As I was born in 1960, I came of age during the Vietnam War. It was the lead story every night on the news and we watched the news before sitting down for supper. Except for family, in my youth, there was probably nobody we prayed more for than the POW’s. Similar to how people say regarding the plane crash “George Mickelson seven others,” we said “Leo Thorsness* and the POW’s.”
These men were the heroes of my childhood. I met three of these heroes.
• I shook the hand of Leo Thorsness during his Senate campaign outside the Ben Franklin in Pierre.
• Because I dated a staffer of Senator Jeremiah Denton, his office was directly one floor above Senator Abdnor and we often saw each other at Mass during Lent and other Holy Days (took the elevator down, walked to and from Mass, sat together, and elevator again just the two of us once), I got to know Senator Denton personally which gave me some level of insight in what being a POW does to a person and their family. When I heard of his death a few years ago, I actually teared up.
• John McCain was elected to the US House and on two occasions I had the privilege to shake his hand. Like Thorsness, no real conversation but thrilling just the same.
With that background, I need to give some other background. Senator Abdnor had two “mads.” One was his “let me tell you something friend” mad which wasn’t good because you sensed he wanted to tear your head off but wasn’t going to because you were his friend. The other is hard to describe but he would pull his lips close to his teeth and almost seeth when he was talking. This was really, really bad.
Anyway, Senator Abdnor was on the House side “doing business” and I was the staffer trailing him and taking notes. One of the people he spoke to was Congressman McCain. The conversation was private so I couldn’t hear but I could see. It was heated and before it ended I could see the “seething mad.”
Later, when I had a chance, I asked Abdnor what happened with McCain that caused him to get so mad. Jim looked at me with as an ashamed look as I ever saw him have and he said, “John McCain is a hero and didn’t deserve what I said.” That was it. I don’t even know the subject much less what was said.
When I got the news text Senator McCain (with Collins, Murkowski, and 100% of the Democratic Caucus) had voted against any reform of Obamacare, I seethed. I wanted to strike out. But, I’m trying to be like Jim Abdnor. John McCain is dying and he is a hero. I’ve prayed for him both in my youth and as an adult.
I know I can never be the man Jim Abdnor was but every now and then I have my moments where I step up. But it is really hard right now. Really hard.
*Leo Thorsness was from Minnesota, graduated from SDSU, married a SD girl, and I faintly remember somehow our family knew him or someone close to him. My guess is that is why we said his name and not the others.