Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 25, 2014

January is a cool month on the thermometer and in American history

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — To begin with, we can’t seem to get back to school this month. Not since January 1968, when the famed mine rescue machine made its practice debut over at the U.S. Steel No. 14 mine at Munson, has such a severe blast of cold weather hovered over Four Seasons Country for such an intense stretch of time.

It was so frosty, in fact, that I almost lost track of the great day in Pocahontas and Montcalm High Schools’ history when on January 18, 1965, the Generals lost a 2-1 decision to the Indians over at the Brushfork Armory. Veteran coach Carmen Stauffer nearly pulled off the upset with a bold strategy over the late Tommy Lucas’ team. It remains unique in area sports as a game that under the current rules is almost certain never to be repeated.

Sports is never far from my mind and during this most recent January (and including part of December) there were 35 football bowl games. It might be nice if that number never happened again, either, with the honor of being a bowl team no longer very bright. Just how 70 different teams are worthy of being in a bowl is highly suspect although the major TV networks can make so much money by televising the games and securing sponsors that we may forever have to put up with  ‘bowl eligible’  groups whose only claims to fame is that somebody will be willing to fork over a few dollars to secure television publicity.

There have been some great individuals springing forth from January, of course. We just celebrated the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., born in 1929 on January 15. His achievements are world-renowned as a civil rights leader. Not as many would be familiar with his first brush with fame and it happened under the leadership of his (also) well known father, who was one of the country’s great ministers.

As a 10-year-old, King Jr. took part in a festival helping to promote Margaret Mitchell’s novel  “Gone With the Wind” that premiered in the author’s Atlanta hometown. Many African-Americans at the time criticized the elder King for participating in the promotion since the book was highly attached to the Old South as well as Confederacy. King Sr. brushed them off, noting that he was concerned about what was best for Atlanta and what would bring opportunity to the area and to many parishioners in his church. The celebration was a success and indeed, many in the church did benefit from the activities.

It is easy to see just where MLK Jr. perhaps first noticed how bravery and a willingness to publicly stand up for something controversial can ultimately have good results. Martin Luther King Day, by the way, was first observed in 1986, some 18 years after he was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn.

Memphis is the home of Elvis Presley, who was born on Jan. 8, 1935, and also a part of the significant decade of the 50s when Dr. King made his own rise to prominence. Presley was a former truck driver who teamed up with a promoter who had no problems making his own bold statements.

Col.  Tom Parker was keenly aware of the rock-and-roll movement and anxious to earn some serious money. He saw clearly how stars of color including, among others, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, etc., were dominant on the music charts. Parker also noted how they were often discriminated against in the music industry in various ways because of their race.

He is said to have astutely observed,  — If only I could find a white man with a  ‘black’ sound, I could make a million dollars. Along came Presley, product of Sun Records and Sam Phillips, and within a very short time, Parker’s musical dreams came true.

January is also known for a great many military events. One of our country’s highest decorations is the Congressional Medal of Honor. No soldier can earn a greater award, and often the sailor or pilot or infantryman gives that last full measure of devotion to be considered. It is the ultimate accolade for a team player willing to die for his country and fellows.

The first action for which the Medal of Honor was awarded actually took place in February 1861 but the honoree, Assistant Army Surgeon Bernard J. D. Irwin, did not actually get the Medal until January 24, 1894. Irwin, therefore, was not actually the first person to wear the award although he was the first to perform deeds deemed worthy of it.

Finally, it was another military milestone on January 27, 1973, that signaled the end of an era. During Richard Nixon’s presidency, the military draft ended. That was near the conclusion of the Vietnam (Conflict) War and fulfilled a promise Nixon had made during his successful presidential bid in 1968.

Many more great events mark January’s importance in American history and we can think of them as we struggle to stay warm until Old Man Winter moves further south.

 Larry Hypes, a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.