The Day the World Stopped – 11/22/63

From the Desert with feet planted firmly in the Cornfield
From the Desert with feet planted firmly in the Cornfield

It was a mild, sunny Friday afternoon in the Cornfield. As usual on a school day, I was sitting in Mrs. Smith’s 4th grade class. Thoughts of the upcoming weekend filled my mind with revelry.

The daydream, as Mrs. Smith droned on about Indiana history, came to an abrupt halt when the principal’s trembling voice came out of the wooden box mounted in the top center of the wall behind the teacher’s desk.

The halting voice, filled with sorrow, announced that our beloved President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, had been struck down by an assassin’s bullet and was dead. Mrs. Smith’s eyes began to tear. Shock was on her face.

The class seemed transfixed as if turned to stone by Medusa’s stare. One by one, starting with the girls in the class, weeping and crying took over.

The girl sitting next to me (I think her name was Sally) was bawling her eyes out. My 8-year-old brain couldn’t comprehend why Sally was crying. I began to laugh at her and make fun of her, not understanding what the principal’s words meant. Mrs. Smith came over to chide me and explain in terms my immature mind could comprehend what had happened.

As she spoke, my laughter turned to tears as well.

My mind went back in time to that dark night in the parsonage in Anderson, Indiana where my Dad was pastoring, watching the black-and-white television and listening as President Kennedy demanded the Russians to remove the missiles from Cuba or risk all out war. I recalled the Russian leader, Nikita Kruschev, taking his shoe off and pounding it on the table at the United Nations threatening to bury the United States in the ashes.

The man who had stood up to the red threat and made the Ruskies back down was dead. The King of Camelot was dead. His queen, Jackie, and the young princess and prince, Caroline and John-John, were left without a husband or father.

None of us rushed out of school, frolicking in the fall sunshine as we normally would with the weekend beckoning. With slow steps we made our way home.

Life was not the same. Childhood was not the same.

The world stopped at 12:30 (CT) that afternoon in Dallas, Texas.

Over the next few days, not only did Americans mourn, but the peoples of the Earth lamented the loss of the Leader of the Free World. Even our enemies, the Russians and Chinese, expressed condolences and disbelief that JFK was gone.

A few days later on live television, I watched in horror as Jack Ruby, gun drawn, walked up to Lee Harvey Oswald, the President’s assassin, and shot him dead. The police officers surrounding Oswald seemed to not see or did not care that the two-bit hoodlum Ruby had a gun out, pointed and walking quickly up to Oswald.

A half century later and another image that remains etched into my mind is that of a 4-year-old John-John in a short-pants suit standing smartly on Pennsylvania Avenue saluting as the horse-drawn wagon bearing his father’s casket came down the street, surrounded by a weeping throng. The young prince was the picture of strength in time of trouble and hope in an hour of despair.

The fabric of the World was torn that day. Life was changed for an entire generation. The end of an era had come to a sudden and deadly halt.

Conspiracy theories continue.

The question of “What if?” still dominates the conversation when anyone pauses to remember that fateful November day.

From the Cornfield, that day is as real today as it was a life time ago.

‘Ask Not…’

From the Desert with feet planted firmly in the Cornfield
From the Desert with feet planted firmly in the Cornfield

As the 52th anniversary of John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s death at the hands of an assassin in Dallas, Texas on November 22 approaches, across the Cornfield and across the nation, many people are remembering the years of Camelot, when a young, charismatic politician stole the hearts of Americans.

At the time, though many throughout the nation still were at odds with the President on policy issues, he had managed to capture the people’s hearts as had his wife, Jackie, and children, Caroline and John-John. Speeches would denounce his politics and yes, even his religion, but would in the next breath extol what a determined, caring man and war hero JFK was.

A phrase which has become synonymous with the Kennedy years and the course of a nation was his appeal during his inaugural address on January 20, 1961: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.

Today that concept, that idea, seems to be alien to many Americans and especially lost on most of our national elected officials.

The concept and its origin is steeped in debate. Some arguing it goes back a thousand years or more to Plato or Juvenal. Others cite President Warren G. Harding who made a similar statement to the Republican National Convention decades before. Others cite JFK’s former school headmaster.

No matter the origin, the sentiment of the line is rooted in a belief shared since the foundation of this great nation – the idea of individual responsibility, individual fortitude, individual enterprise and individual ingenuity to build and sustain a nation unlike any other before it.

Ronald Reagan voiced a similar sentiment with his quip that government is the problem and not the answer. Kennedy recognized this. Kennedy knew government was only as effective as the people and what the people were willing to do for themselves and for country.

While JFK in his “New Frontier” speech to the 1960 Democratic National Convention made known his desire to expand on the more social platform instituted by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he also was a pragmatist who understood the need for the individual doing his or her part and not relying solely on taking from or asking for government to provide the solutions and answers.

That concept, that sentiment, appears so lost in the political climate of today. It is lost not just with the Democratic Party of which JFK is a legacy, but also with Republicans who are far afield of either Abraham Lincoln or Reagan.

From the Cornfield, as we remember Kennedy, let us once more look inward and say with him, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.

And let it begin in the halls of Congress and in the White House.

Refugee-Phobia: Lest We Forget

From the Desert with feet planted firmly in the Cornfield
From the Desert with feet planted firmly in the Cornfield

As refugee-phobia becomes pandemic across the US of A, a poll from 1938 is well worth paying heed. The poll was taken in America among college students.

In Germany on November 9, 1938 was the infamous Kristallnacht. That night across the German Reicht there was a coordinated attack on the Jewish citizens. A slight four years before was the equally infamous Night of the Long Knives, when Brownshirts with loyalty to the Nazi Party went on a killing spree of Adolph Hitler’s political enemies.

This from The Crimson from that 1938 poll of US college students:

Jewish refugees should not be admitted to the United States in great numbers, a large majority of college youths in this country believes, according to the first national poll of the Student Opinion Surveys of America.[The Crimson, 1938]

From the Cornfield, we should always study history, we have been taught, so we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.

To Our Veterans – Salute!

From the Desert with feet planted firmly in the Cornfield
From the Desert with feet planted firmly in the Cornfield

On Wednesday, November 11, we stop and give thanks for all those who have served the nation in uniform, protecting the freedoms we hold so dear. Some gave the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in order to ensure that we have the life we so proudly proclaim.

Their sacrifice is honored with each election where not by coup, but by ordinary Americans casting a ballot and choosing those who will lead and represent them. The power and authority of those officials are transferred from one elected official to the next, from the precinct level to the highest office in the land, the Presidency, without the need for troops in the streets because of those who answered the call to duty, honor and service.

The ability to vote, the ability to choose, the ability to speak our minds, the ability to worship or not worship, the ability to write these words without fear, the ability to work, to succeed, to fail, to rise above our circumstances, all of this we owe to those men and women who fought for peace, justice and freedom.

None of our liberties came without cost and thus we owe a debt to each of our veterans and to those who still serve.

On a more personal note:

Normandy Award to Luther C. Powell

In those dark days following the sneak attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, four brothers from Nashville, Brown County, Indiana lined up at the recruiting office and joined the US Navy. These four brothers went off to save the world for democracy both in the European Theater and in the Pacific.

Three made it back home at the close of World War II. The one who didn’t return was my Uncle Homer. My grandfather and his other two brothers, Herman and Wesley, came home, but changed, never to be the same.

First Sergeant Jack L. Hollifield

My step-father, a fresh-faced kid from Sullivan County, Indiana didn’t wait to be drafted. He went to the recruiting office and signed up to be a soldier for Uncle Sam. He survived, though wounded once, three tours in Viet Nam. He remained in the US Army to retire after 20 years as an E-8 First Sergeant.

USN veteran Allen Powell

My grandfather’s only son, my uncle, later followed in his father’s footsteps and sailed off on the ocean blue with the Navy. He served around the world, then came home.

Allen's Honorable Discharge

All of these veterans within my own family are now gone, but not forgotten.

AFC Mark after USAF Basic Training

Their service made it possible for me to join the US Air Force in 1976. My time was spent at Grissom AFB, right here in the Cornfield.

It also allowed my step-brother, John Hollifield, a few years later to join the US Army. Unfortunately, we lost him in a drunk driving incident after he did his duty and was home.

The sacrifice of my grandfather, great-uncles and step-father also allowed all of us to still be living in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

This is why I am always appreciative of those who choose to serve in our military. This is why I always have an empathy and a connection to the families left behind to keep the home fires burning to shine the light to lead our service members home.

Each November 11th, we celebrate, not just the veterans of that long ago war that was to be the war to end all wars, but the holiday has evolved to celebrate and to show appreciation for all who have served our great nation and those who continue to serve.

From the Cornfield, veterans, I salute you and thank you!

Benghazi – No New Answers, No Objectivity

From the Desert with feet planted firmly in the Cornfield
From the Desert with feet planted firmly in the Cornfield

Former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is at this moment continuing to answer questions from the House Select Committee investigating the deadly September 11, 2012 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

After listening all day to nearly 10 hours of testimony, so far, what has been revealed are no new answers and no objectivity.

The biggest issue at this point in time I see is the road block set up by the lack of objective questioning and unobjective defense from both Republicans and Democrats.

Everyone has stated that what is being sought is the truth. Yet, from what I have witnessed today, truth continues to be elusive in large part due to the defensive and offensive positions drawn by members from both sides of the aisle.

Chairman Trey Gowdy, a Republican, has stated that truth is paramount and there is no aim of bringing Clinton down in a partisan witch hunt.

Ranking member Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings has stated that he wants the truth and nothing but the truth.

Subsequently today, both have seemed to be closed-minded and not interested in the truth. Their rank-and-file members have followed their lead.

Republicans have come across as out-to-get Clinton, even though the GOP members have raised some interesting and some needed questions.

Democrats have mostly come across as being too quick to buy in to the “gotcha meme” about Republicans and too quick to throw up walls of protection for Clinton, while downplaying the need to find the answers to necessary questions.

But not all partisans are being so partisan.

For example, Illinois Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth has raised and solicited some good inquiries. Clinton, however, has not been so open in answering the questions from her fellow Democrat.

Before this evening is over will we really know anything we didn’t know before?

It is doubtful.

From the Cornfield, yes, there are lingering questions.

Yes, there continues to be a lack of transparency – not just from Clinton, but the Administration of President Barack Obama.

But –

Republicans have latched on like a snapping turtle waiting for a thunder clap with their eyes shut.

There will be no answers.

There will be no truth.

There will be no solace for the victims’ families and loved ones.

Until our politicians put aside the partisan rancor and put on the glasses of objectivity, we may have to wait for history to provide the answers we need.

Lest We Forget – 9/11/2001

From the Desert with feet planted firmly in the Cornfield
From the Desert with feet planted firmly in the Cornfield

It seemed to be a quiet, sunny day in the dwindling hours of summer. People going about their business. Children rushed off to school. Flights of pleasure, business and fancy were seemingly soaring the skies peacefully.

Tranquility and a sense of safety were shattered in an instant as a commercial jetliner plowed into the World Trade Center (WTC). What first seemed to be nothing more than a tragic accident was quickly revealed to be more diabolic in nature. The world watched horror-struck as a second jetliner in live airtime was shown deliberately crashing into the second tower of the WTC.

The unthinkable, that which seemed to only be comprehensible in a movie script, lifted from the page of fiction into the horrifying fact of reality. Life changed forever.

9-11-2

I rolled over. Opened my eyes. With blurred vision, I looked at the clock. 10:48 a.m. I sprang out of bed, shaking my head, wondering why I had slept so late.

I grabbed my robe, moving between my loveseats to turn on the television. I made my way back around what I called, “my loveseat”, to make my morning coffee.

Strangely I heard the voices of Katie Couric and Matt Lauer. In disbelief, disconcerted and shocked, I listened and learned about the attack on America.

Nearly spilling the water, I finished making my coffee. I stumbled back to my loveseat to watch and listen to the unfolding events.

I yelled at the troubled young man sleeping on my other loveseat, “Wake up! We’ve been attacked!”

Frightened, not knowing what to do, how to react, what to say, the young man took off on his bike. Running, trying to find comfort, peace and some sense of what was happening.

I stayed glued to the TV.

Not only had two commercial planes been used as guided missiles exploding into the WTC, but another had been fatally directed at the Pentagon. But, this was not the end.

The news revealed a fourth jetliner, its objective still unknown, was deflected from further mass destruction by the heroics of passengers. Passengers, who followed the highest law of Love.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13 (KJV)

The unthinkable had become a deliberate, thought-out scheme of murder, destruction, mayhem, pain and suffering. What had happened to America’s tranquility and safety? Gone in moments.

What were and are we to do? What could and can our leaders do? What was and is America to do?

Life changed forever.

From the Desert with my feet planted firmly in the Cornfield, we pause, as we do each year, and remember the lives lost, the heroes, the resolve of a nation to not back down, to rise from the ashes and press on for a better day filled with peace, liberty and justice for all.

We will never forget.

We will never crumble.

We will stand tall.

We will cross any valley, climb any mountain, ford any stream and remain forever that shining city on a hill to which the world looks to find light in the darkness of ignorance, fear, intolerance and injustice.

The State of Our Union

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As President Gerald Ford told Congress and the American people in 1975, “The State of our Union is not good.”

The same can be said as I sit here in the Desert and look out across our land from sea to shining sea in July of 2015, 40 years, a generation, later.

The country is at its most divisive since the mid 1960s. The country is nearly as torn as it was in the mid 1860s. But so far, insurrection, taking up arms, has not occurred.

For the past few years there have been calls by some quarters to secede once more from the Union. There was a movement, including an online campaign with thousands of signatures, for Texas, which once was a republic in its own right, to pull out of the national association of states and return to the time of Sam Houston.

At times over this last year, where many of us had thought the racial divide was giving into the melting pot, we have learned that there is a segment out there where we have a white America and a black America. There is an abyss between suburban, small town and rural areas of the country and the inner cities and areas of urban concentration.

Even between suburbia and rural, small town communities there is a divide.  The more liberal occupy urban America and much of suburbia, while conservatives claim rural and small town America.

Each day we turn on the television and go online with trepidation wondering if we will be dismayed, our hearts torn, by yet another mass killing or disaster. Each day we wonder if a rogue country will launch the bomb.

Radicalism is growing and not just with those pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. Some threats are homegrown. Some threats are white supremacists, black power enthusiasts, free nationalist anarchists and so on.

Crime may be down over all, but police are backing off from serving and protecting. In many parts of the country – urban areas predominantly – police are under fire, afraid doing their job will lead to being arrested.

Politicians are playing to our baser nature, garnering large crowds. Politicians are playing on our fears to keep us in an uproar. Politicians have forgotten their duty to do best for the nation and not for their personal careers.

Then there are the millions going about life, ignoring it all. If it does not knock on their door, these millions stay in blissful ignorance, dashing toward the cliff and destruction.

These millions will wake up, but will it be too late?

While the annual budget deficit may continue to track downward, not a word about the national debt of $18 trillion plus and growing. Not a word about the generations to come already buried in red ink. We run merrily along from bubble to bubble, from crash to crash.

Yes, my friends, the State of our Union is not good.

From the Cornfield, should the national anthem be changed to “God Bless America, Again”?

Or have we traveled to far down the road of perdition where even the Almighty cannot intervene?