I met Donald Rumsfeld today. That is Donald H. Rumsfeld, former Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush. I shook his hand, introduced myself and asked him a question that has been on my mind for about 40 years.
I met Rummy at the Offutt Air Force Base Exchange; he was there for a two-hour book signing gig promoting his book Known and Unknown: A Memoir. The book signing was originally scheduled for last summer, but the death of Betty Ford caused him to postpone his visit to Offutt until today. The signing was scheduled to last from 1100 to 1300, and I got there at 1100. There was already a line that stretched out the main exchange door, and down the mall. Surprisingly there where a substantial number of younger adults there and even a few teenagers. Some older men were dressed in suits, but maybe that was because they had gone to church earlier in the day. Some people came prepared with family members or friends holding cameras to record the historic moment. Some had multiple copies of the Rumsfeld book, probably for themselves as well as the folks back home. I thought of none of that and was there by myself , book in hand.
It took an hour of standing in a very slow-moving line before I finally got up to the desk where Donald Rumsfeld was signing copies of his book. He had an assistant standing at the edge of his table; the assistant opened each book to the title page and slid the book in front of Rumsfeld at the appropriate moment. The base exchange had thoughtfully provided an upholstered office chair so that Rumsfeld could sit comfortably. Each person shook Rumsfeld's hand and got to exchange a few words with him. I was standing behind a youngish family of six: Mom and Dad, plus four kids, two of whom were riding in a double stroller. The kids were amazingly quiet. Dad was carrying a bag with three copies of the book in it.
My turn with The Man came next. Donald Rumsfeld is not a physically large man by any means, but he gives every impression of a high level of mental sharpness and a zest for life. He leaned forward in his chair and extended his hand. I shook his hand and told him my name and that I had 25 years of active duty service. He congratulated me on that. I told him I had a question for him, if he had a moment; of course, he did. My question was this: I recall Linebacker II and the bombing of Hanoi with B-52s in December 1972, and less that a year later we went to DEFCON 3 during the Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur War. It has always seemed to me that Henry Kissinger's finger prints are all over those two events. Am I wrong? His answer was a finesse. He reminded me that at that time he was US ambassador to NATO and living in Brussels, Belgium. He said he didn't know the details of what was going on back in Washington and that going to DEFCON 3 had surprised him too.
So now my copy of Known and Unknown: A Memoir has been signed by the author himself. From his book I have learned that he and I share similar opinions about NATO. I am going to finish reading it, and then I am going to give it to my daughter so that she and her daughters can learn a bit of what really happened in the Cold War and its aftermath. Who knows. Maybe someday book collectors will value a signed copy of a memoir by Donald H. Rumsfeld.