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An old man with a curious little metal cross

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted February 4, 2002

I see where the crack airport security teams who let 19 out of 19 terrorists slip through their net last Sept. 11 have been saving the republic from terror, again.

The Washington Times reported recently that airline security personnel at Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport stopped a suspicious looking gentleman as he tried to board an America West plane Jan. 11 on his way to attend a meeting of the National Rifle Association in Arlington, Virginia.

Searching the 86-year-old duffer, they found in his sports coat pocket a commemorative metal nail file, a dummy rifle cartridge -- the kind with a hole drilled through it to show it contains no powder or primer but is instead to be used on a key chain -- and the subject of this little account, a square piece of metal somewhat more than an inch across, with somewhat sharp edges.

The press widely reports that metal nail files and other instruments with blades are now prohibited in aircraft cabins under Federal Aviation Administration regulations that went into effect after the September 11 -- though in fact the FAA has no power to enact any new laws through its advisory "security directives."

In this case, the 86-year-old South Dakota native explained to the crack operatives of the Fred & Ethel Mertz Security Team -- soon to be sworn in as full-fledged federal employees, complete with membership cards in the federal employees union and a whopping jump in pay -- that he doesn't normally travel with the little metal cross.

"I do not carry the medal around with me," Joseph J. Foss told the Times in a Jan. 18 telephone interview. "But I had it with me this time to show to cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point," where he'd been a guest speaker the previous week.

Starting to get the idea this wasn't just your standard, retired Western cowboy? Mr. Foss figures his one-way, first-class ticket, coupled with the cowboy hat and western boots he was wearing, made him seem suspicious to security personnel.

Because he wears a pacemaker, he couldn't go through a metal detector and so was told he'd have to be frisked by guards. "I had to take off my cowboy boots three times, as well as my belt and necktie. I compared the situation to bailing out to land in a foreign country," he relates.

Mr. Foss says security personnel went so far as to remove razor blades from his luggage, going beyond any known FAA directives. And they seemed to have trouble understanding his explanation about the little metal cross, which shouldn't surprise us, since it's been revealed since Sept. 11 that enormous numbers of these crack security operatives are non-citizens, whose mastery of English is spotty at best, and among whom a high school diploma is a relative rarity.

Gen. Joseph J. Foss
Foss in 1942

"They just didn't know what it was but they acted like I shouldn't be carrying it on," explains retired Marine Corps Gen. Joseph J. Foss, former governor of the proud state of South Dakota, former president of the National Rifle Association, and former commissioner of the old American Football League.

"I received the medal in 1943 from President Franklin Roosevelt," Gen. Foss explained to his tormentors. He received the medal after shooting down 26 enemy planes in the Pacific.

"It states all that stuff on the back of the medal," says Gen. Foss.

On the back of the medal they didn't want him to carry aboard the plane, you understand. The kind of medal that war heroes receive from the President of the United States, personally. The Medal of Honor.

"I was held up for 45 minutes while they decided what to do about the medal. I almost missed my flight, as they went back and forth," Gen. Foss relates, stressing that he would not have boarded the plane if he had been stopped from taking the medal aboard.

"I'm one of only about 140 surviving Medal of Honor recipients." Gov. Foss says. He seems to figure that gives him something to stand up for.

An FAA spokesman was unable to say whether a deactivated cartridge would be banned under federal regulations. But he told the Times reporter that airlines are allowed to impose restrictions that go beyond those of the federal agency.

Some will say, "Well, they can't make exceptions. They were just doing their jobs. Everyone has to be treated the same if we're all to be safe and secure."

But were the disarmed passengers and air crews who had no way to stop the hijackings of Sept. 11 "safe and secure"?

This is nuts. Law-abiding Americans are being systematically accustomed and acclimatized to submit to humiliating body searches anytime and anyplace the government dictates, in order to make sure we're disarmed the next time the terrorists strike. What's "safe and secure" about that?

Do the Israelis disarm in order to make themselves safer? Just the opposite -- attacks on the Israeli schools stopped only when teachers and parent chaperones were issued firearms, and told to use them.

I'll tell you what would make us a whole lot safer in our skies: Spotting an 86-year-old Marine Medal of Honor winner in line about to board one of our planes, security personnel should have approached him, asked if he still felt steady enough of eye and hand to help out, and then handed him a loaded Colt .45 and asked if he'd be willing to carry it at the ready for the duration of his flight.

What's that? If they'd done that with retired Marine Corps Gen. Joseph J. Foss, Medal of Honor winner, they'd have to do it with everyone?

Well, yes. Precisely. Because, you see, a well-armed citizenry -- practiced in the use of their arms -- being necessary to the security of a free country, the right of individual Americans to keep and bear their arms of military usefulness -- anytime, anywhere -- shall never be infringed.

And that's not just a proposal. It's the highest law of the land.

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter by sending $96 to Privacy Alert, 561 Keystone Ave., Suite 684, Reno, NV 89503 -- or dialing 775-348-8591, where information on his next book, "The Ballad of Carl Drega," is also available.

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