Billy Graham’s Steadfast Faith

bgPort Chester, February 21, 2018 – I never did buy the claim that Billy Graham became famous because William Randolph Hearst wanted to sell papers during his 1949 Los Angeles crusade and wired his editors to “Puff Graham.”

Granted, even Billy thought the inexplicable telegram from the churlish Hearst was significant, but it didn’t account for his international fame or for his staying power. It was Billy’s good looks and charisma that did that.

I first noticed his particular power in 1967 during Graham’s month-long crusade in Earl’s Court, London. The U.S. Air Force chaplains at Bentwaters and Woodbridge air bases in Suffolk sent buses to the crusade so Americans could get a good look at their compatriot. One 15-year-old girl, the daughter of a sergeant, went forward to the podium repeatedly in response to Billy’s nightly invitation. After this had happened several times, I – a callow 21-year-old chaplain’s assistant – asked her if she realized she only had to accept Jesus once. She replied, “I’m going forward to get a closer look at Billy. He’s so cute!”

I’m sure Billy would have been embarrassed by that, but in 1967 he was tall, tanned, and extremely good-looking – all useful tools for effective evangelism.

The next and last time I saw Billy was in 1980 during the gathering of the Baptist World Alliance in Los Angeles. I was there to edit the Alliance’s daily newspaper so I tried to follow the two main celebrity speakers – Billy and former President Jimmy Carter – as closely as I could. Both Graham and Carter submitted graciously to interviews, but my main memory is that they could both walk through the crowded lobby of the host hotel without attracting the slightest attention. Stars do not overly impress sophisticated Angelinos.

whatthehellYears later, in 2008 when I was a communications officer for the National Council of Churches, I stumbled across a story that reminded me how steadfast was Billy’s faith. I had immersed myself in a project to write a series of blogs on great leaders of the NCC, an organization best known for its commitment to social justice.

As I leafed through the pages of Outlook, a magazine published by the Council from 1950 to 1953, I realized I was missing an important ministry not always associated with the National Council of Churches: evangelism.

I was surprised to discover the Council had a director of evangelism in the early fifties. He was a fiery, energetic preacher named Charles Templeton, who happened to be a good friend of Billy Graham. A long article in Outlook described Templeton’s homiletical zeal and remarkable success in winning souls for Jesus.

Yes! I thought. Perfect. Who knew the council had an evangelical side? Was Templeton still alive? Was he still in the evangelism biz? I jumped on my computer and began searching for him.

I didn’t find Charles, but I found his son and gave him a call.

“I was just reading an old article about your dad’s years as evangelist for the National Council of Churches,” I said.

“Oh,” he replied, sounding interested.

“Is your dad still around?”

“He died in 2001.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“You knew, right?”


“You knew he became an atheist and left the Council?”


So much for the NCC evangelism story.

Digging a little further, I discovered Templeton had written a book in 1996, Farewell to God, My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith.

The book includes an account of his encounter with his old pal, Billy Graham.
In the course of our conversation I said, “But, Billy, it’s simply not possible any longer to believe, for instance, the biblical account of creation. The world was not created over a period of days a few thousand years ago; it has evolved over millions of years. It’s not a matter of speculation; it’s a demonstrable fact.”

“I don’t accept that,” Billy replied.

One has to admire Billy’s tenacity in sticking with his faith. Templeton’s account makes one wonder if Billy ever considered that the Bible offers both history and poetic metaphors that could not be literally true but illumine greater spiritual truths. Possibly Billy’s mind and faith became more open over the years because as he aged he stopped preaching that hell was the inevitable fate for all who don’t accept Jesus as a personal savior. But whatever his faith was, no one can doubt that it was deep, honest, and resolute.

(I wrote in greater depth about Templeton and other doubters in a 2014 blog from which some of the above is gleaned:

Billy Graham, who died Tuesday at 99, was relatively silent over the past several years as he struggled with memory problems (his staff avoid the word dementia). Throughout his long career he remained friends with the National Council of Churches while other evangelicals denounced the organization as leftist. He once visited the NCC offices on 475 Riverside Drive in New York and conferred with General Secretary Joan Brown Campbell. According to staff legend, Joan reminded Billy that he was breaking his rule against meeting alone with a woman behind closed doors (now known as the Pence rule). Billy reportedly laughed out loud and made no move to open the door.

As Billy aged, I wrote an obituary for him so the Council could quickly release its statement in the event of his death. I revised the obituary four times to tailor the quotes for a succession of NCC general secretaries: Bob Edgar, Michael Kinnamon, Peg Birk, and finally for President and General Secretary Jim Winkler.

The draft obit disappeared long before Billy did, but his passing harkens back to a simpler era in U.S. religion, when an evangelical Southern Baptist from North Carolina figured out how to hone his message about God’s love for all people in ways that rarely offended and often brought us closer together.

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Dreams of a Retired Church Communicator on a snowy night


It was snowing steadily last night and I fell asleep thinking I would have to get up in a few hours to shovel the sidewalk. The meme above must have been the last thing I saw on Facebook before I began to dream.

I dreamed I was in the National Council of Churches offices in New York (as they were in the 1970s, expanding over three floors of The Interchurch Center) and I was preparing two special guests for a videotaped interview: Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. The topic would be a measured discussion of the presence of the filioque in the Nicene Creed.*

The two church leaders frowned tensely as large lavalier mics were draped over their shoulders, clicking against their dangling crosses. I smiled ingratiatingly at them, hoping to get them to relax, but it wasn’t working. Bartholomew slapped at my producer’s hand as he adjusted the cord of the lavalier. Francis’ double chin swelled like a balloon as he lowered his chin and scowled.

“You’re not going to do anything about it anyway,” Bartholomew hissed at Francis before we could get a mic level.

“It’s only semantics for Christ’s sake,” Francis replied, smiling at his pun.

“It’s an umbrage to God the Father,” Bartholomew replied.

“Shut up,” Francis said.

“No, you!” said Bartholomew.

I felt a gnawing in the pit of my stomach as I realized the interview was falling apart.

Then our dogs started barking downstairs because someone was outside shoveling snow and I awoke with a start.

This, I realized, was only a dream. But not only a dream, actually: the sort of dream a retired church communicator has in the dead of winter, when the last press release has been long-since posted and the last VHS tape has disintegrated on the shelf.

When I was young, my dreams consisted of Ann-Margret lifting the hem of her dress half-way up her exquisite thigh as she danced to Bye, Bye, Birdie.

 These more edifying dreams are rarer each night.

I would so welcome her back.




* The Creed in A.D. 325 originally stated that the Holy Spirit proceeds from God the Father, which Orthodox churches liked, but in the sixth century the Catholic Church added the words “and son” (filioque) which Orthodox churches disliked because they thought it diminished God the Father. The disagreement led to the schism of 1054.

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An Open Letter to NRA-owned Politicians

jesusweepsAR15Seventeen children and adults killed with a semi-automatic rifle in Florida by a 19-year-old with impulse control issues.

The eighteenth time guns were discharged in a school so far in 2018.

God damn it.

Senators and representatives owned by the NRA, let’s be frank. The time for debate is over.

For those of you who proclaim yourselves Christian, be warned. Your souls may be in jeopardy.

Where in hell did you get the idea that Jesus who commanded us to love our neighbor and turn the other cheek would bless the massive proliferation of guns in our country?

And how can you, as Christians, suggest that the solution to the carnage is to arm teachers and parishioners in schools and churches to shoot suspicious looking interlopers? Are you crazy? Even cops have made tragically fatal mistakes trying to guess whether a person is carrying a gun or a cellphone. Are you trying to exponentially increase the slaughter?

You are probably good persons regardless of your unholy marriage to the NRA. With love, may I offer some suggestions as a fellow Christian, former NRA member, veteran, and erstwhile expert marksman.

First, my Christian sisters and brothers, enact legislation to get rid of guns.

This requires awareness that the 2nd Amendment is not the 67th book of the Bible. It was born out of 18th century white men’s fear that they might need to defend themselves against slave rebellions. It endures with the support of judges who don’t know history and who nurse the mad theory that citizens might need to form a militia to defend the country against foreign invaders. A nation that spends 16 percent of its national budget on defense doesn’t need help from armed farmers and merchants. It’s time to repeal the 2nd amendment.

Second, some guns should be banned, beginning with the AR15s and other automatic or semi-automatic weapons that have no purpose other than killing people. This should be easy enough since the vast majority of your fellow citizens want these weapons taken out of circulation. It will be up to you to decide if the lives of victims are more important than your NRA support. Take courage. Make it a felony to own automatic weapons.

Third, require detailed federal background checks of any person attempting to purchase a gun of any kind.

Fourth, sponsor legislation to limit the number of guns an individual should own. I have yet to hear a convincing argument that any one person should own more than three sporting guns, including a deer rifle, shotgun, and handgun. If people want more guns than that, make them fill out long forms to explain why and leave it up to a judge to decide whether their application has merit.

Fifth, sponsor legislation to require the National Rifle Association to contribute to a fund to buy back guns from individuals who exceed the limit, and to provide medical support and counseling for the victims of gun violence and their families.

Sixth, require the licensing of all guns and charge a reasonable fee for the license, which should be renewed annually.

Seventh, maintain a federal registry of these gun licenses so law-enforcement can quickly determine if individuals named in orders of protection or domestic abuse charges, or who display signs of mental illness, own guns.

Granted, none of this will be easy. But it will be up to you, my fellow Christians, to resist the insane notion of the NRA and obsessive gun nuts that people should be able to purchase an unlimited number of guns of any kind without anyone knowing about it. Look at the headlines to see where that has led.

Look also to the fact that because the United States does not control the flow of guns it has a staggeringly higher record of gun deaths than any other civilized country in the world.

If it helps clear your minds, think of Australia where 35 people were killed by a gunman in 1996. According to the BBC:

Less than two weeks after the Port Arthur massacre, all six Australian states agreed to enact the same sweeping gun laws banning semi-automatic rifles and shotguns – weapons that can kill many people quickly.

They also put more hurdles between prospective gun owners and their weapons.

Australia has 28-day waiting periods, thorough background checks, and a requirement to present a “justifiable reason” to own a gun.

Unlike in the U.S., self-protection is not accepted as a justifiable reason to own a gun.

In the 21 years since the laws were passed, about one million semi-automatic weapons – roughly one third of the country’s firearms – were sold back to the government and destroyed, nearly halving the number of gun-owning households in Australia.

There have been no mass shootings in Australia since then, and rates of homicide and suicide have also gone down since 1996.

Granted, we are not Australia. But we could move toward this standard of civilized behavior. Ask yourself, my fellow Christians, if this is not a reasonable approach for the United States before more children are killed in more schools, theaters, or churches.

Finally, think of Jesus who you claim to know and love. Can you imagine this Jesus with a Glock strapped to his thigh? Can you imagine Jesus blessing your efforts to keep guns of all kind freely flowing in our cities, neighborhoods, villages, and farms? And can you believe this Jesus blesses your inaction whenever more children are killed?

If that is the Jesus you know, than all I can say is this. I will remember you sadly in my thoughts and prayers. But you will never get my vote.

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Cadet Bone Spurs and His Parade of Power

iloveaparadeWho Loves a Parade?

Certainly not the GI’s forced to march in one.

The current commander-in-chief – Cadet Bone Spurs as he has been aptly dubbed by Senator Tammy Duckworth, a bona fide war hero – has no way of knowing this because he has never served in the armed forces. Marching in military formation is never a GI’s idea of a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

I’m extrapolating from my own military experience 50 years ago but I can’t imagine this attitude has changed much. I once heard my father, who served in New Guinea during World War II, express the disgust he felt when he was ordered to join a post-war victory march in his hometown of Oneonta, N.Y. “People want to cheer us and thank us,” a long-forgotten colonel told him. “Then let the civilians march in the street while we stand on the sidewalk drinking beer,” Dad replied.

Of course every member of the armed forces is trained to march, and often it comes in handy. I have vague memories of marching in formation on RAF Station Bentwaters in England in the 1960s during a joint British-U.S. commemoration of something or other, but even the officers demurred. Squadron commander Captain Maddox, an owlish man with a business degree, couldn’t remember the command to dismiss us, so he shouted, “Rout Step until we pass your barracks and then fall out.”

The largest military parade I participated in was at McConnell AFB, Wichita, Kans., in the summer of 1968. President Lyndon B. Johnson had already pulled out of the presidential race but he remained deeply unpopular. He couldn’t step outside the White House without eliciting boos and chants of “Hey, Hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”

As a result, LBJ visited military bases where he could be sure his welcome, if not enthusiastic, would be quiet. When LBJ announced he was coming to McConnell AFB, he made it clear to Base Commander Brigadier General Bob Cardenas that he expected the red-carpet treatment.

Cardenas – who, the last I checked, is still alive at 97 – is also a bona fide war hero. Born in Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico, he moved to San Diego with his family when he was 5 and joined the Army Air Force in 1939. He was a fighter pilot during World War II and is probably best known as a test pilot for the Bell X-1 supersonic aircraft, the same that propelled Chuck Yeager to fame in The Right Stuff.

In addition to his mathematical and aeronautic acumen, Cardenas had another qualification to be a command pilot of the tiny Bell X-1: he is short. That was fine with most of us because heroes do not have to be tall and most of them are not. But his diminutive stature led to some awkward moments during the parade he called to honor President Johnson.

It was raining that day and no one wanted to be out on a parade ground marching 120 paces a minute while the President and General watched. The procedure was to keep our eyes rigidly forward as we marched until we passed the reviewing stand. Then the parade officer would shout, “eyes right!” and we’d snap our gaze in the direction of our leaders.

The first thing we noticed is that LBJ looked pissed, as if he was annoyed General Cardenas had failed to arrange for clear skies. The parade officer snapped a salute at the President who – this being before presidents returned military salutes – deepened his frown. But when General Cardenas snapped a return salute we noticed him for the first time, drenched in his class-A blues and standing about 15 inches shorter than the 6-foot, 3 ½ inch president.

It was an unexpected contrast and a few of marchers lost control and snickered at the Mutt and Jeff figures on the platform. Then somebody laughed out loud. The rest of us struggled to maintain military discipline but some could not suppress involuntary sinus snorts. There were tears in my eyes when we finally passed by, and not the kind caused by patriotic pride.

I have no idea what the President and general did the rest of the day. I returned to my barracks, took a hot shower, and put them out of my mind.

Fifty years on, I’m impressed by what General Cardenas did not do. He could have opened one of the missile silos or taxied a few B-52s onto the ground to show off the mighty arsenal at his disposal. Looking back, I suspect there was more lethal hardware on McConnell AFB than in the combined majority of nations around the world.

But nobody talked about that. Not only was it gauche to boast of such things, it was a violation of security. There was a fundamental understanding that it would be unseemly for the strongest nation on earth to swagger.

I hope that attitude has not been entirely suppressed by the current lot in power.

But before Cadet Bone Spurs decides to go ahead with his mighty parade, I hope he will first consult with the non-commissioned officers who will tell him the truth: the rank and file will hate it.

And when the parade officer orders the marchers to snap right and salute the current Commander-in-Chief, they may find it impossible to suppress their laughter.

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Saying Farewell to Sir Winston


January 24, 2018 – Winston Churchill’s death 53 years ago today marks a week of vivid personal memories.

Sir Winston died as I was preparing to leave home for a three-year Air Force posting at RAF Stations Bentwaters and Woodbridge in England’s bucolic Suffolk. I was already homesick when I climbed aboard a Boeing 707 at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport en route to London’s Heathrow.

My orders called for me to check in at Douglas House, a military hostel in the heart of London, where I would receive instructions for travel to the bases. I climbed into a luxurious London cab and gave the driver the directions recorded on my mimeographed orders.

The driver, wearing a wool cap and a frayed tweed jacket with shirt and tie, said, “Right-O, Mate.” He took me past Buckingham Palace, where the Union Jack was lowered in Churchill’s honor but the royal standard was at full staff. The driver was apologetic. “The Queen ain’t no better than you nor me, but she can’t lower her flag for Winnie, he warnt a peer.” Later I was told the royal standard is only lowered for the death of the sovereign.

I made my way to RAF Bentwaters on Saturday, the day of Churchill’s funeral. Ray Williams, the NCO in charge of the chapel where I would work, invited me to his family quarters on Woodbridge base, where we watched the funeral procession on a black-and-white telly. We listened respectfully as the BBC broadcast the voice of former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who referred to my “old friend Winston.”

I was 18 and let it all flow over me. As time went on I began to wonder if Ike and Winston were really friends or did they constantly annoy each other by their differing views on the conduct of the war?

But on the day of Churchill’s funeral, my first full day so far away from home, I found comfort in Ike’s homely Kansas resonance.

Fifty-three years ago this week, Harold Wilson’s Labour government gave Sir Winston a funeral worthy of the savior of the nation.

But I wonder if some Brits also looked back upon him with mixed feelings. There is no question Sir Winston’s indomitable courage and soaring eloquence galvanized his people in their finest hour. Still, nothing was said during his funeral about his fierce imperialism and stunningly racist views, or his glorification of violence and war.

Even so, I found it an honor to be present in England as the Commonwealth said farewell to this towering figure Time magazine dubbed the Man of the Half Century.

And today I adapt an old admonition from Britain’s days of war: Keep Calm and marvel that you can remember 53-year-old events as if they are frozen in time.

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The Chaplain’s Assistants Who Won the Cold War


“To most people, a veteran was a veteran – all were the same, whether one man had survived the deadliest combat or another had pounded a typewriter while in uniform.” – Eugene Sledge, World War II hero featured in the HBO series, The Pacific.

At last word, HBO had no plans to produce a sequel to Band of Brothers and The Pacific.

A proposal for a third series about Air Force typists – the chaplains’ Assistants who played a crucial role in preserving freedom in the 1960s – has been ignored by Tom Hanks.

The five minutes of out-takes from forgotten screen tests are unlikely ever to be seen, but a transcript has been rescued from the cutting room floor.

Scene 1. Close-up of a 70-something, bespectacled, goateed man, his receding gray hair covered by a worn baseball cap. He is looking at an off-screen interviewer, not at the camera. The man is struggling with his emotions.

 “I don’t know if the people back in the States ever realized the sacrifices the men and women in uniform made in the Cold War,” he is saying. “It was worse in the chapel than anywhere.”

 Cut to a plump man with a shaved head and pink face.

 “Chaplains had to have their sermons typed on time or they couldn’t preach on Sundays. And their handwriting was real terrible. One time I typed, ‘Jesus Galls Us’ and the chaplain read it out loud. The commander almost had us taken out and shot.”

 Cut to a third man wearing an obvious toupee. He has tears in his eyes.

 “I had to type the chapel bulletins and take the masters to the base print shop. If the printer was late, there were no bulletins. Without bulletins, the services fell apart. A goddamn mess.”

 The goateed man.

 “One time the bulletins didn’t show up for the Christmas Eve service. The chaplain was calling out Easter hymns. His typist collapsed under the stress – spent three months in the hospital in Lakenheath. Even after he got out, he was never the same.”

 The shaved-headed man.

 “No one thought any less of him, though. We understood. We’d all been there.”

 The toupee-wearing man.

“The chaplain was charged with protecting the mind, body and soul of the whole goddamned aerospace team. You know – the men and women who was protecting the country from the goddamn Red Menace.”

 The goateed man.

“It was our job to keep the chaplain prepared, intellectually and spiritually. The typewriter was our weapon in that war.”

 The shaved-headed man.

 “You quickly learned that the typewriter was your friend. Your only friend, really.”

 The goateed man.

 “After a while you got so you knew every bell and key on your Underwood. You could field strip it, lay all the pieces on your desk, and put it back together inside of 20 minutes.”

 The toupee-wearing man.

 “Some guys took their typewriter to bed with them.” (He stifles a sob and tries to wave the camera away.) “It got so goddamn lonely.”

The goateed man.

 “The typewriter was an essential instrument in the Cold War. We used to sing this song while we marched: ‘This is my weapon (gesturing to a typewriter), this is my gun (nodding self-consciously toward his groin), one is for working, one is for fun.’” (After moments of silence he blinks self-consciously into the camera.)

 The shaved-headed man.

 “I don’t think any of us really knew how to type right – most of us were two-finger hunt-and-peckers.”

 The goateed man.

“We didn’t get all our fingers into play, but we were fast.”

 The toupee-wearing man.

 “We were Goddamn fast.”

 The Goateed man.

 “We knew we had to be fast. If we didn’t have the sermon typed, the chaplain couldn’t preach. If the chaplain couldn’t preach, the morale of the Aerospace Team was in the toilet.”

 The shaved-headed man.

 “You know what that means.”

 The toupee-wearing man.

 “Might as well goddamn surrender.”

 The goateed man.

 “But we were very seldom late with those sermons. We didn’t think much about it then, but our typewriters and us were a helluva team.”

 The shaved-headed man.

 “I like to think of what one of my buddies said to his grandson when he asked, ‘Grandpa, were you a hero in the Cold War?’ And he replied, ‘No, I wasn’t a hero, son. But I served with typists.’”

 The goateed man.

(Holding up his two index fingers.) “Look at the callouses. These two fingers did a helluva lot of pecking for my country.”

 The Shaved-headed man.

 “Was it worth it? Hell, yeah, it was worth it. Next time you’re at a Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day parade and you see a clerk-typist in uniform, buy him a beer.”

 The toupee-wearing man.

 “Say, hail, typing guy. Your carriage return bell was the goddamn ding of freedom.”

 End of scene 1.

Addendum. True story: My 11-year-old grandson asked his father what I had done in the Air Force. My son-in-law replied, “I think Grandpa sat at a desk using a typewriter.

My grandson blinked in puzzlement.

“What,” he asked, “is a typewriter?”

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Guns and the Yahootude

By Philip E. Jenks


January 7, 2018 – Less than a week into his term as Westchester, N.Y., County Executive, George Latimer issued an executive order banning gun shows in government buildings in the county.

Almost immediately one of Latimer’s Facebook trolls called him a hypocrite for claiming to support the Second Amendment while opposing the public display and sale of guns. Unperturbed, Latimer replied, “The right to own a gun is protected. The right to have a gun show in a public building is not.”

Probably Latimer’s decision is supported by the majority of his constituents, many of whom are appalled by the extremes the gun lobby will go to make automatic rifles and concealed weapons available to all.

Most Americans believe stricter controls should be placed on guns and gun ownership but these proposals have been consistently blocked by Republicans in Congress. Recent gun-related tragedies have been ignored by politicians except to express prayers and sympathy for the victims. it is a wonderment that Senate Republicans feel entitled to defy the wishes of the people they are supposed to represent. In my opinion, they are underestimating their presumed base, the Yahootude, into which I was born seven decades ago.

And I have no doubt that my fellow Yahootudians think allowing terrorists, the mentally ill, and domestic abusers to buy guns is a dumb ass idea. And so is the idea of selling guns to anyone who wanders into a gun show.

The Yahootude is a distinct sociological group identified by Garrison Keillor, and I’d like to think most Americans – in red states and blue states – are as proud of their Yahootudinal roots as I am.

I’d like to offer a friendly word of advice to Republicans who think they can take us for granted. Despite what you think, we can tell the difference between responsible gun use and dumb ass ideas, and someday we are going to clarify the differences at the polls.

My family has been prominent in the Yahootude since Colonial days in the U.S., and my ancestors have included politicians, soldiers, sailors, farmers, merchants, and teachers. My antecedents – women and men – could quickly prime, load, and discharge a musket when a turkey dinner winged overhead or a fox approached the henhouse.

But despite the family familiarity with firearms, I should disclose that my Dad – a WWII infantry lieutenant with an Army marksman’s badge – was ambivalent about guns.

A veteran of the bloody Buna campaign in Papua New Guinea, Dad had little patience with gunplay, imaginary or real. One Christmas when my brother Larry and I were very young, he bought us cowboy hats and Roy Rogers cap pistols, but he insisted that we not point them at each other. Larry and I exchanged conspiratorial glances and shoved the muzzles into each other’s noses.

As I grew into early teenage, Dad and I had our share of Oedipal disagreements, but the only thing he absolutely forbade was my participation in an organized war game in the woods between Cedar and North streets. (There were a lot of trees and few streets in Morrisville, N.Y.)

The game was harmless enough, actually a 1950s precursor to paintball without the paintballs. About 20 of us would divide into two warring teams. You knew you were dead when a soldier on the opposing team saw you hiding in the trees and shouted,“Pow! Phil!” and the rules required that you lay in the pine needles until the war was over. For some reason that eludes me now, I thought it was a lot of fun. But the very idea of a war game gave Dad a chill, and in unequivocal terms he declared me a conscientious objector.

Later, when I learned some of the details of his combat experience in the New Guinea jungle, I understood, but at the time I thought he was being arbitrary and reactionary.

Even so, guns were not a problem per se to Dad’s way of thinking – only the frivolous and stupid use of them.

When I turned 14 and expressed an interest in hunting, he didn’t flinch. He pulled out the .22 rifle his father had given him and said it would be perfect for target practice and small game. Then he went to the local chapter of the National Rifle Association and got himself credentialed as a gun safety instructor. He took me up to the woods and set up paper targets, all of them mounted on trees so thick the rounds could not penetrate them. Then, before he gave me the rifle, he presented me with my first NRA card and told me to read the gun safety instructions on the back. The rules included logical precautions like keeping the gun unloaded when it wasn’t in use, and – loaded or unloaded – never pointing it at anything you did not intend to shoot. The NRA also insisted that you keep your finger off the trigger when you weren’t about to shoot, to know your target and what was beyond it, and – important in our neck of the woods –never climb a fence with the gun in your arms. Modern updates to the rules include wearing goggles and ear protection when you fire a gun, but that never occurred to us in 1960.

As time went on, Dad offered the same training to all my brothers and to my sister. I took the .22, and later a 20-gauge shotgun, into the woods a few times before my interests turned to more effete pursuits. I rarely shot an animal, not because I didn’t shoot at them but because rabbits and pheasants (and rats at the dump) are artful dodgers. On the rare occasion that I shot something, even a rat, I found it a nauseating experience and I quickly lost interest in the whole gun thing.

Looking back, I’m struck by Dad’s haunted expression in a photo that was taken when he bagged a deer during a hunt with his principal and fellow teachers. Dad had just mustered out of the army and was readjusting to civilian life. He had no interest in shooting a living creature, but his instincts as a sharp shooter must have taken over. God knows what terrible memories it brought back.

Dad’s training did serve me well when I joined the Air Force. I was comfortable around the M-1 carbine and could shoot it accurately enough to earn the Air Force expert marksmen’s ribbon – the only decoration I earned for doing something other than showing up. But by the time I had spent hundreds of cold hours on guard duty on a USAFE base in England, my interest in firearms began to ebb.

Finally, one incident turned me into an anti-gun person.

When I was 19 I used to sit next to a major’s wife on bus trips to London. At the time I regarded officers’ wives as an untouchable and certainly unattainable species, but she was young, beautiful, and spoke softly with a seductive Alabama accent. She may have sensed the crush I had on her because she talked constantly about her husband, an F4C fighter pilot. “He’s just mah AH-ll,” she’d say, batting her eyelashes, and I’d try not to look jealous. She was openly flirtatious with other airman, too, and it crossed my mind to wonder what her husband thought about that. A few weeks later, the major reported he accidentally shot and killed her while cleaning his pistol. I don’t know how you could accidentally discharge a revolver if the cylinder is open for cleaning, but the brass dismissed the event  as a tragic mishap. Even then, I didn’t blame the gun. I blamed the damn fool who didn’t follow simple NRA guidelines.

Growing up in Madison County, N.Y., was certainly a gun-intensive experience. In the 18 years I spent there, I learned that guns were fun when used right, and bad when used stupidly. And they were used stupidly at times. During hunting season, we’d hear stories of errant rounds whizzing past people’s heads or into their laundry because distant hunters weren’t following NRA rules. And Uncle Bob (the deer hunter in my family) would warn us with widening eyes not to shoot a gun straight into the air no matter what we were celebrating, because the damn bullets would come right back at you with the same velocity. He never told us how he knew that.

As a senior member of the Yahootude, I’d like to lay out some views I think all Yahootudians have in common. We don’t think everyone should be allowed to have a gun. We think persons who buy guns should be able to prove their mental stability, no matter how long a background check may take. We don’t think anyone should own an assault weapon so powerful that, even if it were used to defend a home, the bullet could pass through the home invader, the living room wall, the house next door, and kill any living creature in its path. And we don’t think any one person should accumulate enough guns to attack a small army, because that’s what they may end up doing.

We hold these views as self-evident because, unlike the NRA-owned members of the Senate, we have been keeping an eye on the toll guns have taken  in our country.

And we’re not the only ones. Even before recent gun rampages, millions of non-Yahoo Americans favored more effective control of guns.

According to the Pew Research Center, 79 percent of Republicans and 88 percent of Democrats favor background checks for gun shows and private gun sales.

Seventy percent want a federal database to track gun sales, and 57 percent want a ban on assault style weapons.

Almost no one thinks it’s a good idea to allow terror suspects to buy guns.

There are reasons to be angry at Republicans who think they can defy public opinion with impunity and among the most important are the 58 persons killed and 546 injured last October when a gunman opened fire on a music festival in Las Vegas. Also the 49 LGBT people who were shot dead in Orlando by a deranged man who had no difficulty purchasing a Sig Sauer MCX assault rifle.

The Las Vegas and Orlando massacres, which took place months after 9 members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were shot in Charleston, S.C., are not isolated events. According to a count by the Washington Post, 869 people have been killed in 126 mass shootings since Aug. 1, 1966, when ex-Marine sniper Charles Whitman killed his wife and mother, then climbed a 27-story tower at the University of Texas and killed 14 more people before police shot him to death.

But even these events pale in comparison to how guns are used every day in America.

Every day, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, 297 people in the U.S. are shot in murders, assaults, suicides, suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, and police intervention. Every day, 89 of those people die from their wounds.

Every year, according to the Brady Campaign, 108,000 people are shot in America in murders, assaults, domestic violence, accidental shooting, and police actions. Some 32,500 die, and 75,960 survive their wounds.

The rate of murder with guns is 25 percent higher in the U.S. than in other developed countries, according to the American Journal of Medicine. An American is ten times more likely to be killed by guns than persons living in other developed countries.

But those of us who grew up in the sticks – in the Yahootude –understand that guns were an essential tool in the building of the nation, and guns continue to be a wholesome and enjoyable instrument for recreational activities like hunting, skeet shooting and target practice.

We may even try to argue the legal nuances of the Second Amendment with each other, although most of us understand that when Mr. Madison wrote it he was thinking about state militias, not hunters.

But don’t be fooled by the way we wear our baseball caps backward or smear oil on our foreheads when we lube our cars. We’re not dumb.

And most Yahootudians I know will tell you to your face: allowing any damn fool who walks into a gun shop  to buy concealed weapons and assault rifles with little or no background is a dumb ass idea.

So stop writing us off. We know dumb ass when we see it. And the time may come when we’ll start expressing our views with our votes.


The author is a resident of Port Chester, N.Y.

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