Thursday, August 30, 2018

His Silver Bullet

Thursday afternoon, April 7, 1977, Dad had just hauled his 31-foot Airstream trailer through Denver. He and Mama had about 50 miles to go to Fort Collins when he pulled his prized silver bullet to the side of the highway and stopped.

Mama watched him search in his shirt pocket for his nitroglycerin tablet, designed to ward off a heart attack. He found the pill box, took out one, and put it under his tongue.

After the pill dissolved, he asked, "Honey, can you drive us in?"

"Tom," her voice quavered, "you know I can't. I've never driven anything bigger than a car."

He leaned back. "Well, let me rest a bit."

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Kent State

"We've got to go in there and I mean really go in." President Richard Nixon's face flushed. "I want everything that can fly to go in there and crack the hell out of Cambodia."

"We should keep that campaign low-key," advised General Abrams, but Nixon disagreed. He modeled himself on his favorite movie, Patton, a portrayal of a controversial general that the president had seen five times.

So on Thursday, April 30, 1970, President Nixon announced his decision on all three U.S. TV networks. "Our will is being tested tonight. The time has come for action."

His campaign to invade Cambodia ignited a firestorm of antiwar protests in some 400 colleges.

Students at Kent State University in Ohio initially held peaceful protests, but later that night, they heaved beer bottles at police cars. About midnight, a mob of students rampaged through town, shattering windows.

The next day Kent State students firebombed the rickety old ROTC building on campus. The mayor called Governor Rhodes who declared martial law and sent 900 National Guardsmen to the campus.

Sunday remained quiet, but Monday, students gathered for a noon rally. Five times a campus policeman told students to scatter. They ignored him. 

Finally, guardsmen, carrying loaded rifles, submachine guns and pistols, moved forward. 

A student cried: "They've got guns now. You don't throw rocks against guns!" 

And finally, "My God! They're killing us!"

Thursday, August 16, 2018


The gooseneck lamp made a pool of light on my desk about 3 a.m., June 5, 1968, when someone pounded on my apartment door.

Tall skinny Bev, my upstairs neighbor, cried, "You've got to come up! They've shot Bobby Kennedy!" 

On Bev's TV, I saw the classic image of that night: Robert Kennedy, dressed in his black campaigning suit, sprawled flat on the kitchen floor, his limbs jutting out as though they didn't belong to him.

"Oh my God!" Bev shook her fist at the TV. "I can't believe this!  Martin Luther King only two months dead, and everywhere, rioting, thousands arrested, and who know how many shot! And now this." 

Bobby, still alive, asked, "Is everybody okay?" Bev reached for a tissue. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

On His Way to Prison

In Washington D.C. on a gloomy drizzly March day, Chuckie O'Brien drove his step-father, Jimmy Hoffa, to the federal building to surrender to the U.S. marshals.

"There's going to be a mob of media folk at the front door," Chuckie warned. "Let me drive you around back."

Jimmy refused. "I never ran away from anybody and I'll be damned if I'm gonna start now. Drive this son of a bitch right up to the front door."

There March 7, 1967, Jimmy faced microphones and cameras.

Afterwards, marshals prepared him for his 192-mile trip to the federal penitentiary.

They handcuffed his wrists, put him in the back seat of a dark blue Pontiac, and chained his legs to the floor.

Jimmy spread his raincoat over his immobile hands and legs, to conceal his humiliation.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Dad’s Headline

On the morning of March 7, 1967, Janet Niebruegge, a staff reporter for the Fort Collins Coloradoan, rang my dad in his city manager office.

"Did you know that Jimmy Hoffa's on his way to jail right now?" she asked.

"Yes, I know. I've anticipated this day for a long long time."

Janet's voice sounded bouncy. "And how do you feel about that?"

Dad took a deep breath and proceeded to recite what he'd composed during restless nights. "'I would be less than honest if I were to say that I had not looked forward to today when the prison gates closed behind James Riddle Hoffa.'"

"That's a mouthful." Janet paused. "Maybe something shorter?"

"Okay. How about this?" Dad's voice lightened. "I will sleep a little sounder tonight."

"That's great! Thanks, Tom." 

And his short version became Janet's headline that afternoon.