Cook: In the end, steely resolve prevails
The day after we learned of Osama bin Laden’s death, journalists gathered behind the Salisbury Fire Department to see a corpse of sorts — pieces of the steel girders that used to hold up the World Trade Center.
Bin Laden is dead, as dead as those girders.
It was a strange confluence of events — a somber moment in contrast to the celebrations in front of the White House that we saw on TV Sunday night.
The two, 1-ton pieces of steel arrived in town April 22. The city scheduled a press conference so the media could all see them at once — the Post, WBTV, News 14, Access 16 and El Latino.
Post reporter Shelley Smith asked for reaction to the news about bin Laden. Fire Chief Bob Parnell, Police Chief Rory Collins and Emergency Services Director Frank Thomason responded. The girders served as eerie backdrop — a reminder, as Parnell said, of the destruction and senseless loss of life on Sept. 11, 2001. The men chose their words carefully, saying they were glad the world’s most wanted terrorist was out of commission. No one seemed to want to say “dead.”
Earlier in the weekend, I’d seen a National Geographic interview with Ron DiFran-cesco, who was working on the 84th floor of the World Trade Center’s South Tower the morning the terrorists struck. Someone called and told him to get out. He made it to the stairwell and down several floors before being stopped by fire. At some point in his indecision about what to do — as breathing became difficult and others gave up, slumping down on the stairs — he felt a presence.
“I don’t want to sound kooky but the presence brought me through the flames,” DiFrancesco said. “ … It was like, ‘Come follow me, and I will lead you home.’ ”
He was the last person to make it out of the South Tower alive.
So many people did not get out alive, thousands who may have felt an angel on their shoulder, too, but with a different message. “Do not let your hearts be troubled…”
It was so overwhelmingly sad — yet different from the aftermath of a tsunami or tornado. The 9-11 victims died because of hatred — hatred goaded and manipulated by a man most of us had never heard of before.
Bin Laden hammed it up on videos that were designed to scare us. He succeeded in making us a more cautious country. I can’t remember what it was like to board a plane without going through security, taking off my shoes and putting my possessions in a gray tray on a conveyor belt, only to reassemble myself on the other side.
But if bin Laden had jihadist dreams of world domination, he failed. The dominant theme in recent Mideast uprisings is a clamor for democracy. While followers sacrificed their lives in the name of his fanaticism, the man we envisioned subsisting in a cave was hiding in a suburban compound.
He put his own life on the line only when Navy Seals broke into that compound. The girders’ huge rivets, bigger than a man’s finger, are bent this way and that from the heat and violence that brought them down. The girders are covered in rust, a reminder of how much time has passed.
On Sept. 11, 2001, we ripped up the front page we had planned for that afternoon’s edition of the Post and started over. Because of Osama bin Laden, we had a different story to tell, a story of tragedy and destruction.
Sunday night, copy editor Andy Morrissey repeated that process, taking apart the front page he’d already laid out and starting over, this time with Osama bin Laden’s death at the top. Newspapers across the country did the same — but with a much different feeling than in 2001.
I’m not one for vengeance; it is too closely akin to hate. But justice is another matter.
The Twin Towers’ steel was brought here as a memorial, and rightly so. But after today those two pieces of steel will mean something more. In honor of the people who died because of this man’s hatred, in respect for the brave rescuers who died in the line of duty — and for our own national security — the United States relentlessly hunted down the man responsible for their deaths. We did not give up.
Osama bin Laden is dead.
Justice has been done.
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Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.