TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS.
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.