When I told friends about my pilgrimage to Iraq to thank the US troops, reaction was under whelming at best. Some were blunt. “Why are YOU going there?” They could not understand why it was important for me, a 9/11, widow to express my support for the men and women stationed today in the Gulf. But the reason seemed clear to me. 200,000 troops have been sent halfway around the world to stabilize the kind of culture that breeds terrorists like those who I believe began World War III on September 11, 2001. Reaction was so politely negative that I began to doubt my role on the first USO Tribeca Institute tour into newly occupied Iraq where, on average, a soldier a day is killed.
Besides, with Robert De Niro, Kid Rock, Rebecca and Johns Stamos, Wayne Newton, Gary Senise Lee Ann Wolmac who needed me? Did they really want to hear about my husband, Neil Levin, who went to work as director of New York Port Authority on Sept.11th and never came home? How would they relate to the two other widows traveling with me? Ginny Bauer, a New Jersey homemaker and the mother of three who lost her husband, David and former marine Jon Vigiano who lost his only sons, Jon, a firefighter and Joe, a policeman.
As we were choppered over deserts that looked like bleached bread crumbs wondered if I’d feel like a street hawker, passing out Port Authority pins and baseball caps as I said “thank you” to the troops. Would a hug from me mean anything at all in the presence of the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders and a Victoria’s Secret model?