Essay: Building American Heroes

American Heroes

Building American Heroes
By Bud Malmstrom

I was recently asked to go to New York City to help with the rescue efforts by a company that sells tactical gear and rescue gear to law enforcement and military units. I was called on September 13 around 2PM and I had a three-man team ready to go by 9 PM that evening. We drove all night and the next day in a truck pulling a 40-foot trailer. We arrived at the staging for the rescue effort and began the work of setting up the van and equipment. I have to say that the 6 days I spent in NYC was the most moving and meaningful thing I’ve ever done. It is still difficult for me to see the carnage in NYC even on TV without feeling emotional.

The group that I went to New York with handed out Ultrathermic torches which burn at 8900 degrees instead of 1800 like an acetylene torch. We handed out IR pole cams, which had a chest monitor and a pole that would extend to about 15 feet and could be probed in the pile to see if there were bodies or hazards before they were uncovered. We gased, oiled and handed out hand held portable generators that could be taken on the pile to run small equipment. We ordered masks, helmets, small and large flashlights. We taught ESU (Emergency Services Unit) and firefighters going on the pile how to use the equipment. We would take the equipment from those coming off the pile, fill the oxygen tanks, replace the used batteries with new recharged batteries and re-outfit the new guys going on the pile. I noticed little things while I was at ground zero. I noticed the first time I stood at the foot of the pile how quiet it was. There were generators and cranes and mechanical sounds but there was no yelling to bring this or that. Each person would walk over to the other to talk in an unconscious reverence for where they were. I noticed that each team going on duty was wearing a clean pressed uniform with all of their gear cleaned and ready to go. They would come off the pile covered in dust with tired faces, and stories about the day’s successes and failures. Then the next day those same men would show up with clean pressed uniforms, boots shined, equipment like carabineers, firefighters coat, helmets, masks, etc., were cleaned and ready to go. I know the dedication that it takes to clean your gear, day after day, knowing that you’re just going to get it dirty again tomorrow. You want to drop it in the corner and just pick it up on your way out the next day. But you don’t because you’ve been taught to respect your fellow policemen and firefighters and you wouldn’t want them to see that you weren’t taking their rescue seriously. So as men they could not let their brothers down and show up unprepared for work.

The ESU would work a particular section of the pile and the FDNY would work another. If ESU found a firefighters body, they would stand down and notify FDNY. They would stop their search and go to the fallen firefighter and they would dig him out. It has to do with rescuing your own and never leaving them behind. FDNY would do the same for the ESU guys. If you don’t understand how moving that is to me, a former Marine, I can’t explain it to you. Some of you will know.

I met some real heroes in NYC. Some were NYPD Emergency Service Unit personnel. Some were New York City firefighters. Some were National Guards, civilian volunteers, steelworkers, cadaver dog handlers, truck drivers, laborers and grunts. I met heroes who were politicians, massage therapists and food servers. No job was unimportant and each respected the other just for being there.

We lost 343 NY firefighters in the collapse of the World Trade Centers. It is estimated that they saved 25,000 lives by running up the stairs and encouraging civilians to keep going down the stairs, don’t stop, and when they got outside, to run north on Canal Street. Even when they knew they would not be getting out alive they kept going up the stairs, with no hesitation. These were heroes. The firefighters and ESU guys that are currently working on the pile are men. Real men, and I love them. The NYPD is called New York’s finest. FDNY is called New York’s bravest. It is not hard to see why.

The men, Mr. Glick and Mr. Beamer, who, after hearing what was happening in America, caused flight 93 to crash in Pennsylvania, are heroes of the highest order. These men had the courage to call home and say good-bye to their loved ones, wish them the best life, then hang up the phone and say, “Let’s roll!” knowing they were going to crash the plane. These men deserve our undying gratitude for their sacrifice.

I heard someone say, and I agree with them, that maybe one of the good things to come out of the WTC attacks is it has given Americans the excuse to grow up. This tragic event has made it okay to make judgments using your experience and reason to exact a judgment. There is much less room for political correctness for the fear of hurting someone’s feelings. It is no longer okay to use the “F” word around women or ladies. It is no longer okay to sit while a lady is standing. It is no longer okay to ridicule someone in uniform who is protecting our freedom. It is no longer okay to pass out clean needles at school so drug users can continue the act of killing themselves safely. You see, there is a reason we respect our parents and our children don’t respect us. We have been afraid, unlike our parents, to draw a line in the sand and say, “You will act like a gentleman or a lady, or you will be punished.” Then back it up with punishment if they falter. “If you attack our country, whether it be Pearl Harbor or the World Trade Centers, we will come for you with all the might and strength America has to bare.” And now we are backing it up.

We have now witnessed an event in history that is very clear and it is easy for Americans to say, “This is right and this is wrong.” It has been vogue for the past decades to spout the babble that we shouldn’t judge other people. Horse hockey! Why did God give you a brain with the ability to reason and think if you weren’t supposed to make judgments? In reality, the only time that you are not making judgments is when you are dead or possibly in a coma. Making judgments illustrates that you are alive. One of my family members who has fallen on hard times from time to time has said in front of me, ”Well I can’t judge that person because I haven’t walked in their shoes.” Then at another time that same family member has said, “I’ve been there and done that so I can’t say anything about that.” If you can’t make a judgment because you’ve not been there and you can’t make a judgment because you have, then when are you going to decide what is right and wrong? The perspective of not having the courage to make a rational decision on the facts at hand only makes you weak and worthless. If you will not stand your ground for something then your life is no example for others to follow. If you will not set your principles and philosophies to live by, then how can you possibly expect anyone else to follow you?

President Bush has an approval rating of at least 90% now. It is the highest of any president for decades. Why is that? Think about it. We had 8 years of the former administration where the economy was high, unemployment was down, for the most part we were at peace, but most people you talk to on the street despise him or have some negative attitude about him. Why is that? I believe it is because our current leadership is clear visioned, right thinking men and women who tell you from their hearts what they stand for and are not afraid to back it up with action. We know with the current President that if he says it, it’s going to happen. From his heart he tells you what he believes is right because he believes it is right. Not because it is politically correct or expedient, or some poll said that is what the American public wanted to hear, but because he, as a man can look at the situation and determine using logic and reason that this is the right thing to do. And a man that has a clear vision of what is right and wrong and shares that vision from his heart is easy to believe in and follow. If you don’t know what a man will or will not stand up for, or what he believes in, how can you possibly decide to follow him. How do you know where he is leading you?

I know this sounds like I am on a political soapbox but there is a point to this rhetoric. We as martial arts instructors and students have a great forum for saving our values and thereby saving America. It is time to be warriors, and through reason and logic we need to decide what we believe in and then don’t waiver from those principles. Unwittingly Osama bin Laden has given us the impetus to straighten up and be counted as men and women of character. The men and women of New York have given us the example to follow. In the face of death and insurmountable odds they did the right thing and became America’s heroes. Bin Laden has awakened America to the preciousness of freedom and the absolute sacrifices required to keep it. Freedom is not free, but it is worth the cost. Wars and brutal conflict are not won by brilliant theories, or group discussions to bond and let out your feelings. Men with guts, physical strength, brains and the spirit to do whatever it takes to complete the mission and the courage to risk all they have for the good of others win them. It is not required that you be a policeman, firefighter, steelworker or military service man to be a masculine man. The businessmen of flight 93, who had the courage to make peace with the living and say, “Let’s roll” with the willingness to sacrifice all they had for the good of our country and our freedom, were men and warriors. They were tough, moral warriors who became American heroes. They epitomized the image of John Wayne. Those of my generation will never forget the confident swagger and the respect he exemplified for children, women and the good winning over evil. He did it all without cursing or having sex on screen.

It is time for the current generation of Americans to become the newest greatest generation in American history and save America from the only foe that can defeat us – apathetic mediocrity. Learn to become warriors and by that action you will become leaders. We as martial artists and martial art school owners can change the future of America. Draw a line in the sand concerning your principles and your beliefs of right and wrong and teach them to your students. My generation (50 years of age or older) respects our parents and grandparents more that than we have recent political leaders. Why it that? It is because our parents and grandparents stood for something and they would not let us be less than what they had taught us to be or expected us to be. When they said 10 PM curfew, 10:30 PM was not acceptable and we would be punished. There was no lame excuse they would accept because it was easier than arguing with us. I was held to a higher standard than I set for myself and I am better today because of it. Hold your students to the standard you have set and the standard you live by. Tell them, this is the way they will behave in your school. This is the way they will behave outside your school because they are ambassadors of your school and you will not accept less from your students. This is the uniform you expect them to have and you will not accept less.

I was in the US Marines from 1969-73. We were held to the highest standards of all and we were all proud to be Marines. Marine Corps boot camp was hard and we lost over 20 out of the beginning 77 recruits because they were not strong enough physically or mentally to endure. That is what is prideful about it. Not everyone can be a US Marine. That’s okay, not everyone can be a warrior or a leader either. It is supposed to be hard. That’s what makes it great! The easy way through life is not always the best way; it is only the easiest way. To be a warrior or a leader you will, as it should be, be held to a higher standard. As a person studying the martial arts you will be given all of the teachings and guidance you need to become warriors and leaders.

Speaking from the men’s side of life, because it is the only side I have experience with, you have to be a man before you can be a warrior. Then you have to be a warrior before you can be a leader. You see, being a man is taking what life experience you have, regardless of your age, and ferreting out what is true and what is just fact. For example, it is true that men and women are different physically and emotionally? Life requires opposites or a least differences to survive and flourish. Therefore, men and women’s rolls in life should be different because each is better suited for different tasks. It was intended to be that way. Logic tells you not to put the smallest person on your team in charge of always getting the equipment you need off of the highest shelf. The fact is that humans try to improve on the nature of things by making it popular to say that men and women are the same so no one will get their feelings hurt when comparisons are made. We try to make men more sensitive and in touch with their feminine side to be more understanding of how women feel. We try to say it is okay for women to be on the front lines in combat when there are no facts to support that having women on the front lines enhances the survival of all on the front line. It only makes women feel more equal to men in that regard. These are attempts by humans to make so-called improvements to the nature of things.

Manly men are men who have decided through teachings, reason and logic to determine what they believe to be right and wrong and they are willing to stand up for. Warriors are people who take their beliefs and decisions of right and wrong and put them to the test in the real world. Warriors are willing to battle with the demons and dragons of ignorance and evil, armed with truth and clear vision of right and wrong. Leaders come from these warriors who have presented their truths of right and wrong to others who agree with the warrior’s thinking. Leaders are those who through their efforts to determine truth and their application of that truth in their lives have acquired the admiration of their peers. Leadership can only be granted by those who follow. If a Captain tells a Private to do something, the Private must do it because the Captain out ranks the Private. That is command, not leadership. A leader is someone who by their conduct, attitude and words, inspires others to want to be like them and therefore will allow the person of character to guide them or be their roll model. Then heroes are those elite leaders who rise to the most serious challenges of life and sacrifice for others. The firefighters, cops, and all rescue personnel are heroes. They may not admit it but through my tears I saw heroes. I mean no disrespect to the heroes of the Pentagon in Washington, DC by not including them with those heroes of NYC, but I did not go to the Pentagon, although I am sure all who helped with that rescue effort have a similar story to tell.

There is one thing that follows being manly men, being gentlemen. You cannot be a manly man without being a gentleman. The men that I worked with and stood beside would not let a lady stand on the subway while they sat comfortably on the bench. They would not embarrass a lady by using foul language. Men who are warriors are oriented toward service of others. You may find a man who wants to be politically correct make a women put her own bag in the over head compartment by herself, but I guarantee you that none of the men that I worked with in NYC would. They would offer to help even at the risk of being labeled a chauvinist.

I was in the Atlanta airport traveling with my wife Bonnie about a month after I returned from NYC. We were eating in the food court before our flight. A women who had a tray of food and a baby stroller accidentally dropped her food and drink on the floor. I immediately got up and began scooping off the floor with my bare hands her coke and ice, french fries and chicken. You see that must have been embarrassing to her and it is easier to bare the embarrassment if it is shared. When I was done I notified maintenance that they needed to mop up, I asked her if I could get her another sandwich. She politely refused and I returned to my chair. On the table where we were sitting I had my NYPD cap that I wear a lot now. There was a table of 4 men, two facing the accident and two with their backs towards it. Bonnie was watching their reaction to what I was doing. One of the men facing the accident told the others to look. They watched for a few seconds and noticed my cap on the table and when they turned back around, one of them said with a nodding head, “Cool.” This is the example that we as martial artists can set for the world to follow. We have the forum because we train the youth of our nation. Be respectful of the job and of the brother and sisters in the martial arts enough to come to the training everyday with a good attitude and your equipment ready. It is our choice and our behavior that will determine how long the heroism of September 11, 2001 will be remembered.

I went to Germany to conduct a martial art seminar in October about 3 weeks after my work in NYC. While I was there a friend of mine, Michael Korbl, gave me a CD of moving music with some sound bites of 9/11/01 radio and TV coverage. There were songs from Enya, Faith Hill, and of course Lee Greenwood. I hadn’t had a chance to listen to all of the music but I was headed out to do another martial seminar in Florida. I wanted to listen to the music because I was going to do a talk about my NYC experience and I wanted to play some of the music at the end. While I was at my gate in the Atlanta airport I began to listen to the CD. I sat with my elbows on my knees, looking down at the CD cover. The cover of the CD had pictures of the attack. It was very emotional for me and I was fighting with everything I had not to loose it sitting in the airport. I was sniffling and I had staccato breathing and I think it would have been easy for those around me to tell I was having a hard time. I had my NYPD cap on. About half way through the CD, a man wearing khaki trousers, came and sat down on my left. There was a small table on my immediate right but another man shortly after that came and sat down on my right. I knew that if I looked at them I would lose it. So I just kept staring at the CD. When the music was over and I had some time to recover, I put the CD player away and got out my crossword puzzle book. A few minutes later I realized both gentlemen were no longer there. I looked around to see if I could spot them from what I had noticed of them and I couldn’t. Then I realized they had sat down beside me because they could see I was not doing well and were there to offer their assistance if I needed it. When they understood that I was going to be okay, they left. These were men and gentlemen. I challenge all of us as martial artists to be this kind of person.

Have the goal to do what you believe to be the right thing with every decision and teach it to your students. Admit your failures, learn from them, and endeavor to not do them again. Lead America into the 21st century with courage and an unwavering focus on freedom. As martial artists we can carry the spirit of the heroes of September 11, 2001, into the next century. Let’s roll!

Bud was called in to help in NYC after 9/11 and here are some of his photos and experiences. Please do not use these pictures without permission.

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