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Washington news in brief: Arkansas teen attends French president's speech; 101-year-old shares story

by Frank E. Lockwood | May 6, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.
Des Arc native Mabel Thomsen, 101, who joined the Navy in 1944, still has her uniform and medals.

Youth in gallery, hears Macron talk

WASHINGTON -- Malik Barnes, a junior at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts in Hot Springs, attended French President Emmanuel Macron's speech before a joint session of Congress.

The 16-year-old junior from West Memphis, one of the students who accompanied the Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce on its annual fly-in, said Macron's April 25 appearance was the trip's highlight.

Besides the head of state, Barnes said he also saw Vice President Mike Pence and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

"It was absolutely phenomenal to sit in the gallery and be able to see all the politicians," he said. "You hear so much about these people and you see them on TV all the time, but to actually see them and how they interact with each other on the House floor is something completely different."

While Barnes had a bird's-eye view of the visit, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., was able to observe Macron at eye level.

Cotton, from Dardanelle, attended the arrival ceremony at the White House and was on hand when Macron awarded the Legion of Honor, France's highest military honor, to three U.S. World War II veterans. Cotton also was part of the official escort party that accompanied the French president.

Macron, who has encouraged funding for bilingual education, had no problem communicating with his American audiences.

"His English is better than my French, and some of my political opponents might say his English is better than my English," quipped Harvard-educated Cotton.

Cotton wasn't the only Arkansan to welcome Macron to Washington.

U.S. Sen. John Boozman, who serves as the co-chairman of the Senate French Caucus, also served on the escort committee and attended a lunch at the State Department with Macron and other dignitaries, a spokesman said.

Centenarian talks of military service

Nearly three-quarters of a century after she volunteered for service, a member of the Greatest Generation from Arkansas has shared her story with the Library of Congress.

Des Arc native Mabel Thomsen joined the U.S. Navy in 1944, hoping to join her husband, who was stationed in Hawaii. Instead, she was shipped 5,000 miles east of the islands, to New York.

Boot camp was awful, but her subsequent military service was rewarding, she said.

The war ended in 1945, but Thomsen remained in the hospital corps for two decades, serving across the country.

She worked at military hospitals, helping doctors provide services to female patients.

She met Elvis Presley once at a USO event, she said.

A half-century after leaving the service, her white uniform is still perfectly pressed and bedecked with medals.

Asked whether she would recommend military service to young people, the former chief hospital corpsman said: "Sure would. You've got three meals a day and good food."

Now 101 years old, Thomsen's story was recently captured on videotape and submitted by U.S. Sen. John Boozman to the Veterans History Project.

Part of the Library of Congress' American Folklife Center, the project focuses on collecting and retaining American veterans' oral histories.

2 students named McLarty scholars

Two more University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service students have been named McLarty scholars.

Christine McCall and Marina Giannirakis will serve semester-long fellowships at Vital Voices Global Partnership.

The Washington-based nonprofit works to "identify and invest in women leaders around the world."

Texarkana native Donna Cochran McLarty, the co-founder of McLarty Scholars, is also Vital Voices' co-founder.

Yvonne Quek, a Clinton School graduate and a native of Singapore, will be continuing her McLarty fellowship at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security.

McLarty Scholars provides the funding that enables the women to live and work in the nation's capital.

McCall, a graduate of Boston University, is a former newspaper reporter, grant writer and Peace Corps volunteer. She will be working in Tanzania this summer helping to design and implement a "servant leadership curriculum," according to a McLarty Scholars news release.

Giannirakis, a graduate of John Carroll University, was an intern for Legal Aid of Arkansas and the American Bar Association's Commission on Immigration. She has also volunteered at a Cleveland juvenile detention center.

This summer, she will be in Vietnam, "focusing on the protection of the rights of overseas migrant workers," the release stated.

In an email, Skip Rutherford, the Clinton School's dean, praised the latest recipients.

"These new McLarty scholars are outstanding and their futures are limitless. Thanks to the generosity of the McLarty family, these young women will have extraordinary experiences and I am most appreciative," he wrote.

Planning to visit the nation's capital? Know something happening in Washington, D.C.? Please contact Frank Lockwood at (202) 662-7690 or Want the latest from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Washington bureau? It's available on Twitter, @LockwoodFrank.

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