Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Honor America Day

Happy Birthday, America!

The 4th of July is a special day for all of us Patriots. All over small town America, people celebrate with parades, picnics, music and fireworks. In our wonderful Jackson Hole, the locals parade around the town square, many with their dogs, some on horseback, some in antique cars, riding or pulling wagons, high a-top fire engines or whatever old jalopy they can coax into taking one more ride around town. The high school band is always a crowd pleaser. A sure bet is that in an election years, everyone running for office will also be a part of the parade.

Some participants throw candy at the crowd, and the 4-H club members and the Farmers Market folks throw ears of home-grown corn. Some come in vintage Western dress. Everyone waves a flag. Everyone cheers for everyone else. It is small town America at it's very best.

When I was a kid growing up in Southern California, the 4th was raucously celebrated with pot luck barbecues, homemade ice cream hand cranked by everyone in attendance, and my granny's delicious pies. My dad always called the American flag, "Old Glory," and he insisted on flying her whenever and wherever he was in residence.

I love Old Glory, too. We had a big flag pole in Potomac and duplicated it in Tucson. I've sewn quilted flags and knitted flags that are now pillows. Our daughter Lynne and son-in-law Barry have a flag room in their home. It's a great room!

When I was a kid, I also loved sparklers and those black pill-like things that you lit on fire and watched them grow into long worms. My uncles took turns setting off the big show-pieces, out in the back forty, as it was called no matter whose house hosted the festivities. We sang patriotic songs and when everyone was stuffed way too full, the grownups would play poker while the kids played "kick the can" and "hide and go seek" all over the neighborhood. We loved playing the best when the day was gone and it was pitch black dark! I wonder if kids today ever experience the thrill of running like the wind on a moonless night at the sound of "Olly, olly oxen, free, free, free."

On July 4, 1970, there was an amazing celebration on the mall in Washington, DC. Half a million people gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial. It was called Honor America Day. Newsweek called it "A middle America Woodstock." J. Willard Marriott, Bob Hope and Dr. Billy Graham were the co-chairmen.

President Nixon's White House Advance Office put it together and built the crowds. Disney's top producer, Bob Jani staged the day-long show. Red Skelton's interpretation of the pledge of allegiance was an emotional highlight. Entertainers included Dinah Shore, Pat Boone, Glenn Campbell, The New Christy Minstrels, and Kate Smith, singing "God Bless America". Fred Waring led the combined Les Brown and the Navy Bands in the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

I was delighted to discover I could watch it again on You Tube. I encourage you to watch it and share it with others to celebrate this holiday.
Go to You Tube and search for "Honor America Day, July 4, 1970. You can also search for Red Skelton and watch his wonderful interpretation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Dwight Chapin called Ron several weeks out and told him he should meet with J. Willard Marriott, Sr. Dwight had told Mr. Marriott that "Ron's got these thirty-some guys, they're sensational, they're our advance men, they know how to build crowds and organize things. The President wants Honor America Day to be the biggest happening on a Fourth of July ever in Washington, DC. Let's let them have it."

Ron took all thirty of the guys that lived in the east coast area and turned them loose. They did crowd raising, handbills, leaflets, telephone boiler room operations, and they basically set up a mini presidential advance, without using the president's name. For Honor America Day, they didn't have anything going at that point, except for the idea of Honoring America on the Fourth of July. They had to be innovative, they had to be imaginative, and they had to have alot of guts. It's great to be able to go out and say, The President and Mrs. Nixon will be arriving on a specific day at a specific time. That's clout. It's instant excitement. But, they couldn't do that yet.

They got Bob Hope on board when he agreed to coordinate the entertainment and give up a commitment to play golf in a benefit tournament in Scotland. Dr. Graham agreed to organize the religious ceremonies in the morning. They were off and running. Those advance men did one hell of a job. It would never have happened if it hadn't been for them. They set up regional offices. They had one in downtown Washington, two or three out in Maryland, some out in Virginia. They had offices in New York and Philadelphia.

They had trains that came from New York, down through Philadelphia. Huge trains full of people. That's when they first met Peter Brennan who became Secretary of Labor. He brought a whole train of hard hats down from Philadelphia. Ross Perot from Texas rented two airplanes and flew people in.

Ron credits Honor America Day with putting the Nixon White House Advance Office on the map. Honor America Day was a real plus, a happening, a gigantic celebration.
After the success of the event, the Advance Office became the "go to" place for all matter of information. From that day forward, if people wanted an answer, they contacted the Advance Office.

Ron remembers going out on the the ellipse early in the morning on the 4th and could hardly believe what he was seeing. Hundreds of people were arriving with picnic lunches. They kept coming all day long, for the religious program in the morning and the celebration in the evening.

Organization of Honor America Day took about six weeks. That it could be accomplished in such a short time was a tribute to its creators and the spirit that moved them. And spirit was the reality behind Honor America Day. They ignored the obstacles in the way and were dedicated to honoring our nation. Dr. Graham gave a moving plea for unity, courage and faith during the time of chaos that was prevalent in the seventies.

Presidents loved it: "This is the living spirit . . . that created a free and strong and prosperous nation," Richard M. Nixon.

"We pay homage to the things that have made our nation great," Lyndon B. Johnson.

"This is a great idea. It's time somebody did something like this for America," Harry Truman.

Author, Robert J. Serling, said of the event, "Honor America Day was an emotional experience for all who heard and/or saw it. Those involved not only tried, they succeeded in faithfully recreating great success, from the opening bars of the Star Spangled Banner to the thud of fireworks cascading against the backdrop of the Washington Monument. And as that mighty structure towered over the capital of democracy, so did the spirit of Honor America Day dwarf the problems and pains of a troubled but still hopeful nation."

It was supported by more than 400,000 Americans who experienced it in person. Millions more watched it on television or heard it on the radio. Ordinary Americans - black and white, rich and poor, Republicans and Democrats, Jews and Christians. What a momentous and memorable day!

Ron says we should do it again next Fourth of July, 2013, during President Nixon's Centennial and to celebrate Mitt Romney's leadership for our nation. Let us hear from you who agree and are ready to volunteer.

There's an interesting full page letter in today's, USA Today, from Starbuck's CEO, Howard Schultz, in which he urges all of us to celebrate the promise of America. Read it, and let's all join the conversation with #INDIVISIBLE. "It is time, whatever our differences, for us to strive and succeed as one nation-indivisible."

Happy Birthday, America, and God Bless you. God Bless Old Glory, too, and don't forget to let her fly proudly, wherever you are!