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Jun 30

Fourth of July memories– it’s really the patriotism we love, not the potato salad.

(From my archived columns, first published on June 3, 2006, in The Examiner. The Examiner is a daily newspaper published Tuesday through Saturday, serving Eastern Jackson County, Mo.)


“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.”

–Erma Bombeck.

Ah yes, I remember that “iffy” potato salad and the flies, too, at many a Fourth of July celebration of my youth.

The Fourth of July is a happy holiday bringing back delightful memories, but maybe it is more than the family picnics and fireworks that I remember and love.

Maybe it is the patriotism, 1950s style, not the potato salad, that makes it such a happy holiday.

For instance, one of the things I remember most about past Fourth of July celebrations is a television monologue given by the late great comedian Red Skelton in honor of Independence Day.

For younger generations who may not know this, Skelton was a comedian who rose to stardom between the 50s and 70s delighting audiences coast-to-coast with his weekly comedy television show.

After all these years, turns out I remembered very few details about Red Skelton’s then famous “Pledge of Allegiance” monologue. However, I do recall how much I loved his performance at the time.

If you search the Internet, you will find it easily, the YouTube video of Red Skelton’s Pledge of Allegiance, 1950 style.

Skelton tells a story about how his teacher Mr. Laswell of Harrison School in Vincennes, Indiana, felt his students had come to think of the Pledge of Allegiance as merely something to recite, something monotonous.

Mr. Laswell remarked to the students, “If I may, may I recite it and try to explain to you the meaning of each word?” He continued.

“I—meaning me, an individual, a committee of one.

Pledge—dedicate all of my worldly goods to give without self pity.

Allegiance—my love and my devotion.

To the flag—our standard, Old Glory, a symbol of freedom. Wherever she waves, there’s respect because your loyalty has given her a dignity that shouts freedom is everybody’s job!

The United—that means we have all come together.

States of America—individual communities that have united into 48 (now 50) great states; individual communities with pride and dignity and purpose; all divided with imaginary boundaries, yet united to a common purpose, and that is love for country.

And to the republic—a state in which sovereign power is invested in representatives chosen by the people to govern. And government is the people and it is from the people to the leaders, not from the leaders to the people.”

Red Skelton’s entire rendition of Mr. Laswell’s speech is too long for this column.

However, I will share with you here his final admonition to his students, “We are one nation so blessed by God that we are incapable of being divided, which means, boys and girls, it is as much your country as it is mine.”

Yes indeed, it is this kind of patriotism that I love and remember, but not so much the “iffy” potato salad.

Happy Fourth! May it be patriotic and memorable, even if you can’t keep those pesky flies off the potato salad.

May 30

Decoration Day conjures up thoughts of Flanders fields and poppies .

(From my archived columns, first published on June 3, 2006, in The Examiner. The Examiner is a daily newspaper published Tuesday through Saturday, serving Eastern Jackson County, Mo.)


“Decoration Day” was what we Baby Boomers called Memorial Day when we were growing up, and it was always observed on May 30.

It is very likely that anyone born since 1971 would not know the term “Decoration Day” because Congress changed that when it created the National Holiday Act of 1971.

The three-day holiday weekends, Memorial Day and Labor Day, were born with the Act.  It made good sense for employers, gave folks two three-day national holidays per year, and created an opportunity for family time, travel, and entertainment.

However, one of the these holidays, Memorial Day, seems to have lost some of its meaning in the process.

Now, Memorial Day is more likely associated with the official beginning of summer travel, baseball games, barbecues, and trips to the lake.

And do we not love Memorial Day weekend for all those reasons!

I surely do.

Originally, however, Decoration Day was none of those things, and I can only hope its true meaning is not lost on future generations.

Decoration Day was a time to remember those who died in our nation’s service. Eventually, the holiday grew to be a time to honor all our dead as well.

In that simpler time when there was no urgent need for travel, entertainment or three-day weekends, we set out to decorate the graves of our departed relatives, honored fallen soldiers, and paid tribute to our ancestors on the same day every year, May 30.

Bouquets of iris, poppies, peonies and spirea were lovingly gathered and arranged early in the morning before we set out to visit the cemeteries.

There was no rush to discount stores to buy plastic flowers or sprays for the tombstones then. Instead, we simply went into our back yards and picked our own flowers, arranged them in coffee cans wrapped with foil, and carried them carefully in the car as we drove to the cemeteries. Usually, we visited two or three cemeteries because one would not want to neglect the departed great-grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Nevertheless, the overriding emphasis of Decoration Day was on soldiers lost in battle.

Local VFW and American Legion posts and their auxiliaries offered special programs on each May 30 to remember the servicemen who died for their country.

Churches had memorial services, and school children colored mimeographed pictures of the American flag in a special effort to remember those lost in war.

We sang “God Bless America” with never an inkling of the need for political correctness.

The National Anthem was sung at Decoration Day services, the Pledge of Allegiance recited, and no one objected.

May 30 was a reverent day that made us reflect and appreciate those who had gone before us and who had died in our service.

No one explained this better than Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian veteran of World War I, who wrote a poem in 1915 entitled “In Flanders Fields.”  His famous poem describes the bright red flowers that bloomed between the rows of white crosses that marked the graves of the war dead in Belgium. Those bright red flowers, poppies, were soon known throughout the Allied world as the “flower of the fallen”, sometimes, “the flower of remembrance”.

Colonel McCrae’s poem had a deep affect on a young French woman named Anna Guerin. She created the idea of selling artificial poppies to help orphans and others left behind in the aftermath of World War I.

By 1920, the VFW had started selling its own “Buddy Poppy”, a paper lapel flower, to celebrate the fallen and help disabled veterans.

Although I have no live poppies in my yard to gather for the graves of loved ones anymore, I will never forget the reverent and simple pleasure of picking them on Decoration Days gone by.

And no words convey the meaning of the symbolic blood-red poppy better than the Colonel’s noted poem.

Lest we forget to honor those who died for their country, here is that memorable poem of 1915 to keep the meaning of “Decoration Day” fresh in our hearts and minds.

In Flanders Fields

By Colonel John McCrae

            “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row, that marks our place; and in the sky the larks, still bravely singing, fly scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead, short days ago. We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, loved, and were loved, and now we lie in Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe; to you from failing hands we throw the torch, be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders field.”

Apr 03

Ode to Opening Day When Any Team Can Win the Pennant

Dear Readers: This column was published back in the day when there was not much hope about the Kansas City Royals winning the Pennant, let alone the Division. That changed, as the photo below shows, with the Royals celebrating their big win in the 5th game of the 2015 World Series v. the Mets in New York.

Here then is a look back at one of my columns about the Kansas City Royals–Ode to Opening Day when any team can win the Pennant (Go Royal Sox!) First published April 9, 2009, in The Examiner, an Eastern Jackson County, Mo., daily newspaper.


Royals win World Series 2015

Photo flashback: Royals win 2015 World Series 

“You always get a special kick on Opening day, no matter how many you go through. You look forward to it like a birthday party when you’re a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen.” – Joe DiMaggio.

Brimming with optimism as I drove along the interstate, I tuned the dial to sports radio hoping to find a pleasurable experience listening to the Kansas City Royals on Home Opening Day 2009.

And truthfully, I found one, even though the “boys in blue” had already lost their season opener away at the Chicago White Sox.

Yes, each spring, baseball makes us believe all over again that all things are possible, for a few weeks at least.

Any team can win the Pennant on opening day, maybe even the World Series.

The worst team in the league can be at 500 in mere days. The coaches have winning records, and the pitchers have great stats. Every batter can be Babe Ruth, every fielder Jackie Robinson, on opening day.

“There is no sports event like Opening Day of baseball, the sense of beating back the forces of darkness,” author George Vecsey writes in A Year in the Sun (1989).

Thus, beating back my own disappointing memories, I decided to believe, really believe, in the home team despite its heart-breaking precedent and its past mediocrity.

The ghosts of failure would not haunt me this season, I vowed.

After all, it was Opening Day. They might win!

They did not.

However, these guys are pretty good, or so they say in Chicago.

The son who moved to the Chicago area called to say the local media there were highly respectful of the Royals and that they have some real talent on board this year. “The Sox won,” he reported.

The son who moved to Boston sent an iPhone photo from Opening Day at Fenway where the Boston Red Sox were playing Tampa Bay. “The Sox won,” the lucky duck texted.

So, should we rename our team Sox, I pondered? How about the Kansas City Royal Sox? Has a nice ring to it.

Not discouraged yet, I called the son who lives in Kansas City to tell him how great the Royals were in defeat. He quickly reminded me that I say this every Opening Day.

Baseball-almanac.com agrees, “Regardless of the outcome, Opening Day still remains as the number one date in the hearts, minds (and on the calendars) of baseball fans everywhere. The official countdown begins after the last pitch of the World Series when we can’t wait to hear those two magic words again, Play Ball!”

And if you will, those magic words, “We won!”

The late Jack Buck, St. Louis Cardinals sportscaster, summed up best our Opening Day dreams with his original on-air radio poem, titled “365”:

“When someone asks you your favorite sport
And you answer Baseball in a blink
There are certain qualities you must possess
And you’re more attached than you think.

In the frozen grip of winter
I’m sure you’ll agree with me
Not a day goes by without someone
Talking baseball to some degree.
The calendar flips on New Year’s Day
The Super Bowl comes and it goes
Get the other sports out of the way
The green grass and the fever grows.
It’s time to pack a bag and take a trip
To Arizona or the Sunshine State
Perhaps you can’t go, but there’s the radio
So you listen-you root-you wait.

They start the campaign, pomp and pageantry reign
You claim the Pennant on Opening Day.”


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