by Max Brantley
Reflexive tributes to veterans have been floating past on Twitter and Facebook the last couple of days. The cynic in me wonders if some of the politicians who engage most regularly in these activities have their computers programmed from now until doomsday.
"There! I've got a Veterans Day tribute set to go on Twitter, Facebook and blast e-mail at 11:11 Nov. 11 every year until 2111."
Here's one I got today of a slightly different flavor. It's a reminder that violent confrontations don't always happen on foreign soil.
The Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site is observing Veterans Day with a display of things donated by Robert W. (Bobby) Neel of Arkadelphia, one of the Arkansas National Guard members federalized during the 1957 desegregation crisis. The exhibit includes an MI Garand rifle with bayonet and helmet liner similar to those used at Central in protection of the constitutional right of nine black children to attend school with white children. Notes the historic site:
President Eisenhower's executive order federalizing the Arkansas National Guard and calling up the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army to Little Rock Central High School in 1957,was the first use of federal force to uphold African American constitutional rights since the Reconstruction Period following the American Civil War. The National Park Service would like to invite any soldier who served at Central High under Governor Orval Faubus's order or under President Eisenhower's executive order to contact a park ranger to schedule an audio or video oral history interview to contribute to the preservation of these historic events.
Former students, teachers, protestors and bystanders with memories of the events surrounding the desegregation of Central High School and other Arkansas public schools are also invited to contact the park if they are willing to contribute an oral history interview about their experiences. Interviewees will receive a copy of their recorded story and a copy will become part of the site's permanent museum collections.
The historic site is open today until 4:30 p.m. The Bobby Neel exhibit will remain on display through Dec. 14.
A side note: The photo I've chosen to illustrate this is not strictly relevant to the federalized troops. It is the famous shot taken by the Arkansas Gazette's chief photographer, Larry Obsitnik of troops dispatched after the governor of Arkansas forced the president's hand. Obsitnik gave me an autographed copy before he died and said I was free to use it in the future. This particular version comes from the collection at the University of Arkansas. Obsitnik was a WWII veteran himself, having served frosty duty in the Aleutians with the Coastal Artillery regiment of the Arkansas National Guard. A night with The Chief at the bar of M.M. Eberts Post 1 of the American Legion rarely ended without his declaration of a favorite saying: "I walk with the lions, I soar with the eagles, I shall not fear the flight through hell." We're thankful, and not just today, for the hundreds of thousands who lived and died by that creed.