Archive for February 16, 2010

Presidential Protection

The celebration of Presidents’ Day is a good time to celebrate the men who protect the president and various other dignitaries. The Secret Service officially assumed responsibility for protecting the president in 1902. The recent gaffe at the White House whereby uninvited guests came in close proximity of President Obama points up the difficulty of this job. The job has grown more complicated and complex in the modern era. The best source of information on this topic is In the President’s Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect. One of the most dramatic attempts at assassination targeted Harry Truman in 1950. Two Puerto Rican nationalists attacked Blair House (where Truman was staying) and engaged in a pitched gun battle with police and the Secret Service before one was killed and the other captured. The biggest gunfight in Secret Service history was over in forty seconds with a total of twenty-seven shots fired. The incident is recounted in a spellbinding book titled American Gunfight: the Plot to Kill Harry Truman and the Shoot-out that Stopped It.

Crazy Hearts

Valentine’s Day is named after St. Valentine (270 A.D.) who may have assisted a young couple in their courtship by passing notes for them–the young man was in prison. The existence of St. Valentine is not disputed, historians dismiss the saint’s role as a go-between for young lovers but the myth persists. We do know by the MIddle Ages St. Valentine’s Day was an annual celebration and by mid 19th century became very popular as it remains–more then a billlion valentine cards are purchased annually.
This year I’ve noticed a number of radio stations and retailers are asking folks to send in stories of their worst Valentine’s Day–which kind of dampens the spirit of the holiday. I would like to hear some heart-warming Valentine’s Day stories–send us yours.

Heinrich Harrer

The literature on mountain climbing has been understandably dominated by Mount Everest. However, the Eiger mountain in Switzerland has also received attention for its North Face. There is a German movie titled Nordwand (North Face) which tells the story of an ill-fated attempt to climb the Eiger’s most challenging peak in July of 1936. The first successful attempt to climb this part of the Eiger took place in July of 1938. It was accomplished by a four man German-Austrian team which included Heinrich Harrer. He was an Austrian and a very skilled climber. After his successful assault on the Eiger he joined the German Army and was sent to India in 1939 to scout some potential climbing sites there. While he was in India the Second World War started and he became a prisoner of the British. He eventually made an escape (with another prisoner) and made his way to Lhasa in Tibet. He befriended the Dalai Lama (who was eleven years old at the time) and became one of his tutors. He wrote a book about his stay entitled Seven Years in Tibet which was also made into a movie. Harrer and the Dalai Lama remained life-long friends until Harrer’s death in 2006.