- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 12, 2006

A few good men

Richard Sargeant Hodgson, a former Marine Corps press officer who was posted at ground zero during four major atomic bomb testings, including Bikini Atoll in 1946 and Nevada in 1951, died recently of myelodysplasia, a rare bone-marrow disease linked to excessive radiation.

At Nevada’s 21-kiloton “Operation Buster,” it was the voice of Mr. Hodgson, the radio-television chief at Marine Corps Headquarters, that broadcast the first nuclear field exercise conducted on land involving U.S. troops. Earlier, in the South Pacific, he sailed through contaminated air and water to inspect radioactive test ships.

One of life’s amazing coincidences brought 80-year-old Mr. Hodgson and this columnist together just under a year ago. He traveled to Washington from his 18th-century farmhouse in Chester County, Pa., where he was receiving blood transfusions almost weekly.

Accompanied by his wife of 54 years, Lois, and his daughter, Sue Rolfing, we agreed to meet for brunch. And for reasons that will become apparent, I brought along as my guest MariaOLeary, widow of legendary Washington newspaperman JeremiahA. OLeary, my close friend and colleague, who died in 1993.

I first met Mrs. Rolfing in Montana 26 years ago, interviewing her and her husband, Steve, at the kick-off for the Great Northern Llama Co., America’s oldest llama outfitter and guide service. Today, their 200-acre Great Northern Ranch in the shadow of Glacier National Park supplies llamas and alpacas to the country’s top breeders.

It so happened that for Christmas 2004, Mrs. Rolfing had given her father a copy of my new book, “Inside the Beltway,” its chapters segueing from the wilds of Montana into the hallowed halls of Congress. But it was the chapter recalling the extraordinary career of Mr. O’Leary that caught Mr. Hodgson’s eye.

After all, he couldn’t wait to tell his daughter that the two were Marine buddies during World War II and Korea, including stints as combat correspondents. (Both retired decades later as officers in the Reserves.) As life would have it, one of the last times he’d seen Mr. O’Leary was in 1952 at the Hodgsons’ wedding.

Mr. Hodgson and Mrs. O’Leary never knew each other — that is, until brunch last March 19. He carried to the table a thick folder of wartime memories, including one particular photograph he’d snapped more than a half-century earlier of Mr. O’Leary, clad in his military uniform, flashing his contagious smile. That same photo appears in today’s column.

Mr. Hodgson greatly impressed his native Minnesota community by becoming district manager of a national publishing company at age 12, rising to become one of the world’s foremost authorities on catalogs and marketing. An author of more than a dozen books, multimedia programs he created are curricula today at more than 200 colleges and universities. His 1,500-page Direct Mail & Mail Order Handbook remains a top reference guide for the industry.

He was once president of American Marketing Services, graphics director of printing giant R.R. Donnelley & Sons, creative director of the Franklin Mint, and, until shortly before his death, the founder and president of the marketing firm Sargeant House.

Hang your head

Comedian Brad Stine has found himself a niche. Not that it took much effort. He is his niche.

“I’m probably one of only two conservative comedians in the country,” he told Inside the Beltway following a Friday night performance at the Omni Shoreham, the crowd including former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (if anybody in the country was in need of a good laugh, it was the embattled Republican), National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre, and ABC newsman Sam Donaldson.

The thrust of the comedian’s routine:

“In the South, there’s none of this politically correct nonsense like, ‘Don’t shoot the animals,’” he says. “These people see a bunny, and they say, ‘Shoot it, eat it and make a hat out of the rest.’”

And never discard an animal’s head: “Hang it on the wall,” he shouts.

“The cool thing about being a comic is you get a pass,” Mr. Stine explained later. “It is accepted by the audience that you are a modern-day jester, so you can say the truth and nobody cuts your head off.”

His thought-provoking “rant,” as he calls it, compares the America he grew up in to today’s, now that the “baby-soft hands” of the politically correct crowd have inflicted “self-esteem” and dangerously “oversanitized” our children.

Take the anti-bacterial wipe used by a soccer mom today to cleanse a skinned knee, and compare it to what his mother used: “A tissue that she spit into.”

“God’s way of healing,” he calls it.

Mr. Stine has a new book to be released next month, “Live From Middle America: Rants From A Red-State Comedian.”

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or [email protected]

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