March 24, 2008

An Account of My Harrowing Adventure at Gate 62B

A secretary to then-First Lady Hillary Clinton has taken issue with the Washington Post's decision to award Hillary "4 Pinocchios," its highest level of official mendacity, for her account of her trip to Tuzla, Bosnia in 1996, in which Mrs. Clinton claims that she arrived under sniper fire and ran to a waiting armored vehicle on the tarmac. Contemporaneous press videos show Mrs. Clinton calmly bending to receive a kiss from an 8-year old Bosnian girl who told the Democratic candidate that she was happy because "there is peace now." Mrs. Clinton's secretary stated in her defense:

"I was on the plane with then First Lady Hillary Clinton for the trip from Germany into Bosnia in 1996. We were put on a C17-- a plane capable of steep ascents and descents -- precisely because we were flying into what was considered a combat zone. We were issued flak jackets for the final leg because of possible sniper fire near Tuzla. As an additional precaution, the First Lady and Chelsea were moved to the armored cockpit for the descent into Tuzla. We were told that a welcoming ceremony on the tarmac might be canceled because of sniper fire in the hills surrounding the air strip. From Tuzla, Hillary flew to two outposts in Bosnia with gunships escorting her helicopter."

I find this account credible because of a remarkably similar experience I had on my return from Europe in 2004. While most of the details remain classified, I went to Europe (ironically, also in the company of my daughter, who is not named Chelsea), flying into and out of Frankfurt, Germany. I safely escorted my daughter to Ulm, Germany, and then took a long train ride to a city I can only call a "European Capital." This capital, which is located in France, became my base of operations for the next eight days. Why eight, instead of six or seven? I'm not at liberty to say. At the conclusion of my mission in this capital (code named: City of Light), I returned by train to Ulm. My daughter (not named Chelsea) and I then traveled by train to Cologne. Why Cologne? For the smell? Again, certain aspects must remain secret.

Here the similarities between Hillary's adventure and mine become eerie and striking. After a high speed trip on an express train from Cologne to Frankfurt, we also boarded a plane in Germany for the trip home to San Francisco. We were told that the United States was currently under Threat Condition Orange, an "elevated" level suggesting serious danger of imminent terrorist attack. I saw no alternative to pressing ahead; my daughter had a play-date scheduled for the day after our return. As if to emphasize the peril, the flight attendants did an elaborate presentation of safety features of the aircraft soon after takeoff. We were issued life jackets, or at least told where they were, and were instructed on use of oxygen masks in the event of a loss of cabin pressure, such as might happen if the plane was hit by sniper fire.

I knew that the jet was capable of rapid descents, especially if all four engines failed simultaneously. President Bush, in preparation for the fall elections which were then only a few months away, had declared all of the United States a "combat zone." Fortunately, we landed safely and non-Chelsea and I serpentined our way down the concourse, looking, as signs all over the airport advised us to do, for "suspicious activity." By cell phone, I learned that our welcoming ceremony had been canceled, admittedly not because of sniper fire but because of heavy traffic on the 101. We then ran for a Marin Airporter, again not so much because of danger but because we didn't want to wait another half hour for the next one. It was a near thing, but we made it. The experience certainly impressed on me and my daughter who is not named Chelsea the dangers involved in international travel. I'm only glad that we had the same luck as Hillary Clinton in surviving our perilous journey.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:35 PM

    Keep the quest, Sir Knight