Nobody says it quite like Peggy Noonan. She is, without a doubt, one of our national journalism treasures. A Heart, A Cross, and A Flag is Noonans collection of post September 11 articles published in the Wall Street Journal.
She describes September 11 in the words of Os Guinness as the “tragedy that cracked our hearts wide open and forced the beauty out.”
A heart, a cross and a flag are the three things she finds emerging from the rubble. Larry Keating, an iron worker, gave her the heart and the cross fashioned from Tower Two when she was pouring coffee at a rest station for the rescuers.
In “God is Back,” Noonan recalls the national rejuvenation of faith in response to the tragedy in which God Bless America became the new national anthem. President Bush relied on Divine Providence as well in those critical days.
One of the books most remarkable and moving features is the honor Noonan gives to the men we thought were ordinary until September 11. In “Courage Under Fire” she cites the bravery of the firemen.
“The 300 didnt have to be there, they went there. In the now-famous phrase, they ran into the burning building and not out of the burning building. They ran up the stairs, not down, they went into it and not out of it. They didnt flee, they charged. It was just before 9 a.m. and the shift was changing, but the outgoing shift raced to the Towers and the incoming shift raced with them. Thats one reason so many were there so quickly, and the losses were so heavy. Because no one went home. They all came.”
Firefighter is the politically appropriate word but Noonan opines, “I say fireman and not firefighter. Were all supposed to say firefighter, but they were all men, great men, and fireman is a good word. Firemen put out fires and save people, they take people who cant walk and sling them over their shoulders like a sack of potatoes and take them to safety. Thats what they do for a living. You think to yourself: Do we pay them enough? You realize: We couldnt possibly pay them enough . . . .”
“Welcome Back Duke” celebrates the return of respect for masculinity and says thank you to the men of September 11, those who brought down Flight 93 in Pennsylvania and those who stormed the Towers, pulling off the largest rescue operation on American soil. The gloss is fading off feminisms heyday.
Noonan writes, “It is hard to be a man. I am certain of it; to be a man in this world is not easy. I know you are thinking, But its not easy to be a woman either, and you are so right. But women get to complain and make others feel bad about their plight. Men have to suck it up. Good men suck it up and remain good natured, constructive and helpful; less-good men become the kind of men who are spoofed on “The Man Show”-babe watching, dope-smoking nihilists. (Nihilism is not manly, it is the last refuge of sissies.)”
Noonan urges everyone to keep alive the memory of September 11 for future generations. Write it down so the story doesnt become diluted or diminished.
The former presidential speechwriter has great respect for President Bush. “Mr. Clinton spent all his time thinking about his legacy while Osama made his plans. He wasted historys time. Mr. Bush isnt like this. Be grateful.”
In A Heart, A Cross and A Flag, she recalls the letter she received from Michael Mullans mother. He was a young fireman who called from his rig to tell his family goodbye and then bowed his head in prayer with a friend. His last words “were Ill go back and get them. He was probably last seen going up the stairs. He was a man of the heart and the cross.” They found his body on October 7.
There are 50 essays in all, on love, written from the heart with a native New Yorkers first-hand perspective during one of the nations most traumatic years in recent memory. It is a powerful combination. Love of family, country, God and countrymen.
In the terrorists attempt to destroy America, they unwittingly brought back those things that keep us strong. This book is for keeps and for my children so that they will know about the tremendous good that came out of the rubble of September 11.
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