Glen Campbell will perform with Blake Shelton and the Band Perry Sunday evening when he will receive a life time achievement award on the Grammys. But, one of Glen’s lifetime achievements has long been forgotten except by a handful of kids from Kilgore, Texas, who teamed up with him once to honor the United States of America.
In the summer of 1970, the Vietnam war raged, costing tens of thousands of lives of America military personnel and dividing the nation. Anti-war rallies broke out, rioting in the streets.
Enter a Texas business tycoon named Ross Perot.
He hatched a plan to bring young people from Texas to a pro-America rally in Washington, D.C. Perot sent out word that he would charter jets to haul kids to the nation’s capital for the event, if community leaders would select the students and donate a hundred dollars per kid to help defray the costs.
In Kilgore, a group of business people met and selected ten graduating high school seniors to make the trip.
I made the cut.
On the morning of July 4, 1970, we arrived at Gregg County airport outside Longview, Texas, well before dawn. The charter jet had already arrived, carrying kids from other communities. We took our seats and found ourselves at Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. mid-morning. A chartered bus met us at the terminal, and ferried us to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where one of the rally events was already underway. Crowds lined the wading pool, demonstrators waved signs saying such things as “God Bless America” and “United We Stand.”
From there, we went to the White House and received a private tour, next we went to the Smithsonian.
At dusk, we made it to the main event.
On the grounds of the Washington Monument, a crowd estimated at approximately 500,000 people had gathered. The ten kids from Kilgore walked down the middle aisle to their assigned seats not far from the stage where a star-studded cast of performers prepared to entertain.
Enter Glen Campbell.
Glen was one of the headliners that evening. He sang as the crowd stood and cheered him on. Between songs, my friend John Crawley climbed up in the seat of his chair and waved a makeshift banner we had brought with us, a banner that said Kilgore, Texas.
“Hey, Glen!” he yelled.
Glen put a hand up to shade the spotlights from his eyes and scanned the great throng. When he saw Crawley holding the sign, Campbell yelled into the microphone, “Kilgore, Texas! How y’all doing?” People watching the event around the country must have thought Glen had lost his mind, because the camera never panned to a bunch of country kids come to the city to support the United States of America.
But none of us ever forgot it.
After the show, we reversed course, went back to Dulles, boarded the plane. I sat next to Crawley. When we were at altitude, I leaned over to him and asked, “Do you think they would let us see the cockpit?”
Remember, this was a different time, thirty years before September 11th.
I got out of my seat and approached the flight attendant.
“Do you think we could see inside the cockpit?” I asked.
She turned and opened the door to the cockpit, said something to the captain. In a second, she came back to me.
“They said come on in,” she said.
I motioned to Crawley, and we entered the cockpit, where we sat until we landed at Gregg County, in the wee hours of the morning.
Glen Campbell announced last year that he has Alzheimer’s. I don’t know if he still remembers that event from so long ago. But if he doesn’t, I’ll keep remembering it for him.
Maybe the rest of you Glen Campbell fans out there can do the same for him, cherishing moments you shared with Glen.