Posted by: johnhourihan | January 25, 2013

A black president saddens me

When the counting was done and the nomination won, a sadness pumped through my veins and settled like quick-silver in my aging heart.obama photo
Barack Obama was to be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States — an African American man.
I stood in the newsroom, on the night shift, in front of the TV, and saw him become the singular opposition for John McCain, and I sank into a depression as I walked back to my desk.
When he was elected, I stood in disbelief,  and then on his reelection I sat dumbfounded in my chair.
So many of us never expected this.
I thought about Buster.
Buster was the man I met when I was a boy. He was my mother’s friend, and my father respected him.
“He’s a working man,” said Scrapper Jack. “He works hard, earns his
money, pays his debts and supports his family.”
That was all my father needed to know to judge the worth of a man.
What I knew was, in the summers, when Buster drove the Lish Hat Shop panel truck down our driveway on Mondays to drop off, and Fridays to pick up the homework, I got to have a Miscoe orange soda.
He was a big black man with a warm inviting smile.
He wore a white T-shirt and green overalls and he effortlessly loaded and unloaded the truck, talking to me all the while. My mother sewed hats and put the sequins and designs on — finish work it was called.
Buster would pick up or drop off the big cardboard cartons inside the front hallway, and my mother would bring him a soda.
We would go out and sit on the bumper of his truck, share the soda and talk about red-winged black birds, why I shouldn’t have a squirrel for a pet, and baseball.
And when we finished, he would swoop me up from the bumper, sit me on the front steps and drive off waving.
I also thought about George Duggins.
Duggins was the president of the National Vietnam Veterans of America with an office in Washington D.C.
He was important inside the beltway.
He influenced top government officials and wrote a letter to Robert McNamara that was the focus of a Virginian-Pilot commentary in 1995.
George let McNamara know how Viet vets felt about his attempt at absolution by maintaining he was against the Vietnam war all along.
Duggins let him have it.
“Mr. McNamara,” he said, “your efforts to purge you guilt have not touched my better nature. My better nature is reserved for those who believed your lies, followed your twisted path and met their doom in a war you helped put together.”
Duggins was a big deal then, but to me he was the Virginia Wolf, like
it said on his flak jacket. We had been stationed together through a year of mortars, rockets and Tiger beer, and he was the first person I saw when I was returning for my third tour.
Duggins was on his way to the showers with a green towel wrapped around his waist and plastic orange flip-flops on his feet.
He stopped in his tracks when he saw me.
He glared and said, “You wait right here. I’m gonna get my gun and shoot you, unless you tell me you had no say in coming back here.”
Duggins was my friend, and I was proud when he became important in Washington.
Then I found out in 2008 that he had died from the effects of Agent Orange. Effects he incurred, as his other friends told him when he returned, as a “black man fighting in a white man’s war.”
When Obama was named the Democratic nominee to become president of
the United States, I was sadder than I have been in a long time – sadder still when he was elected and re-elected.
Because Buster and George Duggins never got a chance to see it.
Because I never got a chance to say, “Buster, a negro is running our country.”
It was politically correct in 1953 to say “negro.” It showed respect.
And I was sad because I never got to say “George, I‘m glad you didn’t shoot me, because now I get to tell you an African-American is the elected head of the free world.”
It is sad that so many who never thought the day would come, have died before it happened.
So, when the counting was done and the nomination won, after the two elections, a sadness pumped through my veins and settled like quick-silver in my aging heart.
God, I wish I could talk to George and Buster.
I wish they could see this.



  1. They can see it John.

  2. Well written John.and I agree with what Charlie said.I also think your parents can see the integrity, morality and the conviction you write with
    Never stop

  3. They see John. They also see you pointing to it!

  4. You had me scared with your opening. I thought you were racist. I had to read through the whole thing to get your point. It’s a pretty good technique but a bit risky with the topic.

    • Thank you for reading the whole thing.

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