The America I know

Sept. 11, 2008
“Americanism means the virtues of courage, honor, justice, truth, sincerity, and hardihood--the virtues that made America. The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love ...

Americanism means the virtues of courage, honor, justice, truth, sincerity, and hardihood--the virtues that made America. The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living and the get-rich-quick theory of life.” -Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States

On this somber day of remembrance, I can‘t help but wonder why what I read in the newspapers and see on television (traditional broadcast and cable channels alike) about our country simply doesn‘t equate with what I personally know about our country.

Take my “local” newspaper, The Washington Post, for example. Read its headlines and op-eds and you‘d think we live in a 24/7 self-centered ego-maniacal land where people throw each other under the bus for money, power, whatever. Dig a little deeper, though, and you might find a very different story buried on page three of its Metro section.

Suzanne Walker from Springfield wrote in to thank three burly construction workers for getting out of their pickup, then halting traffic at a busy intersection so they could walk a little old lady safely across the street. Or Marty Bley from Fort Washington, describing how a random group of motorists - total strangers - pulled over on Indian Head Highway to clear the road of fallen debris from Tropical Storm Hannah. Or June Webb of Greenbelt, relating how a stranger in a pickup pulled over to assist her daughter after a crash, providing solace and comfort until police arrived. Readers had to send these stories in, for no reporter covers the “good deeds” beat these days.

That‘s the America I know.

Read about trucking in the newspapers or watch reports on television and you‘d think truck drivers were from some inferior species hell bent on mayhem. I‘ve seen several hour-long news reports on several cable channels about long haul drivers who were serial killers, their ghastly deeds gone over in horrid detail.

[Truckers give very public thanks to those who serve.]

Did any cable news outlet produce a story about truck driver Richard Filiczkowski of Zion, Ill.? No. He only jumped into an icy South Dakota pond last year and saved the life of a 9-year old girl, Abby Bern, after her car - driven by her father - careened off the highway and crashed into the water. Alerted to the situation by his wife and fellow team driver Janet, Richard never hesitated - the minute Janet eased their big rig to a stop, Richard was out and in the frigid water. Named Goodyear‘s Highway Hero for 2007, he has but one regret - he couldn‘t save Abby‘s dad, Jeff Bern.

[Richard Filiczkowski, Goodyear's 2007 Highway Hero.]

That‘s the America I know.

Then there‘s driver Anthony McGee of Elyria, Ohio. Ever hear about him? Probably not. In May this year, he witnessed a car driven by Allison Theobold, 19, and Chani Capps, 18, crash after a tire blowout, rolling over four or five times in the process on I-84 in Idaho. He and another motorist quickly stopped to give aid, with McGee cutting strips of blanket into compresses to staunch the profuse bleeding from both girls until help arrived - his actions probably saving their lives. The Truckload Carriers Association named him a Highway Angel for his efforts.

That‘s the America I know.

On a more personal level, I‘ve spent the last 10 years or so at truck shows and various truck stops combing the parking lots, taking pictures and video. More than a few people have told me doing this would probably result in a tire iron being planted between my ears. One woman behind the fuel desk at a truck stop told me, “Son, they‘ll beat you up. I wouldn‘t go do that.”

[On one recent outing, Omalou of Chilton, Texas, quieted the protests of her canine companions Maggie and Jip so I could take a picture.]

You know what? Not only have I never been threatened, most truckers introduce themselves, offering a friendly handshake, politely ask me what I am doing and who I work for. During one frigid Mid-America, several offered me hot coffee. Others grabbed me to show off the interior of their cabs, proud of their rigs and their profession, while some only wanted to spend a moment or two in friendly conversation.

[Bill and Laurie Hall of Clearwater, Fla., proudly posed in front of Bill's 13-speed 1986 Peterbilt 359, powered by a 425-hp Caterpillar engine.]

That‘s the America I know.

Then of course - being the seventh anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks - there are the passengers of United Flight 93. Their story has been told and retold, even made into a feature film (too emotionally charged for me to watch yet). I think of them on this day most of all: a group of random Americans, from all walks of life; men and women; gay and straight; of different colors and creeds. In minutes, their lives were turned upside down as they learned from hurried cell phone calls what was happening that tragic day in New York City, at the Pentagon. They quickly realized what was in store for them.

Then they acted.

[The seconds after Flight 93 hit the ground.]

I don‘t think the terrorists expected their counterattack. I think those radical Islamic murderers believed Americans were whiny self-centered pushovers - who wouldn‘t, from all the reality TV inspired junk on the airwaves, the self-indulgent movies? They thought Americans were easy marks. I am sure those heinous fiends on Flight 93 were more than a little shocked when the passengers and flight crew they regarded as meek sheep came at them - stewardesses with boiling water, businessmen fighting with their bare hands.

[The crater caused by the crash of Flight 93.]

I am also sure all those Americans on that fateful flight felt they had a chance - however slim - to wrest control of the plane away from the terrorists and get it safely on the ground some way, some how. It didn‘t end that way, as we all know from the smoking hole left in Shanksville, Pa., on that terrible day seven years now past. But those Americans from all walks of life fought back and fought together. And they stopped the fourth plane from reaching whatever target the terrorists had in mind - the White House most likely, or maybe the Capitol that houses the U.S. Congress.

That‘s the America I know.

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr 1 | Senior Editor

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