Ellis Island was the first piece of America that millions of immigrants ever touched. It is a little island in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor and the point of entry for immigrants coming through New York. They would book passage for the cheapest price they could and travel way down below the decks. Finally, the boat would reach America, they would step off and enter this long, red brick building on Ellis Island. It's cavernous and echoes on the inside. They had to go through certain steps that eventually permitted them to move from the island and on to their real destination, which was New York City and the mainland. The people carried all their belongings in a basket, which was okay because they knew the island was not where they would live. Out of all those thousands who came to the island, not one ever set up a house there, because they were not going to be there very long.
When the President of the United States comes to speak, it's a rare opportunity. You get there hours early because of the mass of people that will be there, and it's hard to find a place to park. Once you get in, you have to wait until he arrives. Finally, you can hear a ripple go through the crowd as they hang the presidential seal on the podium. "Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States." Everybody gives him an ovation that lasts quite a while, and when the applause dies down, he begins to speak. While he speaks, nobody leaves. When you go to hear someone important, you don't just applaud and leave. You stay after the applause to hear what they have to say.
If you had a big van with only two seats in the front and a bench seat in the back, and in between there was nothing but carpeted open floor, it could be challenging to carry on a conversation. It would be almost impossible when the windows were open. Can you imagine trying to communicate from back to front and front to back? The person's lips would be moving, but you probably would have no idea what was being said. In that van, it wouldn't matter how loud you talked, how sincere you were, or how important your words were. The other passengers couldn't hear what you were saying.
A little known episode of American history came to light in the movie Glory. The Academy Award-winning film called attention to some unsung heroes from the Civil War - heroes no matter which side, blue or gray, you might favor. They were the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts, under the command of Colonel Robert Shaw. What was unusual about them was this: The entire company of men was black except for Colonel Shaw, and they left behind a tremendous example of courage.
I love to spend a couple of days in Ocean City, New Jersey, right along the Atlantic Coast. Maybe it's because I grew up in the middle of the country, where I never knew what an ocean was. We like to rent bikes and ride the long boardwalk there at Ocean City very early in the morning, when hardly anybody else is around. At one end is this white building with the initials O.C.B.P., which stand for Ocean City Beach Patrol. Occasionally, you'll see the lifeguards meeting there early in the morning, discussing their day's assignments. If you're at the beach, you don't want them meeting in their little building in the afternoon. Mr. Lifeguard is up where he's supposed to be - in his high chair - and he's focused on the people in the water. That's how one of them, several years ago when I was there, spotted three children who were in trouble - perhaps about to drown. He cleared the beach, got the other lifeguards, plunged in, and saved those kids. It's a good thing they weren't having a lifeguard meeting up on the boardwalk.
What do these people have in common? James Haggerty, George Reedy, James Brady, and Marlin Fitzwater. Do you know what they are famous for? You have probably heard of at least one of them. They were all presidential press secretaries. Those are names you would have never heard of except for their connection to the president of the United States. When these relatively unknown people called a press conference, the Washington press corps started to scramble, and they arrived in a matter of minutes. The press hang on every word they have to say, write them down, and then run to the phone to report it. Why do people consider the words they speak so important? It is because those are not their words.