Monday, April 02, 2007


Good-Time Charlie

Goodness knows there's a lot not to like about House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel: he's an old, unreconstructed liberal; his disingenous attempts to restart the draft; tax policy, etc.

However, the long-time Harlem representative has had an interesting life, and there's something to respect in him as well. Some of that came through Sunday as he talked with Tim Russert on Meet The Press.

He was flacking his new autobiography and talking about the blessings he feels he's had since his near-death experience during the Korean War:
MR. RUSSERT: Let me go to your book, “And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since,” and go back to November 30th, 1950. Tell us where you were and what happened, and the promise, the pledge you made to the Almighty.

REP. RANGEL: We got to Korea. We were the first United States forces there to repel the North Koreans after they had, in June of 1950, forced the North Koreans all the way down to the end of the peninsula. We went up and, with MacArthur landing, we pushed the North Korean to the border of North Korea and China. And then one of the coolest things happened, and that is our intelligence, for what it was, did not tell us that our complete 8th Army was surrounded by the People’s Volunteer Army. They actually crossed the river and surrounded us. My outfit had close to 90 percent casualties. For three days they blew the bugles. It was sub-degree, under freezing weather. I saw officers actually leaving by helicopter. We were scared as hell. We didn’t know what was going to go on.

MR. RUSSERT: You were in the 2nd Infantry, a black division.

REP. RANGEL: No, it was a white division. I was in a black outfit—you know, they talk about integration...

MR. RUSSERT: A black outfit was in the division.

REP. RANGEL: Exactly.

MR. RUSSERT: With white officers.

REP. RANGEL: Exactly. And some of the white officers had left us, had abandoned us, really. And so the Chinese would have the loudspeakers and say, “What are you Negroes doing there? You can’t even go to the pools in sunny Florida. This is a civil war, you shouldn’t be here.” And we were all scared. Well, finally they hit, and I was thrown off of a ammunition tractor into the air. All I saw was a ball of orange fire. And I ended up in a ditch. And I could hear the bugles blowing, I could see my comrades being led away with their hands over their head. At one point I wanted to play dead, but I thought that the loudness of my heart could be heard by those that was around me, that I was so scared. But anyway, I had been an altar boy, and I knew prayers in Latin as well as in English. And I knew I was going to die, but I just gave it one shot, and I said, “Jesus, if you ever get me out of this, if you could just consider sparing me, you’re not going to have any problems with Charlie Rangel ever, ever, ever, ever, ever.” And I think so many people have had bad experiences that, once they get out of it, they forget it. Something clicked, Tim, that I’ve never forgotten it, and I haven’t had a bad day since. No matter what has happened, something automatically says, or I imagine that Jesus says, “Is that you, Rangel, complaining?” I say, “No, it must be Tim or someone around me, but I’m OK.” And I’ve always been OK.

Some people have said, “How can you say that? You lost your brother, you lost your mother, and that wasn’t a bad day?” I said, “It’s really strange because first I curse the darkness, and then I say how many people have enjoyed having a beautiful mother for 94 years?” And my mother, her mother died in childbirth, so she never had a mother. And with my brother, he was my father, my best friend, my campaign man, it’s—he was everything to me. And we used to joke about, first, people who didn’t have brothers, but worse than that, people who had brothers and never—but never stayed in touch with them. We talked every day except when he was in the military in World War II and I was in Korea. Other than that, every day we talked.

MR. RUSSERT: High school dropout, Charlie Rangel joins the Army, went to Korea, returned home Sergeant Rangel, injured, decorated, and yet faced indignity back home. How does a black American in the ‘50s who goes and fights a war and comes home and doesn’t have the full civil rights that our country stands for, how do you deal with that?

REP. RANGEL: With great difficulty, because the Army pumps you up—those sergeant stripes, those medals, the self-esteem you have for yourself. And when you get out here, they didn’t—they didn’t miss you, they didn’t know where you were, they didn’t know where Korea was. And I had so much ego that I was giving general education development tests, high school tests to people, I forgot completely that I had not graduated from high school. But when I got out, I learned fast.
For rescuing his captured mates, Rangel ended up with a Bronze Star Medal With Valor and a Purple Heart. He now shows a truly admirable philosophy to his life, in terms of how he sees spirituality, family and sacrifice. His experiences led him to become -- and remain -- a liberal Democrat. Others might have made other choices, but regardless of how he votes or speaks to the military role America should have in the world, you get the sense from this brief discussion that Rangel is a "together" man.

I may not like the his politics, but I do respect the man.

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