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Saturday, March 21, 2009
A TRUE STORY TO REMEMBER, FROM GARY GOSNELL, PILOT (RET.), SOUTHWEST AIRLINES
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 1997, AT THE LITTLE ROCK EXCELSIOR HOTEL.During our airline crew check-in at the Excelsior Hotel front desk we were told that President Clinton & his staff was staying in the hotel. The occasion was the 40th Anniversary of the Little Rock Central High integration crisis. President Clinton was scheduled to participate in the anniversary celebration on Friday the 19th & Saturday the 20th.Additionally the Congressional Medal of Honor Society of the United State of America was also meeting in the Excelsior Hotel that same weekend.I met the first officer in the bar for a late night sandwich. The bar was crowded with White House staffers so we sat at the bar. To appear ignorant the upcoming events I asked the lady on my left who are all these people and what is the occasion. She explained they were White House Staffers and the reason for the presidential visit. When asked what she did, she said she was on the White House communication staff.A few minutes' later two older gentlemen arrived at the bar. It was obvious that they were not part of the WH staff. We invited them to join us at bar. One of six the WH staffers sitting in a booth directly behind us stopped the second gentleman, former Navy Seal, Thomas R. Norris and asked him what was thing he was wearing around his neck. (Norris was about 5'10", 230 lbs.). He responded to the WH staffer that it was the CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL OF HONOR. Being a well-qualified Clinton white house staffer, the male staffer asked the question of the weekend, "What's that?" The Vietnam veteran, explained to the WH staffers what a CMH is and its significance. One of the six staffers in the booth apparently overcome with patriotism and love of the military, immediately left the booth and did not return. Later another WH staffer (male) sat down next to the former Navy Seal. After a little chitchat the WH staffer again asked the Seal about that thing around his neck. The Seal told the staffer about the CMH. When asked, Norris told the staffer about the events which resulted in the CMH. The staffer left after his first drink and never returned. To my left and behind me were Clinton WH staffers and to the right of the first officer were two CMH recipients. The contrast was stark. The quiet one was an Army retired Lt. Col., and the other, a former Navy Seal, both CMH recipients. We spent a couple hours asking questions and listening to their personal stories.We were honored to have met and talked with these two American Heroes. SALUTE!On January 13, 1997, in the East Room of the White House, President Clinton presented the seven Congressional Medals of Honor, one to Vernon Baker and six to the families of now deceased WWII servicemen. Eight months later some White House staffers fortunate enough to be invited to Little Rock for the 40th Anniversary had no idea what is a CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL OF HONOR and its significance in history of United States. A sad commentary! (…details coming about Thomas R. Norris’ and another Congressional Medal of Honor award… stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 to be posted here shortly!)