There is an old saying, seize the moment when it comes, for it may never come again. Do not waste it, for it can cause regret as you look back and say how stupid when you let it get away.
In my case, on February 8, 2006, it did get away from me, but I had no regrets because I did seize the moment that I will never forget, as I may be the only man in the world who has chased the former first lady, now Senator, Hillary Clinton, down the long corridor at the Capitol building on the ground floor in Washington, D.C.
All the excitement was only to get a picture with the Senator and say hello, but it turned out that Clinton had other ideas and no time for me, as she walked horridly on by when I called for her to acknowledge me.
It was at that moment that the reporter in me took over as I took after Clinton down the long hallway. She had a 10-yard jump on me as I decided to chase her down. In view of my friends, in view of Brigadier General Paul Schafer, in view of Colonel Anthony Lazarski, in view of Capitol security guards and body guards. As I got six feet from the former first lady, I suddenly was told to "Stop right there!" I turned to hear security tell me and responded by saying that I only wanted to take a picture with the Senator and say hi. I was told that Clinton didn't have time, she had a meeting to attend.
I then looked over to see Clinton's reaction to our standstill. She kept walking, not returning a word or a smile, but continued down another corridor, disappearing with her two female bodyguards, never looking back.
As I said, I did not waste the moment and I have no regrets because I will look back and say, "How stupid was that!" Not that Clinton got away, but that I had chased the former first lady, especially since I never voted for her or her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
It all started 61 years ago in 1945 with Downingtown resident and World War II veteran Tom Vadine. Vadine served in the Navy as a first-class seaman on the ship, USS Quincy, the ship that sank without a fight. He was then assigned to the USS Santa Fe, called the Lucky Lady. The Santa Fe survived the war and received 16 battle stars.
During his last year in the service, Vadine wanted to be on a destroyer. He was transferred to the Navy's fast destroyer, the USS DD 703 Lind. The Lind received four battle stars and served alongside the famous U.S. carrier, Shangri-la, which had Senator John McCain's grandfather, Admiral McCain, as a head officer.
The Shangri-la sent two admirals to the Lind. From there, they went to Tokyo Bay to board the USS Missouri to witness the surrender of Japan and the end of World War II.
Vadine recalls that day when Admiral McCain came aboard the Lind. He didn't know who he was then, but remembers it was the day before the surrender and it took all night and day to get to Tokyo Bay.
"We were off the coast of Japan, patrolling the area. The only ships in the bay were a destroyer like ours, the destroyer USS Lind and the USS Missouri."
"Admiral McCain was escorted onto the Missouri to witness the famous peace signing and he then flew off the ship by plane for home. It was then announced that Admiral McCain died four days after witnessing the end of World War II." Vadine continued.
Vadine said they heard everything on the radio while on the ship. "The year I was on the Lind, I requested the flag that they were about to change because of its condition from the war. It was worn and torn. Many people don't know this. When they change flags on the ships they take the old one down to the furnace room and burn them," he said.
Vadine, after 61 years, still had the flag, a picture of Admiral McCain and a picture of the signing with Japan on the USS Missouri. He decided to donate his safekeeping to the admiral's grandson, Senator John McCain, whom he thought would appreciate the story and the picture of his grandfather.
Arrangements were made this past February through Eileen Schaffer of Downingtown, who has a son working at the Pentagon, the highly respected Brigadier General Paul Schafer, who made the connection and appointment for Vadine, his nephew Jim Duca, and myself to meet with Senator McCain in his office on February 2, the day they held the voting debate on appointing Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.
The talk on the two-hour ride to Washington was about respect for our military, of Senator McCain who served as a Lieutenant in the Navy and was shot down and injured in North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. He was tortured as a prisoner for seven years. We also spoke of the Marinelli Brothers, James and Dominic, who gave their lives during World War II, for whom the park in Downingtown was named in their honor.
One story Jim Duca told was of the Red Cross one day coming to the mother of James and Dominic , Mrs. Robie Marinelli's house, asking for a donation for the veterans who were coming home. Mrs. Marinelli replied, "I already gave," pointing to the two black stars on her doorway that designated two dead veterans. Gold stars designated active veterans, Jim said. "The Red Cross walked away, not realizing the brothers sacrificed their lives to the war.
After picking up General Schafer, we drove to the Capitol building, where we went through security, and then went to the second floor, where Senator McCain's office was. We passed the offices of Senators Biden of Delaware, Dodd of Connecticut and Warner of Virginia, among others.
As we were being escorted to the second floor, the Judge Alito hearing was televised on the big screen TV. Alito was elected to the Supreme Court by a vote of 53 - 48 and the TV screen showed the senators leaving the hearing room down on the ground floor.
When asked, Colonel Anthony Lazarski replied that we could try to meet the senators leaving the hearing room as our appointment with McCain wasn't until noon.
Our group hurried down to the center of the corridor where all the senators would pass. The first was Senator Warner of Virginia. A quick hello was said. Then Senator and presidential candidate John Kerry came by. I asked for a group picture with him. Kerry first said he didn't have time, and then agreed, only if it was real quick, and quick it was. Next to come by was Senator Levin of Michigan, and suddenly, Senator Hilary Clinton came walking by. At that moment, I turned around and called her name. She would not answer me, so my next reaction was to go after her, as stated at the beginning of this story.
After the Clinton incident, I returned to the hallway and who came down the corridor all by himself but Senator McCain, who I approached to shake his hand and introduce the group. He spoke with us for a minute and knew we were there to meet him at his office at noon.
Lazarski then gave the group a quick tour through the hallways, cafeteria, gift shops, the Brumidi Corridors, comprised of five different hallways known as the main, west, inner, north and Patent corridor. All the corridors were decorated with Italian Roman marble, tile and images of America, past and present. A beautiful sight to see.
When we arrived in McCain's office, he was sitting in his leather chair waiting for us. He said he was glad to see us and we all introduced ourselves. Vadine then presented the framed flag and photo, which the senator at first wouldn't accept as he thought Vadine should keep the historic portrait for his own family memorabilia. Vadine disagreed because no one in his family was interested in it. Besides, it was a connection to the Senator's grandfather. He convinced McCain to keep it, because it would be in better hands. McCain thanked Vadine for thinking of him and his family. He stated that the framed portrait would go to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, where the Naval Museum is. He said he would let us know when it was displayed there.
After 15 minutes with Senator McCain, we all said our good-byes and then were treated for lunch in the Capitol Building cafeteria. We sat among the senators, military officers and employees who work at the Capitol. It was the largest cafeteria that we had ever been in, a four-block-long eatery.
We then took a tour of the building, seeing all the major rooms and finishing our day visiting the World War II Memorial. It was a day to remember.
Until next time,
P.S. Many thanks to Tom Vadine who gave his gift of love to Senator John McCain and made us all a part of it. To Mrs. Schafer and son, Brigadier General Paul Schafer, for their kindness in making the dream come true. To Colonel Anthony Lazarski and his Senate Liaison Office staff or their courtesy, energy and professionalism in welcoming us, and to Senator John McCain, who was a gentleman, a hero, a blessed man, who made it all possible to seize the moment, which may never come again.