Published 6:40 pm Tuesday, May 3, 2011

As small kids, Ernest and I would take turns in being the good guys and the bad guys. As we charged forward into battle we would yell out “Geronimo!” He was the last Apache holdout. Stories of his ferocity as a warrior made him into a legend that fascinated even young boys growing up in Alabama 50 years after his death.

Monday night, two helicopters full of Navy SEALS dropped by rope into the secret hideout compound of Osama bin Laden in the middle of the night in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad. As they approached the buildings, already under heavy gunfire, they yelled out the word, “Geronimo.”

Nearly 10 years after the crashing of airliners into the World Trade Towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and into a lonely field in Pennsylvania justice has finally been delivered.

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Like anyone old enough to drive a car, I remember 9/11 with complete detail. I spent the day in the offices of our largest supplier in North Carolina. I didn’t bother to return my rental car and headed south that evening with a friend that lived in Florida. I picked up my car in the Atlanta airport surrounded by soldiers with machine guns and no one else.

The attacks did more than kill thousands and cause billions in property damage; they changed the way Americans live. You could no longer travel without evidence that terrorists were part of our every day lives. We were searched and questioned and for the most part we were happy to do it. The crashes opened up a hole in the American psyche and it remained there, festering as we collectively made two steps forward and an occasional step back.

I was in Washington, D.C., two weeks after 9/11 with Mary Lou, putting our daughter, Catherine, on a plane to spend a year in England.

“Are you crazy?” some of our friends and family would ask. No. We were fearful, but even more afraid of letting that fear dictate our lives and the lives of our children.

We drove out to the Pentagon and found a spot to watch the smoldering hole in the side of the Pentagon. The massive size of the building brought the devastation down to scale, but had we been up close it would have been incomprehensible.

I flew to Los Angeles the next day. Everyone on the plane was bumped up to first class. There was no one else on the plane. When we landed in LAX, there was a moment of silence that brought many to tears.

Navy SEALS undergo training for almost three years. Their name comes from the environments where they are trained to fight: Sea, Air and Land. Nearly 80 percent of the applicants, already the best of the best, are unable to complete the extreme training. It is just such intense training that prepares them for missions such as storming a fortified home in the middle of the night halfway around the world in search of the most wanted man on the planet.

Osama bin Laden did not live in caves after all. Despite our hopes that his life was miserable, he lived in a huge mansion that some believe was custom built as his hiding place. They had no cell phone or internet service to prevent detection. Bin Laden was ultimately found by tracking his trusted courier.

Bin Laden lived less than five blocks from the equivalent of Pakistan’s “West Point.” He didn’t cower in fear so much as live quietly in full view. It took almost 10 years, but finally justice was served.

The events of Sunday evening are not about vengeance or an “eye for an eye.” They are about democracy and the high cost of freedom for our children. Most of us enjoy a wonderful life as Americans, but that life comes at a price.

Bin Laden’s death serves not only as justice for the horrendous deeds for the past, but also serves as a warning to all that wish to destroy America that we remain committed to peace, democracy and freedom.

It was heartening to see and hear the reaction around our country as news of the bin Laden’s death quickly circled the globe. Pride in our country was evident as tens of thousands from college campuses to Times Square celebrated

Despite the gloom and doom of the recent past, this remains a country with limitless potential. We hear about the condition of our economy, the housing market, the lack of jobs and other challenges. The truth remains that we have many of the same resources that have made us great for generations.

Those resources aren’t so much in our oil reserves or natural resources. The strength of America lies in its people. These are the people who celebrate justice for 9/11, provide assistance for tornado and flood victims and help those less fortunate than themselves.

For this particular week, we can lift our heads in honor of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, long known as Seal Team Six. When faced with an incredibly dangerous mission they jumped from their helicopters and yelled: “For God and Country: Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo.”