Sunday, November 24, 2013

Bellmon Memories

      To use a Bellmon term, in 1960 Democrats “ruled the roost” in Oklahoma. Gov. J. Howard Edmondson was a Democrat, the Democrats had a stranglehold on the Legislature, and most Oklahomans were Democrats.
      The joke at the time was that Republicans held their state convention in a phone booth.
      Republicans were quarantined as much as possible, lest the dread disease spread. It was the day of yellow dog Democrats. The 1st Congressional district stretched from Enid to Tulsa to isolate as many Republicans as possible.
      Into this political world came a big, ruddy, wheat farmer from Billings, Okla. by the name of Henry Louis Bellmon.
The Democrats never knew what hit them.
      Bellmon was elected chairman of the state GOP in 1960 and set to work immediately. His job brought him to Tulsa. He was so lightly regarded that the Tulsa World did not want to waste a real reporter on him, so they sent me.
      That meeting is my lasting impression of him. I don’t remember what I wrote. I just remember telling my city editor that “if this guy can shake enough hands” he will go somewhere. And he did. Governor, U.S. Senator, DHS head, Governor, and then elder statesman.
      I had contact with him in all those phases of his career, but I could never call him “Henry.” It was governor, senator, sir. I always felt like he should have a title. Henry Bellmon was genuine. Honest to a fault. He was so determined to do what he thought right that he commanded respect – and votes.
      He spoke the language of Oklahoma. I owe this story to my lifelong friend and mentor, Alex Adwan: When Bellmon ran for governor in 1962, he was the first Republican candidate ever invited to a big political event of mostly farmers in Sasakwa.
      When it came his turn to speak. He thanked his hosts and said, “you know, in Oklahoma we Republicans have always sucked the hind tit.”
      He wowed that audience. Alex and others decided that if he could win that group of Democrats over, he had a chance to be governor.
      He did, beating millionaire businessman W. P. Bill Atkinson. Remember Bill? We called him Dollar Bill.
      Others will remember far more than I about the first term. My next encounter was with U.S. Senator Bellmon, running for re-election in the troubled year of 1974. You will remember it was Watergate, Richard Nixon, his price controls, busing, and the Panama Canal, all in all a tough year for a Republican in still Democrat Oklahoma.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

November 22, 1963
by Ken Neal

I was the newly minted State Editor at the Tulsa World the day Kennedy was assassinated. I had just turned 28 and was overwhelmed by the editor’s job, having had no desk experience.
So I showed up for work early to get a jump on the mountain of wire copy and news events of the day, preparatory to putting out the State edition of the paper, my responsibility.

Tulsa World, November 23, 1963
As I walked into the lobby of the World building at 315 S. Boulder Ave., Nita Connors, our newsroom receptionist, told me shots had been fired at the President.

I hurried to the third floor World newsroom. I am sure every newsroom in the country was beginning to come alive with the breaking news.

The wire room was dinging and chattering when I walked in. In those days, the wire services would ding several times before an important item. The more important the coming flash, the more dings.

United Press International was still a competitor to the Associated Press, owned by newspapers and of course the dominant news service.

Even I knew of the famous Merriman Smith, who stole the story of the Kennedy Assassination from Jack Bell of the AP. I later learned how Smith had the telephone in the press car, got off a flash and held onto the only telephone until the car arrived at Parkland hospital. 

I digress. My memory is that the first flash, from UPI, was “shots fired on Kennedy” or something similar.
We huddled around the teletype machines, which clacked out the story. By about 1 p.m., our time, we knew President Kennedy was dead.
We had no television in the newsroom so we had to see the famous Walter Cronkite announce the death later on our home televisions.

'JFK': Stone's Docufantasy Distorts History

The Tulsa World
Ken Neal

JFK,” the movie, is rip-roaring entertainment. It is also an infuriating revision of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy by a paranoid director trapped in his own Vietnam time warp.

Oliver Stone’s docufantasy presents his theory of the assassination, which is that nearly every part of U.S. officialdom participated in the murder of Kennedy. Those who didn’t help plan it helped cover it up. 

The cover-up continues to this day, through the writings of the U.S. media, presumably right through this column. 

We all somehow are either willing confederates or dupes of the ephemeral “they” who killed JFK. 

And further, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy are parts of the same gigantic plot. 

Lyndon Baines Johnson, who benefited from the JFK assassination, seems to have been a willing partner in the plot.

JFK, Stone’s movie says, planned to pull the U.S. out of Vietnam. “They” wanted this war to make millions out of munitions so “they” killed him.

But “they” also wanted him dead because JFK planned to make peace with communism. And restore relations with Fidel Castro.

The theory is at best bizarre. If JFK planned - as some of his political friends later claimed - to get out of Vietnam, he failed to bring his secretary of state and secretary of defense in on the secret.

Johnson fought the entire Vietnam war with the active advice and urging of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and Secretary of State Dean Rusk, both Kennedy appointees.
LBJ lost his presidency because he couldn’t extricate the United States from the war. It is not an exaggeration to say that his anguish over the war shortened his life by years.

Monday, November 18, 2013


by Ken Neal
 My dad was a Chevrolet man at a time when  Chevrolet and Ford were the two most popular autos for most people. Plymouth was a distant third.
       It is difficult today to understand the arguments between fans of the two. Fords and Chevies today have much in common. Indeed, without the markings, mechanics would have difficulty distinguishing a Ford engine from a Chevy engine.
       That wasn’t so when I first got interested in autos.
       Henry Ford designed the iconic Ford flathead V-8, putting it in a few Model B Fords in 1932. That engine powered Fords through the rest of the 1930s, through World War II and was finally discontinued in 1953.
       Chevrolet introduced an equally iconic engine in 1927, replacing a four-cylinder, overhead valve model.
       That engine was dubbed the Stovebolt Six, so called because of the large headbolts on those engines.
That Six in various disguises drove Chevies until 1962.
       The version with which I am most familiar was the 216 Cubic inch version brought out in 1937, lasting pretty much in that form through 1952.
       Dad started work for American Airlines early in 1946 when American moved its overhaul base to Tulsa from LaGuardia Airport in New York City.
       He was driving a 1939 Chevrolet that had served us during the war years when automakers quit making autos and shifted to airplanes, tanks, and other war material.
       By 1948, the automakers had built enough new cars that the shortage during the war was beginning to ease. Dad had to have a new car. He bought us a Fleetline torpedo sedan, a jet black beauty.

Sale, but No Sale

by Ken Neal

I often think of a black 1941 Dodge automobile and when I do I remember what a fine man my father was. I have many memories of dad and automobiles. We spent a great deal of time together talking about or working on autos.
My first car, described elsewhere, was a 1933 Chevrolet coupe. I sold the old Chevy in the spring of 1953 for $60. I worked in Tallent’s Snappy Service station that summer and managed to accumulate about $400, so I was looking for a “new” car.
Pop was my main resource. Before I tell the Dodge story, I have to tell about a 1934 Ford coupe that I did not buy.
A Dr. Allison was a well-known Sand Springs physician and he drove the Ford. It was a beauty. I think he had bought it new and it still looked new.
When he died, the old Ford was up for sale. You were asked to make a sealed bid. We thought the Ford was worth about $125, but Pop suggested we bid $126 in case someone had the same idea.
Someone did. My school chum, Lee Earl Hayes, bid $125. But I didn’t get the car. After the bids were opened, Lee Earl came into the service station with the Ford, bragging that he had bought it for a few dollars more than $125.
A Mr. Roberts, I think an executive with Public Service Co., had opened the bids and when Lee Earl and his father inquired, he told them they needed to raise their bid a bit. They did and I lost the car.
Knowing this, I jumped out Mr. Roberts, the father of another school chum.
He was flabbergasted that I knew he had betrayed me but of course couldn’t or wouldn’t rectify the injustice. He didn’t have the character to correct his mistake.
Which brings me back to the Dodge and my father, who did have the guts to do the right thing even when it penalized me.