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I never hear the Navy Hymn without thinking about President John F. Kennedy’s funeral.
I was thinking about that Friday night while waiting for the second Boston Marathon bomber to be captured. I was thinking about being glued to the television in 1963 and all the other major news events we’ve watched unfold “live” on television.
President Kennedy’s funeral, Jack Ruby killing Lee Harvey Oswald, the Challenger explosion, O.J. Simpson’s car chase, the opening shots of the first Gulf War, the Oklahoma City bombing, the D.C. snipers and, most of all, 9/11, made Americans nationwide feel like eyewitnesses to history.
So it was again Friday night when the manhunt in Watertown, Mass., provided the most compelling television we’ve seen in years.
Because we’re seven states away from Massachusetts, the fear and tension of having a killer on the loose wasn’t palpable. Still, we could imagine what our fellow citizens were feeling.
You know when New York Yankees’ fans hold up a sign that reads, “We’re all Bostonians today,” people have truly traded in rivalry for empathy.
Even those of us in the southeastern corner of North Carolina felt as if the citizens of that commonwealth were our neighbors.
They had experienced five days of terror, and one bomber, thank goodness, had been shot down. But his brother evaded capture on foot, and citizens were told not to go to work but rather stay indoors and stay vigilant until the mystery was resolved and the danger dissipated.
Those of us who remember how long it took the FBI to find Patty Hearst were hoping for a much quicker resolution, but few could have imagined that in merely hours, this alleged bombing and cop-executing suspect would be arrested.
Modern technology sped up everything exponentially, including photographs of the suspects taken by store cameras, social-media alerts and, most amazingly, heat-sensor confirmation taken from a helicopter of a person hiding under a boat cover.
A plain old telephone call by the boat owner also helped immensely.
By all accounts, federal, state and local law enforcement and other responders worked together brilliantly. When they appeared to be setting up a perimeter, we TV viewers suspected it was just a matter of time before they “got their man.” We just hoped no more good guys would be killed or wounded in the process.
It’s bizarre how emotions can be so different. In 2001, when we watched New York citizens form a gauntlet and cheer firefighters after they searched the rubble of the Twin Towers and left empty-handed, it was difficult to hold back tears of great sadness.
Maybe it was because the searchers Friday night didn’t leave empty-handed, or maybe it was because the scale of death was so much smaller. For whatever reason, when Massachusetts citizens formed a gauntlet Friday night and cheered all the responders leaving the scene of the capture, it was uplifting.
“They came to protect us,” one jubilant woman in the crowd said.
They risked their lives in doing so, and they triumphed. It was easy to feel proud of the FBI agents, state troopers, EMS workers, transit officers, firefighters, SWAT teams and campus cops, and people lining the streets in Massachusetts were really applauding and whooping and hollering as a thank-you from us all.