General Chuck Yeager Pays Tribute to NYPD & NYFD post 9/11

September 4th, 2013

I wondered what he would say. We had been invited to Clovis, south of Fresno, CA, to participate in a tribute to the New York Firemen and women, and the NY police. It was December 2001, 3 months after the attacks on our country.

Gen Yeager and I would have been oblivious for perhaps a day or two as we didn’t always turn on the television. But a friend called me within minutes very early as we live in California. “Turn on your tv.”

I did. Like many, I felt like – or desperately hoped – I was watching a movie. I put myself in each player’s position – would I have jumped, would I have gotten out of there…would I have noticed the bad guys on the planes in time to do anything…My mind still can’t grasp those events or even the events in Benghazi and that rescue was told to stand down. When the general in charge refused to stand down, he was immediately relieved. Rumor has it – the President didn’t want to offend the Muslims. How about our Ambassador…US citizens…and me? WE’RE offended.

I had been told while traveling in a safe area but a country with many dangerous areas, I was told even then, to go to the British Embassy if any trouble, not the American Embassy.

General Yeager’s reaction was: “Now they (people today) know what we were faced with in World War II, ” referring to Germany and Japan. The Japanese had a name for theirs: kamikaze pilots. I found many people who fought in World War II had similar reactions.

In any case, in December 2001, a company had flown 1200 of the NYPD and NYFD to Clovis on private jets. Local farmers had given them each big goodie bags of local fruit (San Joaquin Valley supplies a lot of the rest of the country and world with Cuties, and other fruit).

On the day of the ceremony, we arrived by airplane as well and were taken to the corporation’s headquarters. We had never met the CEO. Our introduction was the CEO coming out of his office yelling to his assistant: “Tell Governor Davis he can call me PERSONALLY! (Apparently: Governor Davis’ aide was calling. The Governor had turned down the CEO months prior, hadn’t thought the event was a big deal until that very day – after he heard Gen Yeager was going to be there). Impressive response.

Introductions were made. We chatted a little, then headed off to have a bite to eat before the ceremony. On the way there, a well-made up woman materialized and said to me, who was walking a few paces behind the General, in a sickly sweet, overbearing voice: “We’ve got to get the General in for his make-up.”

I warned her: “He’s not going to want any make-up. Thank you.”

She insisted, “Oh but he must!”

Me: It’s up to you, if you want to try, but I’m sure he will refuse.

Ignoring me and my warning; she caught up to Gen Yeager from behind, put her hands on his shoulders – sort of a hug from behind – big oops. Don’t ever grab a war veteran from behind. You’ll be on the floor with a foot to your neck pretty quick.

She was lucky…this time. He had thought it might be me.

As she grabbed him, she repeated over-pleasantly, “Let’s just go put on some make-up, General, to make you look good for the tv.”

He pulled away, took in the situation quickly so the woman remained standing, and said, “NO.”

She wouldn’t let go. ‘

General Yeager pulled away even more and made it clear “No” meant “No”.

She stuttered, looked at me, saw I was supporting his decision 100%, eventually gave up, and melted away.

We arrived at the lunchroom and met Bubba from the tv series In the Heat of the Night. NICE guy. Now he was Mayor of Fresno and we were told by people we trusted, that he was doing a great job. Mayor Alan Autry.

He still had the kleenex around his collar so as not to get the very thick make-up on his shirt.

I remarked: “General Yeager doesn’t use make-up and he looks great on tv. You probably would too.”

Bubba regarded General Yeager, I guess thought he looked pretty darn good, and decided, “I’m gonna do that next time. I hate this stuff.”

Bubba said he was perfectly happy to be called Bubba. I had asked because Alan just didn’t fit him after all the times Gen Yeager and I watched his show and “knowing” him as Bubba. He was so thrilled General Yeager watched reruns of his show, I think he would have let us call him anything. How kind. Bubba, unlike many actors who bemoan their career highlight was only one role, was happy to have a role and make a living. Jim Nabors is the same – grateful to have gotten lots of work and been able to make a living at his craft.

The tribute was being televised. I went out to my seat. In front and center were 403 empty chairs each with a rose and a photo in them. Each represented one of the men and women who lost their lives trying to save others’ lives at the World Trade Center.

I really don’t remember much of the 1-2 hour tribute except three appearances: Governor Davis showed up late, so didn’t know what had been said, was repetitive and went on for too long. A quick one-two minute statement in tribute would have been sooooo much more effective.

The corporate CEO’s statements were very good.

And General Yeager. Wow.

He got up to the podium, pointed at the empty chairs, and said: “These chairs may seem empty. But they’re not. They are full of memories. And don’t you ever forget.”

I still tear up when I remember those words from General Chuck Yeager. How so very, very true, and so very, very helpful.

The men and women of the NYFP and NYPD – I can’t remember if they cheered or were silent but the response was loud. After the ceremony, everyone wanted to say hello to General Yeager, to thank him, to be a part of him. That’s what happens when someone speaks transformative words. Truth with a capital “T” from a man who has also risked his life to defend America.

I know I will never forget.

God Bless the USA!


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