Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ken Hechler Back In Campaign Mode: Read All About This Man

There is news today that a man even older than was Robert Byrd is running for the seat Byrd vacated when he recently died.

The man is Ken Hechler (short bio here) and don't let his age fool you. Hechler is a genuine, living American hero and political legend.

Hechler was a combat soldier and historian in WWII, worked in various capacities for Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, and served in West Virgina state government and in the Congress.

He did a lengthy oral history some years back for the Truman Library: Here is the transcript, and if you have a bone of appreciation for American history in your body, you'll take 20 minutes out of you lifetime and read it.

I actually briefly interviewed Hechler 11 years ago when I was working on a memoir (unpublished by lazy me) about my Dad, Hobart Rowen, who traveled on Harry Truman's 1952 cross-country train trip as a Newsweek magazine correspondent.

Hechler was aboard as a Truman adviser. The trip was Truman's farewell tour, as he was not running for re-election, so he used it to dedicate a lot of dams across the country and also to support the Democratic Presidential nominee, Adlai Stevenson.

Stevenson lost to Republican Dwight Eisenhower.

At age 34, the train trip was my Dad's first big political national reporting assignment for Newsweek; he saved a large collection of memorabilia from the three-week cross-country trip - - also his first visit to the US west - - and my mother passed these papers to me.

In those days, a presidential train tour (campaigning by plane was just beginning to take hold in the early 1950's) was a dream assignment. Reporters and their subjects shared the train for days, weeks.

Stories were typed on manual typewriters and filed by telegraph through Western Union operators on board. There was no internet, or cell phones, and weekly magazines like Newsweek were far more influential than they are today.

We heard a lot about that trip around the dinner table over the years, and I remember hearing Hechler's name, among others.

My Dad was a working reporter even before he graduated from college, in 1937, at age 19.

He worked in Newsweek's Washington, DC bureau from 1941-1965, and then moved to the Washington Post when it purchased Newsweek.

Until his death in April, 1995, Dad was a Post reporter and columnist and had a long stint as Assistant Managing Editor, Finance.

I'll have to dig out my Hechler interview notes - - I called him cold when he was West Virginia Secretary of State - - and I remember him as gracious, and sharp as a tack at 85.

Reading today that he is in this campaign to draw attention to the disgraceful coal mining technique of mountaintop removal in his native West Virginia tells me that he is still in great form.

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