For the first time, James F. Pfister Jr., a U.S. Army prisoner of war in Vietnam from January 1968 to March 1973, tells us the rest of the story surrounding the recent burial in Bremond, Texas, of U.S. Marine Sgt. Dennis Hammond.
It was Pfister, after all, who first buried Hammond in March 1970. The sergeant had been captured by the Viet Cong in February 1968, one month after Pfister.
"In early 1968, he and another POW, Earl C. Weatherman, tried to escape," Pfister recalls. "Weatherman was killed, and Hammond was shot in the calf of the leg and brought back to camp. They beat him, put him in bamboo stocks, cut his food ration. After the escape attempt, he gradually started going down hill."
Finally, the Marine didn't wake up one morning.
"I helped bury Hammond in March 1970," Pfister tells The Beltway Beat. "After his burial, I carved an arrow in a tree marking the location. I am not sure when his remains were found."
This past April, Pfister was in Washington for his Army helicopter unit's reunion. His pilot, another ex-POW, told him some good news: Hammond's remains had been recovered and identified and were being sent back to the United States.
Shortly thereafter, Pfister received a phone call from Mike "Tiny" Readinger, who'd served in Hammond's unit, passing word along that the funeral services would be May 22 in Bremond. At the funeral home, Pfister was introduced for the first time to Carlene Hammond, the fallen POW's sister.
After he told her all he knew about her brother's imprisonment, Pfister says he entered the small chapel and placed both hands on Hammond's casket.
"Hi, Dennis, this is Jim. I'm here for you, buddy," Pfister said, overcome with emotion. The funeral procession to the cemetery was two miles long.
"People were standing along the side of the road, standing at attention, some people waving flags and signs that said, 'Thank you, Sgt. Hammond,'" says Pfister, feeling a "great big weight" was lifted off him at that moment.
He then watched as Hammond was buried again, this time with full military honors.
BOUND FOR BAGHDAD?
"Is he going to have a turkey dinner?"
- A White House correspondent's subtle way of asking a senior administration official on Monday whether President Bush is planning another surprise visit to Iraq similar to his unannounced trip to Baghdad for turkey and stuffing last Thanksgiving, now that Iraqis have assumed control of their government.
John Gannon, staff director of the Select Committee on Homeland Security, becomes the first person in the legislative branch ever to receive the National Security Medal, the nation's highest intelligence award.
President Bush authorized presentation of the award in recognition of Gannon's "outstanding contribution to the national intelligence effort." The medal was presented by outgoing CIA Director George J. Tenet during a private ceremony at the Library of Congress.
Gannon says he has "three families": his wife and children, homeland-security officials and the intelligence community.
The Center for American Progress predicted correctly that Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz would have some tough questions to answer when called to testify before the House and Senate armed services committees.
In retrospect, the most difficult question was when Wolfowitz was asked how many U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq.
The Pentagon's No. 2 man guessed about 500. In fact, there were 734 at the time. He was off by about 45 percent.
PAY TO STAY
Television executives are reaping the benefits of the 2004 presidential campaign.
Here it is still June, and already President Bush's re-election campaign has spent $85 million in contributions on television ads attacking Democratic Sen. John Kerry.
"While most of you [reporters] were getting your beauty sleep, your pooler was up this morning observing the parade of NATO leaders" - or so reads a White House pool report filed in Turkey by newspaperman Bennett Roth of the Houston Chronicle.
BOSTON TEA PARTY
We're still weeks away from the start of the Democratic National Convention in Boston, but this past weekend the executive committee of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) got together in the host convention city.
Highlights included an update on the Democratic platform presented by the DNC's platform drafting committee, which includes DNC platform Chairwoman Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio and DNC Secretary Alice Germond (wife of syndicated columnist Jack Germond).
The committee also heard from DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe, from representatives of Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign and from the DNC political department on plans for November's election.
The executive committee of the DNC consists of 67 members.
BOYS WILL BE BOYS
Keeping the boys orderly for the annual class picture at St. Mary's Parochial School in Alexandria was no easy task for the Sisters of the Holy Cross, as this budding columnist observed during the 1960s.
And Vice President Dick Cheney proved last week that some things never change.
During the annual group picture-taking session in the Senate, as we all know by now, the vice president cursed at Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Leahy. The vice president cussed during a terse exchange on religion, politics and money - the same topics we Irish-American lads fought about on the steps of St. Mary's.
President Bush avoided the Cheney-Leahy fallout by spending the night in Ireland's Dromoland Castle, while outside, a symbolic citizen's arrest warrant drawn up by the Irish Green Party was issued for the U.S. president.
Party leader Trevor Sargent explained that Bush violated international law by fighting terrorists in Iraq.
"I do think it is probably more important that Irish-Americans in America who have a vote would make the point based on or reflecting the opinion that is now being expressed in Ireland," Sargent said. "So whether directly this message gets to George Bush or whether it gets to Irish-Americans, it is important to demonstrate so George Bush gets the feeling one way or another."
One Irish-American who got the message was Mike Mooney, who forwarded it to fellow Irish-Americans, one of whom happens to be Frank Duggan, chairman of "Irish-American Republicans." Duggan promptly wrote back:
"Dear Mike: The White House would like the Gaelic word for 'casseroles,' and the vice president wants to say 'big time' in Gaelic also. I think it was casserole, or something like that [that Mr. Bush once called a reporter]. Can you help us out with the translation? God bless, Frank Duggan."
Mooney referred to his Gaelic dictionary and wrote back: "Casarol, with a long stroke over the O. Big is 'Mor,' pronounced Moore, like Tom Moore. Time is 'Am,' pronounce owmm. Does this help? Mike."
"Thanks," Mr. Duggan replied. "Now Cheney wants to know how to say 'Go [expletive deleted].' Best, Frank."
What with all the froth swirling around Bill Clinton and his 957-page life these days, veteran Washington writer Cynthia Grenier's memory threw up one particular encounter with the former president while covering the Alfalfa Club dinner.
Afterward, guests and press were permitted to file by and shake the presidential hand, introducing themselves to Clinton. Smiling pleasantly, Grenier introduced herself as "part of that vast right-wing conspiracy" (The "conspiracy" dreamed up by Hillary Rodham Clinton had just hit the news within the previous week).
"The president went all pink," Grenier recalls, and stumbled out: "Ah, no, that was a mistake . . . um, a mistake. There was no conspiracy. My office said so. It was a mistake."
"I've rarely seen a public figure get so flustered and embarrassed," she tells this column. "I gently patted him on the arm, saying, 'That's all right, Mr. President,' and moved on."
It so happened that Bob Bartley, editorial-page editor of the Wall Street Journal, was directly behind Grenier in line. When the scribes had all passed out of earshot into the next room, Bartley burst out laughing.
"I can't believe what Clinton just said to you," he said, calling out to the other people in the room, "Did you hear what Clinton just said to Cynthia?" then repeating the exchange verbatim.
"Bill Clinton's embarrassment was so broad and so obvious, you really couldn't help but feel sorry for the man," Grenier says.
It's always somebody else's fault. That much we learned from a congressional hearing this week called by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, to examine how Americans might be better protected from frivolous lawsuits.
How bad is it?
Companies are now forced to glue warning labels on products such as baby strollers that read: "Remove child before folding."
Then there's the dishwasher label: "Do not allow children to play in the dishwasher." And the warning on the iron: "Never iron clothes while they are being worn."
Smith draws attention to a Pennsylvania man who sued the Frito-Lay company saying that Doritos chips were "inherently dangerous" after one stuck in his throat. It took eight years of costly litigation before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out the case, with a justice concluding that "it is necessary to properly chew hard foodstuffs prior to swallowing."
"Some Americans have filed lawsuits for reasons that can only be described as absurd," Smith says. "They sue a theme park because its haunted houses are too scary. They sue the Weather Channel for an inaccurate forecast."
The Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act has been introduced by Smith and requires judges to punish those who file frivolous lawsuits.
ONE LAST SWIPE
Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, known to give President Bush's lieutenants a tongue-lashing when she feels it appropriate, says she wasn't able to speak on the House floor June 9 when her fellow lawmakers mourned the passing of former President Reagan.
So she stepped up to the lectern this week to read, for the congressional record, a column from the Cleveland Plain Dealer penned by local scribe Sam Fullwood. We can't reprint the entire column, but here are a few excerpts of what she read:
"I never liked Ronald Reagan.". . .
He was a hypocrite who started out as a Democrat and proud union man but turned Republican after he became rich and famous in Hollywood by pretending to be a common man. But it was as president that I disliked Reagan most." . . .
"Reagan and his powerful allies poisoned the nation against government." . . .
"Little is said about how he waged war on this nation's poor people.". . .
"He used his movie-honed skills to inspire affluent Americans and to scapegoat poor ones. It was mostly smoke and mirrors, honed from a life and career lived in La-La Land." . . .
"First and everlasting, Reagan was a bad actor."
For 50,000 foreign nationals every year, becoming a legal resident of the United States is based on pure luck.
Under the visa lottery system, each successful applicant is chosen at random and given the status of permanent resident - a green-card holder. Which in this day and age poses a serious national security threat, says Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va.
"A perfect example of the system gone awry is the case of Hesham Mohammed Hedayet, the Egyptian national who killed two and wounded three during a shooting spree at the Los Angeles International Airport in July of 2002," he says. Hedayet was allowed to apply for lawful permanent resident status in 1997 because his wife won the visa lottery.
Echoing the congressman's concerns, the State Department's inspector general issued a report in September warning that the visa lottery poses "significant threats to national security from entry of hostile intelligence officers, criminals, and terrorists into the United States as permanent residents."
There is legislation before Congress to eliminate the lottery.
Now it's Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., and former top White House adviser to President Clinton from 1993 to 1998, invoking the name of the late President Ronald Reagan.
"The final draft reflects the facts, and as Ronald Reagan used to say, facts are a stubborn thing," says Emanuel, referring to the State Department clarifying a "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report at the request of Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif.
The original report, issued in recent weeks by Secretary of State Colin Powell, said terrorist attacks hit their lowest level in 34 years, albeit terrorist attacks are currently "their highest in 20 years," Emanuel notes.
"A funny thing happened on the way to the printer," the congressman guesses.