Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Epistle from New Orleans

My blog is becoming a hodge-podge of unrelated entries. I feel more like someone keeping a scrapbook than a writer-commentator. But I don't want to lose track of stuff like this. If someone can read this account and not be moved, he is a tougher person to reach than I. (And make no mistake about it, if you have been as liberal as I, for as long as I have been, you have personally faced situations that would make most so-called "conservatives" fold up like a cheap ironing board.)

I was about to delete the Inderdictor Blog because the blogmaster indicates he is about to get on with his live, move to Florida, and pass the baton to someone else. This is the blog that persevered through the hurricane and was one of the few sources of news and information from the front lines as it came available. I have been checking it daily, often several times.

From Sunday's post...
We were so busy today that I didn't notice the date.
I like to think of Todd Beamer and company every 9/11. And that reminds me that I should mention my friend Robert (ro bear) Leblanc. You know, he's a shy guy and will be very embarrassed that I mentioned him, but I was told by my brother about what he's been doing. He didn't run from the hurricane, but instead stayed behind and began plucking people out of the water with his boat for like a week or 10 days now. What a stud. I'm proud to be his friend.

From yesterday's entry (September 12, 5:05 pm. No hyperlinks to this journal)...
Information and stories from Robert LeBlanc as passed on to me by a friend.

Jeff Rau, a family and now personal friend to whom I will forever be linked, and I were volunteering with a boat and pulling people out of the water on Wednesday.

I have a first-hand experience of what we encountered. In my opinion, everything that is going on in the media is a complete bastardization of what is really happening. The result is that good people are dying and losing family members. I have my own set of opinions about welfare and people working to improve thier own lot instead of looking for handouts, but what is occurring now is well beyond those borders. These people need help and need to get out. We can sort out all of the social and political issues later, but human beings with any sense of compassion would agree that the travesty that is going on here in New Orleans needs to end and people's lives need to be saved and families need to be put back together. Now.

I will tell you that I would probably disagree with most of the people that still need to be saved on political, social, and cultural values. However, it must be noted that these people love thier friends and families like I do, desire to live like I do, and care for their respective communities (I was even amazed at the site of seemingly young and poor black people caring for sickly and seemingly well-to-do white people and tourists still needing evacuation from New Orleans' downtown area) the same way I care for mine.

Eight people in particular who stood out during our rescue and whose stories deserve to be told:

1.) We were in motor boats all day ferrying people back and forth approximately a mile and a half each way (from Carrolton down Airline Hwy to the Causeway overpass). Early in the day, we witnessed a black man in a boat with no motor paddling with a piece of lumber. He rescued people in the boat and paddled them to safety (a mile and a half). He then, amidst all of the boats with motors, turned around and paddled back out across the mile and a half stretch to do his part in getting more people out. He refused to give up or occupy any of the motored boat resources because he did not want to slow us down in our efforts. I saw him at about 5:00 p.m., paddling away from the rescue point back out into the neighborhoods with about a half mile until he got to the neighborhood, just two hours before nightfall. I am sure that his trip took at least an hour and a half each trip, and he was going back to get more people knowing that he'd run out of daylight. He did all of this with a two-by-four.

2.) One of the groups that we rescued were 50 people standing on the bridge that crosses over Airline Hwy just before getting to Carrolton Ave going toward downtown. Most of these people had been there, with no food, water, or anyplace to go since Monday morning (we got to them Wed afternoon) and surrounded by 10 feet of water all around them. There was one guy who had been there since the beginning, organizing people and helping more people to get to the bridge safely as more water rose on Wednesday morning. He did not leave the bridge until everyone got off safely, even deferring to people who had gotten to the bridge Wed a.m. and, although inconvenienced by loss of power and weather damage, did have the luxury of some food and some water as late as Tuesday evening. This guy waited on the bridge until dusk, and was one of the last boats out that night. He could have easily not made it out that night and been stranded on the bridge alone.

3.) The third story may be the most compelling. I will not mince words. This was in a really rough neighborhood and we came across five seemingly unsavory characters. One had scars from what seemed to be gunshot wounds. We found these guys at a two-story recreational complex, one of the only two-story buildings in the neighborhood. They broke into the center and tried to rustle as many people as possible from the neighborhood into the center. These guys stayed outside in the center all day, getting everyone out of the rec center onto boats. We approached them at approximately 6:30 p.m., obviously one of the last trips of the day, and they sent us further into the neighborhood to get more people out of homes and off rooftops instead of getting on themselves. This at the risk of their not getting out and having to stay in the water for an undetermined (you have to understand the uncertainly that all of the people in these accounts faced without having any info on the rescue efforts, how far or deep the flooding was, or where to go if they want to swim or walk out) amount of time. These five guys were on the last boat out of the neighborhood at sundown. They were incredibly grateful, mentioned numerous times 'God is going to bless y'all for this'. When we got them to the dock, they offered us an Allen Iverson jersey off of one of their backs as a gesture of gratitude, which was literally probably the most valuable possession among them all. Obviously, we declined, but I remain tremendously impacted by this gesture.

I don't know what to do with all of this, but I think we need to get this story out. Some of what is being portrayed among the media is happening and is terrible, but it is among a very small group of people, not the majority. They make it seem like New Orleans has somehow taken the atmosphere of the mobs in Mogadishu portrayed in the book and movie "Black Hawk Down," which is making volunteers (including us) more hesitant and rescue attempts more difficult. As a result, people are dying. My family has been volunteering at the shelters here in Houma and can count on one hand the number of people among thousands who have not said "Thank You." or "God Bless You." Their lives shattered and families torn apart, gracious just to have us serve them beans and rice.

If anything, these eight people's stories deserve to be told, so that people across the world will know what they really did in the midst of this devastation. So that it will not be assumed that they were looting hospitals, they were shooting at helicopters. It must be known that they, like many other people that we encountered, sacrificed themselves during all of this to help other people in more dire straits than their own.

It is also important to know that this account is coming from someone who is politically conservative, believes in capitalism and free enterprise, and is traditionally against many of the opinions and stances of activists like Michael Moore and other liberals on most of the hot-topic political issues of the day. Believe me, I am not the political activist. This transcends politics. This is about humanity and helping mankind. We need to get these people out. Save their lives. We can sort out all of the political and social issues later. People need to know the truth of what is going on at the ground level so that they know that New Orleans and the people stranded there are, despite being panicked and desperate, gracious people and they deserve the chance to live. They need all of our help, as well.

This is an accurate account of things. Jeffery Rau would probably tell the same exact stories.

Robert LeBlanc

Again, this is what history students regard as "primary source material."

For Christians among you, this is a contemporary Epistle. When I read that last line "This is an accurate account of things" I instantly had a mental flash that connected with Paul's letters. Romans 16:22 , 1 Corinthians 16:21, 2 Corinthians 13:10, Galatians 6:11, Ephesians 6:21-22 , Colossians 4:18, 2 Thessalonians 3:17 and finally - perhaps most compellingly - 2 Timothy 4:16-17.

I have no reason to doubt its authenticity or veracity. It is, however, the kind of thing that can quickly turn into an urban legend. And I know from my academic background that legends, myths and stories are nothing to be ignored. They have a powerful impact on public opinion and the political will. Ask any politician if you don't think so.

Trying to find out something about this "Robert LeBlanc" person, I did a Google search and tripped across soem interesting materials that illustrate how people with a political agenda are quick to capitalize (no pun intended) on situations like this. The Militant is an old organ of the Socialist Workers Party, but that group is alive and well. You might want to take a look at this story. I have an idea that the Robert Leblanc , cinema manager, mentioned here, may be the same guy.

A quicker response onthe part of all elected officials, all the way up to Washington if that is what was needed (and it clearly was) would blunt the impact of stories such as these. Is there anyone still reading who can't connect the dots?

Update, Tuesday evening...

What struck me as the NOLA Epistle is at least a week old. I am embarrassed that it grabbed me so quickly, that I published it without first checking the origins more closely.

If after a week it has not traveled better as an urban legend I have to conclude that it does not strike the right note to have broad appeal. It fails to take sides other than compassion, coupled with a call to constructive action in the form of spreading the word. Since it goes out of the way to specifically undermine embedded stereotypes rather than exploiting them, very few readers are moved to pass it along. Hard-core warriors from both left and right can't really come to grips with the notion of a "compassionate conservative." It's too bad that catchy couplet never seemed to catch on.

I found a copy via Free Republic at thinkdude.com dated September 5, tagged "A good friend just forwarded this first-hand account from his fraternity brother at Loyola."
It was also on a message board dated September 3.

The Positive Stories Must Get Out (same letter) appears in the archives of NOLA.com, the Times-Picayune on-line site. It is linked from another site dated September 2, Friday, which puts it at the start of the mess. There is a phone number and email listed, but I am letting the matter drop at this point.

My first instincts may have been correct about urban legends. If this story morphs into legend status I will see it as a hopeful indicator for public sentiment, but this item is not yet on Snopes, TruthMiners or Truth or Fiction.

Despite a questionable provenance I still believe the message itself has merit. It may be that the source is never found.

I am left wondering who Robert LeBlanc and Jeffrey Rau might be and how they are doing now.

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