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Posted: Nov 29, 2002 12:00 AM
Among the many remembering the men and women of the U.S. armed forces as he celebrates Thanksgiving with his family will be Rep. Joseph R. Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican and member of the House Armed Services Committee. A former Air Force officer and veteran of the Vietnam War, Pitts is reminding Americans that they owe a great debt to this country's military professionals, active and veterans alike, particularly those captured, injured or killed in battle. That said, thousands of U.S. military troops digging in overseas will be observing Thanksgiving away from their families, including sailors and soldiers in the Middle East preparing for war with Iraq. Uncle Sam, you can be sure, has flown in plenty of turkey and cranberries for everybody. But in preparing for war, the Pentagon isn't always so giving. "Early in my service, before my first combat mission, I was required to take survival training," Pitts recalls. "As a B-52 officer, there was always the chance I would get caught behind enemy lines. I had to learn escape and evasion tactics. I had to learn how to stand up to interrogation and torture if I was caught." The congressman says he was dropped into a remote, rugged mountainous region with nothing but a map, compass, flashlight and the clothes on his back. He had no tent, no sleeping bag and no food. Armed guards relentlessly pursued him. If he were caught, he would have to begin the process all over again. "For meals, I had to forage for food," he says. "Wild onions were the easiest to find. The only other food I could find was frogs. For two long weeks, I lived on nothing but frogs and onions. It's not a diet I would recommend. I lost 15 pounds in two weeks and couldn't stand to eat onions for years afterward." HAPPY THANKSGIVING And how did most of us come to get the day off today? Pilgrims, of course, began offering thanks to God in the early 1600s, as did the early settlers of Jamestown, Va. In fact, thanksgiving observances would take place over the next century in several of the pre-megalopolis outposts that dotted the East Coast. As this country began to take shape, Gen. George Washington, his British marauders sent packing, saw fit to carry on the thanksgiving tradition by issuing the following orders - certainly forbidden today - to his brigades: "To morrow being the day set apart . . . for public Thanksgiving and Praise; and duty calling us devoutely to express our grateful acknowledgements to God for the manifold blessings he has granted us. The General directs that the army remain in its present quarters, and that the Chaplains perform divine service with their several Corps and brigades. And earnestly exhorts, all officers and soldiers, whose absence is not indispensibly necessary, to attend with reverence the solemnities of the day." Later, as the nation's first president, Washington would issue a proclamation declaring Nov. 26 a day of national thanksgiving (although, with new laws of the land in place, he stopped short of ordering people to church). Around 1830, New York decided it needed an "official" state Thanksgiving Day. Other northern states quickly followed suit. Virginia, in turn, became the first southern state to adopt a Thanksgiving Day, in 1855. Hoping to bring a divided nation together, Abraham Lincoln would proclaim the last Thursday of November 1863 "a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father." Almost identical proclamations were issued by subsequent presidents during the next 75 years -- but still no holiday. It was only after Franklin D. Roosevelt began tinkering with Thanksgiving in 1939 - ordering the observance set one week earlier to lengthen the shopping season before Christmas, and therefore hopefully boost the ecoonomy - Congress in 1941 declared Thanksgiving Day a legal federal holiday. And life for the turkeys of this country would never be the same. TURKEY TRIVIA According to the National Turkey Federation in Washington, 95 percent of Americans ate turkey last Thanksgiving, consuming 46 million of the large birds, or more precisely 690 million pounds of white and dark meat. And if you think Americans consumed the most turkey in 2001, think again. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says Israel last year consumed 28.8 pounds of turkey per capita, compared to the United States' smaller plate of 17.5 pounds. NATIVE BIRD If Benjamin Franklin had had his way, none of us would be eating turkey today. Instead, we'd be picking the bones of roasted bald eagle. "I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country," Franklin wrote in 1784. "He is a bird of bad moral character; like those among men who live by sharping and robbing, he is generally poor, and often lousy. "The turkey is a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America." SCHIFF AND SHROCK There is on Capitol Hill a Congressman Schiff. There is also a Congressman Schrock. But for the umpteenth time, there is no Congressman Schnell. Once again, the U.S. Postal Service is forced to alert customers to an urban legend that continues to circulate the Internet. A similar hoax has occurred in Canada surrounding Canada Post. As many readers already know, an Internet message says a Congressman Schnell has introduced Bill 602P to allow Uncle Sam to impose a 5-cent surcharge on each e-mail message. No such proposed legislation exists, nor does Congressman Schnell. Still, Congress received so many complaints from constituents who believed the rumor that it took the extraordinary step of passing legislation to reassure the American public that it had no plans whatsoever to impose an Internet surcharge. That said, this column shall never forget the two politicians who fell for the hoax. During a political debate broadcast live on CNN, Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and her opponent, then-Republican Rep. Rick Lazio, were asked whether they would support "Bill 602P." Clinton, relieved that for once this controversial bill had nothing to do with her controversial bill, responded that she would not vote for the legislation because it "sounds burdensome and not justifiable to me." Lazio agreed, labeling the bill an "example of the government's greedy hand in trying to take money from taxpayers that, frankly, it has no right to." PARTING REMINDER "The politics of greed always comes wrapped in the language of love." -- soon-to-retire House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, explaining that liberals have been extraordinarily successful at convincing the American public of higher motives, which conceal their own greed for political power, social prestige or just plain money. CHOKED BLUE At least one group of Democrats, the Blue Dog Coalition, ought to be able to tolerate the new Republican majority that's swept Capitol Hill. At last count, there were 33 bona fide Blue Dog Democrats, conservative and moderate members of the party, hailing from every region of the country, although the group acknowledges some Southern ancestry, which accounts for the nickname. Or, as the Democratic coalition explains, "Taken from the South's longtime description of a party loyalist as one who would vote for a yellow dog if it were on the ballot as a Democrat, the 'Blue Dog' moniker was taken by members of the coalition because their moderate-to-conservative views had been 'choked blue' by their party."