Monday, November 22, 2010



Letter From Washington

      THANKSGIVING DAY — 1963. And, for the first time in years, a nation doesn't know whether to give thanks or say "Why us?"
   A picture of a small boy saluting is a stab in the national heart. And a tall man from Texas asks only that we respect one another and that we change the word "United" in our nation's name from an adjective to a fact.
   It is a small thing, perhaps a minor brush with history — but, on Friday, the day our President was shot, I received in the mail a booklet from the Senate of the United States. It was franked "Mike Mansfield."
   "Mike Mansfield" was just a name to me Friday morning, a faceless man who performed whatever mysterious duties the majority leader of the Senate was called upon for.
   By Saturday morning, Mike Mansfield became a man who bespoke the grief of all of us, our surrogate in sorrow, a pinch-faced, heart-broken friend who stood at the brier and uttered the eulogy we shall always remember! "And she took a ring from her finger and placed it in his hand."
'Best Amateur Team in U.S.'
   My missive from Mike Mansfield was from a happier time. It was a copy of the Congressional Record atop which he had scrawled: "Dear Jim, You may be interested in 'the best amateur football team in the U.S.' P.A-6975. Regards, Mike Mansfield."
   P.A.-6975 showed what a more carefree world Mike Mansfield dwelt in a week ago, not to say all of us. It was about his Alma Mater, the Montana School of Mines, which Sen. Mansfield chucklingly noted had only the year before won its first football game in 10 years, a record even Harvard might envy, a 44-game losing streak.
   "This year," boasted the Senator, "I was again present at a game in which the 'Orediggers' triumphed. This time, they won after they had lost only five games in a row.”
   The Senator went on: "Mr. President, we are often accused of cluttering up the RECORD with matters of local interest only. The Orediggers football team may, indeed, be of local interest to the people in the Nation, what it stands for in the wise relating of education and sports is not of local interest only . . . It would be my hope that the RECORD will always contain occasional statements such as this one, which serve as a kind of tonic for the spirit and replenishment of hope for the future."
Team Held in High Esteem
   Sen. Mansfield enclosed a letter from a professor John G. McCaslin. In it, the professor noted that the Senator had stated editorially, "For many reasons, some readily apparent and others requiring some fathoming, the Mines team is held in high esteem by Butte fans."
   The professor pointed out that the fathoming was not deep: that 25 of 35 members of the squad came from Butte and "Butte fans also know that none of the players receives board, room or — good heavens — spending money to play football.
   He added: "On our campus, if a football player is being congratulated on Monday, it is probably for making an 'A' on a calculus examination, as well as for the fine play he made Saturday.
   "He may miss practice on Wednesday, not to pose for press photographers, but to finish an experiment in a laboratory.
   "You will note another interesting aspect of the Mines team if you watch the statistics. The Mines players consistently lose fewer yards from penalties than their opponents. I have never seen a Mines player ejected from a game for poor sportsmanship.
   "The Orediggers also have a rather unique way of 'hanging the coach in effigy.' At the recent homecoming dance, the coach received a beautiful plaque inscribed: 'To Coach Simonich, in appreciation of long-standing dedication to School of Mines Athletics. Our thanks.' "
   I have to think there's nothing terribly wrong with our country when, 3,000 miles to the West and 200 years this side of history of the Ivy League, frontier miners' sons can put the field of play in this wise and humorous perspective.
   As I said to a friend today, if you listen, you can still hear the pot melting in this country, the crucible still glowing and fired up. But, gradually, the pure alloy, the homogeneous American, will emerge, the ingot we've been waiting for since 1776. It may be one hundred Thanksgivings from now, but it'll be well worth waiting for and the dead can rest in more honor knowing they worked for it. And I wish Sen. Mansfield and all of you, not a "happy" Thanksgiving but certainly a hopeful one.

Reprinted with permission by the Los Angeles Times

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