence and blackness overwhelmed our consciousness, no matter the odds.

We had seen with our own eyes hundreds of our fellow firefighters lives stolen in a cataclysmic convergence of hate, physics and destiny. Whether those firefighters had plans for a family reunion, birthday or witnessing the graduation of a child from the coast guard boot camp, this was to be their last day on this earth.

While each of us knew we could lose our life, we also knew we had the tools to trick death. Death in the performance of duty was something that happened, but only when mistakes occurred. We drilled every day to minimize –if not eliminate- those mistakes from occurring. We would cheat death at every opportunity and then laugh about it.

There was, however, no amount of training that could have prepared my heroes that day. The only warning would have been the deafening noise of each of the floors above them collapsing onto the floor beneath. One floor at a time, growing louder as the collapsing floors came closer. 343 of the 3,024 lives lost that fateful day were firefighters.

While I would not be able to go to Ryan’s Coast Guard graduation in New Jersey, I would eventually be able to hug him again. That embrace was probably longer than it would have been had there been no September, 11th.

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)

    It seemed to me, that given a chance,(which I don't know if there was or wasn't), Randy might have thought to reword some parts in this, in reflection of a year's passing news. Sort of like a '2nd edition.' In my own case, my comment a year ago still stands today -- omens visible in the sky clearly correlated with firey events of the pivotal day, and the craft in the art of signal interpretation is composing association with realistic scenarios. (Where 'realism' means truly and fully informed. It's a craft practiced by the wisest minds across the millenniums, in writing, from Egyptian pharoahs 2500BC to the Greeks (Alexander) and Romans (Caesar) 500BC to Ptolemy 100AD to royals and peerages (Sir Isaac Newton) 1600AD to today's newspapers wholesale; although a simple dismissal of its antiquity and adherents by assertion of a single GenXer could readily undo it all.) My comment stands, but with a year's practice, I could write it better now.

    The statement Randy made that I wonder if he has reconsidered and re-assessed, is this: "... the unthinkable. In all of our collective careers, none of us had ever seen or heard of anything like it," (limited fire damage collapsing a steel-frame building), as this wording exactly counterposes beliefs and understanding derived from firsthand experience, against beliefs and explanations pre-arranged and dished out in media illusion.

    A consummate investigative journalist, Michael Ruppert, has added new information within the last year, documenting in detail how the Nine Eleven Op was rigged and conducted by Cheney, and why. Ruppert's explanation, in his book "Crossing the Rubican: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil," has been neither disproved nor denied by those it accuses knowing the eyewitness truth. "Crossing the Rubicon:" continues inching into bestseller status, and is readily available -- Powell's can't keep it in stock, I've purchased four copies as gifts from Laughing Horse Books, and Ruppert's website From The Wilderness dot com offers reviews and price breaks for it.

    In anticipation of more media mythologizing of a 9/11 Legend scheduled in a Television Spectacular promoted for today, to focus exclusively on Flight 93, here in advance are some links for background information and a question for discussion groups to consider:

    How could Flt.93 dive down from the sky in one piece and leave two large craters over a mile apart? (The measured evidence and photo documentation across the 8-mile crash debris field prove it is an impossiblity of physics for an intact fuselage to obtain. Or is the science of physics simply dismissed by assertion?)

    Photos of the craters are here, under 'Shanksville, PA,' and in associated links.

    Here is the Flight 93 timeline, containing the following excerpts:

    President Bush ... asks: “Did we shoot it down or did it crash?”

    Flight 93 crashes into an empty field just north of the Somerset County Airport,... the timing of this crash is disputed and it may well occur at 10:03 a.m., 10:07 a.m., or 10:10 a.m.

    A second plane, described “as a small, white jet with rear engines and no discernible markings,” is seen by at least five witnesses ....

    Flight 93 apparently starts to break up before it crashes, because debris is found very far away from the crash site. [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/15/01] The plane is generally obliterated upon landing, except for one half-ton piece of engine found some distance away. Some reports indicate that the engine piece was found over a mile away. [Independent, 8/13/02] The FBI reportedly acknowledges that this piece was found “a considerable distance” from the crash site. [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/15/01] Later, the FBI will cordon off a three-mile wide area around the crash, as well as another area six to eight miles from the initial crash site. [CNN, 9/13/01] One story calls what happened to this engine “intriguing, because the heat-seeking, air-to-air Sidewinder missiles aboard an F-16 would likely target one of the Boeing 757's two large engines.” [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/15/01] Smaller debris fields are also found two, three, and eight miles away from the main crash site. [Independent, 8/13/02; Mirror, 9/13/02] Eight miles away, local media quote residents speaking of a second plane in the area and burning debris falling from the sky. [Reuters, 9/13/01 (C)] Residents outside Shanksville reported “discovering clothing, books, papers, and what appeared to be human remains. Some residents said they collected bags-full of items to be turned over to investigators. Others reported what appeared to be crash debris floating in Indian Lake, nearly six miles from the immediate crash scene ....

    Here is the transcript of a broadcast showing Rumsfeld, unusually jet-lagged yet ordinarily gibberish-spoken, letting his tongue slip and speak his direct memory:


    And to change that way of living, would strike at the very essence of our country.

    And I think all of us have a sense if we imagine the kind of world we would face if the people who bombed the mess hall in Mosul, or the people who did the bombing in Spain, or the people who attacked the United States in New York, shot down the plane over Pennsylvania and attacked the Pentagon, the people who cut off peoples' heads on television to intimidate, to frighten -- indeed the word "terrorized" is just that. Its purpose is to terrorize, to alter behavior, to make people be something other than that which they want to be.

    I do not consider it irreverent to show the casualties of 9/11 were victims of Bush Legacy crimes and terrors, not fanatic Islamists. For this reason: If I had died then, I would pray my memory would be kept in the truth of what happened and not be an anonymous statistic for political maligning.

    Lastly, the Pentagon's celebration of this date with regard to military invasion in Iraq and the devastations in it, (both American and Iraqi griefs), makes false and indecent association. Iraq has no connection to 9/11. Of course, to convince a majority that a connection existed, would require massive lies repeatedly asserted to a pre-screened, unquestioning audience, and as many people and much coordination as is necessary to implement such propaganda just seems unmanageable and highly unlikely to succeed in secret.

  • (Show?)

    You always lose me after the first, like, three sentences, Tensk, lol... But this is what Commissioner Leonard felt like four years ago today. Regardless of what has happened over the past year, two years, two days, this is how he felt... then.

    I think we all woke up this morning and, once the date occurred to us (being a Sunday that may not have been until we picked up a paper or turned on the TV), we thought about how we felt then. The second that, being on the west coast, we heard what had transpired over the last two to three hours while we slept. Waking up thinking it was just another Tuesday. When we heard, and tried to digest, that not one but both towers of the World Trade Center had collapsed into rubble - and that someone had done it intentionally. That the land of the free was now on some grandscale lock-down because for the first time since, what? The Revolutionary War? We'd been invaded. Personally, I woke up to Peter Jennings' voice on the radio saying "...it's unbelievable, the building... it just.... collapsed on itself." And in my sleepy, 7AM haze, I hit my now ex-husband on the arm and said "Turn on CNN, I think San Francisco just fell into the ocean." What else could it possibly have been? Little did I know. My eyes weren't even open yet.

    This is my generation's Kennedy assasination (times 10,000). We will always remember where we were when we heard that our impenetrable world of America changed forever. And there's nothing wrong with capturing that memory. Tragic as it was, it's an important memory to have. Because hopefully, it's something we'll never experience again, but that memory serves so many important lessons that we will have the responsibility to teach our children through historical retrospect. Retrospect that starts with journals, news articles, essays, and blog entries like this. It's our Hiroshima (on a much smaller scale, of course). It humbles us. It reminds us we're not invincible. That's something that we've kind of missed in our history books to date. Of course though I wish that 9-11 had never happened, it did. We have to find something positive to take from it. If we don't learn anything from history we're condemned to repeat it, no? So... the memories serve us best if they stay just as they were.

    Thank you for reposting your experience, Commissioner.

  • Randy Leonard (unverified)

    Very nice comments, CC. Thank you.

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)

    I like your comments, too, cc. Preserve memory of what we saw, what we felt. That 'feeling' for others' pain is the sense of human pathos, the 'good angel' source of civilization, the soul of us. Surely keep the feeling and touch it often -- it is vitality itself.

    Change what we imagined was the cause behind the effects. Change as developing news brings additional parts of the puzzle of motive. (Alternatively, take the first offered 'solution' of the puzzle, go brain dead, and block out any follow-on news for fear of change in understanding.) For example, (cc), after: "we heard, and tried to digest, that not one but both towers of the World Trade Center had collapsed into rubble," then, six hours later, we heard a third tower (47 stories, steel frame, no visible smoke), collapsed into rubble amid a demolition dust cloud, that was also "hard to digest" and impossible to fit into the earlier 'solution,' set indelible in mind in only a few hours, that Arabs did it. The third tower, housing the New England region FBI offices, and the second-largest CIA headquarters (which 'nobody' knew existed), and NYC's Emergency Command Center (which was vacant all day), and the complete archives of the Securities and Exchange Commission records and investigations files, among other occupants in its 47 floors -- and which is insanity-of-believing-the-impossible to think that "Arabs did," (Randy's "unthinkable"), well, that implosion information never fitted in the precast 'solution' so the facts of it were kept out of the public mind rather than change the solution to the puzzle of motive.

    Three towers, cc, we heard on 9/11 there were three towers collapsed into pulverized rubble, (out of seven skyscrapers comprising the WTC campus). Except that the third one never really 'caught fire' -- which might interest a fireman to know -- so faggedabouddit.

    (My earlier comment had been limited to Flight 93 facts that don't fit the official 'solution' of 9/11's who-dunnit mystery, to make it topical and in contrast to the TV dramatization focused on the official Flt.93 myth.)

    Four years later, in electric terms of brain 'memory' neurons, there is less 'resistance' to having our thoughts flow in other and new branches. That is, memory dims. Other thoughts can get through on other wiring.

    Once -- was it Jan. '75? -- one of the twin towers burned overnight (11 hours) and involved three lower floors before it was extinguished. The tower didn't fall, let alone implode. Once -- was it in '93? -- one of the twin towers was bombed, a massive bomb set in a basement causing fatalities and extensive damages. The tower didn't fall.

    And we did not send troops to invade Egypt, even after proving an Egyptian, who preached hatred of the American system, 'did it.' If the WTC chaos and Flt.93 in Pennsylvania were the only events of nine-eleven op, then would we have, should we have militarily invaded Afghanistan?

    No. I believe it requires damage to a military target to make it a 'true' Pearl Harbor, a valid reason for military response action. If the Pentagon damage was the only thing on 9/11, (nothing in NY or PA), then would'a should'a our military have invaded Afghanistan? I don't know, but a debate of it in Congress would have been good to hear.

    It would have been good to hear Congress debate war for what did happen, but they skipped that and never did pass a declaration of war, which is very formal and authentic. But they skipped it. Besides, two towers collapsing on tv was enough to cause shock, mental trauma, grief -- which is a debility causing sufferers to be suggestible and compliant, without debating it; and, further besides, the halls of Congress were emptied by anthrax envelopes, so they couldn't debate it. (Did anyone notice the omission in The Oregonian's commemorative '9/11 timeline' on the anniversary? No mention of the anthrax envelope murders.)

    cc, I agree 9/11 is like the JFK assassination, only in the mass mental shock and grief effect. Somehow when such radical and complete knowledge rushes into our brain neurons all our senses and perception and memory are fused solid together. A similar experience is reported in individual situations, such as when a person hears they have cancer or hears a personal relationship has died.

    Also in '9/11' reminiscent of 'JFK' is the way our political leaders did not lead, seemed not to know what to do 'about it' 'with it.' 'JFK' was not on tv, and only one person died, and the residual sense 'looking to understand,' to solve the puzzle of motive, at first had either zero or multiple reasons to consider. The masses were not served one reason and one reason alone, at least not for several days and even then many people's thoughts were not confined to the official myth. Anyway, we the people and our political leaders were confused about 'where' to blame, and the uniqueness of the event seemed to forgive our loss of will to resolve it as being an understandable failure, reasonable to be mistaken about.

    Eventually, but soon enough, evidence appeared showing the CIA participated knowingly in the 'JFK' event. Now, the same result is appearing in the '9/11' event aftermath. Fool us once, shame on them. Fool us the second time, and we only can blame ourselves if we don't follow leaders to remove them. The CIA cannot be 'reformed' from being criminally corrupt because such is in the nature of its purpose and expertise -- and a leopard cannot change its spots. America can well survive and enjoy security of this society and nation without any CIA at all. Probably most people just never thought about it. Think about it. It is a simple procedure to remove them: the House clasps the purse shut, stops that appropriation, zeroes out the CIA line item. Done.

    And it's a simple procedure to get the House to do that: Elect it, member by member who each so pledge.

    Else 'we' die. Figurative 'we' but it includes you and me and our posterity. Literally die. That's what government power means, that's what our elected officials are responsible for, that's what we the electorate need to talk about and vote action on. It is critically important to see parallels and common elements in 9/11 and JFK. Or else ....

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)

    Perhaps I could finish that last sentence in the interest of clarity and not 'losing' anyone from the point. I expressly support and agree with your conclusion, cc. (And thank you.) We must "find something positive," hold our knowledge and study what it affirms, material and tangible, study what it means. And from studying these histories, learn. Learn as much as we can, in order to act most effectively, in order to avoid having the 'lesson' repeated.

    Or else history repeats.

  • Sid Leader (unverified)

    Thanks for the great piece, Randy.

    I was teaching my second day at Whitaker when the planes hit. We had no TV or radio since it was Whitaker, the New Orleans of PPS.

    I had a decision to make. Stop all teaching and try and talk about something most of us had not seen.

    Or teach math.

    I taught math and the next day I brought in The Oregonian and we all read the story out of the newspaper, like America read about President Abraham Lincoln's assassination 150 years ago.

    BTW, the Pentagon confirms President Bush sent just three dozen Special Forces to Tora Bora, with Rummy outsourcing the rest of the job to Northern Alliance troops secretly on Osama's payroll. Oops.

    Bush could have fought terror, like Bubba did, killing McVeigh and putting first WTC bombers in prison for life, but he went back to his nap and just let Osama go.

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)

    Is it generally not known or generally not wanting to know Osama has been a CIA 'asset' since at least 1978? (Some records and sources say 1974.) Osama goes where CIA says, does what CIA asks, and receives in return benefits (or 'payment') from CIA. Our tax dollars at war, paying for both sides. Think of it as Red Army / Blue Army war gaming. Neither side means to win. Both sides want the chaos continuously, for the commanders' personal selfish maneuvers behind the war screen.

    Who Is Osama Bin Laden?, by Michel Chossudovsky

    Osamagate, by Michel Chossudovsky

    al-Qu’eda or al-a’diversion?, by William Bowles

    "International Terrorism" is a Contrived Threat, by Elias Davidsson

    General terro-war players subject index.

    During the same thirty years, since Bush Sinister was head of the CIA (1976), various bin Ladens and Osama himself have coordinated many money business affairs with Bush Sinister, (not Jughead), and Bush people.

    WASHINGTON, DC -- August 25, 2005 -- WMR has obtained further paper trails linking George H. W. Bush's longtime mysterious Swiss German money mover (see July 24-25 article below) to a now defunct bank operated on behalf of Osama Bin Laden, his family, and some of his closest business associates. The network of Swiss-based terrorist financiers are also linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and prominent European fascist leaders. The bank, Al Taqwa ("Fear of God"), ... ...The Iranian con man and Pentagon neocon contact Manucher Ghorbanifar, Saudi billionaire Adnan Khashoggi, and members of the Bin Laden family are reportedly linked to Geneva-based Potomac Capital, a front company created by George H. W. Bush when he was CIA Director in 1976. Interestingly, it was George W. Bush, who, in November 2001, cited Al Taqwa as part of "Al Qaeda's" money laundering activities. However, Bush's neocon allies at The Washington Times and World Net Daily quickly altered course and drew attention away from Al Taqwa's Saudi and Kuwaiti investors and began to erroneously link Al Taqwa to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Further criminal investigations of Al Taqwa's principals were also quickly dropped.

    Potomac Capital appeared on the radar screen of Federal investigators during the Iran-Contra investigation conducted in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Al Taqwa connection to weapons of mass destruction proliferation, Bin Laden, and George H. W. Bush and his business associates stands as another reason the George W. Bush administration leaked the CIA's Brewster Jennings & Associates counter-WMD network. The CIA counter-proliferation team was getting uncomfortably close to tying members of the Bush family and their business associates to the same financial networks that fund Osama Bin Laden and his "Al Qaeda" network.

    The last paragraph is saying the leak of Valerie Plame's name and that causing the shutdown of her CIA department's work investigating world arms trade (esp. WMD) where it was leading to discovering sources of those weapons being sold by other (black) CIA departments, had little or only incidental relation to 'revenge against her husband,' and everything to do with stopping the 'good cop' Plame-CIA from further investigating.

    Ya' know, it seems like there are two kinds of people watching chess games -- those who believe moves on the board 'just happen,' events in the world are 'just random,' and those who believe someone moves the pieces by design, that events are caused by motives. Lately, more and more people are coming to the realization that they themselves are the pieces.

  • Sid Leader (unverified)

    Hey Tensk,

    The Bush-Binladen family connection was uncovered by the LIBERAL MEDIA by the time we all went to bed on September 11, 2001.

    America looked at the link, made "House of Bush, House of Saud" a best-seller and promptly went back to sleep.

    The FAA had like 75 warnings alone. 75! And the FAA gave Salman Rushdie ARMED BODYGUARDS when he flew all over the world in the summer of 2001. He's Muslim, you know, and pretty much hated all across the Islamic world. FAA gave him all he wanted. Too bad the middle school kids on the field trip aboard Flight 77 didn't have the same Bush-Cheney blanket.

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)

    Sid Leader -- Which way do you see it: That Busheney bumbled the Afghan maneuvers and as a result Osama got clean away, they LOST his trail? Or, it was no accident, it was planned NOT to find him then, and still not find him now, ON PURPOSE?

  • Sid Leader (unverified)

    As a former Capitol Hill producer for CNN, my theory is that W kinda tried to get Osama, a bit, but was very worried because if caught, Osama could give up the goods on Saudi princes and kings funding him... as well as FOG.

    Saudi Arabia dispatched (assassinated) THREE of their princes in the past three years who supported Osama. The King killed them after the big fat AQ guy with the hairy back gave up the princes CELL PHONE NUMBERS to the CIA after capture in Iraq.

    AQ's big fat hairy guy thought the Saudi princes would come to his rescue. Instead, Saudi Arabia killed them in a series of mysterious accidents. All documented in the best seller "House of Bush, House of Saud."

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