15 years ago America was attacked on our own soil. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, New York first responders went above and beyond to rescue and care for the thousands affected by the terrible tragedy. Also on that day, vengeance was beginning to be set into motion. Removed from the settling dust and eery stillness of the ruins of the World Trade Center buildings, American special operations were crafting their own swift and deadly retaliation. One month later, hand-picked teams of Army SF, Air Force CCT, and CIA operatives descended upon the ridges of Northern Afghanistan and brought hell with them. Each team carried a small piece of twisted steel from the attacks of 9/11- a reminder of the very reason for their presence in this desolate corner of the world.
On September 13, 2016, these Horse Soldiers and the city of New York came full circle. A monument of courage and ingenuity now sits in its rightful spot, providing overwatch for the innocents killed 15 years ago, mere meters away. The men who sought justice on behalf of a grieving nation now immortalized in one rippling, violent homage to a war that would define a generation…
As I stepped out of my Uber, I looked around, dumbstruck. The map said I was at Liberty Park, NYC. But from where I was standing, it looked like a construction zone and a bagel factory had a baby. I saw a set of stairs to my left, but they didn’t appear to lead to anything all that interesting. And then they started arriving. In the middle of NYC, on a Tuesday morning, pairs of paratroopers and bearded men in suits and sunglasses made a beeline around the West side of the intersection. There we go, I thought. Here’s some guys I could follow to the statue.
I met an Army captain in class A’s with his jump boots, and inquired where this ramp led us. He responded by questioning me: Did you serve? Yeah, I told him, Air Force. That probably told him all he needed to know, admitting me into the military fold, but just barely. He went on to say that the statue was at the top of the ramp, on the east side, then looked down at his camera. Thanks, man.
Rounding the last portion of the snaking ramp, I crested the top of the concrete cube I had ascended and took in the view. It was spectacular. Here, at the top of my climb, I was 3 stories above street level. The cacophony of traffic, crushing closeness of thousands of people busily going about their lives, and people hawking their wares gave way to serenity. Here the hustle and bustle evaporated to a little oasis of new steel, young green trees, wooden benches, and one striking statue. Oh, and did I mention the sparkling new 1,776 ft One World Trade Center building rising from the reflecting pools to the South? Really a breathtaking view.
The statue was the reason I was here. The “De Opresso Liber” statue, “America’s Response” monument, or the “Horse Soldiers” statue had been in New York for a couple years now, but had been bouncing around different locations, waiting to find a suitable and honorable permanent home. News of the statue’s relocation and final dedication was tight-lipped. Word had leaked onto our private CCT FB page that this was going on, and since I was already going to be in New York for a different event, I extended my trip and decided to attend.
I’d arrived about an hour early, eager to try and get up close and see the statue before the ceremony started. “Special Event” barricades prevented access, but I approached the guy at the entrance and told him I was a veteran here to view the ceremony, and he wrote down my name and let me in. Once I crossed that barricade, I was in extremely exclusive territory. As I looked around me, there must have been at least 20 full bird colonels in uniform, multiple one and two-star generals, and a 3-star. Some recognizable former 4-stars were also here. There was also at least one Medal of Honor recipient in attendance. This was a big-time event.
In addition to the countless Green Berets (and even a red one!) the space was primarily filled with menacing looking 40-50 yr olds. Some bearded, some not, almost all wearing black sunglasses and a suit. On top of this concrete cube, in the middle of the financial district of NYC, the horse soldiers gathered for their well-earned reunion. I was even fortunate to meet Calvin Markham, a legend in the CCT community.
As I made my way past the throngs of veterans and a handful of press, I approached the statue. It sits in the Northeast corner of this little park, half-hidden by trees. Against a clear blue sky, it was a memorial of ingenuity and pride. In a rainstorm, I can only imagine it strikes the viewer as foreboding and vengeful. It’s positioned so that the rider faces the two identical reflecting pools that once served as the foundation for the North and South World Trade Center buildings. North of those pools, of course, now stands a symbol of resiliency reaching toward the heavens.
The rider appears to urge his men on, charging head first into battle. The depiction is an accurate representation of America’s response to the attacks 15 years ago at the very place I now stood, as well as the fields of Pennsylvania and the halls of the Pentagon. The statue is little more than life-sized. A plaque sits beneath the rider, telling a brief summary of the Army SF, Air Force SOF, and CIA-led teams that had boots on the ground in Afghanistan 35 days after 9/11. In a nod to the horses used by our SOF guys to get the job done, the words highlight the blending of ancient and modern warfare.
The ceremony was fantastic, and included speeches by the men who made the statue and it’s relocation possible. New York civilians and American SOF vets stood together today in mutual admiration for each other and for America’s combined response to a cowardly terror attack.
If you have the opportunity to stop by and view this powerful monument to the men of Task Force Dagger and, subsequently, the veterans that followed in their footsteps and brought the fight to the enemy’s doorstep, I encourage you to do so.
Links to the videos will follow shortly.
All images used were the property of the reporter.