September 11, 2001 The Farmer and the Pilot

Twelve days a month, John Ogonowski would leave the farm in his Captain’s uniform, flying jumbo jets out of Logan Airport.  He’d always return to the land he loved.

Around the turn of the 20th century, a great wave of immigrants came into the United States, 20 million Europeans or more making the long journey to become Americans.

Among them was the Ogonowski family, who emigrated from Poland to make their home in Massachusetts’ Merrimack Valley, along the New Hampshire line.

The earliest members of the family received invaluable assistance from Yankee farmers, well acclimated to growing conditions in the harsh New England climate. Four generations later, the Ogonowski family still tilled the soil on their 150 acre “White Gate Farm” in Dracut, Massachusetts.

Ogonowski 2Graduating from UMass Lowell in 1972 with a degree in nuclear engineering, John Ogonowski joined the United States Air Force.  During the war in Vietnam, the farmer-turned-pilot would ferry equipment from Charleston, South Carolina to Southeast Asia, sometimes returning with the bodies of the fallen aboard his C-141 transport aircraft.

Ogonowski left the Air Force with the rank of Captain, becoming a commercial pilot and joining American Airlines in 1978. There he met Margaret, a flight attendant, “Peggy” to her friends. The two would later marry, raising three daughters.

Twelve days a month, Ogonowski would leave the farm in his Captain’s uniform, flying jumbo jets out of Logan Airport.  He’d always return to the land he loved.

Family farming is not what it used to be, as suburban development and subdivisions creep into what used to be open spaces. “When you plant a building on a field”, he would say, “it’s the last crop that will ever grow there”.

Ogonowski 3Ogonowski helped to create the Dracut Land Trust in 1998, working to conserve the town’s agricultural heritage. He worked to bring more people into farming, as well.  The bumper sticker on his truck read “There is no farming without farmers”.

That was the year when the farm Service Agency in Westford came looking for open agricultural land, for Southeast Asian immigrants from Lowell.

mrkimcilantroIt was a natural fit. Ogonowski felt a connection to these people, based on his time in Vietnam. He would help them, here putting up a shed, there getting a greenhouse in order or putting up irrigation. He would help these immigrants, just as those Yankee farmers of long ago, had helped his twice-great grandfather.

Cambodian farmers learned to grow their native vegetables in an unfamiliar climate. They would lease small plots, growing water spinach, lemon grass, pigweed, Asian basil, and Asian squash. There was taro and Laotian mint, coconut amaranth, pickling spices, pea tendrils and more. It was the food they grew up with, and they would sell it into nearby immigrant communities and to the high-end restaurants of Boston.

Ogonowski farmThe program was a success.  Ogonowski told The Boston Globe in 1999, “These guys are putting more care and attention into their one acre than most Yankee farmers put into their entire 100 acres.”

So it was that, with the fall harvest of 2001, Cambodian immigrants found themselves among the pumpkins and the hay of a New England farm, putting on a special lunch spread for visiting agricultural officials from Washington, DC.  It was September 11.

By now you know that John Ogonowski was flying that day, Senior Captain on American Airlines flight 11. He was one of the first to die, murdered in his cockpit by Islamist terrorist Mohammed Atta and his accomplices.

Ogonowski 1

It’s a new perspective on a now-familiar story, to think of the shock and the grief of those refugees from the killing fields of Pol Pot, on hearing the news that their friend and mentor had been hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center.

The White Gate Farm was closed for a week, but the Ogonowski family was determined that John’s dream would not die.  Peg said it best:  “This is what he was all about. He flew airplanes, he loved flying, and that provided all the money, but this is what he lived for. He was a very lucky man, he had both a vocation and an avocation and he loved them both.”

John Ogonowski had been working with the Land Trust to raise $760,000 to purchase a 34 acre farm in Dracut, previously slated to be developed into a golf course with housing.  Federal funds were raised with help from two members of Congress.  The “Captain John Ogonowski Memorial Preservation Farmland” project was dedicated in 2003, a living memorial to Captain John Ogonowski.  The pilot, and the farmer.

May 27, 2017 I Drive your Truck

“Staff Sergeant Monti then realized that one of his soldiers was lying wounded on the open ground between the advancing enemy and the patrol’s position. With complete disregard for his own safety, Staff Sergeant Monti twice attempted to move from behind the cover of the rocks into the face of relentless enemy fire to rescue his fallen comrade”. – Excerpt from Medal of Honor citation, the full text of which appears at the end of this story.

If you’ve ever raised a child, you are well acquainted with the triumphs and the terrors of giving those little tykes the sword with which they will conquer their world.

We all have those special dates that we mark on the calendar. The birthdays, the anniversaries. There are other dates which very few among us are required to remember. Dates which not one of us want to.

Most of us go about our business, knowing but at the same time forgetting, that we are a nation at war. Among us are families which must mark such a date every year. The date when that child passed from among us.

MA National Cemetery

On June 21, 2006, Sergeant Jared Monti’s 16-man patrol was ambushed by a far larger force of insurgents, on a high ridge in Afghanistan. Pfc. Brian J. Bradbury, 22, was mortally wounded early in the fight, and lay in open ground close to the enemy position.

Two times, Sergeant Monti exposed himself to overwhelming fire from three sides, in the attempt to rescue his fallen comrade. A rocket propelled grenade ended the third such attempt.

Flags In,2

Army Sergeant First Class Jared C. Monti was awarded the Medal of Honor for the action which took his life. The first Massachusetts soldier to be so honored, since the war in Vietnam.

In 2012, singer songwriter Lee Brice released “I drive your truck”, a song that went to country music song of the year in 2014.   The “I” in the title, though he didn’t know it at the time, is Paul Monti, a former science teacher at Stoughton High school, who lives in Raynham, Massachusetts.

It’s Jared’s truck.

Truck

Several years ago, Paul was denied permission to place a flag on his son’s grave, at the National Cemetery in Bourne, here on Cape Cod. The authorities don’t like to be left cleaning things up.

Paul took it up the chain of command until he received permission. He could put the flag in, as long as he agreed to take it out a week later.

And that’s what he did. On every grave in the Bourne National Cemetery.

Flags In

Today, ‘Operation Flags for Vets‘ is a semi-annual event, recurring on Memorial Day and again on Veteran’s day.  Later this morning, upwards of a thousand volunteers or more will join with the Monti family to place flags on every one of over 70,000 graves in the Massachusetts National Cemetery. A week later, they’ll be taken out.

Volunteers

It’s refreshing to be in the company of so many Patriots.

The Medal of Honor citation, as read by the President of the United States.

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

Staff Sergeant Jared C. Monti distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a team leader with Headquarters and Headquarters troop, 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, in connection with combat operations against an enemy in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan, on June 21st, 2006. While Staff Sergeant Monti was leading a mission aimed at gathering intelligence and directing fire against the enemy, his 16-man patrol was attacked by as many as 50 enemy fighters. On the verge of being overrun, Staff Sergeant Monti quickly directed his men to set up a defensive position behind a rock formation. He then called for indirect fire support, accurately targeting the rounds upon the enemy who had closed to within 50 meters of his position. While still directing fire, Staff Sergeant Monti personally engaged the enemy with his rifle and a grenade, successfully disrupting an attempt to flank his patrol. Staff Sergeant Monti then realized that one of his soldiers was lying wounding on the open ground between the advancing enemy and the patrol’s position. With complete disregard for his own safety, Staff Sergeant Monti twice attempted to move from behind the cover of the rocks into the face of relentless enemy fire to rescue his fallen comrade. Determined not to leave his soldier, Staff Sergeant Monti made a third attempt to cross open terrain through intense enemy fire. On this final attempt, he was mortally wounded, sacrificing his own life in an effort to save his fellow soldier. Staff Sergeant Monti’s selfless acts of heroism inspired his patrol to fight off the larger enemy force. Staff Sergeant Monti’s immeasurable courage and uncommon valor are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Squadron, 71st Calvary Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, and the United States Army”.

February 26, 1993 World Trade Center

Ramzi Yousef is said to have considered adding cyanide in the bomb, and later regretted not having done so

Ramzi Yousef arrived at JFK International Airport on September 1, 1992, traveling under a false Iraqi passport. His companion Ahmed Ajaj tried to enter with a forged Swedish passport, and was arrested. Though his entry was illegal, Yousef was claiming political asylum. He was given a hearing date before an INS magistrate, and admitted.

After setting up residence in Jersey City, Yousef connected with the blind Muslim cleric Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman at the Al-Farooq Mosque in Brooklyn. There he was introduced to his co-conspirators, immediately beginning the assembly of a 1,310 lb urea-nitrogen hydrogen gas enhanced explosive device.

Yousef was injured in a car crash in late 1992, and ordered many of the chemicals for this device from his hospital bed. It’s surprising how easy it was for these guys.

img_0422The plan was to attack the north tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, toppling it into the south tower and taking them both down.

The conspirators believed they’d kill 250,000.

The yellow Ryder van entered lower Manhattan on the morning of Friday, February 26, 1993, driven by Ramzi Yousef and Eyad Ismoil. The pair pulled into the B-2 underground parking level under the north tower, lit the 20′ fuse, and fled.img_0423

As with the device used in the Beirut barracks bombing of 1983, this was a fuel-air explosive (FAE), designed to magnify and sustain the blast effect by mixing fuel with atmospheric oxygen. The main charge was surrounded by aluminum, magnesium and ferric oxide particles and surrounded by three hydrogen gas cylinders, to intensify the fireball and afterburn of those solid metal particles.

The US Defense Intelligence Agency conducted a study of fuel-air explosives, reporting: “What kills is the pressure wave, and more importantly, the subsequent rarefaction [vacuum], which ruptures the lungs…. If the fuel deflagrates but does not detonate, victims will be severely burned and will probably also inhale the burning fuel. Since the most common FAE fuels, ethylene oxide and propylene oxide are highly toxic, undetonated FAE should prove as lethal to personnel caught within the cloud as most chemical agents”.

Ramzi Yousef is said to have considered adding cyanide in the bomb, and later regretted not having done so.

img_0424The terrorist device exploded at 12:17:37, hurling super-heated gasses from the blast center at thirteen times the speed of sound. Estimated pressure reached 150,000 psi, equivalent to the weight of 10 bull elephants.

The bomb ripped a 98-foot wide hole through four sub-levels of concrete, killing five Port Authority employees and A dental products salesman, who was parking at the time. The real death toll was seven, if you’re inclined to include secretary Monica Rodriguez Smith’s seven-month pregnancy. She was killed with her unborn baby, while checking timesheets.

Another 15 were left with with traumatic blast injuries. 1,042 more were injured, many inhaling the thick, acrid smoke filling stairwells and elevator shafts.

Power went out instantly trapping hundreds in elevators, including a group of 17 kindergartners, on their way down from the south tower observation deck.

Engineers believe that the terrorists would have accomplished their purpose of toppling the building, had they placed their explosive device  closer to the building’s concrete foundations.

300 FBI agents combed through the rubble of the underground parking garage, finding an axle fragment containing the Ryder van’s VIN. Mohammed Salameh, who had rented the vehicle, reported the van stolen and was arrested on March 4, when he came to get his deposit back.

Mahmud Aboulhalima, Mohammad Salameh, Ahmed Ajaj and Nidal Ayyad were convicted of carrying out the bombing, in March 1994. Mastermind Ramzi Yousef and van driver Eyad Ismoil, were convicted in November, 1997. Mohammed Jamal Khalifa was deported to Jordan.

Abdul Rahman Yasmin, the only person associated with the bombing who was never prosecuted in the United States, was interviewed for a 60 minutes segment in 2002. He was being held prisoner in Baghdad at that time. He has not been seen or heard of, since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. “The Blind Sheikh”, Omar Abdul Rahman, was convicted in October 1995 of seditious conspiracy, and sentenced to life +15 years. He died in prison last week, at the age of 78.img_0426

A granite memorial fountain was erected above the site of the explosion and dedicated in 1995, bearing the names of the six adult victims of the attack. Under the names appear this inscription. “On February 26, 1993, a bomb set by terrorists exploded below this site. This horrible act of violence killed innocent people, injured thousands, and made victims of us all.”

The fountain was destroyed with the rest of the World Trade Center, on September 11, 2001.img_0425

December 21, 2007 MWD Lex

Tactical Explosive Detection Dogs, or “TEDDs”, come in many shapes and sizes. They can be German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers or Belgian Malinois. Even Pit Bulls. The first thing they have in common is a high “ball drive”

Tactical Explosive Detection Dogs, or “TEDDs”, come in many shapes and sizes. They can be German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers or Belgian Malinois.  Even Pit Bulls. The first thing they have in common is a high “ball drive”. To these dogs, a tennis ball is the beginning and end of all joy. From that starting place, the dog is trained to associate finding a bomb with getting the tennis ball as a reward. The results can be astonishing.

The first official American bomb dogs were used in North Africa in the 1940s, where they were used to detect German mines. Today’s TEDD is a highly specialized and well trained soldier, working with his handler and able to detect 64 or more explosive compounds.

Military Working Dog (MWD) Lex was one such dog, deployed to Iraq with the Unitedlex-lee States Marine Corps in 2006. The dog’s second deployment began in November, when he was paired with Marine Corporal Dustin J. Lee, stationed in the military police department at Marine Corps Logistics Base (MCLB), “Albany”.

Detached as an explosive detection and patrol team for the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, then part of Regimental Combat Team 6, the pair was patrolling a Forward Operating Base on March 21, 2007, when they were hit by a 73 mm SPG-9 rocket attack. Lee was mortally wounded, Lex severely injured with multiple shrapnel wounds. Despite his own injuries, Lex refused to leave his Marine and had to be dragged away before corpsmen could attempt treatment. There is little in this world to compare with the magnificent loyalty of a dog.

lexThe most dreadful moment in the life of any parent, is when they receive word of the death of a child. It wasn’t long after Jerome and Rachel Lee were so notified, that they began efforts to adopt Lex. Dustin was gone, but they wanted to make his partner a permanent part of their family.

An online petition was created by the Lee family, soon gaining national media attention as well as that of Congressman Walter B. Jones of North Carolina’s 3rd congressional district, which includes Camp Lejeune. US armed forces don’t commonly release MWDs prior to retirement age, but there can be exceptions.

Meanwhile, Lex had gone through a 12-week recuperation at Camp Lejeune, later re-deployed to MCLB Albany on July 6. He was once again at full working capacity, despite the more than 50 pieces of shrapnel veterinary surgeons had left in his back, fearing that removal would cause permanent damage to his spine.

Lex was at this time under the jurisdiction of the Air Force working dog program managers at Lackland Air Force Base.  Marine Corps Headquarters made a formal request for the dog’s release in November. Lex was released on December 6, and turned over to the Lee family in a ceremony on December 21, 2007.

Lex was 8 years old at the time.  He soon began to visit VA hospitals, comforting wounded veterans and assisting in their recovery. He received an honorary purple heart in February, 2008, and the 7th Law Enforcement AKC Award for Canine Excellence in September.  On March 19, 2010, the base dog kennel at MCLB Albany was named in honor of Corporal Dustin J. Lee, with Lex in attendance.

Lex’ injuries troubled him for the rest of his life, despite stem cell regenerative therapy at Georgetown Veterinary Hospital, assisted by the Humane Society of the United States and Kentucky Congressman Ed Whitfield. Lex succumbed to cancer on March 25, 2012.

nate-zinoIn telling this story, I wish in some small way to honor my son in law Nate and daughter Carolyn, who together experienced Nate’s deployment as a Tactical Explosives Detection Dog handler with the US Army 3rd Infantry Division in Soltan Kheyl, Wardak Province, Afghanistan. Months after departing “The Ghan” in 2013, the couple was reunited with Nate’s “Battle Buddy”, MWD Zino, who is now retired and lives with them in Savannah.  “Here & Now”, broadcast out of ‘Boston’s NPR News Station’ WBUR, did a great story on the reunion.  You can hear the radio broadcast HERE.  Thanks for the great job, Alex.

To those TEDD teams deployed today and those of the 2013 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division: Spec.Nate Korpusik & K9 Zino, Sgt. Austin Swaney & K9 Rudy, Sgt. Logan Synatzske & K9 Bako, Spec. Chase Couturiaux & K9 Nina, Spec. Jake Carlberg & K9 Abby, Spec. Ethan Mordue & K9 Moto, Spec. Matthew Shaw & K9 Senna, Spec. Luke Andrukitis & K9 Robby, Sgt. Jeremy Shelton & K9 Rexy, Spec. Sean Bunyard & K9 Kryno, and Spec. Luke Parker & K9 Max:  I say with great respect and profound appreciation to these men, their dogs and their families, Thank you.