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Patriotic Article
War and Tragedy
By Van E. Harl

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Watch Out For Terrorists
(April 28, 2010)

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An old Air Force friend called me from San Antonio, Texas the other day and asked if I wanted to have lunch the following day. We were both “cops” in the Air Force back in the early 1980s. Since I was in Altus, Oklahoma I was not sure how he planned to make this happen. What he did was he got on a plane and flew to Oklahoma City where I picked him up and we went to Bricktown to eat.

In the 1970s I was in the gun business in the Chicago area. I once had an Episcopalian minister as a customer who bought a 12 gage pump shotgun, a .308 Winchester bolt action rifle and a 9 millimeter pistol in one day. All while wearing his religious collar on his shirt. He explained he

Van E. Harl
Van E. Harl

was headed back to his church in Rhodesia and his collar was not necessarily going to protect him out in the African bush.
As he was leaving the gun shop with his new sporting-arms, he looked at me and stated “watch out for terrorists.” And that line has stuck with me to this day. For years I have used that line as I depart from people. In the 1980s it usually got a laugh. My friend from San Antonio and I have said that expression to each other for 25 years.

I retired as an active duty Air Force cop and my friend is a retired Air Force reserve cop. So we both have many years in the anti-terrorism game. That line does not get much of a laugh these days. My friend is a very successful lawyer, dealing in the world of justice or sometimes the lack there-of.

We decided to go the Oklahoma City National Memorial, the site of the Murrah Federal Building bombing. Neither of us had ever been there and after walking the grounds we went into the museum. I had recently attended a Homeland Security conference where one of the primary speakers was a senior Oklahoma City Fire Department Captain. He had given a very in-depth presentation of the bombing and rescue operation. So even though I had never been in downtown Oklahoma City I was able to pick out buildings and landmarks as I drove around looking for a parking space.

The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was the target of Timothy McVeigh because of what it was - a United States Federal piece of property, which held criminal and social Federal enforcement or regulatory agencies (ie-FBI, IRS BATF.) He was attacking working symbols of our Constitution. Other than the Civil War this was the worst domestic attack on the Constitution of the United States our country has experienced. I am surprised the press has not come up with photos of McVeigh with Confederate flags sewn on his clothes.

For me the quality of the displays and presentations of the museum were extremely gripping. You very quickly came to understand the total helplessness the survivors must have felt in the early moments of the aftermath of the explosion and the destruction of what only seconds before had been a safe work environment.

My friend's young son had been murdered a number of years ago. So, as we came down the stairs to the second floor we walked right into the “displayed image” area with the pictures of the 168 people killed by the bombing. The pictures of the children are separate and set forward of the adults. And it grabs your heart. I could only imagine what was going on in my friends mind. Many of these young victims were his son's age.

In an interview with Timothy McVeigh the convicted bomber and mass murderer, he had stated the children were “collateral damage” and that he expressed remorse only that their deaths damaged his “cause.” Collateral damage, meaning the unfortunate innocent souls who got in the way of a ”deliverer” of death and destruction. I have to believe that none of the family and friends of the victims see their loved ones as collateral damage and for sure not the children.

As we walked away from the photos my friend, the seasoned trial lawyer, stated “you have to wonder about justice.” How do you ever get justice for 168 dead Americans with the conviction of one domestic terrorist? Now we have had the 9-11 attacks on New York City and the Pentagon. This visit to the Oklahoma City National Memorial has rekindled in my mind that Episcopalian ministers words; “watch out for terrorists.”

But also please remember the words of most Federal, State and local oaths-of-office “to defend the Constitution of United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.” It is the 15th anniversary of the bombing. Remember not all terrorist have a foreign accent.

By Van E. Harl
Copyright 2010

About Author:
Major Van E. Harl, USAF Ret., was a career police officer in the U.S. Air Force. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. Major Harl is a graduate of the U.S. Army Infantry School, the Air Force Squadron Officer School and the Air Command and Staff College. After retiring from the Air Force he was a state police officer in Nevada.

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