What a country!
To hear the mainstream media tell it, the fate of the world hangs on whom is chosen to run with George W. Bush on the Republican ticket. Fortunately, all of the possible choices seem like good men. But this observer has two favorites; primarily, because I’ve had the privilege of spending a little time with both Dick Cheney and Colin Powell.
Although General Colin Powell says he isn’t available to run as a vice-presidential candidate, the “never-say-never” rule is always operative until it becomes impossible to say “yes.” We have yet to reach that point with Colin Powell.
In the early 1960s, Colin Powell and this observer were classmates for nine months at Ft. Benning, Georgia. I wish I could say I knew Colin Powell well in those days; however, we were among 398 other Infantry captains in a class divided into two sections called: CAR-1 and CAR-2. We were not in the same section and, as a consequence, had little contact.
But I knew, Captain Dudley Tademy, the other Black officer in our class, fairly well. Dudley and his wife were frequent guests in the home of the most illustrious member of our class: Captain Pete Dawkins, the 1958 Heisman Trophy winner who led West Point to a national football championship and broke or set virtually every top achievement record at West Point.
My last memory of Colin Powell was in the cafeteria line in Infantry Hall. He was tall, thin, and painfully shy. I particularly recall that his fatigue uniforms were very well-tailored. I suspect he had just come from an assignment in South Korean or someplace in Asia where the local seamstresses have a way of tailoring fatigues to almost skin tight. Of course, one had to be tall, thin and fit for that to look good. Colin Powell looked good.
When Dick Cheney was the congressman from Wyoming, he came to Omaha for a political rally over which I had charge. Somehow, I managed to complete my duties ahead of time and Congressman Cheney arrived an hour before the event was to start. So, we were sort of stuck with each other for an hour during which I learned that Dick Cheney is as nice as nice can be. He is devoid of the big ego that seems so common among public figures.
During his speech, he told a story about receiving a call in his Washington congressional office from his former third-grade teacher back in Wyoming.
“Dickie,” she said, “I’m calling you because they are not picking up my garbage like they are supposed to do.”
Congressman Cheney expressed pleasure in receiving a call from one of his favorite teachers of long ago. But he asked: “If you don’t mind telling me, I’m just wondering why you called me here in Washington instead of your local Alderman?”
To which his old teacher replied: “Well, Dickie, I just didn’t want to start that high.” This is typical of Dick Cheney’s self-deprecating humor.
After a distinguished career in Congress, Dick Cheney went on to serve as Secretary of Defense under President George Bush. His military right-hand man was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell. The team of President Bush, Secretary of Defense Cheney, Secretary of State, James A. Baker III, and General Powell in Washington and General Norman Schwarzkopf in the field put together and master-minded our dazzling victory in the Persian Gulf War. If we could have had that kind of leadership during Vietnam, “The Wall” would be a whole lot shorter and we would have won.
America is an amazing place where a Black kid of immigrant parents can become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a White kid from a tiny town in Wyoming can become Secretary of Defense and the two of them then lead history’s finest armed force to victory.
William Hamilton is a nationally syndicated columnist and a featured commentator for USA Today.