The Arkansas chapter of the ACLU honored some giants at its annual dinner Sunday night, though one of them had to stand on a milk crate so his head would appear over the man-sized lectern.
Little Rock attorney Jack Lavey and Dick Bennett of Fayetteville were honored as civil libertarians of the year for decades of work for the ACLU, civil rights and peace. Then came Will Phillips, 10, of West Fork, who mounted the milk crate to accept his award as a champion of liberty. His story reached the world thanks to an article by David Koon in this newspaper. If you missed it, the fifth grader ran into trouble with a substitute teacher for refusing to join in Pledge of Allegiance exercises. Until there's liberty and justice for all, notably gay people, Will said, the exercise rings hollow.
The act won worldwide press attention. Will is still standing tall. He joked that since learning he'd receive the award, his mother had been saying things like, “The Champion of Liberty had better have his room cleaned!”
But more seriously, he praised the ACLU for working to strike down Act 1, which prohibited adoption by gay people. “Act 1 was unfair and discriminated against kids as well as the people who might provide stable, happy, caring homes for them.
“When I refused to stand for the pledge in protest of the lack of liberty and justice for ALL, I was lucky to have an awesome principal like Mrs. Ramsey. However if I HADN'T had the best principal EVER the ACLU would have been there for me!
“The ACLU protects the rights of all of us. They worked to protect the rights of my friends Constance McMilland and Ceara Sturgis from bullies as well as people with closed minds and small hearts.
“Thanks in part to the ACLU my friends are now enjoying the prom they should have had at this very moment. The ACLU works to prove the unfairness of laws like Act 1 and to get them overturned.
“Thank you to the Arkansas ACLU for being there and thank you for honoring me and my family in this way.”
The History Institute at UALR presents a series of lectures each year that is something of an undiscovered local treasure, given the 50 or so history devotees who typically turn out. Faculty members prepare special talks on subjects big and small.
The Observer had to miss the lecture on beer, but has learned about the Trail of Tears, colonial silversmiths, the Little Rock desegregation crisis and lots more. One night last week at the library, after free drinks and snacks, The Observer heard some lions of the Little Rock business community talk about their experiences in World War II.
The names — Floyd Fulkerson, Charles Harper, Robert Wilson, Bill Bowen, Bill Terry and Ed Penick — should be familiar to most. What might not be familiar are details of where they were when they got the news about Pearl Harbor and what they did afterward. All went off into the wild blue yonder. They included a fighter pilot (Fulkerson); a turret gunner (Terry), who shipped across the Atlantic with Winston Churchill on one notable occasion; a dive bomber (Harper); a carrier pilot in training (Bowen); an aerial photographer (Wilson, who spent much of the war mapping Brazil), and a pilot who flew missions in China (Penick).
Too many stories to tell here. The real story was their humility. They didn't want to talk much about acts of daring or the terrible losses in family and friends they endured. But they talked warmly and almost ritualistically about the familiar stops along their training paths — Santa Ana, Calif.; Roswell, N.M.; Colorado Springs; the Great Lakes Naval Air Station — and the tough training officers and revered leaders. Fulkerson, who won the Bronze Star in the Philippines, talked of smuggling booze from Australia to New Guinea to trade for “hospital rations,” better chow than the usual “bully beef.” Harper laughed at his own missteps in an early mission leading a bomber group from the short jeep carrier on which he was based to strafe Okinawa beaches.
They all became outsized community figures and it's hard to believe the war experience (and the G.I. bill) wasn't a part of their winning formula. “It certainly made you grow up quickly,” one said. The session was videotaped. The hope is that the History Institute lectures will become a readily accessible public resource. Former UALR Chancellor Charles Hathaway also said he hoped more war stories are gathered. Time is fleeting.