As the year’s remaining days dwindle away, let us remember some who left this life in 2017.
Michael Novak was a kind, brilliant Catholic philosopher whose majestic 1982 book, “The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism,” made a powerful case that free men and free markets provided the surest path to liberty and prosperity. Once of the left, he came to believe freedom’s ideals could overcome communism’s evil and was appointed by President Reagan to the board overseeing Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.
For most of five decades, Kate O’Beirne was a constant presence in the conservative movement’s plotting, first in Sen. James Buckley’s office, then the Reagan administration, the Heritage Foundation, and finally, for 20 years, at National Review. The raspy-voiced O’Beirne was smart, humane, and often the only adult in the room—and thank God for that.
Two men died this year who drew on faith to influence public policy. Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center educated journalists about the thoughts, motives and desires of the faith community, showing them something far different than the stereotypes. He enriched the public dialogue and created friendships everywhere he went.
Another evangelist, Doug Coe, acted on the personal level. He directed the Fellowship Foundation, which sponsors the National Prayer Breakfast and encourages those in public service to deepen their faith through prayer and study. His kindness touched countless lives.
“Histories make men wise,” Francis Bacon wrote. Three historians who made us wiser departed in 2017. Thomas Fleming’s work focused on the American Revolution and Founding, showing how greatness could spring from the actions of imperfect men. Hugh Thomas wrote of Spain from its imperial era in the 16th and 17th centuries to its civil war in the 1930s. Alistair Horne, a former British intelligence agent, produced volumes on the Algerian War and Franco-German conflicts from the Paris Commune to World War II.
Baseball, football, basketball, tennis, golf, boxing, horse racing—it seemed Dick Enberg could do play-by-play for every sport. He did so for 50 years, punctuating big moments with his signature “Oh my!” In his final decade, he returned to his true love, calling Padres baseball games.
Ara Parseghian arrived at Notre Dame in 1964 after an embarrassing decade for the Fighting Irish. He restored the school’s status as a football powerhouse, winning championships in 1966 by humiliating USC 51-0 in the season’s last game and in 1973 by defeating Bear Bryant’s Alabama. “A good coach,” he said, “will make his players see what they can be rather than what they are.” Parseghian was a great coach.
Few have had such a profound impact on politics and media as Roger Ailes. He helped three men win the presidency and created two highly successful cable networks. This visionary was a voice for the middle class who nurtured generations of media talent before being forced out of Fox News last year in a harassment scandal.
Finally, some of America’s greatest war veterans left us this year. In September 1944, Marine Pfc. Arthur Jackson single-handedly destroyed 12 pillboxes and killed 50 Japanese soldiers during the battle for Peleliu. A month later, across the globe in France, Army Pvt. Wilburn K. Ross manned a machine gun for five hours against attacking elite German troops, killing 58 and breaking a Nazi advance.
In December 1950, Lt. Thomas Hudner pancaked his Corsair onto a North Korean hill in a futile attempt to rescue his downed wingman, Ensign Jesse Brown, the Navy’s first black carrier pilot, whose craft was in danger of catching fire.
In April 1967, Air Force Col. Leo Thorsness led four F-105s in an attack on missile batteries outside Hanoi. He knocked out the SAMs, downed one MiG and damaged another, at one point engaging four MiGs alone for nearly an hour. Shot down 11 days later, he was tortured, his back broken in four places. Thorsness spent six years as a prisoner of war, his final stretch with John McCain in a Hanoi Hilton cell.
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In February 1968, Pfc. Thomas Kinsman was one of eight infantrymen cut off from his unit during an attack near Vinh Long. To save his comrades, he threw himself on an enemy grenade—yet somehow survived, though he suffered severe head and chest wounds.
A year later, a large North Vietnamese force attacked Lt. Wesley Fox’s Ninth Marine Company. Though wounded, Fox continued directing his men and calling in airstrikes, personally moving through intense fire to kill a sniper. He refused medical care until all his men were evacuated.
All five heroes received America’s highest decoration, the Medal of Honor. From a grateful nation, requiescat in pace.