Bud Wilkinson: To a Very Rare Man

Topeka Capital-Journal
February 14, 1994

Last Wednesday night Jay Wilkinson called to say his dad, Bud, who made history as football coach at Oklahoma, was dying and probably wouldn’t make it through the night. He didn’t. Next morning we heard on the radio he had died.

Later in the morning I tried to call Charlie Hoag to tell him about Bud, but I couldn’t reach him. It wasn’t until the five o’clock TV news that we heard there had been a wreck on the Turnpike and that Charlie’s wife, Salli, was killed and he was seriously injured. The day had provided a double dose of bad news.

Wilkinson and Hoag had closer ties than you might think. In the early 1950s, Bud was one of the best coaches in the country and Charlie was a superb running back at KU , as well as being a key member of a national championship basketball squad. Continue reading

Averting a National Fitness Crisis: A Story of Pluck on the Front Lines

Topeka Capital-Journal
Jan. 9, 1991

There is more bad news for would be war correspondents. It wasn’t enough that the prospective war zone bans booze and wanton women, so now the Pentagon says journalists must pass a physical fitness test before they will be accredited to cover the troops in Operation Desert Shield.

Several men and women already have been tested, and only a few men have failed. This is not surprising, since men are less inclined to take this sort of thing seriously. Those found wanting probably went to the test directly from a wholesome lunch of spicy chili, barbecued ribs, cheesecake and a few beers.

Some men aren’t meant to pass physical fitness tests, and this simple fact calls to mind the greatest fitness crisis in the country’s history. It occurred in February 1963, and I am proud to say I played a major role in resolving it.

The White House was occupied at the time by John F. Kennedy, and it probably was his Irish humor and his bent for playing a dirty trick on his portly press secretary, Pierre Salinger, that started the whole thing. Robert F Kennedy, the attorney general, got into it, and in the end it turned out to be funny to everybody but Salinger.

The story goes that President Kennedy somehow learned that Teddy Roosevelt, when he was president, had sent a letter to the commandant of the Marine Corps saying every Marine should be able to walk 50 miles amd that White House personnel probably should be able to do it, too. You can smell a plot being hatched here.

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JFK Tops for Intentional White House Humor

Topeka Capital Journal
Aug. 12, 1991

In this country we like to say that anybody can grow up to be president, but that’s like saying anybody can win the lottery. The odds are against anyone who has the White House in mind. That goes even for a vice president, particularly if his name is Dan Quayle.

All most of us can do about the presidency is hope we vote for the winner, and then hope he does a decent job. We also can hope he has a sense of humor, because when you consider the shape the country is in, it is clear the head man needs to be able to laugh and make others laugh with him.

jfkIf you were to rate presidents by their sense of humor, you would have to admit that, despite all his weaknesses, John Kennedy was the best ever. Throughout his career, his wit stands out like no president before or since.

Asked how he became a war hero, he said, “It was easy. They sank my boat.” During his presidential campaign he said his wealthy father would finance a victory, “but he flatly refuses to pay for a landslide.” Continue reading

On Assignment from the President

Topeka Capital-Journal
June 1, 1992

I ended the month of May with a blooper, and probably I’m starting June with another one, but some of us never learn. Last week I wrote that State Senator Frank Gaines of Augusta, who has announced his retirement, was a good man. It turns out he was a better man than I gave him credit for being. I should have known .

He was in the Legislature 24 years, and I noted that if he signed up for the plush pension plan legislators voted for themselves, he would qualify for about $25,000 per year. I added there was no reason to believe he hadn’t signed.

Since then I have been informed by a good friend of his, who would know, that Gaines didn’t take advantage of the souped-up pension. He deserves this apology and the respect of all of us.

I also have sentenced myself to do severe penance for this mistake, but not before I start June on the wrong foot by giving in to the irresistible urge to drop big names. It comes over me occasionally, and I am a pushover.

Maybe this one was caused by the recent new evidence from the two doctors that president John F. Kennedy was killed by two shots, fired by one man. Maybe it started me thinking about him and about my days as a dedicated public servant in Washington.

The story goes back 30 years, to the days when all public servants were dedicated and all Kansas State football fans were long-suffering. The story doesn’t have anything to do with K-State, but it does have a little to do with football. Continue reading

The Summer Wind of 1942

Topeka Capital Journal
May 8, 1998

I saw Frank Sinatra perform live with the Tommy Dorsey band on the stage of a Washington DC theater in 1942. I stood in line with hundreds of others to get tickets to an early matinee, and when the show was over I was a fan of his, and I’ve been one ever since.

When he died this month I thought about that day, and before long I was drifting through memories of the years before and after it and reliving the chain of events that got me to Washington in the first place.

sinatradorsey1942

Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, 1942

By the time I saw Sinatra, I had been there more than a year, and had seen the Glenn Miller Band on the same stage. I thought at the time that nothing ever would top that, but I suppose Sinatra did. He was one man, and maybe there never has been another single performer who could move an audience like he did.

I was in Washington working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I was there because the FBI, expanding rapidly to handle the problems of impending World War 2, had gone all over the country interviewing candidates for clerical jobs. Salary: $1,440 per year, or $120.00 per month.

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Credit card was part of the family

Topeka Capital-Journal
March 19, 1993

NEW ORLEANS – In the spring of 1961, a Topekan named Daryl Schoonover drove his family to Washington, DC for a sightseeing vacation, and invited me to dinner one night. I was there working in President Kennedy’s physical fitness and sports program, and my family had not yet joined me.

Schoonover charged the meal to an American Express card. I had heard of the card, but this was the first time I had seen one in operation. I asked him about it, because the idea of putting off paying for anything always has appealed to me.

He said all I had to do was apply and prove to American Express I was a person of at least modest means. The next day I found a number to call and told a few lies. Continue reading

Another Look at the Second Amendment

Topeka Capital-Journal
Dec. 16, 1992

The Second Amendment to the US Constitution, one of the original 10 known as the Bill of Rights, says: “Right to keep and bear arms. A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

That’s all it says. It became law toward the end of 1791, when an armed and ready militia was necessary, because the security of the newly-created country was shaky. There was a real need for every able-bodied man to be armed and prepared to defend the nation against the British, French, the Indians or whomever.

But that was then, and this is now. The amendment qualifies the right of the people to keep and bear arms by saying armed citizens are needed to make up the militia that protects our security from the possible threats of outsiders.

Now, we don’t need militia, or a citizen Army, and it’s a good thing, because we are exactly 180 degrees away from having well-regulated armed citizens protecting our security.

In terms of physical security, what this country needs more than anything else is protection from the people who have the guns. Continue reading

Handguns Have Gotten out of Hand

Topeka Capital-Journal
Dec. 2, 1992

It would be great if everyone in the country decided the handgun homicides coast to coast last week, like the double slaying in Lawrence, were the last straw. There would be such a demand for gun control that Congress would get the message and do something about it.

Our representatives in Washington would be hammered so hard by constituents they would become more afraid of them than they are of the National Rifle Association now. They would do what they know to be the morally right thing, and they would pass laws making it very difficult to legally buy a handgun.

True, this would work a hardship on a lot of people, from schoolchildren to career criminals. The young thugs would have to settle grudges and impress peers with mere knives or baseball bats, or something like that. But there would be fewer of them killed.

Dedicated gun-carrying criminals might decide to get out of the business if they one day found themselves without a gun and no easy way to get one. Continue reading

Fitness for the Rest of Us

Metro News
March 19, 2004

Lee Iacocca was an automobile executive who at one time was better known than Henry or Edsel Ford, Orville Olds, Burl Buick, Chief Pontiac, Carl Cadillac, Abe Lincoln, Harry Honda, Tom Toyota, Ed Bozarth or Laird Noller. Iacocca created the Ford Mustang and got that auto empire out of a rut, and then literally saved Chrysler’s rear end, not to mention it’s flywheel.

He was Mister Detroit in 1962 when he had one of his underlings called the national Physical Fitness and Sports office in Washington. Iacocca had a hot idea, and wanted to present it to Bud Wilkinson, who was football coach at Oklahoma, but also President Kennedy’s consultant on such matters, and the boss of the office.

Wilkinson actually spent only the summer months in Washington, so the Iacocca call came to yours truly, the administrator of the operation. The auto magnate wanted an appointment with Wilkinson, so I set it up for a date a couple of weeks later, when Bud would be there. Continue reading

Snider’s Special Introductory Offer

Topeka Daily Capital
March 4th, 1959

My friend Tom Kiene, who administers the lash at The State Journal, is preparing to introduce me formally to a civic club. It’s my personal feeling that these affairs seemed pleasant only when compared to receiving a sentence in court, but that’s not the subject of this epistle. That will keep. . . .

What upsets me is the fact that when I glanced at the notes Tom was preparing for the introduction, I noticed he overlooked one of the most significant and interesting parts of my life.

Would you believe that, just before I went out and won the war, I played a major role in shoring up our internal security? Well. . . .

It started one day in 1940 in Oklahoma City when a friend of mine commented: “Say, did you know the FBI is interviewing people for jobs in Washington?”

“So what,” I said, using one of the sharpest retorts of the day.

“Why don’t we apply?” he asked.

“Why should we?”

“Have you heard,” he grinned slyly, “that there are eight women to every man in Washington?”

“Where do we apply?” I asked. . . . Continue reading