The Best American Band

With Richard home for the weekend and Russell home for the summer, we’ve had a few discussions about the best American band of the rock ‘n’ roll era. A few boundaries for the discussion — it has to be a band in which members (except for the singer) play musical instruments. So singing groups like the Temptations, the Supremes, and the Four Seasons, and individual singers or performers are out. And, it has to be a band, not a duo. So, acts like Simon and Garfunkel are out, too. And, it has to be purely American in its membership, so the groups of the British invasion and other performers who came to America from elsewhere, like Neil Young, can’t be considered.

In the next few days I’ll write about some of the bands that I think should be ranked toward the top, and maybe the boys, who disagreed vehemently with my initial observations in that regard, may add a word or two about their selections. We’d be happy to take suggestions from our vast readership, too.

Edited to add: Time to Vote for your choice for Best American Band!

Memorial Day

When I was a kid, signs of military service were everywhere. Most of the Dads in our neighborhoods had served in World War II, or Korea, or in the peacetime military. I remember my junior high school principal, Mr. Glick, had lost part of a finger during World War II, and my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Dalton, had returned from service overseas with an impressive collection of very cool German war souvenirs and would occasionally bring them to class and share them with we impressionable fifth-grade boys. All of this was just an everyday part of the world we lived in. This article on “Army buddies” makes that point about life in America in the 1960s, and also reflects a bit on what was lost when the draft and national service were no longer mandatory.

One of my first jobs was for Congressman Chalmers P. Wylie, a strapping but gentle man who had served in Europe during World War II and who received the Silver Star for heroism. As a young First Lieutenant, he rescued two members of his unit who were grievously injured when they inadvertently wandered into a minefield. How? Without a moment’s hesitation he went in after them, slung one onto one shoulder and one onto the other, and walked out of the minefield. (I’ve linked to his Silver Star citation.) You couldn’t help but be impressed by those acts, but Mr. Wylie was never boastful about his service. One of the most memorable conversations I have ever had occurred late one night, when Mr. Wylie and I were working on answering constituent mail. We got to talking about President Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb against the Japanese. Mr. Wylie mentioned that, after the war in Europe had ended, he and his unit had been selected to be part of the force to invade Japan and had been training for that task when the first bomb was dropped. There was no doubt in his mind that President Truman had made the right decision — because it was a decision that ensured that he and his friends and thousands of other American soldiers would survive the war. I thought of Mr. Wylie when I read this piece by Peggy Noonan, and I think of that conversation whenever I hear an academic second-guess the decision to use the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Finally, there was Kish’s Dad, Bill Kishman, who also served in World War II. His story was not an unusual one. He was born on a farm and grew up in a small town, never venturing very far from home. When the war came he enlisted and was shipped overseas to serve in Europe, as a driver. He never talked much about his service, either, but it was obvious that military service had touched him. When the war ended he returned home, went back to his farm, got married and raised a family. He was one of the finest people I ever met, and we have a neat photo of him, lined up in the courtyard of Army headquarters in some European town, preparing to receive a medal. World War II not only changed him, it also changed our country in a number of different ways.

We are now blessed in America with a terrific professional military that is the envy of every country on the planet. I salute Mr. Wylie and Mr. Kishman for their voluntary service and patriotism. I also want to thank all veterans and active members of our armed forces, at home and abroad, for their service and sacrifice. Happy Memorial Day to you all!

Hands Across America

It was born of earnest but fuzzy-headed ’80s political thinking — the same kind of thinking that led small towns in New England to believe that by declaring themselves “nuclear-free zones” they would have a real impact on nuclear proliferation. It was called ” Hands Across America.” The concept was simple: millions of people would link hands at the same moment, in a human chain that would stretch unbroken from sea to shining sea. It was sponsored by a group called USA for Africa. There was a “Hands Across America” song, and a logo, and there were corporate sponsors, and t-shirts, and breathlessly dedicated celebrities who went on talk shows to discuss how the event would change the country.

One of the cities through which the chain would run was Washington, D.C. The plan called for the chain to run from the Capitol directly down Pennsylvania Avenue, past the White House to Georgetown. One of the locations along that route was the Columbia Hospital for Women. And so it was that, on the afternoon of May 25, 1986, I stood at the window of Kish’s hospital room, looking out the window to see people sheepishly wander out into the street to join hands.

Our May 25, 1986 had started at about 1 a.m., as Kish’s contractions began. We drove from our apartment in Alexandria down deserted streets and highways to the hospital, and at about 8 a.m. — after some fits and starts and scares — Richard was born. Watching Kish hold him, his head covered by a little stocking cap, was a beautiful sight. I remember being relieved, and happy, and proud, and a bit overwhelmed at the thought of being a father. By 3 p.m., the time “Hands Across America” came together, I had been to the nursery window to gaze at Richard about a hundred times and some of the initial shock of parenthood was wearing off. I remember thinking it was great that this event would make the date of our son’s birth extra special. And while “Hands Across America” did not change the world, for Kish and me May 25, 1986 certainly changed our world.

Happy Birthday, Richard!

Richard at Devil's Tower

Richard at Devil's Tower