Friday, May 31, 2019
Wednesday, January 2, 2019
TWO FLIGHTS, TWO FATHERS
By Mike Moffett
Sport is usually a safe discussion topic at holiday gatherings. So it seemed safe when basketball came up during a conversation with a Michelle Walters---a friend of my co-author, Fahim Fazli---at a California social event last month. Then I mentioned that I’d once coached college hoop and Michelle responded that her dad had also been a college basketball coach—at Evansville University in Indiana.
Our eyes locked and I knew we were both thinking of one of the most tragic sports stories ever.
I was seated with a dozen other Marines in the back of a CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter flying over rugged Korean mountains when the engine started screaming and the aircraft started shaking. Terrified, I looked to the crew chief for reassurance, but he too, looked concerned as he spoke on his headset to the pilot. Then he yelled to us:
“Tighten your seatbelts! We’re going down!”
It was on Dec. 13, 1977, that a Douglas DC-3 crashed on take-off in Indiana—killing all 29 aboard, including every member of the University of Evansville Purple Ace men's basketball team, except for one who was not traveling with the team. Was Michelle’s father among the victims?
Our CH-53 came down in one piece in a dry stream bed near a small Korean school. Youngsters swarmed out to see the spectacle. Repairs were made and we flew back to base to further prepare for a special training mission for Lima Company 3/5—a long distance night raid over the Korean mountains. We’d utilize six CH-53s in a reprise of the ill-fated Iranian hostage rescue mission of 1980—four years earlier. One of the pilots from that Iranian mission would lead our operation.
Two weeks after the Indiana plane crash, the only member of the Evansville team who was not on the plane was killed by a drunk driver.
Michelle’s dad, Dick Walters, was NOT on the plane. The head coach was a Watson, not a Walters. Bobby Watson was named Evansville head coach in 1977, beating out Walters and distinguished Evansville grad Jerry Sloan for the job. (Sloan would go on to become one of the NBA’s winningest coaches.) The charismatic Watson was fired up about his program advancing to the Division I ranks. A standout player at Virginia Military Institute, Watson was a highly decorated Viet Nam vet, earning, among other awards, FIVE Purple Hearts. Walters took over the program after Watson’s death. Had Walters been named head coach in 1977 instead of 1978, Michelle would have lost her dad in the plane crash.
American and South Korean Marines loaded into the six CH-53s after nightfall on March 24, 1984, for our raid mission. We flew over jagged Korean mountains en route to our objective, near the DMZ, far to the north. We ran into bad weather and the Sea Stallions were buffeted about in the dark, terrifying many Marines—including me. We eventually turned around and returned to base. But when we landed, there were only five CH-53s, not six.
Walters sought to honor the Purple Aces by not only reviving but elevating the Evansville program. His 1978-79 team went 13-16 and steadily improved thereafter. In 1982 the Purple Aces went 23-6 to earn an NCAA bid—losing a close first round game to Marquette University, led by Doc Rivers. Michelle, aged 10 at the time, remembers the joy that team generated, and how their success helped honor the memories of the fallen Purple Aces.
Our missing CH-53 had crashed into a mountain, killing all aboard. I accompanied a detail that quickly flew to the crash site to retrieve the bodies—accomplished with great difficulty, given the steep, rugged terrain.
The day after my conversation with Michelle, I received a Facebook invitation to join a special group of Lima Company survivors, for whom a 2019 reunion is being planned. I happily accepted the invite and quickly made my first post. I soon received a message from a woman named Jessica Liddle. She asked if I knew her dad, Staff Sergeant John Liddle—a Viet Nam veteran and a Lima Company platoon sergeant—and if so, did I have any memories of him? Liddle’s was one of the bodies we’d retrieved from that 1984 crash site. Jessica was five at the time. I replied to her that I indeed knew her dad. I shared some recollections, to include that he’d become a big San Diego Charger fan—despite his earlier K.C. Chief inclinations—and that we’d often talked football. She seemed happy to learn more about her father.
At yet another California social event on New Year’s Day I received a surprise. Michelle’s dad showed up late in the afternoon. We subsequently spoke at length about basketball, life, and death. Coach Walters shared much about his basketball journey, including wondrous anecdotes about the likes of Bobby Knight. But clearly the Evansville plane crash was something that’s never far from his mind. That his Evansville predecessor had survived the horrors of Viet Nam only to perish with his basketball team will always be a tragic irony.
Through the wonders of social media, communication continues with the extended basketball and Marine networks associated with Michelle and Jessica. The holiday recollections about fallen Marines and deceased basketball players revived their spirits while reminding us of our mortality and how precious life is.
Semper fi … And go Purple Aces!
(Immediately below are Michelle and Dick Walters, on New Year's Day 2019 and at a basketball camp, circa 1978. Below that, me and Coach Walters. Further below: Jessica and John Liddle.)
Friday, December 7, 2018
Saturday, November 17, 2018
NOW’S A GOOD TIME TO RETIRE, MR. PRESIDENT
By Michael Moffett
Dear President Trump:
Granite State Greetings from the site of your first election win.
With the 2020 New Hampshire Presidential Primary less than 15 months away, voters and pundits are already pondering political possibilities. And whereas spirited GOP challenges to your reelection once seemed likely, your rising poll numbers changed the calculus.
Lower taxes, less regulation, fairer trade policies, enhanced border security, solid judicial appointments, low unemployment and a booming economy have all combined to strengthen a case for your reelection. Our country has done well during your tenure. Thank you!
So why does this open letter implore you not to run for reelection?
Because we want to see your sound policies continue to bear fruit. Any successful Democrat nominee will reverse those policies while raising taxes, adding regulations, loosening border security, demeaning the constitution, and promoting poisonous identity politics. Creeping socialism is not good for America.
You like blunt straight talk, right Mr. President?
As craven and corrupt as your 2016 opponent was, she still outpolled you by almost 3 million votes. Razor thin margins in Midwestern battleground states gave you the necessary electoral votes, but the mid-term elections just showed that you shouldn’t expect a reprise of 2016 in 2020.
Beyond the daunting demographic and electoral challenges you face, you’ll also have to deal with a relentlessly unfair media establishment—not to mention contrary academia, hostile Hollywood, and the long list of usual leftist suspects.
While you could certainly count on folks like myself, would we be enough, given Republican Establishment realities? Don’t expect Low Energy Jeb to help much. Or Little Marco. Or Lying Ted. Or Carly. Or Kasich. Or the McCain people. On and on.
And we’ll need all hands on deck in 2020 to keep the White House.
Another reality is that you’re the oldest man ever elected president. Fair questions will be asked about prospects for your continued good health. Many other fair questions will be asked on other topics—questions that the electorate is weary of hearing.
Maybe you can pull it off. But do you really want—or need—to put yourself and the country through another exhausting campaign marked by the emotional excesses that your brawling approach invites? (And I write this as one who appreciates your brawling approach!)
Ironically, the best way to preserve your administration’s accomplishments may be to let younger, fresher faces emerge who can unite our party and win in 2020.
Consider just one of numerous possible scenarios—a Nikki Haley/Marco Rubio ticket that would strike fear into the hearts of the Dems. Space doesn’t allow me to describe why that combination would be so appealing to so many. There are other exciting possible tickets as well—tickets which would remove the Dems’ biggest issue: You.
You have a wonderful opportunity, with things on the upswing, to step away on your own terms. George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge and others left their presidencies on their own terms—and history has been kind to them.
History has been less kind to rejected one-term presidents. Think Herbert Hoover or Jimmy Carter.
Freed from having to put all that time, energy, emotion and wherewithal into a reelection campaign, you could focus on consolidating and expanding upon achievements that, ironically, would more likely be preserved under a president other than yourself. You could be an extraordinary President Emeritus.
And you could remain the brawler who’ll fight back when needed—in New Hampshire and elsewhere.
Let your final decision reflect courage and wisdom—not ego and hubris.
Straight talk indeed.
Live Free or Die!
Tuesday, June 5, 2018
A SPORTS TRIP TO THE WHITE HOUSE
by Mike Moffett
The e-mail from the White House naturally caught my eye when I reviewed the numerous messages that congregate daily in my electronic in-box. It was an invite to a May 21 Washington, D.C. event where President Trump would recognize 2017 NASCAR champion driver Martin Truex, as well as a NASCAR Nation that overwhelmingly voted for Trump to be president.
This was in contrast to the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors and their fans who overwhelmingly voted against Trump and who eschewed a White House visit.
Having never met the president, I pondered why I’d received the invitation. Perhaps he or his staff read the Weirs Times on-line. Or, more likely, it was related to the fact that I’m a sports columnist and a New Hampshire State Representative who lives about a mile from our wonderful NASCAR track—the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
I checked my calendar and then RSVP’d my appreciation for the invitation and replied that of course I’d come to the White House.
I shared the news with my spouse Beth—who is much smarter than me. She did not feel compelled to make the D.C. trip, but encouraged me to attend if I wanted to. Then she asked to see the invite, and noted that my name was misspelled.
“You didn’t send them any personal information did you?” she asked.
I stood slack-jawed.
“Please tell me you didn’t respond!”
I had to admit that I’d sent them all my personal contact information, date of birth, social security number, etc.
“That’s how identities are stolen! You’d better check with the White House or you’ll need to change all your credit cards and bank account numbers.”
Trusting soul that I am, I realized that I’d likely been snookered and would have to deal with the awful consequences of identity theft.
But then I got an acknowledgement and more information from the White House Social Office.
“If the Russians or whoever already have my identity, then why would they keep writing?”
“Are they still misspelling your name? Do they want more personal information?”
“No. They just told me about dress code, White House security measures, and which gate to go to.”
OFF TO D.C.
When the invitation proved to be real, I made travel plans. Greater D.C. is my old stomping ground from my days as a Marine in Quantico, Va. And as a former social studies teacher, I love the area’s history. I’d been by the White House many times, but never inside its grounds.
So on May 21 I found a great parking spot on Constitution Avenue in time to do some sight-seeing before the White House event. Washington can be deadly hot from May through September, and the 85 degree temps made traipsing around in my suitcoat a bit taxing, but I was happy to be there.
To some, Washington, D.C. personifies politics and power and many of our lesser angels. Indeed, many think of it as a corrupt swamp needing drainage. That those lesser angels are busy and active throughout the District of Columbia is oft-apparent. But a walk-about also reminds one of what Abraham Lincoln referred to as our “better angels.” Our national capital, with all its monuments, edifices, history, and spirit represents unparalleled achievement.
While many of the District’s permanent denizens may be oblivious to Washington’s mystique, its wide-eyed visitors always inspire me with their excitement and awe. Some Dutch tourists chatted me up while we walked along the ellipse. They were clearly delighted to be visiting our American capital and I hoped that our country, with all its imperfections, might always inspire the wonder that was so evident on their faces.
I briefly stopped by the White House Visitors Center at 1450 Pennsylvania Avenue to absorb some history and charge my cell phone. As a shameless Facebook devotee, I anticipating doing texts, photos, e-mails, tweets and live-streaming from the White House and wanted my Droid to be fully juiced!
Finally, I headed to the designated gate, along with other NASCAR invitees. I naturally expected tight security, but the measures surpassed my expectations. There were four check-points and search areas, with attendant metal detectors and the like. But my name was on every list and in I went.
I walked through part of the East Wing to a door that led out to the South Lawn for the NASCAR event. I thrilled to the sounds of the Marine Band, the “President’s Own,” the best band in the world. I mingled briefly with guests and then moved to the shade of a giant tree, beneath which the band played a medley of fabulous tunes. I live-streamed the awesome music while literally standing in the midst of the uniformed musicians, allowing my Facebook friends a chance to not only hear great music, but actually see the players—up close and personal.
The South Lawn grass was lush and extra-long, though not as long as the grass on the ellipse south of the South Lawn, which was almost a hayfield. (Mr. President, when you read this, please address the situation. In fact, I’d recommend you getting on a lawn tractor yourself and doing the mowing. Great optics!)
Finally the band played “Hail to the Chief” and the president emerged from the White House with Truex and the driver’s family members and race team.
President Trump is clearly an “alpha male” who draws energy from crowds and who relishes his job. Love him or hate him, he projects exuberance. He used notes but largely spoke extemporaneously. He praised NASCAR and the Truex team and also noted that NASCAR fans don’t take a knee during the national anthem—a thinly-veiled dig against last year’s NFL protesters.
Truex then offered a few gracious comments, and everyone got in line for photos with the Commander-in-Chief.
Given the heat and the length of the line, I demurred. I took a few more photos and headed out while the band played “Semper Fidelis.” I wanted to experience more of that wonderful D.C. history. Getting out was easy compared to getting in.
After flying back to New Hampshire I told Beth I was glad I went. My spouse—who is much smarter than me—said she was happy for me.
But she added that if I ended up a victim of identity theft, then at least she’d know who did it!