Saturday, March 22, 2003

Departing Frankfurt, Germany for Vatican CIty in Search of Answers to Doubts About War

Saturday March 22, 2003

Today there is a war, and today is the day after the massive air strike in Baghdad. The war began two days ago, such a strange day in Friedberg. All was grey and depressing. There is a surreal feeling in the air, as if all things normal have come to an end, and time has stopped, while in some far off Martian land, Americans – Jimmy, Jason – are rolling across the desert. It is broadcast live on the news, news reporters laugh and jest, compliment each other on their graphics and pictures. Unexplainable patriotism possesses you. I woke up on Thursday morning early, and I had seen that the war had begun. I said nothing, for I expected it. I didn’t wake Nora up to tell her though. Everyone would find out soon enough. I am hoping for the best outcome, but I hate that children are going to be subject to so much violence, loss, and insecurity. Hurricane Hugo was terrible for me with six plus hours of furious winds that destroyed our land. I can only image such a man made disaster.
I remember the first Gulf War, clearly. I remember when the first missiles landed live in Baghdad – seeing the night images on CNN. I ran to the bathroom and I started getting upset, looked into the mirror, and then started to cry. I looked into my own eyes and knew that war was wrong. I knew people would be killed. This came a short time after Hurricane Hugo, the disaster still fresh in my mind. I thought of this as Mara and Ronja looked at me when I came home on Thursday night. They looked frightened; they had the look in their eyes I had seen in my own eyes twelve years earlier. I recognized it instantly, like an old acquaintance not seen for ages, but instantly recalled in memory. We must never underestimate the power of our actions, our behavior, and our example on the children.
I need answers, as to whether what is happening in the world is God’s will, or the will of men. I am going to Vatican City, and this is where my new journal begins. Our plane is being pushed from the terminal now. The attendant man is speaking in Italian. MD-80 I believe we are flying in. It is a clear, perfect day. I miss Nora, I love her, it will be good to get home to her – especially in these times.
There are some C-17s
[1] from Charleston in the distance. Seeing them reminds me so much of growing up there and wanting to fly them. I now know that if that happened, I would always be gone – involved in the air bridge for the war. Are there institutions where you can get air training without first having to go into the military?
We are about to take off. The C-17 has pulled in front of us for take off. Both of our aircraft are sitting on the runway, ready for take off. I suppose the C-17 got in front a few hundred yards because it requires a short take off distance. I’m looking at the aircraft terminal, all kinds of aircraft to see. I love airports – so many nations in one place. 7:34 a.m. Take off! My stomach is pulling low into that barrel of my hips – and now all is calm, soaring above Frankfurt, heading south. It’s a little hazy up here, I estimate it to be about 4,000 feet. Continuing to climb… This Alitalia jet is funny to me. As soon as I got onto the thing, I noticed it was dirty. No, I have reevaluated the interior – and it really isn’t dirty. It is grungy though – I imagine the plastic panels in the cabin to be cigarette stained, the metal scratched, and the green seats something of 1980 vintage. Ahh, Italy! I imagine some Italian aircraft handlers smoking cigarettes as they fueled the plane, checked out all of its vital components, and vacuumed the interior carelessly, whilst flicking the butt of a used cigarette behind a seat. Not only this, but they are part of a worker’s union, of Communists who watch TV the majority of the day in the operations office – until they go home at 1600! Haha! I amused myself earlier at this thought as I entered the plane – just in fun.
The crew service is funny. Meals are distributed as I imagine would a popcorn or beer vendor would at a Yankees game. The men are very casual and the women very matriarchal in manner. You feel as if they are your peers. This is very relaxed, very matter of fact, very real. I like it.
We have just crossed the Alps at 0810 and crossed a VOR
[2], as indicated by our slight left banking turn, about 15 degrees south west, I estimate. The Alps are magnificent, they are so vast, ancient cathedrals rising into the sky – and they really do rise into the sky. There were jagged peaks, snow-covered lakes, cloud formations over valleys. They must go on for 300 miles to my left. Looking back towards the Alps, they look like jagged, whitewashed walls of a fortress. The gates and walls of central Europe. There was a cloud bank on the Italian side of the Alps for some miles, but now that has cleared to reveal the green surface of Toscana. Italian landscape reminds me of a green scrub brush surface, used, that you find in a kitchen. There is a river below – now two, running parallel of each other and to the east. I also see a contrail about 800 feet below us that is running perfectly along our flight path. 0820 – Now there are more mountains, some quite large, and we are banking about 20 degrees to the south east. This must be the midlands, but those mountains are bigger than I thought they were, having seen them by car a few times.
It is hard to imagine that out to the left, to the east, towards the sun, across the horizon before me, and a little to the south, is Greece – then Lebanon, Jordan, and then Iraq (about a three hours in flight time from here to Baghdad). Aircraft flying higher than my altitude, about 29,000 feet my altitude, B-52s at 40,000 through 50,000 feet are or were dropping bombs on cities like I am seeing below me right now. Is a bomb really so accurate that it can pick out a target (like the buildings I see below) and destroy it and it alone? Or do they fall in some 50 meter vicinity? 0837 – Descent.
When up here, you realize how small we are, how vast the world is, and the real space that exists between cultures. When we have mass media, instant war action on TV, and global communications, it really is easy to feel as if the world exists in the confines of 100 square kilometers. Especially for people who don’t travel. This may contribute to our society’s tendency to support war in far off lands. It feels (crisis) close to them, crawling at their door. It seems so peaceful up here. How could anyone drop a bomb from up here? I remember talking to that stealth fighter pilot in Charleston who seemed disturbed and told me the Air Force is not for him anymore, and to seriously think before joining. I was there in my school uniform and just thought he needed some sleep. He was messed up about something though. He eventually said that he was in Kosovo during the bombing raids, and he had to stop in Charleston on the way back to Nevada for the air show. He said he is always gone, and that he misses his family. Now I know why, or perhaps have a better understanding of why he had the look of a dead man in his eyes.
Approaching Da Vinci from the east, just turned the base for approach over part of the Mediterranean. Landscape is awesome. It has almost been 3 years exactly since I was here with Dean Sharp. Altitude is about 2,000 feet, we must be about 6 miles out. 0846 – Gear down, 5 miles. 1,000 feet, 3 miles, full flaps, 1.5 miles, 400 feet, 1 mile, 300 feet, 0.5 miles, 200 feet. 100 feet, 1 mile – calculations off by two miles perhaps. 50 feet, flaring. 0850 touchdown! Nice landing! Still rolling! It is cloudy here, a bit overcast and foggy. 34R was the runway we landed on. Safely landed, now heading to the terminal. Hopefully all will go well getting to the hostel. I saw an airliner MD-11 from World – the exact same airline that brought me first to Europe. Time to get off the plane and call Nora!
0943 – On the train waiting to depart for Rome city. We are pulling out now. Of course, I picked the cabin with smoking! Neh, it smells of smoke in here, I hope it doesn’t linger on my clothing. I found a little place to sit, and now I am listening to some radio – surprising! No hip-hop? Of course there is a little Red Hot Chili Peppers already, but something that I have always liked about Italy is that they use very little English. More songs here are in Italian rather than English. Hmm, there are some interesting people sitting in my cabin. One guy looks like rather strange, like a European (Eastern) drug mafia villain like you see in the movies – painted eyebrows and all. To my left are some Americans – there are a lot of Americans here, all over. There was an American couple on the plane, and they had twins, 6 weeks old. When we got on the bus to go to the Rome terminal, a young Italian couple offered to hold one of their babies. It made me smile - everyone was very friendly to this American couple- who were Army or Navy for sure, and loud, typical Americans. But people liked them. I love seeing positive human interaction like that. I think it makes a difference. There are a lot of Germans here too!
0955 – Still on the way to Rome, already have seen rainbow “PACE” flags hanging about. 2 or 3. This may be a sampling of things to come. I hope to get some insight into how Europe feels about this war on a personal level. Again, I am in Italy during a war. Last time, Brian, Cory, and I were in Milano when we struck Afghanistan. We had just arrived from Genoa and had to go to the police station because the guys didn’t bring a passport. We got a paper from the police, got our hotel room, and then turned on the TV to see “America Strikes Back,” on CNN of course. Hours later we left after talking to the owner and getting a very nice breakfast with friendly service. We were driving out of Milano and saw a plume of smoke. A plane had crashed at the airport. We decided to head for the Swiss border as soon as possible. We weren’t supposed to be in Italy at all, and we had been from Venice to Pisa in a day. We contacted Germany, and our office said that we were not needed for an alert – all was ok. The atmosphere was tense though, scrutinized at the Swiss and German boarders. There were strict controls in place. Now I am back in Italy. Oh yes, I was in Rome when we were bombing Kosovo too. Or soon thereafter. Americans weren’t too popular back then – this time, I am here to go to the Vatican, to get some answers, and to observe the ruins of a former world superpower. We are pulling into the station now, more later…1013.
1220 – Tomb of Unknown Soldier. Got room and en route to St. Peter’s I got a bit lost, but all is not lost. I happened across the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, or so I believe it is called, and already there is a group of protesters. Greenpeace is here and has managed to chain themselves to two large, rather massive, flagpoles – and strung a huge banner across the monument protesting the war. It’s pretty impressive, there are a lot of rescue workers here trying to get them down. One woman was just removed from the pole safely by the fire department. Quite a stunt, but it takes a lot of courage to do what they have done. I think this is a good thing – we need checks and balances. Continuing on…
1414 – On top of the dome of St. Peter’s, Vatican City. Made it to the top of St. Peter’s, just as Father Sam suggested. It is amazing, the journey to the top like a journey skywards towards grace. The portals to the top were slanted at times, something I have never seen before. The Vatican itself is another page. It is crowded here, so it is time to head back down. God is great.

[1] Large cargo planes operated by the U.S. Air Force and Britain.
[2] VOR is the VHF Omnidirectional Range navigation beacon used worldwide

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