Witness to history

A photo captured my chance at the State Theater in Falls Church, Virginia, after the terrorism attacks on September 11, 2011. I had dropped my wife off a doctor's appointment and saw the flag at the theater and decided to shoot the photo. The motorcyclist came by just at that moment.
A photo captured my chance at the State Theater in Falls Church, Virginia, after the terrorism attacks on September 11, 2011. I had dropped my wife off a doctor’s appointment and saw the flag at the theater and decided to shoot the photo. The motorcyclist came by just at that moment.

Sitting in front of a bank of monitors and a keyboard in the wee morning hours of a Thursday, I sip my second cup of coffee of the day and put the finishing touches on the latest revisions of a political web site that has dominated the past 21-and-a-half years of my life.

One of the items on the home page of Capitol Hill Blue is a column I wrote about the first woman nominated for President by a major U.S. political party.  I predict, with no reservations, that voters will elect her the first woman President of America — history in the making.

History in the making.  I’ve been extremely fortunate to witness, and on occasion be part of the making of history in this nation.  As a newspaper reporter, I’ve witnessed and covered historical events that include racism in this country, the resignation of a disgraced President, terrorism attacks that killed thousands of Americans, the crash of a Space Shuttle and death of astronauts and other things.

From a vantage point on Columbia Pike in Northern Virginia on June 11, 2001, I took news photos of the crash of a commercial jet orchestrated by terrorist hijackers that left a gaping hole in the Pentagon and scarred our nation.

In service to my country, I was involved in moving the old DARPANet from government control to the National Science Foundation help start the Internet, monitored a nuclear disaster in Russia and other things I cannot discuss.

I’ve witnessed and photographed violent acts in America and abroad.  As an employee of Uncle Sam, I have sat in the Oval Office and talked with two Presidents, flown on Air Force One, witnessed a shuttle landing in New Mexico and stood solemnly at a memorial service in Houston to remember and honor those who died in the crash of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

Even after leaving Washington and moving to what we felt would be a more tranquil life here in Floyd County, a phone call from a Washington assignment editor sent me and my cameras to Virginia Tech to help document horrific mass murders.

History occurs all around us.  In today’s media-driven environment, we watch it unfold time and again in video monitors and can revisit it over and over by clicking on a streaming report on the World Wide Web.

As a youngster, not yet in my teens, I found myself embroiled in history as an elementary student in Prince Edward County, Virginia, where a racist board of supervisors and school board closed the public schools fo avoid integration and opened an all-white private school.

As a child, what I saw there disgusted me and I wrote an essay about the mistreatment of minorities in Farmville.  Then newspapers published that essay my career as a newsman began.  I was working for The Floyd Press and The Roanoke Times by high school and became the youngest full-time reporter, at 19, for the Times.

My career involved a lot more luck than talent.  I was in the right place at the right time.

Now, at 68, I sip my coffee on a quiet week here in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  My cameras and lenses, sent off Monday for cleaning and adjustment, return today and what mostly was a week off from a life dedicated to documenting history begins again on Monday of next week.

What history will unfold?  Impossible to say.

Every day is different. History follows no set path, no hidden agenda and no established pattern. It just happens.

That’s the beauty of history.  We’re all witnesses to it each day.

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