Tag Archives: Ronald Reagan

Book Review: America, the Last Best Hope

 

If your child attends an American public school that teaches them a U.S. history course, take a look some time at their text book.

Assuming you are someone who actually believes that the teaching of this subject matters, you just might be shocked.

For decades now, many American educational systems have been moving away from teaching a genuine history of the United States. Instead, a politically correct and sanitized version is often taught, highlighting episodes within that history that are important to so-called progressives.

In a January 2017 article for the New York Post titled “Why schools have stopped teaching American history“, Karol Markowicz included the following:

A 2014 report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that an abysmal 18 percent of American high school kids were proficient in US history.

The NAEP is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas. Their goal is to help students, parents, teachers, and principals “inform decisions about how to improve the education system in our country.”

If any educational system in the country truly wants to present American history to high school students, even any college or university, they would do well to use  “America: The Last Best Hope” by Bill Bennett.

Bennett released the title in a first volume back in 2006. That book covered the period from Columbus in 1492 through the lead-up to World War I in 1914.

The 573 pages in the original volume are packed with 525 of actual history. It also includes a five-page introduction from the author and a comprehensive notes and index at the back.

Volume I includes topics such as the settlement of the New World, the revolution of the colonies, the founding and early years of the American republic, westward expansion, the Civil War, post-war reconstruction, and the emergence of American industrialism.

In 2007, Bennett released “Volume 2”, which picked up where the first book left off and covered most of the 20th century, right through the 1989 end of Ronald Reagan’s second presidential term.

With “Volume 2”, the topics included World Wars I and II, with the roaring 20’s, stock market crash, the Great Depression, the rise of worldwide fascism, and FDR’s ‘New Deal’ in between.

It then moves through the post-war era, the rise of American political and economic might during the 1950’s, the social turmoil of the 1960’s, the politically turbulent 1970’s, and finally into the Reagan revival.

In it’s 592 pages there can be found another 533 pages of history, with just a short introduction, but with the same comprehensive notes and index provided with the first volume.

In 2011, Bennett returned to the series, including American history from “the collapse of communism to the rise of radical Islam” in a more brief 352 page continuation.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Bill Bennett turned 76 years of age on July 31, 2019. He is a graduate of Williams College in Massachusetts, with a Ph.D. from the University of Texas, and a J.D. from Harvard University.

One of the most respected political theorists and pundits of the last three decades, Bennett was chairman for the National Endowment of the Humanities from 1981-85. He then served in President Reagan’s cabinet as the U.S. Secretary of Education from 1985-88, and held the position of Director of the Office of National Drug Policy under the first President Bush.

The author of more than two dozen books, Bennett is currently a senior advisor to Project Lead the Way, which is considered to be one of the leading providers of training and curriculum to improve STEM education in American schools. He is involved in numerous other educational causes as well.

Due to be released in October of this year is a massive new edition of “America: The Last Best Hope“, which will integrate all three of the original volumes into one book.

All three volumes were not only informative, but each was genuinely enjoyable to read. This new, fully integrated edition would make an outstanding text book for any legitimate class on United States history.

However, this is not to be considered as only that – a text book for intellectual pursuits. Bennett has put together a tremendous history of America from its very beginnings right up through recent years that is readable and enjoyable for everyone.

I highly recommend “America: The Last Best Hope” for anyone who loves our nation, and for anyone who truly wants a well-written, all-encompassing history of the United States.

Buy it in the three original volumes and enjoy one at a time, as I did, or wait for the new concatenated version to be released in October. That version will be available in hard cover, paperback, or for your device, and can be pre-ordered now at Amazon and many other outlets.

And if you are a fan of Bennett who would like something a bit more collector-worthy (not to mention expensive), well, there is a beautiful leather-bound version of the first two volumes available from The Easton Press at that link, autographed by the author.

Sunday Sermon: A city set on a hill

The ‘Sermon on the Mount‘ was delivered by Jesus Christ shortly after he had chosen his original twelve apostles and begun his public ministry. It is covered most famously in chapter five of the Book of Matthew within the New Testament of the Bible.

One of the most influential, inspirational speeches in the history of mankind is widely believed to have been delivered at or near what was once known as Mount Eremos, a hill located between Capernaum and Tabgha in northern Israel.

During this speech, Jesus delivers three of the most famous teachings of his life: the ‘Golden Rule’, the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father), and the Beatitudes.

Another key element of what I personally believe to be the greatest speech ever given is a section that has become known as the “Similes of Salt and Light”, which appears at Matthew 5:13-16.

The simile of light section specifically reads as follows:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”

On January 11, 1989, President Ronald Reagan delivered his Farewell Address to the Nation. In it, he famously referenced this passage as it had been adopted by John Winthrop.

Winthrop was one of the key figures in founding the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the second major European settlement in New England after Plymouth. He also served as the colony’s governor over four separate terms.

When his group of pilgrims to the New World had set out, Winthrop described their goal: “We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.”

The ‘Similes of Salt and Light’ section from the Sermon on the Mount was the subject of the gospel reading and homily at today’s Mass in our church.

In delivering his homily, the priest referenced the current political climate in the United States, particularly as it relates to the issue of immigration.

Father did a fairly good job of walking a hazardous tightrope, considering that he likely had folks from different political viewpoints sitting in the aisles of the church.

But the primary message that he was trying to convey is a valid one, no matter which side of the aisle you sit politically. As Christian Americans, we are called upon to rise above rancorous political discourse.

On this issue of immigration, all too often some members of the media and of certain political persuasions seem to want to paint conservative political thinkers as “anti-immigration”, which could not be further from the truth.

The majority of us are the product of immigration to the United States. At some point in the last century or two, most of us had ancestors who stepped off a boat and onto the shores of America. Like most of today’s immigrants, they were hoping to make a better life for themselves and their families.

It is important to remember that we are not at all “against” immigration. Instead, we are against unchecked, unvetted, uncontrolled, and illegal immigration.

In our efforts to better secure our country, we also need to remember that legal immigrants should be welcomed with open arms. Many people lawfully and properly enter our country and become citizens. Those people deserve our full support as first generation Americans.

As polarized as today’s society has become, it is far better to be “for” something than “against” anything. We are not against illegal immigration. We are for a lawful, orderly process, and a secure America for all of our lawful residents and visitors.

We need to remember, in our tone and our tenor, that we have to be better than the divisive politicians and professional agitators who thrive on driving us apart. This is particularly so when remembering that we are Christians in addition being Americans.

As good, law-abiding United States citizens and followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to stand up and ensure that our nation always serves as that city set on a hill. As a blessed people, we are called to shine the light of freedom before all others.

And all the while, we must keep in mind the last three words of the ‘salt and light’ section of Jesus’ timely message: “glorify your Heavenly Father.” Whatever we do, if we are doing it for God’s glory, then we will continue to be blessed as a nation.

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NOTE: this is a continuation of the long-running ‘Sunday Sermon’ series. All entries can be viewed by clicking on that link in the below ‘Tag’ section.

Philography: Grover Cleveland Alexander

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Grover Cleveland ‘Pete’ Alexander led the Phillies to the 1915 NL championship

As told by Jan Finkel in a biography of Grover Cleveland Alexander at the SABR website, he was “the only ballplayer named for a sitting United States president and portrayed on film by a future one.

In the 1952 biopic film “The Winning Team“, Ronald Reagan portrayed Alexander, with Doris Day playing Alexander’s wife, Aimee. It told his story from his amateur into pro days, and his battles through alcoholism and epilepsy.
U.S. President Grover Cleveland is the only Chief Executive to have served for two non-consecutive terms (1885-89, 1893-97), and thus he is considered both the nation’s 22nd and 24th President.
The ballplayer was born into a large family in a Nebraska farming community. He began to show prowess as a baseball pitcher in his youth, and took a job with a company stringing telephone lines, pitching on weekends for local club teams.
In 1909 at age 22, Alexander hooked on with his first pro team, signing with the Galesburg Boosters of what was then known as the Class ‘D’ Illinois-Missouri League.
He went 15-8, but his season was ended, and nearly his career, when he was struck in the head by a thrown ball while running the bases. He recovered, and in 1910 had a dominant 29-11 record for the Class ‘B’ Syracuse Stars.
His performances in Syracuse caught the eye of major league scouts, and Philadelphia Phillies owner/president Israel Durham approved the purchase of his contract. 
At age 24, Alexander made his Phillies debut in the 1911 season, and his dominance continued there against the best competition in the land. He went 28-13 with 7 Shutouts and 31 Complete Games as a rookie.

He had a 2.57 ERA in 48 games, 37 of them starts, while pitching 367 innings that year as well. It was just the beginning for what would become one of the greatest pitching careers in baseball history.
From 1911-17, Alexander pitched 7 seasons for the Phillies that amount to a full career for many of today’s modern starting pitchers in the 21st century.
In those 7 years, Alexander pitched 329 games, making 277 starts. In 2,492 innings he allowed just 2,101 hits and struck out 1,403 batters. His ERA was a minuscule 2.12 ERA, and he registered a 190-88 win-loss record.
In 1915, Alexander helped lead the Phillies to a 7-game margin of victory over the Boston Braves for the franchise’ first National League Pennant, advancing them into the World Series against Boston’s American League team, the Red Sox. 
That year, Alexander went 31-10 with a 1.22 ERA and a career-best 241 strikeouts. It began a 3-year period in his prime in which he would win at least 30 games each season.
The 1915 World Series opened in Philly at Baker Bowl, and “Alexander the Great” got the Phils off to a good start, with his complete game 3-1 victory putting the team out in front of the Red Sox.
Unfortunately for the Phillies, it would be their last win in the Series. In fact, it was the last postseason win by a Phillies team for 62 years, and the franchise’ last World Series win for 75 years.
The Red Sox rallied to win the final four games of that 1915 World Series by all one-run margins: 2-1, 2-1, 2-1 and 5-4, the final win coming in Philadelphia back again at Baker Bowl.
The man nicknamed ‘Old Pete’ (for still unknown reasons) would return to the World Series two more times in his career. Alexander would win his lone championship in 1926. But he would have to leave Philadelphia in order to do so.
Following the 1917 season, Alexander was traded by the Phillies to the Chicago Cubs along with starting catcher Bill Killefer in one of the most lopsided deals in baseball history.
The Phils got pitcher ‘Iron Mike’ Prendergast and a reserve catcher, William ‘Pickles’ Dillhoefer, in return. Each would last for just one season in Philly. 
Meanwhile, Alexander found his Cubs career delayed when he was drafted into the Army after just 3 April starts in order to serve at the end of World War I.
During this first portion of his career, Alexander was sometimes accused of drunkenness on the mound. But an opponent as great as Ty Cobb knew the true story. “He wasn’t drunk out there on the mound, the way people thought. He was an epileptic. Old Pete would fall down with a seizure between innings, then go back and pitch another shutout.
Returning for his first full season in Chicago at age 32 in 1919, Alexander set about resuming the building of his Hall of Fame career. From 1918 into 1926, a period covering most of his 30’s, ‘Old Pete’ went 128-83 in a Cubs uniform. 
Unfortunately, a 3rd place finish in that first full 1919 season was the best that the team could muster during his tenure. At mid-season in 1926, the Cubs released the then 39-year old Alexander.
He was signed by the Saint Louis Cardinals, who were battling for the NL Pennant and hoped that the wily veteran could help push them over the top. That he did, making 16 starts and going 9-7 with a 2.91 ERA in the 2nd half.
The Cardinals won the National League Pennant by 2 games over Cincinnati, and advance to the World Series where they matched up against an emerging power, the New York Yankees. 
At that point in their history, the Yanks had just won the AL Pennant for the 4th time in 5 years thanks largely to the slugging exploits of the incomparable Babe Ruth. But they had only won a single World Series, in 1923. This would not be their 2nd.
In the 1926 World Series, Alexander was dominant. He started and won both Games 2 & 6, registering complete game victories in each. Then in the decisive Game 7, he came on in relief, trying to preserve a 3-2 Cardinals lead.
Alexander set the Yankees down in the 7th, and then again in the 8th. In the 9th inning, he registered the first two outs, and then up stepped Ruth. The two future Hall of Famers battled to a full count, and then finally Ruth earned a walk.
With the Babe on first as the tying run, up stepped Bob Meusel, who had some success against Alexander in Game 6. Meusel would never really get a chance this time.
Alexander fired a fastball past Meusel, and as he delivered, Ruth took off for 2nd base, hoping to get into scoring position with a surprise steal. Cards catcher Bob O’Farrell threw him out by 10 feet, ending the game and giving Saint Louis the World Series championship.

Now entering his 40’s, Alexander continued to find success with the Cardinals in both the 1927 and 1928 seasons. They returned for a 1928 World Series rematch with the Yanks, but this time New York got the better, sweeping Saint Louis.
In 1929, Alexander was clearly slowing down. He was able to give the Cards one final 19-start campaign, going 9-8, including what would prove to be the final victory of his career.
That final victory for ‘Old Pete’ would come against, of all teams, the Philadelphia Phillies. In the 2nd game of a doubleheader on August 10th at Baker Bowl, Alexander earned the 373rd and final win of his career.
That would not, however, mark his last appearance on a big league mound. On December 11th, 1929, the Cards dealt him back to the Phillies, in order that he might finish out his career where it all began.
In that final 1930 season, at age 43, Alexander would appear in 9 games for the Phils during April and May. He made 3 starts, recording his final effective starting effort in his first outing on April 20th. That day, Pete went 6 innings allowing just 2 earned runs in what turned out to be a 2-1 loss to the New York Giants.
By May 28th at Boston, it was clear that he was done. In his final MLB appearance that day he allowed 2 runs on 2 hits over 2 innings. The Phillies released him. He tried to stay in the game over the next few years, but his skills would not allow a return to big league baseball.

His post-baseball life was miserable, to be kind. He battled alcohol, depression, epilepsy, a heart attack, and ultimately cancer. His lone bright moments came at his Hall of Fame induction in 1938, and as a guest of honor for Games 3 & 4 of the Yankees-Phillies 1950 World Series.
Just one month after that Series was concluded with a Yankees sweep of his old Phillies team, Grover Cleveland ‘Old Pete’ Alexander passed away in a hotel room in Nebraska at age 63. 
Alexander is tied with fellow Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson at the top of the National League all-time Wins ranking with his 373. His 90 shutouts are a league record. In a 1999 ranking by The Sporting News of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players he was ranked at #12. 

Corey Haim Should Have Just Said ‘No’

Of all the truly great legacies left to us by the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, one of the truest, simplest, most enduring messages is the one that came from the campaign during those years of his wife, Nancy Reagan.

The validity and importance of her anti-drug campaign with the slogan “Just Say No” was brought home once again today with the overdose death of popular 1980’s child movie star Corey Haim.

This death comes on the exact 22nd anniversary of the death of 1970’s teen heart throb, musician Andy Gibb, the kid brother to the Bee Gees who also abused drugs. Haim was a child star and Gibb died during the very year that the First Lady was popularizing her vital message.

“Just Say No” is a simple slogan, and some of it’s detractors have stated that it is not only simple, but that it is simplistic, even simple-minded. Of course these critics are always the same old liberal “I can do whatever I want with my body and who are you to tell me different” crowd. Funny thing is, when the Haim’s and the Gibb’s die of their excess, these folks are never heard from.

Everyone with half a brain on the planet earth knows that drugs are bad for you. They are addicting, they are debilitating, they destroy lives and families, they drive people to commit crimes, they kill. The cost of drug abuse comes in dollars and cents, both to the addict and to the community that must support the consequences of their actions, but also comes in wasted time and talent.

No one, not Nancy Reagan, not those in the early years of the full-on initial “Just Say No” campaign ever posited, as it’s detractors have lied and still lie, that their only tactic was to tell kids to just say “No” but give them no educational information to back that up. The campaign was and in spirit is still about educating kids fully to the point where they are able and willing to say that “No” at the key moment.

I have had drug abuse and addiction within my own family. I have seen first-hand the ravages to a person’s body and soul that come with this addiction. But while it is very true that drug addiction, like most other addictions to other substances such as alcohol, is a disease, the fact is that it is not only a disease. It is a choice.

People who come down with cancer and other diseases and illnesses do not usually choose them, or take actions that cause them. These illnesses are often hereditary, genetic in nature. Lifestyle decisions do affect most people, from the person who eats too many cheeseburgers over the years and develops heart disease to the person who smokes too many cigarettes and develops lung cancer. These too are choices.

The difference, however, and there is a difference, is that in the vast majority of the cases the drug abuser is a young person, usually one who is not like Haim or Gibb. It is usually one who has not even started out on life’s journey, or barely so, and has not had an opportunity at career or educational or relational success. The choice, and it is a choice, to take the drugs wrecks that opportunity.

When a young person is lost to drug abuse, it is a loss to all of us. How many of those individuals could have made something positive out of their lives? How many could have cured our own illnesses, educated us, entertained us, defended us, protected us, been our leaders? The cost in dollars is significant, but the cost in lost human lives and opportunities for the addict and us all is staggering.

Now some will challenge that drug addiction, or addiction in general, can also be hereditary, and some will say that there is little or nothing that the addict could have done. I challenge that, having lived through it first hand. There is always another choice, another option, another direction. The addict chooses the negative, chooses the darkness. Again, it is a choice.

There always comes a time in every single addicts life where someone approaches them. It could be a friend, an acquaintance, a school classmate, a lover. But someone always approaches them for the very first time offering the drugs. Offering to share it, offering to show them how, offering it even for free that first time.

Every single addict has been told at some point prior to that moment that drugs are bad for them. It is simply too loud a message to ignore. It is taught in homes and schools and on the streets. The negative examples are all around them in the worst homes and neighborhoods. Family members and communities ravaged by the violence and decadence.

So at that pivotal moment, every addict has a choice. Some will say “You just can’t expect a young kid to have the strength or courage” to do the right thing. Baloney. Kids find courage and strength in any number of situations when they want to do it. The simple fact is that the kid makes a conscious choice, usually knowing or having a good idea of the possible outcome, or at the very least the danger.

Often that kid makes that choice when, if they just stepped back and thought about it, they would realize all of the options that they have for a positive direction in life, options that could and likely would be ruined by saying the “Yes” to drugs. But out of the excuses of the pain and loneliness and lack of confidence that we all face during those teen angst years, some seek temporary comfort in bad decisions knowing full well that they are bad.

While it’s fine to be sympathetic, supportive, hopeful and helpful to those close to us who become addicts, what is needed right now is not more embracing of the choices being made by addicts around us, but a return to reinforcing ever more strongly that simple message to kids of “Just Say No” in their lives. When that moment comes for them, they need to care more about their life, their family, their future than looking or acting ‘cool’ in front of some friend or some group.

Families need to understand as well that it is not their fault that their family member makes the choices that they make. You can be the strongest, most loving, most caring family in the world. You can provide solid educational opportunities for your children. You can give them a mostly positive, surely imperfect because you are only human yourself, but nurturing home and lifestyle.

In short, you can give them the foundation that they need to succeed. But you can buy no guaranteed insurance, you cannot make them say “No” at their own key moment.

Just Say No” is as simple a message as there is out there. But it is an effective message. And the fact remains that no matter what some liberal or some addict might want to tell you, had Corey Haim and Andy Gibb simply just said “No” at the pivotal moments, they would be here today. Gibb would be a 52-year old popular entertainer, and Haim would likely have not lived the past decade and a half in depravity, wasting away his talents.

For my own life situation, I still deal with the effects of my family member’s decision to give in and say “Yes” at the pivotal moments. That one first “Yes” turns into a habit, which turns into a compulsion, which turns into an addiction. At that point, yeah, it’s a disease that you are going to have a hard time ever fully beating. But it didn’t start out that way. You never had to go down that path in the first place.

While I pray for the miracle that would be even a reasonably positive life for my own addict, I also pray that no one else in my life makes the same choice, ever. I won’t only pray, but I will pass along that message, to “Just Say No.”

I pray that all of your children and grandchildren when faced with their own moment will have not only the courage and strength, but also the self-respect to embrace that simple idea, to simply “Just Say No.”

1981: A New Beginning

All this year at my Facebook page, I have been taking a daily trip back in time to the 1980’s. Each month I am highlighting a different year chronologically.

This month have been featuring the music, tv, movies, and important events of 1981. You can also follow this little mini-series of articles on each year of the “1980’s'” by clicking on to that ‘label’ below this article.

As we all know, a new decade does not actually technically begin in a year that ends in a zero, it begins with the year ending in (1) one. So while 1981 might be the 2nd year of the 1980’s, it’s the first year of a new decade and marked a beginning in a couple of different chapters of my own life.

In late September of 1980, my little young family had moved into an apartment in South Philly. 1981 would be the first and only full calendar year that we would live there. It was an interesting year at what became simply known as ‘the apartment’ in our little circle of friends. We had many a Friday night party at the place in the early months of the year, but as the summer drew on things got a bit more crowded.

In another development of those early months, the news came to us that a new addition was expected in the Veasey clan. Having given birth to Chrissy the previous February, we learned that Anne was pregnant again. Given that she was due at the end of July 1981, it appeared that this was a post-World Series baby conceived in the immediate aftermath of the Phils’ first-ever championship at the end of October.

So leaping forward, on July 30th, 1981, Kelly Anne Veasey came into the world. We had planned all along to actually name her ‘Kerry’ rather than ‘Kelly’. But another young couple who lived on Anne’s parents block in Prospect Park, PA, were due at the same time. They gave birth just before us, and named their new daughter ‘Kerry’. That killed it, we weren’t going to be seen as copy-cats. So ‘Kelly’ it was. A fine Irish name.

Kelly’s sister Christine had been almost too good to be true as a baby. She was quiet, happy, mostly healthy, slept through the night. A dream for a young couple who already had enough on their plates. Kelly – not so much. She was sickly for much of her first year, puking up everywhere and crying incessantly. We were paying the price for the good luck the first time around.

Kelly would grow out of that illness and crying period quickly the following summer, and would go on to be a wonderful, happy, care-free joy to be around for anyone who knew her. Well, maybe except for the whole pulling-out of her sister’s hair episode. She remains that lovable way to this day. But as for that first year? Well, for the sake of the love that I have for her today, I’ll pass on further commentary.

I began to get a little more responsibility in my job at First Pennsylvania Bank as well. In those days my work mostly consisted still of duties as a Messenger Clerk, and I was also getting involved in bond reconciliation and cremation procedures. It wasn’t much, but for a kid who was still a teenager it was good, steady work with a small but livable paycheck. Most importantly for my young family, the job came with a good health care plan.

In the spring of 1981 an old friend from my Two Street neighborhood who also was working for the bank, Bob Bergmann, got me started in a venture that would change my life. Bob remembered me as a good ballplayer as a kid, and so he recruited me for a men’s softball team for which he was playing in the bank’s large intra-mural program.

I joined up with the team called the Pirates managed by the head of the bank’s mailroom, Rich Quick. The team had a couple of strong hitting stars in a big lefty 1st baseman named John Dunn and a fast, strong, young outfielder named Fran Mehaffey. We were expected to contend, but fell short of those expectations. The personalities on the team never seemed to mesh, but the experience did get me back into athletics on an adult level and would expose me to my future as a ballplayer.

The fall after that season was finished, I was approached by a man from another area of our Trust Department by the name of Ed Markowski. Ed had been around the bank for a long time at that point, and was the head of a team known as ‘Pennamco’ which was usually a .500 team in the bank league and which had a large number of older players.

Their team was trying to get younger, and Ed recruited me, as well as a number of other younger guys, to play for them the following season. I hadn’t been real happy with the Pirates experience, but loved playing again, and so I joined Ed’s team. We would eventually go on to become the Brewers softball team, and the rest is a history that you will read in future months.

Out in the real world at large, 1981 saw the changeover from the national malaise of the Jimmy Carter years to the new hope of the Ronald Reagan presidency. As I have said before, I was a card-carrying fully indoctrinated liberal Democrat at the time who thought that Carter was a brilliant man and that Reagan was a dunce. I couldn’t understand how the country had voted him in to office. How time would prove me wrong.

Reagan was sworn-in to office on January 20th as the 40th President of the United States. Just minutes later, Iranian officials released the 52 American hostages which they had been holding captive in that country for more than a year since a militant Islamic regime had taken power, ending what had become known as the ‘Iran Hostage Crisis’.

A week later the entire Philadelphia region was abuzz as for the very first time our own Philadelphia Eagles had advanced to play in the Super Bowl. On January 11th, the Birds had sent the rival Dallas Cowboys packing with a thrilling 20-7 victory in the NFC Championship game. Under their brilliant young, driven head coach Dick Vermiel, the Eagles were led by quarterback Ron Jaworski, running back Wilbert Montgomery, veteran wide receiver Harold Carmichael, and a tenacious defense led by linebacker Bill Bergey.

The Eagles went into the Super Bowl as the favorites against the AFC’s Oakland Raiders. I remember the exciting buildup to the game both in the local media and among my own young circle of friends. We planned a big Super Bowl party that Sunday to match the bash we had enjoyed just months earlier when the Phillies won the World Series. A keg of beer was on ice in my kitchen, food was brought by all of the group, and the party was just getting ready to start.

It all came crashing down really, really fast, for both myself and the Eagles. A short time before the game was to begin, I got a phone call from my step-grandmother Kay. She was telling me that my grandfather Ray, the man who I grew up knowing simply as ‘Pop’ and who lived just a half block from my apartment, was having some physical problems.

I quickly left the apartment and the party and went to Pop’s house, and found him there mostly unresponsive. At Kay’s direction and with her help, we loaded him in to Pop’s car and I drove to the hospital. It was here in a hospital E/R where my grandfather was being diagnosed with and eventually treated for what turned out to be a stroke that I watched the Super Bowl.

By the time that we got Pop checked-in and I had a chance to check a TV for an Eagles update, the rout was on. The Raiders had scored two early touchdowns on passes from veteran quarterback Jim Plunkett who would go on to be named the MVP as the Raiders became the first NFL Wildcard team to win a Super Bowl in what ended up as a 27-10 Oakland romp.

Pop ended up recovering from that stroke and he lived for more than another decade. He was a great guy who was very close to my family while I was growing up, never living more than a block away from my mom. She was sick at the time, and he took on a lot of her care in the 1970’s and into those early 1980’s before I took over that role. It’s after him that I wanted to be called ‘Pop’ by my own grandkids when Elysia was born in 2002, and so I am.

Despite the Eagles upset in the Super Bowl, this was a time of unparalleled cumulative success for Philadelphia pro sports teams. Within the same calendar year of 1980-81, the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers and 76ers all appeared in their respective title games or series. The Phillies would win that 1980 World Series, the Flyers won Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975. The Eagles won that 1981 NFL Championship game, and the Sixers would go on to win the 1983 NBA Finals. It was the only way that I really knew. I thought we were supposed to always win like that. I would learn differently soon enough.

On March 6th of 1981, iconic CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite signed off the air following his final news broadcast. In those pre-cable days, network news anchors were considered the kings of the news media, and none was bigger or more popular at that time than Cronkite. He had been guiding the country through difficult news times for decades, including the Kennedy assasination. He signed off just before nearly having to repeat that terrible broadcast.

On March 20th, President Ronald Reagan stepped out of the Washington Hilton Hotel where he had delivered a morning speech and moved towards the open door of his waiting limo. With a full phalanx of Secret Service officers around, a lone gunman suddenly rushed forward and shot Reagan at point-blank range. Though he was seriously injured, his lung collapsed, and he nearly died, Reagan recovered relatively quickly.

Press Secretary James Brady was not so lucky. Also shot during the hail of bullets, Brady had been struck in the head. He became permanently disabled, and the shooting would lead to the various measures and efforts to restrict handgun access and violence. The would-be assassin, John Hinckley Jr, had been obsessed with actress Jodie Foster, and claimed that the shooting was in part inspired by her role in the film ‘Taxi Driver’ and to gain her attention.

On April 12th, the United States moved into a new era in space exploration with the launch of the first-ever Space Shuttle. The shuttle ‘Columbia’ lifted off on the 20th anniversary of the first human space flight, moving America back into space after almost a decade away.

On May 13th, the danger for world leaders reared it’s ugly head once again as a Muslim assassin shot the wildly popular Pope John Paul II at close range in St. Peter’s Square. The Pope would go on to recover from his injuries as Reagan had, and eventually would both meet with and forgive his would-be Turkish assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca.

On June 5th in Los Angeles, five homosexual men were reported by the Centers for Disease and Control as having a rare pneumonia-like illness that had seriously compromised their immune systems. The men became the first officially recognized cases and victims of AIDS.

A week later, on June 12th, Major League Baseball players began a strike that would cancel almost 40% of the regular season schedule and eventually result in the first and only split-season format in MLB history. Nine days later, Wayne Williams was arrested in Atlanta. He would be eventually charged in the murder of 30 people in what was known as the ‘Atlanta child murders’.

The eventful year continued when on July 7th, President Reagan nominated the first-ever woman for service on the Supreme Court of the United States. Sandra Day O’Connor would eventually be confirmed and serve on the highest court in the land for a quarter century. On July 27th, a young boy, Adam Walsh, was kidnapped from a Sears store in Florida. His murder would spur his father to eventually form the ‘America’s Most Wanted’ program.

Two days after Walsh’s disappearance, most of the world was focused on the massive, ornate celebration of the wedding to end all weddings. On July 29th in England, Lady Diana Spencer married Charles Philip Arthur George, Prince Charles, in front of a worldwide television audience.

1981 has already given us enough of note? Not so fast. On August 1st, the now-legendary and iconic vision of the astronaut planting a flag on the moon appeared across cable services for the very first time to herald the launch of MTV, the Music Television Network. Two days later, the nation’s air traffic controllers would go on strike. Two days after that, President Reagan fired all 11,359 of them in the greatest labor-busting move in U.S. history.

The 2nd half of the year seemed to slow things down from the explosiveness of the first half, but it did serve to supply one major end-of-an-era moment. On December 11th, boxing legend Muhammad Ali stepped in to the ring and fought against Jamaican-Canadian heavyweight champion Trevor Berbick. Berbick had lost a hard-fought 15-round decision to champion Larry Holmes months earlier, and on this night he dispatched the great Ali in what would prove to be the final fight in the career of the man simply known as ‘The Greatest’.

1981 was a year of fighting on many fronts. Fighting through barriers, fighting through disaster, fighting through change on numerous fronts. The 1980’s were now fully underway with Reagan in the White House, Pope John Paul II in the Vatican, the Cold War coming to a head, radical Islam beginning it’s march, the Space Shuttle program launched, and both MTV and CNN changing how we view it all.

BORN 1981: Kelly Veasey, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Serena Williams, Justin Timberlake, Beyonce Knowles, Natalie Portman, Jessica Alba, Josh Groban, Eli Manning, Jennifer Hudson, Howie Day, Elijah Wood, Julia Stiles, Hayden Christensen, Justin Morneau, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Anna Kournikova, Jake Peavy, Adriana Lima, Roger Federer, Carl Crawford, Tila Tequila, Ivanka Trump, Barbara & Jenna Bush, Natasha Bedingfield, Amy Lee

DIED 1981: Bill Haley, Natalie Wood, Richard Boone, Joe Louis, Bobby Sands, Bob Marley, George Jessel, Harry Chapin, Adam Walsh, Paddy Chayefsky, Lowell Thomas, Anwar Sadat, Moshe Dayan, Edith Head, William Holden, Jack Albertson, Hoagy Carmichael