- The Washington Times - Monday, June 28, 2004

Bound for Baghdad?

“Is he going to have a turkey dinner?”

— A White House correspondent’s subtle way of asking a senior administration official yesterday whether President Bush is planning another surprise visit to Iraq — similar to his unannounced trip to Baghdad for turkey and stuffing last Thanksgiving — now that Iraqis have assumed control of their government.

Stepfamilies

John Gannon, staff director of the Select Committee on Homeland Security, becomes the first person in the legislative branch ever to receive the National Security Medal, the nation’s highest intelligence award.

President Bush authorized presentation of the award in recognition of Mr. Gannon’s “outstanding contribution to the national intelligence effort.” The medal was presented by outgoing CIA Director George J. Tenet during a private ceremony at the Library of Congress.

Mr. Gannon says he has “three families”: his wife and children, homeland-security officials and the intelligence community.

Unpopular tally

The Center for American Progress predicted correctly that Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz would have some tough questions to answer when called to testify before the House and Senate armed services committees.

In retrospect, the most difficult question was when Mr. Wolfowitz was asked how many U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq.

The Pentagon’s No. 2 man guessed about 500. In fact, there were 734 at the time. He was off by about 45 percent.

Pay to stay

Television executives are reaping the benefits of the 2004 presidential campaign.

Here it is still June, and already President Bush’s re-election campaign has already spent $85 million in contributions on television ads attacking Democratic Sen. John Kerry.

TV stringer

“While most of you [reporters] were getting your beauty sleep, your pooler was up this morning observing the parade of NATO leaders” — or so reads a White House pool report filed in Turkey by newspaperman Bennett Roth of the Houston Chronicle.

Follow the arrow

For the first time, James F. Pfister Jr., a U.S. Army prisoner of war in Vietnam from January 1968 to March 1973, tells us the rest of the story surrounding the recent burial in Bremond, Texas, of U.S. Marine Sgt. Dennis Hammond.

It was Mr. Pfister, after all, who first buried Sgt. Hammond in March 1970. The sergeant had been captured by the Viet Cong in February 1968, one month after Mr. Pfister.

“In early 1968, he and another POW, Earl C. Weatherman, tried to escape,” Mr. Pfister recalls. “Weatherman was killed, and Hammond was shot in the calf of the leg and brought back to camp. They beat him, put him in bamboo stocks, cut his food ration. After the escape attempt, he gradually started going down hill.”

Finally, the Marine didn’t wake up one morning.

“I helped bury Hammond in March 1970,” Mr. Pfister tells Inside the Beltway. “After his burial, I carved an arrow in a tree marking the location. I am not sure when his remains were found.”

This past April, Mr. Pfister was in Washington for his Army helicopter unit’s reunion. His pilot, another ex-POW, told him some good news: Sgt. Hammond’s remains had been recovered and identified and were being sent back to the United States.

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Pfister received a phone call from Mike “Tiny” Readinger, who’d served in Sgt. Hammond’s unit, passing word along that the funeral services would be May 22 in Bremond. At the funeral home, Mr. Pfister was introduced for the first time to Carlene Hammond, the fallen POW’s sister.

After he told her all he knew about her brother’s imprisonment, Mr. Pfister says he entered the small chapel and placed both hands on Sgt. Hammond’s casket.

“Hi, Dennis, this is Jim. I’m here for you, buddy,” Mr. Pfister said, overcome with emotion. The funeral procession to the cemetery was two miles long.

“People were standing along the side of the road, standing at attention, some people waving flags and signs that said, ‘Thank you, Sgt. Hammond,’” says Mr. Pfister, feeling a “great big weight” was lifted off him at that moment.

He then watched as Sgt. Hammond was buried again, this time with full military honors.

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

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