Saturday, December 25, 2004

OUTSTANDING, a column by William F. Buckley Jr.

4/26/00 11:30 a.m.

The author, back from a tour of South Vietnam, meets a soldier who says it all.
By William F. Buckley Jr, from The Governor Listeth

San Antonio, October 9, 1969

It helps, ma’am,” he said spiritedly, “if you tell me who you are.” The nurse identified herself so that he was then able to refer to her by name. Would he care to join us for some coffee? “I never turned down free coffee in my life,” and he climbed down off his bed and struggled with his bathrobe. Unsuccessfully.

The visitor sorted it out and helped him on with it. He chatted on, wanting to know the latest word on New York City politics. He extended his left hand, fastening it on the visitor’s right arm, and told him to go ahead. “If we pass any pretty girls, tell me and I’ll whistle. I don’t know whether there are any around here, but I wouldn’t be surprised.” (But there were only doctors and nurses as they strolled down the corridor, and the maimed bodies of servicemen.)

He talked on in high spirits, touching on Louisiana politics, concerning which he was expert. He majored in history at LSU and knew and obviously cherished the brawling politics of his home state. “Real upheaval now. The old Huey Long base — the white red-neck and the Negroes — is breaking up, since the integration business. The governor is in deep trouble. And you know that Louisiana never votes for the winning President. Not since 1956. Earl Long was my man. I worked for his election when I was nine years old. Outstanding. He knew politics. The trick is to play politics and not to get enmeshed in them. He had a way with the voters. ‘The South may not always be right,’ he said, ‘ but it’s never wrong.’ One governor said he hadn’t run for public office in order to take a vow of poverty. Next I saw of him was a picture, alongside the president of LSU, cutting sugarcane in a chain gang.”

Getting into the car confused him, because it was one of those new models. The rear doors opening up to leeward, so that he began to step in facing the rear. At that, you would not know that his experience with blindness is so short. It happened on June 9. William Fullerton was squad leader, instructed to reconnoiter on a hilltop south of Danang.

“We got up there all right, but the area was booby-trapped. Half the platoon was hit. My squad — twenty men — had twenty-five casualties during the preceding period, so we were understrength. I thought, God we’re going to be ambushed, and I worried because I couldn’t see my gun. But the choppers were there in no time. What a sound when you hear those blades. Outstanding. Thirty minutes later I was in a hospital. Three days later in Japan. I got here the fifth of July, how’s that?”

American logistics, the visitor admitted, are better than American foreign policy. “They ought to fight that war to win, or pull every man out of there tomorrow. If I could see, I’d go back tomorrow, if we’d agree to fight to win. I didn’t have to go last time. I was 1-Y. I just figured I’d go and do my Hemingway thing.”

What now? “My own doctor says an operation could bring sight back to my right eye. But the people here disagree; they say the eye is too far gone. So I’m headed for Chicago. They’ll discharge me there, and I’ll go to the Veterans’ Hospital where they specialize in blind people. If they agree to operate there, fine. if not, I’d have to go and get it done privately, and that costs two thousand dollars. But I suppose it’s worth it. I’d like to go back to LSU and take law. The constitution is the longest in the world. I started to read it once. Didn’t get past the preamble.”

It was time to go back. A corporal greeted him in the street outside the hospital door. “Hey, George,” he returned the greeting, “what about the kidneys?” George said the doctors hadn’t succeeded. “Oh, well, George, just think, you could be ugly, too.” George walked off, and Fullerton leaned over, his face deeply grieved. “Awful. He has three children. But with his kidney condition, he can’t live more than fifteen or twenty years.”

Back at the ward, he stood erect by his bed, smiling, and on finding the visitor’s hand, shook it. “Outstanding,” he said, “I’ve had an outstanding time.”*

*William Fullerton, Jr., was operated on by the famous New York surgeon Ramon Castroviejo in February, 1970. Seven weeks after the operation he was able to distinguish colors.

Monday, December 20, 2004


My mother died this week. There were tears, but she was nearly 80 and had been slowly losing her fight with Alzheimer's. This is the biography I wrote for her memorial service.

Sybil Fullerton, a traditional southern lady, had a history of accomplishments, many of them very non-traditional.

While attending Searcy (Ark) High School, Sybil Lee Price, worked as a sales clerk and sold tickets at the local movie. That’s where she was when she and the town learned about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

A cheerleader and homecoming queen in high school, she graduated in the middle of World War II with no definite career plans. At the time, the nation’s railroads were beginning to train women to replace the men who would soon be called up to operate the rail system in Europe following D-Day.

When a shy friend asked her to attend classes with her, Sybil agreed. At the end of the training, the friend was in love and didn’t want to leave home. Sybil agreed to take her place. That’s how she became a railroad telegrapher, depot agent, in tiny Howcott, Louisiana, for the Missouri Pacific Railroad and, in so doing, met her future husband.

He was Bill Fullerton, the telegrapher in nearby Georgetown. They were married in 1943. In 1944 he was shipped to Europe. In 1946, he retuned home. Ninth months later their only child was born.

For the next ten years, she was an “at home” mother, concentrating on her son and being very active in church and community activities. She also wrote for the Colfax Chronicle, and one year was recognized as the state’s top country correspondent. It was during this period that a friend asked if she’d like to serve on a Grand Jury. The state law had just been changed to allow women to serve if they volunteered. She did, and became the first woman in the state to serve as a Grand Juror.

Sybil taught herself shorthand and when she returned to work, it was as a legal secretary. However, she remained involved in church and community work. In the early ‘60’s she served as Worthy Grand Matron of the Order of the Eastern Star in Louisiana.

In 1964, Governor John McKeithen made her the first woman to serve as a member of the Louisiana State Parole Board. Eight years later, she became the first woman in the nation to serve as chairman of a state parole board.

After serving as chairman for eight years, she retired to enjoy her old friends, gardening, reading, a vast horde of cats, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

On Thursday afternoon, just six days short of her eightieth birthday, she quietly left us to rejoin her husband.