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A Man for our Times

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Vincent Harrington, a forgotten coach at a small college at the edge of the country, has been rediscovered. A grainy, 1927 photo in the current (spring) issue of Portland magazine, the alumni publication of the University of Portland, shows a man standing alone on the football field. Dressed in stained workshirt, muddy wool pants and bulky knitted socks, Harrington looks like someone lost in another era, hardly today's image of a college football coach.

Harrington, however, was a man for our times. After a college career in which he had been one of the Seven Mules who blocked for the famous Four Horsemen at Notre Dame, he became a professor and football coach at the University of Portland. Later, he returned to his home state of Iowa and became a legislator and then Congressman. In the latter role he promised the people he represented that if he ever voted for America to go to war, he would go himself. At the time of Pearl Harbor, Harrington kept his word and became the first of a handful of Congressmen to resign their posts and enlist.

How many leaders in recent history""another footballer, Arizona Cardinals safety Patrick Tillman, killed in Afghanistan, does come to mind""have had similar courage and honor? When their time had come during the Vietnam War, the 'chicken hawks' in this administration, had, as Cheney put it, 'other priorities.' Most Congresspersons, of course, are too old for service, even by the new cut-off age, extended by an army desperate for recruits. But only one of the 535 members has a child in the armed forces. Like most young people, who don't need to worry about a draft, their children are safely on campuses or getting on with their lives. Very few of us pay any price for Bush's war. Many of us don't personally know even one of the few who have paid the price, the some 18,000 killed or wounded soldiers and their families.

If this war is not worth our own lives or the lives of our own children, then we must show another type of courage and honor by doing everything we can to end it. We know, however, that our skin is not in the game. We don't spill into the streets to protest the lies that led our nation into war or flood Congress with petitions to lead the country out of a conflict in which its very presence is a significant cause for ongoing violence, not the solution. We leave all that to the war's victims""Cindy Sheehan and the Gold Star Mothers for Peace and the Veterans Against the Iraq War.

Vincent Harrington paid the price of patriotic conviction. He is the man for our times.
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James Parker has retired from careers as a professor of theology and as a public relations officer for a research institution.
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