Big Chuck

"Big Chuck" D'Imperio

It has been a rough couple of weeks since we last communicated.

We said goodbye to two young people who really made a difference.

Marine Cpl. Nick Uzenski, 26, died in combat in Bar Now Zad, Afghanistan, on Jan. 10. He died in a place about as far away from his home in Franklin as you can get on a map.

New York state trooper Jill Mattice, 31, died Jan. 20 on Patrick Hill outside of Morris in a car crash. She became the first female New York state trooper to die in the line of duty.

Both were young, respected, devoted individuals who had followed their call to action. Nick died in service to his country. Jill died in service to her state.

Both touched the lives of any and all who knew them. They were both adored by kids. Nick died thousands of miles from home. Jill died five minutes from home. Both died with their uniforms on. Both will be missed.

And then there is Haiti.

Natural disasters are always bad, and thank God we don't see them around here on the Biblical proportions that we see around the world.

We've experienced horrible seasonal floods and blizzards that have shut down life as we know it for days. Yes, natural disasters are always bad, for sure.

But, the earthquake in Haiti.

There is something about it that has shaken my very soul. I am trying to pinpoint what it is about this tragedy, now the greatest natural disaster in recorded history, that has affected me so strongly.

The Great Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004 took 200,000 lives spread out over a dozen countries many time zones away from America. We saw the news of the aftermath, we responded to the pleas from charities for help, we grieved for those impacted. And we moved on.

But the death toll in Haiti now passes that, and all of the Haitian casualties took place in an area smaller than Vermont.

Maybe it hits home because we knew Haiti before the earthquake. We knew it as the poor, struggling neighbor eking out a threadbare existence in the middle of the sparkling Caribbean.

We knew Haiti because it was an hour or so away from the U.S. by plane. We knew it because hundreds of thousands of Haitians populate our major cities, including 250,000 in New York City alone. For some reason, we felt we knew Haiti.

While the tsunami took its toll on the far side of the globe, the earthquake spread its terror live on our television sets. Camera crews were up and running immediately. All of the networks had their A-list reporters on the ground within a single news cycle.

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta treated an infant with a head fracture live on television. It was breathtaking. Reporters were there with the U.S. military as it landed in the ruins of the Haitian Presidential Palace. It reminded me of watching the coverage of the Vietnam War, or Desert Storm, with the news media right up front in the thick of things.

And the videos.

We saw footage of the earthquake occurring. We heard the screams of those trapped in the rubble. We rejoiced at the successful rescues made one _ even two _ weeks after the country was torn asunder.

Who could ever forget the little boy popping up from the ground with a mile-wide smile and his arms stretched out after spending a week in a dark hellhole all alone!

The crowds welcomed him and others back to life with chants of, "USA! USA! USA!" Our American search-and-rescue teams, the best in the world, celebrated with tears and high-fives.

Who could forget the image of the elderly Haitian woman being yanked from the jaws of death by another rescue team? Throughout the unfolding drama of her rescue on live TV we could hear her singing religious songs. You talk about a reality show!

A week ago, I sat with my family and watched the Hope for Haiti telethon, which raised millions for the relief effort. Again, the videos were replayed. The little kids emerging from the center of the earth. The elderly hanging on with their very last breaths. The Port-au-Prince backdrop, a frightening Mad Max lunarscape. The American soldiers laden with supplies, sweating in the tropical mug. And again my throat clutched and my eyes glistened. It was unforgettable.

During the telethon, R&B singer Mary J. Blige scorched through a version of Stephen Foster's ancient "Hard Times Come Again No More." Let's hope this anthem applies to Haiti and its tragic people.

I'll catch you in two "

'Big Chuck' D'Imperio can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his "Oldies Jukebox Show." He invites you to contact him at wdosbigchuck@aol.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.

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