Sunday, February 21, 2010

General Wesley Clark

     Today we flew home and met a good and humble man.  Do you recall General Wesley Clark, a former candidate for the Democratic nomination for President?  We stood behind him and his wife Gertrude in the security line at the Panama airport.  This man was a four star general, Supreme Allied Commander of all NATO forces in Europe. Valedictorian of his West Point class of 1966, a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, seriously wounded in Viet Nam, recipient of the Silver Star and many high honors and awards.  He is a frequent guest on the nations TV talk shows about politics and war.
     The security in Panama was very strict.  We went through the metal detector and then each had a full body pat down search, the hands were uncomfortably close to all my private parts and then a hand search of each piece of carry on baggage.  General Clark was standing two feet in front of me and they patted him down just like the rest of us.  He took off his shoes and his belt and his coat and waited patiently while the young security guard decided he was not a terrorist. As he raised both arms he must have dislodged his ear piece, for a minute later he said to his wife:  "I've lost my ear piece."
     She gave him a look and said:  "How could you do that?" and they proceeded down the walkway towards the airplane. We had to take a bus to the plane, it was very full of passengers and carry on bags.  It was hot and people were in a hurry.  General Clark and his wife each had an additional piece of luggage and they were rolling them along on wheels.  As they boarded the bus he stepped on her toe and she cried out:  "ouch, that was my toe."  He looked very sorry and hung his head as he asked her forgiveness.
     After a five minute bus ride we reached the airplane on the tarmac.  We had to climb up an outdoor stairway and he gallently took both suitcases and his own carryon and lugged them up the steps after his wife.  I followed close behind, thinking "this man once commanded over a million US soldiers, he was Supreme Commander of all NATO troops, he ran for President of the United States, and now he is huffing and puffing his own bags up the steps."
     We took our seats and watched the General and his wife move to the back of the plane.  Just before takeoff the steward came back and said there was one First Class upgrade seat available, would the General like to have it?  He deferred to his wife and she came up to take seat 1A, leaving him with a wan smile, knees jammed into the seat ahead, ready to fly home to the USA.
     The steward came back to hand out newspapers.  I took La Prensa and the lead story is about another General, Manuel Antonio Noriega.  The former dictator of Panama has just asked the US Supreme Court to review his sentance for drug dealing, money laundering and mahem.  I think of Noriega sitting in a beige prison cell in Florida, playing dominoes with his buddies. My thoughts turn back to the time when Noriega was in power.  My father and I were on a trip to Egypt then.  Mom had died very unexpectedly.  A premature death in every way.  Dad was suffering a serious depression and Gail suggested I take him on a trip and try to help him out of his malaise.  We were in a hot, crowded bus, crossing the desert south of Luxor.  Egypt, the home of ancient civilizations, the birth place of large scale government, military power, agriculture and art.  The ancient Egyptians had much to be proud of.  Theirs was the greatest civilization known to man, the acme of human achievement. My father was a scholar, he loved Israel and Egypt and the cultures that flowed from that part of the world.  His depression faded as he taught me lessons in that dusty bus tour.
     Suddenly we saw a large stone structure off in the distance.  Compared to the surrounding sand it was stark and as we came closer it loomed large.  The bus driver stopped so we could climb out and take pictures.  It was at least 50 feet tall to the shoulder.  But the head had toppled off and lay sideways on the sand.  This was a self portrait of Rameses the Great, also called Ozymandias, the Ruler of the World.  He built the gigantic statute to comemorate his military triumphs and the inscription at the base was full of self confidence:  "Look on my works Ye Mighty and despair."
     The English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, in 1818, reflecting on this superman and this statue, wrote a sonnet :
     "I met a traveler from an antique land who said:
     Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert.  Near them, on the sand, half sunk
     a shattered visage lies, whose frown, and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, tell that its sculptor well those passions read
     which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, the hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; 
     And on the pedestal these words appear:  "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings;  look on my works ye Mighty, and despair!"
     Nothing beside remains.  Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch faraway."
     Now as I sit in the airplane, thinking of the fallen statue in Egypt, I weep for this world.  I recall the gigantic statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down by US soldiers.  A few years earlier I recall the statues of Stalin being pulled down all across eastern Europe. I remember seeing in 1965 in Haiti the people pulling down a statue of their dictator Papa Doc Duvalier. I remember reading about statues of Mussolini and Hitler and Franco all pulled down by their own citizens.  Hubris.  Destroyer of men and nations.  We need more men and women of humility in positions of power.  Men who carry their own bags up crowded stairs and do not expect to be seated at the right hand of power.  Ride home safely General Clark.  Thank you for your service. Duty, Honor, Country


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this moving account and wonderful anecdote, featuring two of my favorite things... General Wes Clark (a national treasure) and ancient Egypt!

As an early supporter of his presidential campaign and continual supporter in all his many and varied current ventures today...I've known the General for going on 7 yrs now - never miss him when he comes to speak at UCLA - where he is a Senior Fellow at the Burkle Center of International Relations.

He is all that ... and even more.

An extraordinary man, indeed.

ms in la
Clark Community Network

Mike Pridmore said...

General Clark is indeed a humble man. Gert, as those of us who follow them sometimes call Mrs. Clark, is very special to him and to their community of followers. I happened to talk to her in December of 2003 at a Little Rock fundraiser, just after the birth of their first grandchild. I learned two things besides the details about their grandson. First, she can very personable and down to earth. Second, She seems to adore General Clark as much as he adores her. They make a wonderful couple.

Mike Pridmore

Anonymous said...

Dale & Gail, what a great post, so much to think about. . ., your post, your absolutely great and much missed dad, so glad your both home safe and sound. Nancy