AFTER A BRAIN-NUMBING racket of a flight, the Air National Guard C-130 cargo plane suddenly banked one wing almost perpendicular to the ground, plummeting hundreds of feet in seconds. The maneuver was designed to dodge surface to air missiles. On this day, mercifully, there were no missiles. Within minutes, the back ramp of the cavernous fuselage opened into the early morning heat and a sign could be made out: "Welcome to Baghdad International Airport."
I was part of a 15-member fact-finding group given full access to U.S. civilian and military leaders on the ground. Most of the group were so-called "TV Generals," or people you might see on the PBS NewsHour or Nightline—political appointees or policy advisers to previous White Houses. I'm a former newspaper and TV network investigative reporter, also a Vietnam veteran, a grunt Marine on DMZ in 1968, when U.S. killed in action topped 300 a week and wounded were in the thousands, myself among them.
IN AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER sultry songbird Terry McKay (Deborah Kerr) offers a simple explanation for why the building Kong scaled was the perfect spot for her to rendezvous with wayward soul mate Nickie Ferrante (Cary Grant), marveling, “The Empire State Building is the closest thing to Heaven we have in New York City.” Perhaps this is why The King’s College—a scrappy, recently resurrected Christian institute of higher learning—chose a few floors of the quintessentially American landmark as the perfect place to hang its revitalized shingle back in 1999.
What kind of Bicentennial was it? Garish and understated, banal and uplifting, ridiculous and dignified, irrelevant and thoroughly appropriate. Americans celebrated in the strangest ways. In St. Louis, a pre-medical student stood on his head on the wings of a hi-plane. About 500 miles northeast of Bermuda, a man named Karl Thompson, trying to accomplish one of the last great un-achieved feats, a free balloon crossing of the Atlantic, had to leap from his craft, the Spirit of '76, and was rescued after four days in a liferaft by a Russian freighter. Across the country, flagpole sitters and businessmen tried to break world records. Entrepreneurs in Baltimore baked the world's largest cake, 69,000 pounds in all, but could only sell 20,000 of its estimated 400,000 slices. The Great American Flag Company in New York hoisted a stars and stripes on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge that was three times the size of the largest flag reported by Guinness and watched in horror as the wind promptly ripped it in tatters. The media gave it their all.