Here’s a crisp, Marine gate-guard’s salute to all the men and women in America’s military services who have fought our wars for us and who have suffered misery, injury, death — and sometimes cold ingratitude in return. We owe them a debt beyond explication. Their national holiday is shortly before us.
When I was a boy in the 1940’s, November 11th of each year was known as Armistice Day in honor of the truce, signed by imperial Germany, which ended the fighting on the Western Front. The signing took place in a a private railroad car at Compiegne in Northern France at 11am of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. The last soldier killed — there were 9 million who died in four years, was a young Canadian Expeditionary Force trooper named Private George Lawrence Price. He was 26 years old. He had lived in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan when he was drafted in 1917. He was shot in a Belgium village by a German sniper at 10:57 am, three minutes before the ceasefire was declared. For many decades it was common for Americans to say, “Be careful — don’t be a George Price.” I thought of Private Price and his family when I was a kid.
In my small New England town veterans of The Great War in their musty dun-brown uniforms, wearing complicated web gear, brown leather boots and puttees — men then mostly in their 40’s and 50’s were joined by Gold Star Mothers, each of them had lost a son -elderly women in white dresses with black armbands; and Red Cross nurses who’d served in France, wearing white uniforms and starched white hats, to march down our main street in proud step with the high school band on their way to speeches and a ceremony at the town cemetery. Almost one million American men died in that war, an astounding figure.
It wasn’t until the 1950’s that President Dwight Eisenhower, who had been the popular commanding general of the victorious allied forces in Europe in World War Two, dropped the word “armistice” and renamed the national holiday “Veterans Day” to honor all of our military veterans.
There is a book selling well on Amazon and I recommend it to you. It is called Politics with Principle -Ten Characters with Character.
I commend it to you because my ego is whispering in my ear to so so and I am helpless to resist. I am one of the ten characters focused upon. My photo is on the cover, along with my friend Chuck Manatt, former head of the Democratic Party, my friend Charlie Black, the Republican campaign theorist, Admiral Tom Lynch, former head of the US Naval Academy; Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, former Senator Rick Santorum, Anne Bingaman, former head of the Anti-Trust Division of the Justice Department, and others.
This began last year when I was approached by a fellow I know in Washington who had decided to write a book. His name is Mike Kerrigan, a friendly acquaintance of many years. Mike is a very successful lobbyist and management consultant with a sterling reputation for rectitude and devotion to his family. (His daughter Brigid was the actual author of Legally Blonde.)
Mike said he wanted to do in-depth interviews with people in and around American politics and public service. He wanted to find out what strengths were brought to bear when pressures increased and the temptations for corruption offered themselves. How did these folks keep themselves honest? How did they reconcile the tension between principle and political expediency? What world-views guided their thinking and their actions?
He asked if I would be one of ten people he had chosen to interview. Pheww. I’m not comfortable with this idea, I thought. It’s too time consuming. I’m too flawed. At first, I tried to avoid Mike’s invitation for lunch for a preliminary on-the record interview. I must have postponed it three times. I’m not introspective enough for questions like, “How do you navigate in a sea of power and corruption and keep your eye on what is right and wrong?,” I thought. Finally, running out of excuses, I accepted Mike Kerrigan’s invitation. We met at The Palm, of all places (a noontime sea of Washington power if not corruption). We had a good meal and a good conversation and we then began a series of long, tape recorded sessions, as Mike did with nine other people. The result was published by Wheatmark Books a few weeks ago in both hardcover and softbound.
Here is an excerpt from Mike Kerrigan’s blog and his book that will give you a flavor for his story telling:
“Like most of the characters profiled in Politics with Principle, Dick Carlson has experienced the vicissitudes of popularity as a politician. Dick ran for Mayor of San Diego but was defeated. Undaunted by this loss on the local stage of politics, thing would work out for the best. On the national stage he headed the Voice of America during the late Cold War and served as an Ambassador during the first Bush administration. Orphaned by a teenage mother, he also worked as an investigative journalist for Look magazine and Time and he won more than a dozen awards, including, for television: the George Foster Peabody Award and two Hollywood Emmy’s. He has been a TV news anchor, writer and director of three documentary films (two for ABC, one for NBC) a merchant seaman, president and ceo of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and president of King World Productions Public television. It is an understatement to say he has had an interesting career.
Dick’s adventures have not only provided him with a rich array of experiences, but they’ve also put him in a position of power to help others.
During the last six years of the Cold War Dick was the director-general of the Voice of America. Once Dick and his wife Patricia met, late at night in 1987, in a grim Moscow flat with a twelve-year-old Russian girl named Vera, a VOA fan who listened surreptitiously to the jammed broadcasts with her parents. Vera had curly red hair and bright blue eyes, spoke perfect English, played classical piano, and loved the idea of democracy. Most of all, she said, she loved the cartoon character Garfield, who she had once seen in a British newspaper. Why? “Because he’s my hero,” said Vera. “He’s tough. He doesn’t put up with a lot of foolishness from others. He is free. He is American.”
When Vera hugged Dick and Patricia goodbye, she said, “I will be coming to America some day; I will see you again.” The poignancy of this moment was underscored by the Carlson’s’ knowledge that Vera’s father was a Soviet physicist who had applied to emigrate with his family, and had been vehemently refused by the Communist authorities. Dick was struck by Vera’s charm and intelligence. When he arrived back in Washington, he wrote Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield. Dick explained about Vera’s affection for the cartoon cat, and asked for a drawing for her. Davis sent one signed to “My friend Vera,” which Carlson put into the diplomatic pouch at the State Department and had delivered to Vera through an embassy officer in Moscow.
A few weeks later, at a Washington dinner party, Dick told the story of Vera and Garfield to a Reagan administration speechwriter. “Why don’t you ask the President to help her get out?” Dick said. At that time, President Reagan was preparing for his historic trip to the Soviet Union to meet with President Gorbachev. The message got to President Reagan. A deal was secretly struck with the Soviets. One month after President Reagan returned from Moscow, Vera and her mother and father stepped out of a U.S. government limousine in front of the Voice of America offices on Independence Avenue in Washington. Dick and Patricia Carlson were waiting on the front steps. Vera bounded up and hugged both of them. The first thing she said? “I told you I would see you again—in America!”
Vera Zieman and her parents settled in Massachusetts. Vera graduated from Tufts University and is now a respected scientist and an accomplished musician. She was recently married, and has a baby and enjoys a good life in America. Dick Carlson made this possible because he cared about her, loved his country, and wanted a young girl with big dreams to realize her desire for American freedom.”
At almost the same time that Mike Kerrigan’s book came out my old producer from LA, back when I thought of myself as a hard charging reporter, released a book and it too is on Amazon this week. It is called The Real LA Confidential.
I haven’t seen the book yet but it should be colorful. The author is Pete Noyes, Los Angeles’ most legendary newsman. We had many adventures together. Pete and I won the George Foster Peabody Award for an investigation of a three-wheeled car called the Dale, owned by a remarkable woman who turned out to be a remarkable and dangerous man, an escaped convict. While the fellow was on trial he hired another ex-con to murder the prosecutor, Pete and me and fired a rifle shot at Pete.
Pete was my producer at the ABC network station in Los Angeles in the early to mid-1970’s. He later joined me to run the news at the CBS affiliate in San Diego, KFMB-TV in 1976. I was the anchor, he was the news director. Together, we had run the Investigative Unit at KABC in LA and for the ABC network on the West Coast: long form stories of corruption and malfeasance. I was the correspondent, Pete was the producer. We had a beautiful secretary named Pam, a cameraman named King, a soundman named Hiro, and a film editor named Don, with separate offices from the newsroom in a house trailer in the ABC parking lot next to the lunatic line-up of costumed Lets Make A Deal contestants. Our unit was a costly investment for ABC and not one that would ever be made in TV news today.
I said Pete was “legendary.” That was an understatement. Pete Noyes had been the model for Lou Grant on the old Mary Tyler Moore show, produced by friends of his — a gruff editor with arm garters, wreathed in cigarette smoke, given to noisy outbursts, (‘hold the f’ing presses!”) and a finely honed nose for news. Look him up in Google; you’ll see what I mean.
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