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OPINION | MIKE MASTERSON: Honoring vets

by Mike Masterson | June 29, 2021 at 2:00 a.m.

The sky was robin’s egg blue peppered with pearl clouds when Sarah Huckabee Sanders breezed in and out of Harrison last week. She’d been invited by veterans groups to address and meet the community’s former military servicemen and women as they dedicated the community’s renovated veterans resource center called Camp Jack.

The expansive auditorium in the historic building with its shiny tile floor echoed with conversations against a lectern framed by 10 flags and the scents of popcorn, coffee, cupcakes and doughnuts. Balloons bearing the stars and stripes floated from tables.

There was standing room only. After all, this was a landmark day for veterans from throughout Boone County and beyond who’d longed for decades to have a spacious place they could gather in fellowship and camaraderie.

One thing Sanders didn’t come for was to push her campaign for governor, which seemed just fine with the 300 or so guests, residents and, of course, the veterans themselves. One man pointed out that two Razorback football seasons still must pass before the next election.

As just the third female and the first mother to serve as a presidential press secretary, the whip-smart 38-year-old graduate of Central High School and Ouachita Baptist University and daughter of former Gov. Mike Huckabee wanted the throng to know how close she feels to those who’ve served our nation in defending its freedoms.

“I really wanted to come and do this today,” she said. “There is no greater representation of the greatness of our nation than its veterans.” It was apparent to me from her comments that her soft spot for older men in veterans caps runs deep and sincere.

“Good people do everything they can to protect the values of our communities, state and country,” she said. “One reason I’m here is to say thank you. This is a special place for special people.” Clad in a fashionable blue dress, Sanders said America is the greatest, most free country the world has ever known, but we could lose that should we lose our love for our foundations as a nation. She said those who have gone before and sacrificed for us with their lives allow us the freedom to pursue our dreams.

She paused before adding how critical she believes it to be that we do “every single thing we can to protect and preserve our freedoms and pass them along to the next generation.” Gathered in this brightly decorated auditorium (the former junior high school cafeteria named after Harrison Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Navy Corpsman Jack Williams) the crowd applauded as the town’s three veterans groups were honored for making their new gathering place a reality thanks to cooperation from the city, the county and others.

Sanders spent virtually all of 20 or so minutes at the lectern immediately flanked by state and U.S. flags explaining what life was like growing up as the daughter of a governor and as Trump’s top media adviser for two-plus years. She smiled as she told the crowd her father was among the “best governors and people I know.” While serving in the White House, Sanders said she found Trump (while not always accepting her advice) to be a man of his word when it came to campaign pledges. “He did what he said he would do and kept his promises.” Her respect for his achievements was apparent.

In her role as White House spokesperson, Sanders said she made every presidential foreign trip to 30 countries with Trump, including those into war-torn regions where American troops put their lives on the line daily. Those potentially hazardous journeys often demanded stringent precautions, such as the night they arrived in total darkness at a base in Iraq.

“There was a total blackout except for one light reflecting from in a building near the airstrip.” She said the presidential entourage disembarked Air Force One and headed for the light. Inside, soldiers were awaiting what they believed was a briefing from top military brass. But once the president entered, the room erupted in rousing cheers and reverberating chants of “USA.” Her voice cracked as she recalled a soldier who walked over to say how much he admired her and the way she handled repeated snarky and disrespectful shots from members of the mainstream media. She smiled and said all she had to do was take questions while he was continually risking life-threatening shots from our enemies.

At that point, she said the soldier removed a patch from his uniform and handed it to her.

Following her remarks and prolonged standing ovation, Sanders was presented with an enormous metal tub filled with local gifts and products. Then scores of those in the crowd swarmed to meet her personally, take pictures and collect her autograph. For most folks, that proved enough reason to attend the grand opening for this place, which is, I suspect, unique in Arkansas.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.

Clarification

An email from a UALR professor quoted in Saturday’s online column stated that Bill Clinton was disbarred, but he wasn’t. He was fined $25,000 and his Arkansas license was suspended for five years. He resigned from practice before the U.S. Supreme Court rather than face disbarment.

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Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master’s journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com .

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