Saturday, February 23, 2008


Today I was watching (yet again) the 1978 Buddy Holly Story, the film starring the talented Gary Busey who was nominated for the Academy Award for his outstanding performance and portrayal of Buddy Holly. The movie won the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song Score and Its Adaptation or Best Adaptation Score, quite a compliment for the actors, including Busey, who played their instruments and sang all the songs. No voiceovers here.

But we’re not here today to talk about the film, rather the memories prompted by that film. We’ve all experienced traumas and events of such import that we remember those exact moments many years later and, indeed, precisely what we were doing at the time. I can recall several such events that have left their very real permanent impressions on my person. For me they all happened “yesterday” or even a few minutes ago and remain a large part of my psyche and my life experiences.

One such event was the death of Buddy Holly (of the Crickets), Ritchie (La Bamba) Valens
and J. P. Richardson aka "The Big Bopper" on or around 1:05 A.M. on February 3, 1959 which was accurately noted by Don McLean and his song American Pie, as “the day the music died” and the often pondered metaphor for the impending significant changes within American society. The trio was on a chartered flight from Clear Lake/Mason, Iowa to Fargo, North Dakota when their plane went down in a snow storm shortly after take off. For Texans this was an especially traumatic event taking two native sons; Holly, the curly haired, scrawny kid with huge glasses from Lubbock and Richardson from Sabine Pass/Beaumont.

I was a freshman at Lenox School in Lenox, Massachusetts. We were in the middle of deep winter in the Berkshires and the sport of hockey had captured my heart and soul. Mentor and Coach Ed Gleason thought I might have some promise as a goaltender, left-handed or not.

That Tuesday forty-nine years ago I was walking from St. Martin’s Hall to the gym when a fellow student ran up and announced that Buddy Holly had been killed in a plane crash in Iowa! Despite my New England connections my home (and where my Dad lived) was listed as Dallas, Texas and everybody knew how much I loved the music of Texas’ favorite son, Buddy Holly. Many of my fellow students had been punished with my shower renditions of Peggy Sue, That’ll Be The Day and other Holly hits though my voice was pretty good in those days. I loved Holly’s voice and eclectic style and had perfected Holly’s famous hiccup style (actually a glottal stop). I stood shocked and mesmerized for what seemed like an hour in the snow and cold just wondering - Why? I even remember later talking with the very empathetic school headmaster, Dr. Robert L Curry about my feelings and sense of loss.

I visited Clear Lake, Iowa several years ago and found that it has little to brag about except the existence of the still operating Surf Ballroom, the site of Buddy Holly's last concert, a lot of churches and restaurants that remember Buddy Holly in one fashion or another. For all you Rural Hill Amazing Maize Maze aficionados the two and one-half mile wooden stockade Fort Custer Maze in Clear Lake is worthy of your efforts though not as unique as our corn field in Huntersville, North Carolina. Other than that this town is a typical plains farming community and given nearby Clear Lake, an uneventful tourist stop on Interstate 35.

Fast forward four years…

On Friday, November 22, 1963 on or around 2:00 pm good Friend and fellow Sig Ep Floyd “Bud” Moore and I were walking southwest across the campus at Ole Miss and were adjacent to the old Student Union (now Weir Hall) walking towards Fraternity Row. Bud was my mentor and Sigma Phi Epsilon Big Brother and a gentle giant at around 6’ 4” and 260 pounds. He was an offensive guard and had played some ball at Bucknell before transferring to Ole Miss where he ultimately couldn’t play because of a health issue. While the sizable boy from Marietta, Mississippi wasn’t especially large for a guard, considering some of the behemoths on the Rebel football team, he made up for that with a consummately respectful, quiet demeanor and character that set him well apart from all others.

We were about halfway between the Union and the Cafeteria (now the Paul B. Johnson Commons) when the announcement was made that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas at 12:30 PM! We were both shocked and saddened. I recall Bud’s specific initial reaction included despair and anger. It was later reported that there was an air of jubilation on campus. If there was I didn’t see it – after all, our President had just been killed. I do remember that when we were near the fraternity house a passerby tried to make light of the killing and Bud jumped his case like stink on a skunk. He made sure that everything was put in its proper perspective. Like the rest of the country, the campus remained mostly respectful and somber though the events of October 1962 still were recent history (That and other Ole Miss happenings will be the topics of future commentary).

The third event was the incident we all know as 911. On the morning of September 11, 2001 I was conducting an Employee orientation at employer Cybershield in Canton, Georgia. I was facilitating several new employees through the mostly mundane process when around 8:50 AM our receptionist broke into the meeting and announced that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center! The horror of that moment still haunts me. Of course, at that point we had no idea that this was part of a coordinated plot by the Osama bin Laden inspired Al Qaeda.

I postponed the orientation and set up the monitor/TV in the lobby and turned it on to WSB-TV, the always reliable Atlanta ABC affiliate. ABC Good Morning America co-anchors Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer and their ultimate award winning coverage did great justice to the unfolding story. They brought some reason to the insanity of the moment.

The lobby soon filled with both managers and other staff from the plant. No one worried about the time clock and our work essentially ended for the day. We sat and stood through the entire ordeal and watched in horror when shortly after 9:00 AM on live television yet another hijacked commercial aircraft slammed into the south tower of the World Trade Center. Until then we all thought this might be a highly improbable, tragic accident. We now knew that we were dealing with a far sinister issue, maybe even war?

How many planes had been hijacked? By now there were reports that many aircraft had been pressed into service by terrorists. At 9:37 AM another plane plowed into the Pentagon further reinforcing our fears. Reports starting coming in that all commercial and private aircraft were being recalled and grounded and that a full scramble of military aircraft was in process. How many other hijacked aircraft were left to deal with?

That question was interrupted by the horror of the collapse of the New York Trade Center south tower at 9:59 AM and then reports that another commercial airliner, United Airlines flight 93 was headed towards Washington, DC and the Capitol building. We heard of a scramble of interceptor jets and later learned that due to the heroics of many passengers, the aircraft of flight 93 had crashed at 10:03 AM in a field in southwest Pennsylvania about 150 miles northwest of Washington, D.C.

Shortly thereafter we saw live the collapse of the north tower at 10:28 AM and then the lesser known tower seven which collapsed around 5:20 PM because of damage sustained from the collapse of the north tower.

What the hell was happening?

Some Employees quietly sobbed as the carnage played out while most of us just stood in shock and abject horror which eventually turned into anger. We knew that thousands of civilians had most likely died though the final number 2,998 still seems low. The good news was that over 16,000 survived the attacks, due to the bravery of the New York Fire and Police Departments, all probably to the chagrin of our new adversaries. We had turned defeat into a great victory…

Yes, I remember all these events like they were yesterday. I still remember and revere the memory and songs of Buddy Holly who exerted a profound influence on popular music (and me) and was recently ranked by Rolling Stone Magazine as #13 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

I remember JFK with all his foibles and accomplishments and the day when a gentle giant from Mississippi made reason the standard.

The heroics of many 911 rescuers and the mostly forgotten minions who helped ease the burden of the victims and the rescuers. The work of the American Red Cross is a given. Friends Sandy and Susan Marshall of the nearby lower Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea who lost many Friends in the attacks helped feed rescuers for weeks while a local, favorite restaurant of mine, Williamson Brothers Bar-B-Q of Canton and Marietta, Georgia relocated to ground zero for one weekend. Danny and Larry Williamson brought their Talladega, Alabama inspired, southern style barbecue to the rescuers who, no doubt, still remember that hospitality. Thanks, guys.

Remembering, that’s what it’s all about and the above events have helped shape my life and my value system. So, what are your special memories?


Ned Buxton

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