National Guard soldiers stood between the surging mob and the buses there to evacuate the desperate out of the abject misery of New Orleans.
The troops were processing some 25,000 refugees spilling out of the squalor of the Louisiana Superdome on Sept. 2, working to keep families intact as they worked their way up the line of thousands.
“For God’s sake, please don’t separate yourself from your children,” screamed Air Force Capt. John Pollard of the Texas Air Guard’s 149th Security Squadron into a microphone. Pollard screamed numerous times. “Keep your families together. You need one another.”
But his amplified voice only reached a few rows into the mob.
As desperation and uncertainty grew, however, parents who wanted to ensure survival for their infant children starting passing them forward. The crowd moved them ahead, hand over hand, and presented them to the Guard members at the metal barricades separating them from the buses.
Pollard said he saw “thousands” of babies passed forward that way over two days of evacuations, despite urgings not to do so.
The soldiers and airmen had no idea what to do with the babies, so they would order the crowd to pass them back to the parents. But the crowd would often respond saying that they didn’t know which direction the babies came from. Nonetheless, the infants would be passed back over the mob, eventually disappearing out of the troops’ view…
Maj. Ed Bush walked alongside the mob with a megaphone and pled, until his voice gave out, for those in line to stay with their families. But many told Bush that they had already sent children and women to the front of the line because they heard from other evacuees that that was what the military wanted.
Some said they had sent their children by themselves to the buses because they thought it more important to get their kids out of the intense heat, humidity and filth.
Bush told the evacuees that they had acted on “a very bad rumor.” But, calling it “the only solace I can offer you,” he told the civilians that they didn’t have to worry because everyone was going to the same place – the Houston Astrodome.
That changed while buses were en route….more
For a while, the missing children got a lot of media attention. CNN even devoted a third of their screen to little baseball cards of them for couple of days.
At one point, sometime near the end of Cleansing Week, the day after Shepherd Smith forgot himself, and screamed into the camera, TV feeds showed someone in a uniform megaphoning to a crowd that buses were coming, and that people should “choose one family member.” Buses did not actually come for a couple of days, but the understanding was that when they did, infants, and possibly some elders, would be allowed to board them. The rest would be empowered to continue their natural expiration process without government interference. The “bad rumor” Major Bush mentions.
Throughout history, thus has been expressed the heartbursting ferocity of parental love. Faced with death, mothers and fathers have passed their babies forward, thrust them into the arms of strangers, thrown them from moving vehicles, raging waters, exploding skies, burning buildings. It is an instinct stronger even than self-preservation – species preservation, the anthropologists tell us, and it is the reason why in certain target zones of the world, no matter how much food is witheld, bombs are dropped, and disease cultivated, birthrates are highest.
There is something in us that is determined to grasp at any chance to save our children no matter what happens to us, even when the chance of saving is slim.
there are more than 2,000 children, many of whom are Black, who remain separated from their parents, authorities said. The center, officials say, has received 17,454 calls since the hurricane, the largest effort ever to re-connect families….link
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children can only count the ones about which they have received calls. With the fate of so many of the parents, grandparents, uncles and aunties “unclear,” many more babies who were passed forward are not on a list.
We can certainly hope that the hands who received them last were good ones, that they will be fed, and loved, and cared for, but the reality of society being what it is, some are now in situations such that their parents, had they known, would have kept them in their own arms to die with them.
As the cessation of media coverage shows us, it is not a subject mainstream America cares to contemplate.
Of course, not all who were passed forward are babies. Some are old enough to be aware of what happened, and if they continue to defy America by managing to reach adulthood, they will remember.