When you produce radio talk shows, you sometimes come into contact with celebrities.
And when your host is a legendary name in American sports, especially football, the celebrities can range anywhere from sports to business to politics. But the most impressive celebrity by far, and the interview I felt most privileged and humbled to be part of, was when my show's host, Fran Tarkenton, sat down this week with his close, personal friend, Watertown Chief of Police Ed Deveau.
The Chief, as Fran kiddingly calls him, became a familiar figure on all the mainstream news shows in the wake of the shootout and capture of the Boston Marathon bombers. The national media asked the expected questions of the moment, the reporters following a pretty standard interview formula and not really paying attention to the answers unless something new unfolded.
But Fran, who's known the Chief for over 20 years, who has taken vacations with him, golfed all over the world with him, and shared celebrations and sorrows together, wanted to take a much more personal, intimate tack.
The Chief told Fran of the raw, numbing emotions that swept over him when he first heard of the bombing, at the same finish line where he, himself, had crossed after running the marathon in previous years. He gave Fran one of the most frank, detailed play-by-plays yet reported, of the heart-stopping moments when the brothers first engaged his officers in a dark street in Watertown, throwing multiple explosives from the trunk of their car, including another pressure-cooker bomb just like they used before.
"You don't see this except in war or in the movies...never mind in Watertown," the Chief observes, still a bit in shock.
He goes on to speak of the incredible bravery of his officers, first a single cop and then only seven men, standing in a darkened side street with bullets shattering windshields and bombs lying on the ground next to them, wondering if they'll explode at any minute. His officers ranged from a 20-year veteran to a young cop just a few months out of police school, and they all had to make split-second, life-threatening decisions.
As the Chief puts it, "They don't teach you that at the Academy. That's just blood, guts, and courage to come up with these tactics."
With the older brother, Tamerlan, coming at him with a gun from less than 10 feet away, one officer made a courageous, life-saving decision that possibly also saved many others from more attacks.
Reports the Chief, "He either ran out of ammunition or his gun jammed, and my officer was able to run over and tackle him, and put him down in the street."
More details will yet emerge from this intense, surreal moment in our history. They'll be stories of self-sacrifice and bravery, because as we know from the video coverage of the seconds immediately following the bombing, Americans tend to run toward danger in order to help, not run away from it in fear.
But they'll also be some Monday-morning quarterbacking. Many police tactics will be questioned and decisions second-guessed. So lest we become inured to the over-reporting, too complacent as time takes us further away from the events and on to the next shocking news story, and too judgmental in the media's inevitable Monday-morning quarterbacking, let's stop for a moment.
Let's try to feel what those officers felt. Let's channel that blind, raw, selfless courage of those cops, knowing we might have to fight to the death, and go on fighting anyway. As Atticus Finch says in To Kill a Mockingbird, "Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It's knowing you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do."
We are Boston. We are Watertown. And we will not let terrorism win.
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