MAY 1, 2011
I turned on the TV and saw him there, the boy in the tree. Outward he glanced, his face struck with a sense of jubilation and awe as he and a growing throng by the edge of the fence gazed toward the White House. Men, women and children had come to the home of the President of the United States to wave the flag, be together and feel good about being Americans at a time when lately it seemed like a damn bit too long since there had been reason to celebrate anything.
They had emerged in droves from hotels and townhouses nearby. Several Georgetown students sprinted down Pennsylvania Avenue shouting, “U.S.A! U.S.A!” In a way, it seemed like Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve all wrapped up into one.
Osama Bin Laden, the criminal mastermind behind the September 11, 2001 attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center and killed thousands of innocent civilians, the man who epitomized evil in this world, was dead.
There was no way to measure the surprise felt by America on the night of May 1, 2011 other than to look out into the streets and see those faces lit up with glee. I have no doubt the volume of beers being poured in bars and taverns across the country reached a peak not seen since the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team pulled off the Miracle on Ice back in Lake Placid some three decades earlier.
At front and center of the world’s consciousness, for the moment at least, was the sense that we had finally put a big W in the win column for once. Our military expansion across the globe into regions most Americans had never heard of had caused one of the many rifts tearing this country apart. The financial cost of the War on Terror paled in comparison to the loss of all those young American lives. All those bright futures that would never be realized because of a crusade to end the state of fear this country had been plunged into on that dark September morning back in 2001.
For a decade it all seemed for nothing. A waste beyond the imagination. A war for oil. An exercise in futility.
Color coded terror alerts became the norm. Travel became a ridiculous hassle. I can barely remember what it was like to wear shoes through the airport without having to take them off. Extensive pat downs akin to molestation and full body scanning made us feel more violated than safe.
The world had changed so much, so fast; none for the better. We had gone headlong into a downward spiral of Orwellian proportions. If the terrorist’s aim was to disrupt our lives and resources by plunging our country into a state of perpetual fear then it seemed like the damned terrorists were winning.
However, all of that changed on May 1, 2011 in a little-known garrison town, deep behind the Pakistani borders, and in plain view of the whole world. The manhunt for the criminal who had stolen our safety away from us was now over setting off the collective sigh heard ‘round the world. We had put Osama Bin Laden on the night train to the big adios.
Navy SEALs got the murdering bastard, putting a hot round into his skull for good measure.
U.S. Intelligence sources sifted through nearly a decades’ worth of raw data accumulated from the repeated questioning of detainees. Once and for all, they had been able to pinpoint where America’s top enemy had been hiding. This ridiculous cat-and-mouse game was finally over. We were able to finally show that nobody takes our cheese and gets out of this place alive.
Really, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy and Americans knew it. Outside the White House gates, a large group within the growing crowd burst into an impromptu version of “The Star Spangled Banner” as the rest of the world watched on TV and awaited news on how the most significant story of the 21st century had come to be. In New York City, a town whose very history will forever be intertwined and tainted with the shadow of the most unspeakable monster in a generation, Times Square and the streets near Ground Zero erupted with the voices those screaming “God Bless America” as tears welled up in their eyes.
The Internet was virtually choked with traffic. Twitter users and Facebook friends alerted the world to the news and basked in the comfort of community.
Those lost would never be forgotten. Somewhere, the heroes of 9/11 were smiling down upon us because finally, we had gotten the pathetic fool who dared to try to break our indomitable spirit.