By DAN WHITTLE
I've touched greatness through 50-plus years of newspapering and 70-plus years of living ... greatness of people known internationally and great hometown folks.
SCIENTIST REACHED HEAVENS \
German-born scientist Werhner Von Braun (March 23, 1912 - June 16, 1977) impacted the U.S., world and heavens as a rocket scientist.
Dr. Von Braun first worked for Adolph Hitler and his Nazi's who wanted the rocket scientists' V-2 rocket as a military weapon. Dr. Von Braun wanted his rockets used for space travel.
How much stature did Dr. Von Braun have? As a young reporter in 1971, it made me nervous when assigned by Nashville Banner State Editor Weldon Grimsley to interview the world famous scientist.
After a 20-minute interview, I informed newspaper readers the scientist, as Germany was nearing collapse to end World War II, evacuated himself and his rocket staffers from a German-held rocket research location to a region where he speculated they would be captured by U.S. military officials as opposed to Russia's Army.
America the Free and the world benefitted greatly from the scientist's choice to surrender to the U.S. Military.
HITLER PERFORMED GREATNESS ON OUR FARM
Not Hitler, the German murderer of millions of Jews. He doesn't deserve to be a compared to a good farm dog.
Daddy Whittle showed his unusual brand of humor when he named our new dog "Hitler" in 1946.
"This dog will have to be tough to get through life with the name 'Hitler,'" Father shared with farm neighbors.
Our farm dog became a farm community legend the fateful day he cleared a barnyard fence head-high to a grown man to knock an enraged huge male hog off of my father.
Although Hitler was a sturdy-built half German shepherd/bulldog, he was no match for the enraged boar hog that had bloody-red-froth coming out its snout and long sharp tusks.
Before Daddy Whittle returned to shoot the hog between the eyes, Hitler had been tossed up in the air several times by the swine. Although age 4, I remember the canine bleeding profusely from multiple deep gashes on his head and torso. My job was to hold Hitler's head in my lap covered with burlap soybean sacks as Daddy floor-boarded our old black Ford farm truck to get to the nearest veterinarian 12 miles away.
After what seemed an eternity, the medical man diagnosed Hitler thusly: "Ordinarily, I'd put this dog down. But the animal is fighting harder to live than any animal I've ever seen."
Three days later, the vet came out of his office with a smile: "Mr. Whittle, Hitler came out of his coma ... he's going to live to fight another day. He's the strongest-willed canine I've ever treated."
Hitler was a dog, a GREAT farm dog.
LOCAL, BUT WORLD-ACCLAIMED GREATNESS
Murfreesboro native Dr. Rhea Seddon is the only female astronaut in Tennessee history. She's known around the globe for her scientific celestial research.
When I interviewed her in the early 1990s, she shared this story from her era at Murfreesboro's old Central High School: "My father and I were driving back to Murfreesboro. As we crossed Center Hill Lake on a bright moonlit night, we stopped beside the road for the pretty view. That's when I told him, as we looked up at the moon, that one day I wanted to travel in the heavens."
And she did. She and her astronaut husband, Hoot Gibson, now live a quiet life with their feet on solid Middle Tennessee soil.
MEET THE GREAT PHYSICIAN:
Not the Great Physician in the heavens, but a great local doctor none-the-less.
Unlike Dr. Seddon the scientist, (the late) Leon Rheuland was a medical doctor who became a Tennessee legend as the unpaid volunteer coroner of Cannon County.
I met "Doc" Reuhland one early morning over the phone: "Is this Mr. Whittle?" the medical man asked. "Yes sir, how can I help you?"
"Last night, the York VA turned away a very sick Vietnam veteran I had treated at our hospital in Woodbury," Doc diagnosed the problem. "Could you go incognito with me to the VA, and let them explain how they can turn a sick veteran away on a freezing cold night?"
I made time to go with the frustrated physician.
After 15 minutes of hearing excuses from VA bureaucrats why that ailing veteran was turned away, Dr. Reuhland finally introduced me to them as a newspaperman.
That veteran was admitted within hours, and periodically, Doc Reuhland and I would have lunch when he would share with a smile: "Dan, I've never had another veteran patient turned away by the VA."
He was not a world-famous physician, but his funeral was attended by law officers and military veterans from throughout the Volunteer State.
Doc Reuhland was greatness at the community level.
How great was baseball player Jackie Robinson...so great his jersey number "42" is the only permanently retired number in Major League history.
As a newspaper reporter during the interview, I was amazed at this world-famous man's intensity.
That intensity, no doubt, helped him withstand the anger and insults, and hundreds of death threats in 1947 when he became America's first black man to break the "color barrier" of the Major Leagues.
Later that night, Mr. Robinson, showed his steel while speaking at a Chamber of Commerce banquet in Sikeston, MO.
"How dare you folks to send a man from the local NAACP who had been drinking to pick me up at the airport in (nearby) Cape Girardeu," Mr. Robinson challenged from the podium.
After our interview, it did not surprise me this great American had the gonads to publicly chastise his obviously inebriated local chauffeur.
MEET MIDDLE TENNESSEE BASEBALL GREATNESS
I was cultivating a soybean field on a John Deere tractor my older brother had attached a stadicky portable radio for us to listen to St. Louis Cardinals baseball games.
I was nearing the last four rows to be cultivated when legendary Cardinal broadcaster Jack Buck advised a rookie pitcher named Chuck Taylor was scheduled to pitch against the Reds that night.
"He has to be a winner being from a Tennessee town named Bell Buckle," Buck shared over the air.
Although a relief pitcher, Chuck Taylor was a "starting pitcher" that night, and defeated the Reds by a nifty 3-1 score.
In 1988, I was booked to speak at a Murfreesboro civic club luncheon.
When I stepped up to the podium, I looked out and saw "the Chuck Taylor" seated in the audience. Next to the legendary Stan "The Man" Musial, Chuck Taylor had been very popular with St. Louis Cardinal fans.
After speaking, I asked Chuck what his greatest memory was as a pitcher for little Bell Buckle High School.
"It's when I struck out Christiana High's best batter four times in one game," Chuck recalled. "Tommy Wheeler never fouled off a pitch of mine."
PAUL HARVEY'S GREATNESS
Early in my career I realized I was interviewing "greatness" when the world famous radio broadcaster granted me more than an hour for an interview.
I took hours to script out multiple subjects and questions prior to the interview in order to not appear nervous and IGNORANT to the famous radio broadcaster.
As the famous man spoke expertly on multiple world subjects, it dawned on me, that (the late) Paul Harvey was not only an American radio legend, he was probably the smartest man I've been privileged to interview in 50-plus years of news gathering.
AND NOW, THE REST OF THE STORY
Back in 1946, WGNS Radio went on the air as Murfreesboro's "Good Neighbor Station."
The owner, Bart Walker, has since earned the right to be in the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters' Hall of Fame.
Beginning six years ago when I began co-hosting The Truman Jones Show on WGNS, I got to know Bart's son, Scott Walker.
Broadcaster Scott goes day and night, at all hours carrying the Good Neighbor Station's banner into often dangerous situations to help hundreds of homeless children, women and men living on the streets of America ... for the world actually, since he volunteer to help starving folks in a foreign nation this past year.
Scott goes where few news reporters dare to go, under the bridges and overpasses, where homeless folks remain mostly invisible to the rest of Americans.
He gathers blankets, tents, medicine and food ... anything to help ease the pain of hungry people living on America's streets of despair.
But that charitable heart may not be his strongest character trait. His biggest gift seems to be that street folks almost instantly "trust" him.
How trusting are they? They allow Scott, an accomplished photographer, to immediately start taking portraits of their homeless existence. Being a veteran news man, I would not advise the ordinary reporter to go where Scott Walker goes.
Scott Walker has achieved local radio greatness in his still young and developing radio news broadcast career.