My most frightening Miss Arkansas appearance took place in late October of 1958. Just writing about it makes my heart beat faster. At that evening’s appearance, I came within inches of losing my life....or I should say “my head.”
The Strategic Air Command, officially known as SAC, was hosting an enormous event at Jacksonville, Arkansas, home of the Little Rock Air Force Base. High-ranking Military Officials from Washington DC and SAC centers around the world were in attendance.
I didn’t know many details; my instructions were to “look pretty” and sing the national anthem. I was also told to be ready by 4 p.m. because the military would be sending an official car with one of its most outstanding men in uniform, to drive me to the event.
At precisely four o’clock, a handsome young man in a military uniform knocked on my door and, after the usual introductions, walked me to a waiting car. I was surprised when two other men in uniform opened the car’s back doors for my escort and me. I loved the attention.
All three gentlemen were covered in medals, ribbons, braid, and all kinds of impressive decorations; so, what woman wouldn’t have felt special?!?!? I remember my escort’s name was Art Olson but I don’t remember his rank. I do know the gentlemen with me that day were all pilots and part of SAC. My escort was stationed in Spain and the other two were stationed in Korea, which—to a nineteen year old—sounded exotic and daringly mysterious. The ride to the air base took almost one hour and I enjoyed every minute of the trip.
The event was held in an enormous hangar with seating for quite a large audience and....for more-than-a-few B52 airplanes. The hangar was becoming crowded so my escort quickly found my assigned seat on the Dais....between two high-ranking Generals. One of the event’s planners handed me a program and showed me where to stand when it was time for me to sing.
In thirty minutes the event began and, after a formal introduction, I took my place in front of the microphone to deliver the National Anthem. There were so many flags, so many uniforms, so much pageantry and patriotism, I felt patriotically-inspired.
Later, after a special awards ceremony, performances by the military band, and a magnificent display of young Chinese acrobats, it was time for the night’s featured entertainer to claim center-stage. All the way from Japan, the world’s most-acclaimed Sword Master was the main attraction.
Without the hint of a smile, the highly-acclaimed artist began his performance by tossing a sword high in the air...then… as it descended with a fanfare of head-over-heel twirls, the Japanese master reached out to skillfully catch it by its handle. The audience watched, spellbound, as the artist increased the number of swords he tossed in the air, artfully catching each by its handle, mid-air.
Never smiling, and with only an occasional bow to the applause, the oriental maestro performed more increasingly dangerous feats. At one point, he tied a watermelon to a large balloon and with one swift wave of his fancy sword, sliced the melon into two equal parts, leaving the balloon intact.
For his grand finale, the world’s best Sword Master asked for a volunteer from the audience. He described how the volunteer would kneel on all fours while he placed a carrot on the neck of the volunteer. Then, with one stroke of his sword, the carrot would separate into two pieces without disturbing the neck of the volunteer.
There was complete silence; not one person stepped forward to volunteer. Then, the Japanese Sword Master quietly walked to the Dais, stood directly in front of me and extended his hand. “You will do me the honor of being my volunteer, please.” The hangar echoed with applause as the audience agreed with his choice.
Frightened beyond words, I felt my legs automatically raise me to a standing position and walk me to the master’s outstretched hand. The instant our hands touched, I felt the power of death and began pulling away. The crowd’s applause was deafening; the sword master gripped my hand tighter, refusing to let me go.
I experienced only a few seconds of outrageous horror before I felt the two highest-ranking generals, one on each side of me, guide me back to my seat. One of the generals walked to the microphone, commanding the audience’s attention. “Miss Arkansas is our special guest and we are sworn to protect her. She did not volunteer for this demonstration so it’s time for someone in the crowd to step forward as a willing participant.”
That night I learned, firsthand, about the meaning of the phrase, “weak in the knees.” That evening took me to a place I never want to go again.
In 1990, before starting my journey of China’s Great Wall, I spent a few days in Xinjiang, China’s notorious renegade province. I came face-to-face with Muslims…who looked like a combination of Asians and Turks. Last month, when I learned that several Muslims were recently elected to the United States Congress…I was reminded of how Chinese Leaders control/limit those Muslims living inside China.
Xinjiang (Shen-Jong) Province is located along China’s western border between Turkey and China. Xinjiang is the "official" home of Chinese Muslims.
When the residents of Xinjiang get overly-confident and venture into other provinces to bomb buses, steal, murder, or create general unrest and violence....the Chinese Government simply instructs the military to line up the suspects and their families....and shoot them. That solves the problem for a few years until----the Muslim Brotherhood pays more recruits to stir-up trouble and the process begins all-over again.
For decades… the Chinese Government considered constructing a wall around Xinjiang to imprison every Muslim inside. The Chinese Government doesn’t believe in public- complaining, threats, demonstrations, or allowing problems to fester. Traditionally, when faced with a problem, Chinese Leadership acts quickly...with a show of force and finality.
After living in China for ten years and watching their reaction to Muslims growing agitation...the Chinese Government has clearly moved far-beyond the idea of spending money or time on a wall to contain those in Xinjiang province.
I won't be surprised when..one of these days... Chinese Leaders will tire of the Muslim Drama, quietly say “enough”and shoot-to-kill every Muslim in China.
Chinese Leaders don’t get mad----they get even.
I was skating on the sideway near my house when a woman stopped me. She was a pretty woman but her face looked serious and, for a few minutes, I was afraid I’d done something wrong.
She asked if I could go to her house and meet Johnny, her little boy. She told me her family had recently moved to Pine Bluff because their tiny community didn’t have a hospital or a doctor. I couldn’t think of any reason not to meet her son and besides, her house was directly across the street from my house.
Walking beside her, I listen as she talked about Johnny not being able to skate or go to school because he had a serious disease. The soft-spoken woman seemed tearful when she mentioned Johnny had recently been in the hospital for his second operation. Because her son was new to the neighborhood…he didn’t have friends or anyone to play with. She thanked me for wanting to meet her son.
When we went inside the house, a handsome young boy was sitting in bed, dressed in pajamas, and playing with a set of metal soldiers. Yes, Johnny was handsome except for the patch he wore on his right eye. He told me he was seven years old which meant he was one year older than me.
At first, Johnny seemed shy, but as soon as I began asking questions about “the battle” being fought on the large wooden board in front of him and wondering why “the enemy” soldiers appeared to be winning…. Johnny and I became instant friends. Before I left his house that day, I promised to visit him after school, the next day.
Over quite-a-few weeks, I read stories to Johnny and also shared my new writing skills. Sometimes, I took my small blackboard and chalk to Johnny’s house so I could teach Johnny to read and write…even draw.
That’s when Johnny told me that doctors had removed his right eye because it was “dying.” When he lifted the patch to show me the empty space where his eye had been, I was horrified…and quickly changed the subject.
Johnny’s unnamed disease kept him from enjoying normal activities…like playing outside, going to school, or attending church. After someone gave him a small radio and a complete set of metal soldiers…World War II became his world.
The year was 1944 and World War II was on everyone’s mind. Newspapers wrote of nothing else and WWII updates were all you could hear on the radio. Just like Johnny, I had a great fascination with WWII so we had plenty to talk about. And, sing about!
Listening to the radio, Johnny and I learned all the words to such war songs as “Over There” and “From the halls of Montezuma” and “Anchors Aweigh” and so many more. Johnny had a great singing voice so we spent many afternoons playing with his soldiers and singing our favorite wartime songs.
The afternoon I learned that Johnny was going back in the hospital for yet another operation….I was worried. His mother never mentioned the reason for this operation but I’ll always believe she knew Johnny’s young life was at stake. Not fully-understanding tragedy or loss…I spent our last afternoon together….challenging Johnny to a singing match. Song after song, each of us sang one of our favorites. The rule was: the first one to forget the lyrics…lost the match. I was singing “When Johnny comes marching home again…” and doing a good job until I forgot one line of the song….which meant I lost the match! We laughed at my mistake… ate the apple pie his mother had made…then I went home. (Johnny never knew I intentionally “forgot” the lyrics. Facing another operation, he needed to feel like “a winner.”)
Four days later, Johnny’s mother knocked on our door. Crying as if her heart had broken, she told me the operation had failed. She handed me Johnny’s box of metal soldiers, gave me an emotional hug, then left our house and my life.
I’ll never forget her last words: "Johnny won't be coming home, ever- again. He loved you--his only friend--and would want you to have his soldiers. ”
Some loves are only meant to be with us for a few days, a few weeks, or a few years. But...young loves will live in our hearts…forever.