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Katharine Graham


"After she took on that union, I decided to forgive her for what she did to Dick." Those words of admiration that I overheard in 1976 in Kansas City, Missouri, flashed across my mind when I read about the exhibit opening soon at the New York Historical Society – "Cover Story: Katharine Graham, CEO." (May 31-Oct. 3)

     I was in Kansas City to attend my first Republican National Convention, a battle pitting incumbent President Gerald R. Ford against insurgent Ronald R. Reagan. I was there to participate in a panel discussion on Political Action Committees (PACs), which then were relatively new in American politics. I had established one in 1973 and served as its secretary-treasurer – the person who recommended whom to support and who also signed the checks.

     It was a heady time in the history of American politics. Meeting in New York City, a month earlier, the Democrats had nominated James E. "Jimmy" Carter, a peanut farmer and cotton ginner and former governor of Georgia. The Republicans now had to decide whether to stick with Ford or to go with Reagan. Ford, a popular, albeit accidental president, achieved the office when President Richard M. Nixon resigned in August 1974, following the release of incriminating tape recordings that would have resulted in his impeachment. By virtue of the 25th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, Ford, as vice president, succeeded Nixon. 

     Ford had come to the office of vice president following the resignation of Spiro Agnew, who had resigned after pleading nolo contendere to charges of taking illicit payments during his political career in Maryland and as vice president. Ford, a well-liked Michigan Republican representative, was serving as house minority leader, when Nixon, acting pursuant to Section 2 of the 25th Amendment, nominated Ford to succeed Agnew and both the House and Senate approved the nomination.

     That Ford had become president without ever having been elected to the offices of president or vice president concerned many conservative Republicans who favored Reagan.

     The world was focused on the Republicans gathered in Kansas City. Media representatives of every stripe from across the world were there to report every development, every nuance as this political drama unfolded inside and out of Kemper Arena.

     In the midst of the excitement, I made an early dinner reservation on the third night of the convention at the then new and trendy restaurant, Americana, in the Crown Center.  My PAC chairman, Raymond S. Tapp, an influential Republican from Lubbock, Texas, had just arrived in town and would join me. With the convention delegates voting for the presidential nominee that night, Kansas City was buzzing with excitement. When we arrived for our early reservation at six p.m., we were seated in the center of the restaurant in a large curved banquette facing a long table, where over the next few minutes some 20 middle-aged and prosperous looking men arrived, wearing dark blue bespoke suits. Seated at the end of the table was a tall, well-coifed, handsome woman clad in a classic black dress wearing a string of pearls. Raymond leaned over and whispered, "Who is that woman? She looks familiar."

     "It's Katharine Graham," I replied. "She owns The Washington Post."

     "What's she doing here? She's a Democrat," Raymond said.

     "Those men are obviously newspaper owners like she is," I said. "They're here for the convention. It's news."

     Raymond was a strong Ford supporter as he was a Nixon supporter and was not one to forgive Graham for the Post's aggressive investigative reporting of the 1972 break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office building that led to Nixon's resignation. Over the next hour, we enjoyed our meal while straining to overhear the conversation of the newspaper publishers, many seemingly in Ford's corner.

     When we finished dinner, Raymond and I were waiting at the elevator with some of the media moguls, when one of them said to the others in his group, "You know, Katharine is a great person when you get to know her. I hated her guts for that Watergate reporting, but after she took on that union, I decided to forgive her for what she did to Dick." The others all nodded in agreement. The man speaking was referring to the 1975-76 pressman's strike at The Washington Post in which Graham held fast, hired replacement workers, and prevailed in the subsequent negotiations that resolved the strike.

     Over 20-years later, after Mrs. Graham had written her Pulitzer Prize winning biography, Personal History, I approached her at a Library of Congress reception and related what I had heard outside the Americana Restaurant. She bent over laughing and then grasped my hands. "Oh, that's so funny. Had I known that it would have been in my book. Thank you so much for telling me."

     It was the only time that I would meet this strong, gracious, and competent person who died a few years later in 2004. Upon her death, The New York Times noted that she had "transformed The Washington Post from a mediocre newspaper into an American institution and, in the process, transformed herself from a lonely widow into a publishing legend."



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Moonglow on Okinawa

The dread of February – cold, ice and snow, delays, and cancellations are a routine part of our lives in many areas of our country. How do you lessen the frustration and the doldrums, especially now, almost a year into our Covid 19 lockdown? Music – soothing music seems to help as it did for me many years ago as a frustrated young sailor on Okinawa waiting for new orders to a place unknown to finish out my Navy duty. I share with you a story how music eased my anxiety at that time.



                                       Moonglow on Okinawa


Music is a significant part of our lives and has been since the inventions of the phonograph and the radio over 100-years ago, Further, you do not have to read any of the extensive research on the effects of music on the body and the mind to know that it can excite or relax you – make you feel good or sad or possibly inspire you. Music also brings back memories as it did with me recently when some soothing tunes were played in an old movie that I had watched on television.


     The Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS) on Okinawa had blasted us with Elvis Pressley songs, "Blue Suede Shoes," "I Got a Woman," "Money Honey," "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," and many more for months on end in 1956. Elvis' songs were also playing on the jukebox in Tsu Shin Tai, the base enlisted men's club down the hall from where I was billeted. I was sick of Elvis Pressley and Okinawa.


     I had been on Pacific Islands for over a year including Christmas 1955 on Guam, and 1956 on Okinawa. My days were getting short, but how short was up in the air. In late January of 1957, I was wondering when my new orders would come through. Along with Brian "Rip" Desmond and Lee Marshall, I was one of the first three Navy personnel to arrive at the Army Security Agency's (8603rd Detached Unit) base at Sobe Camp, Okinawa, in February 1956. In the following months, some 60 additional Naval Security Group Communications Technicians (CT's) would arrive.


     New orders were coming in daily for those originally ordered to Okinawa. Don Irvin was the first to get orders – Amaganset, New York, a small DF station at the tip of Long Island soon to be deactivated. A few days later, Gene Kilby and Rip Desmond were ordered to Northwest, Virginia. Then, Richie Drabeck got his – the new base in Bremerhaven, Germany. And, days later, we would learn that Charlie Popikus and Tom Donohue were going to Winter Harbor, Maine, and Joe McGuane and Bob Owens were going to Port Lyautey, French Morocco.


     To say there was a chip on my shoulder about duty assignments would be accurate. I had finished first in my class in Radio School, and first in my CT School class with a 97.90 percent average, where I had served as a night school instructor, assisting classmates in increasing their code reception and related written studies. We were told that those at the top of the class would have their choice of the available CT duty stations upon graduation. The classes before us had orders for Hawaii and Japan. My hopes were dashed, however, when we assembled in the chow hall one afternoon. I got to choose between Adak, one of the desolate Aleutian Islands of Alaska, and Guam in the Marianas Islands. My original perturbation over that injustice was still lingering.


    The anxiety over my unknown fate was building daily, but would be slightly tempered when AFRS began to broadcast soothing music, particularly the instrumentals "Moonglow," the theme from the movie "Picnic" and another popular recording, "Canadian Sunset." Like Elvis' songs, you heard the music everywhere, in Tsu Shin Tai, the PX on Kadena Air Force Base, in taxis, and in the bars in Kadena Circle and New Koza. The repetition was welcome, especially the sound of "Moonglow." It was relaxing, especially as the February days went by.


    Weeks into this continuum of soothing music, our Officer in Charge, Lieutenant. Edward Leyman, tapped me on the shoulder at my intercept position at the beginning of an Eve-watch. "When your coverage quiets down come see me next door." Next door being the adjoining traffic analysis room. An hour or so later when the Chinese Navy circuit I was covering went down, I signaled Chief Hollenbach and asked him to man my position while I went to see Leyman. 


      Lieutenant Leyman was a quiet type, seemingly pensive around-the-clock, and not easily approachable. Simply put, he was a hard person to read, so I didn't know what to expect. I had taken the test for Second Class Petty Officer a few weeks back and felt good about it, but there was no way the results could be back so quickly. Was it something I had done or said? What could it be? I thought as I approached his desk, where he was mulling over the traffic sheets from the Day-watch. I paused. "Sir, you asked to see me." He looked up with a faint smile. Well, it can't be too bad, I thought.


     "Gillen, you're one lucky guy."


     I took a deep breath. Lucky about what?


     "You're Irish, I guess."


     "Yes, sir." Then it dawned upon me, my orders. Am I going to Ireland? We did have a base in Londonderry, Northern Island, during WWII. Did we still have a base there? Was he playing with me?


     "Can you speak, Italian?"


     That question brought a quick smile to my face. Am I going to Italy? "No sir, but growing up in New York City, I certainly know the Italian curse words."


     He smiled. "Well, they might come in handy – you have orders for Naples, Italy."


     As he put forth his right hand to congratulate me, I grasped it and thanked him for the good news. At that point, all of the anxiety left my body. I closed my eyes in a smile, the sound of "Moonglow" resonating within me.



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