Monday, April 7, 2008

Farewell to a Grand Old Patriot

Charlton Heston.

Just to say his name is to evoke memories of the epic characters he played on the big screen. Moses...Ben Hur...El Cid...Andrew Jackson...He held an entire generation enraptured with this great acting, powerful screen presence, and chiseled good looks. In the days before cable, VHS, and DVD, I lived for the frequent network showing of The Ten Commandments, where Mr. Heston's Moses was probably his most iconic and memorable role.

Today we mourn the passing of not only a great actor but a great American. Charlton Heston loved his country. He was never embarrassed to say that nor was he afraid to take stands on issues that had the potential to hurt his acting career.

He was a supporter of civil rights for African Americans before it became politically popular to do so, marching with Dr. Martin Luther King and being present for his "I have a Dream" speech.

He was a supporter of the United States military. When first talking to the recruiter about joining the Naval submarine force, I was shown a video hosted by none other than Charlton Heston. Being a fan of both the Mr. Heston and the navy, my admiration for him grew even more. When naval deployments were long, Charlton Heston personally called families of deployed personnel with holiday greetings from their loved one.

Charlton Heston offered the prayer at the commissioning ceremony of the USS Chicago (SSN-721) in September, 1986. An officer friend of mine had the pleasure of accompanying Mr. Heston to the airport to pick up his mother. He spoke of his personal kindness and how Mr. Heston make himself totally accessible to the crew.

As the nation became more politically polarized between right and left, Charlton Heston once again made his voice heard. He had never hidden his conservative politics but the contemporary political environment made his political views the most public part of his persona, much to the consternation of a Hollywood that was growing ever more radical and militantly anti-American.

Mr. Heston, always a gun owner, was elected president of the National Rifle Association in a time of decline. In his acceptance speech, he lofted high a musket and uttered the words, "From by cold dead hands," earning him the immediate disdain of those who considered themselves to be the elites in our nation. Under his leadership and public image, the NRA grew in membership and influence while the left painted this great American as a right-wing loon.

In 2002, Mr. Heston announced to the world that he had Alzheimer's disease. He made this announcement with the same gravitas and grace which he had always shown on the screen and in his public life. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003, the highest American civilian honor. It was a richly deserved award for him and capped a lifetime of living his beliefs and loving his country.

Charlton Heston...a real American. We will miss him greatly.

-- Submitted by B. Bryant

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