President and First Lady Nixon’s daughter Tricia Nixon Cox was joined by Navy Rear Admiral Mike Shatynski (right) and Commander Everett Alvarez, Jr. (left), the longest serving POW in Vietnam, for the Presidential Wreath laying at the memorial site of her parents.
Hundreds celebrated RN’s 97th birthday at the Nixon Library on Saturday, where events started with a Presidential wreath laying by daughter Tricia Nixon Cox. In an acknowledgment of the President’s Naval service World War II, Mrs. Cox was escorted by Navy Rear Admiral Mike Shatynski and Commander Everett Alvarez, Jr., who after being shot down over the skies of Vietnam remains among the longest captive POWs in American history. Later Saturday, Commander Alvarez was honored with the Foundation’s Great American Hero Award.
The ceremony also included a special invocation for RN by Chaplain Robert Thomas, remarks by Admiral Shatynski, a presentation of the colors by Sea Cadets from the Troy High School JROTC, and a solemn performance of “Taps” by a Navy bugler. Robbie Britt gave a riveting performance of “God Bless America.”
Courtesy of docent J.R. Davis, below is video of yesterday’s wreath laying ceremony:
America learned early about President Obama’s love affair with basketball, a romance so intense that during the 2008 campaign reports kept leaking out of his camp that if elected, he planned to convert the one-lane bowling alley installed by President Nixon in the White House basement into an indoor court – a notion quickly kiboshed when it became clear that many devotees of the ball-and-pins might vote for Sen. John McCain rather than let this happen.
But although Obama has been known to dribble and dunk whenever his schedule allows, it was a foregone conclusion that sooner or later he had to come to grips with the real sport of Presidents, and so over the holidays reports came out of his Hawaii hideaway that he had been seen on the local links, was taking golf lessons, and dutifully attempting to find out just how huge his handicap is going to be.
The 44th President undertakes the sport with a distinct disadvantage: he is the first President since, perhaps, William Howard Taft who never had the chance to play with Bob Hope. And so it is that Peter Corrigan of the London Independent devotes a column to discussing Obama’s taking up golf and his place in the Presidential traditions connected with tees, hooks, and double eagles. (Not to mention the Vice-Presidential tradition, established by Spiro Agnew and so often mentioned by Hope and Johnny Carson, of beaned spectators.)
Nearly every golfer under the age of ninety can quote Lacey Davenport’s line from Caddyshack, “Nixon plays golf” – in a film made, as it happens, a year after RN broke 80 on a California course and then gave up the game for good. Quite a bit could be written about Nixon’s quarter-century on the greens, off and on, before that happened, but Corrigan focuses on the time in the early 1970s when Arnold Palmer was invited to San Clemente and there found the President and, perhaps inevitably, Bob Hope. The journalist continues:
[Palmer] was asked his opinion about how the US should end the Vietnam war. He muttered something about not pussyfooting about and “going for the green”. I’m not sure if they bombed Cambodia as a result, but as valuable as a pro’s advice is when it comes to your swing it shouldn’t carry weight in real life.
Collinson’s account is not quite true to the record. It’s hard to picture the forthright Artie “muttering” any advice, and the account that Palmer gave in the 2000 book (as quoted from his own website) is as follows:
Perhaps Palmer’s best memory of the [Bob Hope] tournament has nothing to do with what happened on the course. It was at the Hope in the early 1970s that Palmer was summoned to a mini-summit with President Richard M. Nixon. A U.S. Marine helicopter picked up Bob Hope, Palmer and their spouses and flew them over the mountains to Nixon’s Western White House at San Clemente north of San Diego.
On hand with Nixon was Vice President Gerald Ford, foreign policy adviser Henry Kissinger and a host of top level national security officials. “It seemed the president wanted to pick our brains, of all things, about how to end the war in Vietnam,” Palmer told author James Dodson in the Palmer biography, A Golfer’s Life. When Palmer’s turn came to express his opinion, Palmer sheepishly told the Commander-in-Chief to “get this thing over as quickly as possible, for everyone’s sake. I mean, why not go for the green?”
The golf pro’s advice got a round of laughs from people who were unaccustomed to the levity.
Levity aside, at the end of 1972, when it looked like North Vietnam would balk at signing the Paris peace accords, President Nixon went ahead and sent bombers to Hanoi, in that sense “going for the green.” And that brought Le Duc Tho’s negotiators back to the table, and thus the war ended for the United States. Palmer’s meeting with the President also happened well after the Cambodia bombing. The lesson here is that it pays, especially in this age of Google and Books.Google, to check the sources.
In November, TNN’s Frank Gannon wrote about the appearance in Tina Brown’s Daily Beast of an excerpt from The Pink Lady, the new biography by Sally Denton of Helen Gahagan Douglas, the actress-turned-Congressperson who was defeated by then-Rep. Richard Nixon for the U.S. Senate in 1950.
Denton’s book is now in the stores, and is reviewed in the current issue of the New York Times Book Review by Thomas Mallon, the eminent historical novelist and critic. He criticizes the biography for many of the same faults (sketchy research, questionable assumptions) that Frank found in the excerpt.
What really grabbed my attention, however, is the notice at the review’s conclusion that Mallon is now at work on a novel about Watergate. His 2007 novel Fellow Travelers is an expert study of Washington during the McCarthy era, with RN as a supporting character, so I am very keen to see how he’ll write about the days of ’72 and ’73.
(Here, it’s worth mentioning that longtime Washington journalist Roy Hoopes died a few weeks ago at the age of 87. His best-known books are Our Man In Washington, a mystery story starring H. L. Mencken, and the definitive biography of novelist James M. Cain, but his last book, A Watergate Tape, is also the most recent novel that I know of about that affair.)
From Westminster, Maryland, came the news on Wednesday that an electrical fire had occured at the farm of Whittaker Chambers, the onetime Communist and journalist whose testimony in 1948, and “pumpkin papers” evidence, led to the conviction of former State Department official Alger Hiss on perjury charges, in the case which propelled Richard Nixon to national prominence. According to Chambers’s son John, the farmhouse in which his father wrote his classic account of the case, Witness, was damaged, but plans are already underway to repair it. The farm is now a National Historic Landmark.
I was born in a house my father built. My birth on the night of January 9, 1913, coincided with a record-breaking cold snap in our town of Yorba Linda, California. Yorba Linda was a farming community of 200 people about thirty miles from Los Angeles, surrounded by avocado and citrus groves and barley, alfalfa, and bean fields.
For a child the setting was idyllic. In the spirng the air was heavy with the rich scent of orange blossoms. And there was much to excite a child’s imagination: glimpses of the Pacific Ocean to the west, the San Bernadino Mountains to the north, a “haunted house” in the nearby foothills to be viewed with awe and approached with caution — and a railroad line that ran about a mile from our house.
In the daytime I could see the smoke from the steam engines. Sometimes at night I was awakened by the whistle of a train, and then I dreamed of the far-off places I wanted to visit someday. My brothers and I played railroad games, taking the parts of engineers and conductors. I remember the thrill of talking to Everett Barnum, the Santa Fe Railroad engineer who lived in our town. All through grade school my ambition was to become a railroad engineer.
—–The opening of RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (1978).