by Ken Smith
October is Disability Employment Awareness Month.
This year’s (2011) campaign theme announced by the Office for Disability and Employment Policy (ODEP) is titled “Profit by Investing in Workers with Disabilities,” which promotes the valuable contributions people with disabilities make to America’s workplaces and economy.
Held each October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is a national campaign that raises awareness about disability employment issues and celebrates the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities.
I have been a veteran’s advocate for better than half my life. I have met with Presidents, Senators, Congressmen and have given keynote speeches at both Republican and Democratic National conventions on the subject of Veterans with Disabilities.
In 1994 I was introduced to Harold Russell by another veterans advocate, Bill Pitman. Harold, the old war horse lived on Cape Cod and was in the twilight of his career. In his lifetime as a Veterans Advocate he had conversations with Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Bush one and Clinton by the time I had met him.
It was an instant friendship, him and I, and I knew immediately that this man was an American Icon. I am perplexed even to this day at the harsh treatment he received by the Presidents committee on People with Disabilities at the end of his tenure and often wonder, why, as a nation, we never honored this man with the Medal of Freedom.
Harold was way ahead of his time. He knew sixty years ago that people with disabilities had much to offer and he was one of a few that spearheaded the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. If you look carefully, you will see his DNA stamped all over that legislation.
In 1999 Harold was the Best man at my wedding. It is a day that will be celebrated every year on my anniversary when I look at the photos and videos remembering the day. I smile when I recollect what happened at the church.
Imagine a small New England chapel, one that is traditional and seats maybe only one hundred attendee’s tops. Also imagine that it is smack in the middle of the summer (July 31st) and on this particular day, imagine it is plus ninety five degrees.
Just before the ceremony, while cloistered in a small broom closet waiting for the bride, this conversation took place.
“Are you nervous?” said Harold
Yes, very nervous, I said, as I am not sure that I have made the right decision. What if she doesn’t stay the same? What if she changes in a month? What if this, what if that. All of the “What Ifs” came pouring out of my mouth at light speed.
With the grace of a true gentleman, using his hooks as fingers, he opened his suit coat, gently reaching into the upper pocket on the left side of his jacket and pulled out a set of keys.
“Here, take these” he said.
“Why? “ I said, what am I going to do with the keys?
You have time, you can go out that window (he pointed at the window) and right outside is my car.
You can take my car, drive to Cape Cod (about a two hour drive), and use this key (he showed me one of several keys on the keychain), and go into my house, walk into my bedroom and take out the top draw of my bureau. Taped to the bottom of the draw is $2500 in cash. Take that money and book a flight to Sarasota, and when there, you can hide out at my house.
“And what are you going to do? “I asked.
Just then the traditional wedding march song started to play.
“I’m going to go out there and marry the most beautiful, gorgeous, smart, ass kicking dame I have seen in over sixty years.
“You bastard” I said, as he opened the door and we both made our way to the alter.
Harold was a true friend, and I miss our walks on the beach’s of Cape Cod.
Harold died in 2002 and I was left, in his will, all of his papers, notes, manuscripts and as I remember it, it must have been 25 large boxes, jammed with papers, photos and stuff.
I met with the librarian at Boston University, his Alma Mater, and now, at the Mugar Library, there is the Harold Russell collection.
The Harold Russell collection consists of professional material, legal material, manuscripts, video recordings, correspondence, audio recordings, photographs, memorabilia, and other items.
Professional material in the collection primarily consists of files of various documents (including correspondence, speeches, press releases, meeting agendas, minutes, reports, briefings, reports, minutes, worker claim cases and programs) regarding organizations with which Russell was affiliated. These include The President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped (1983-1999); the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (1952-1995); The Harold Russell Motivational Institute; Harold Russell Associates (1980-1992); New England Villages, Inc.; The Chinese Disability Committee; the Christina Foundation; and others. Other items include material on commissioned work regarding disability; background material for presentations (1981-1998); memoranda, agendas and reports (1984-1985); and speeches and remarks by Russell (1965-1973).
Legal material in the collection includes agreements between Russell and various entities..
Manuscripts in the collection include drafts of several speeches and public talks by Russell (1966-1988); drafts of a book titled A Strange and Deadly Love, written by Russell and Ted Schwarz; a teleplay from an episode of the television series China Beach; short pieces by various authors; and other items.
Video cassette recordings in the collection consist of clips from television programs where Russell made an appearance; copies of films and television programs in which Russell appeared, including The Best Years of Our Lives, Inside Moves, China Beach. Correspondence in the collection includes numerous personal and professional letters, dating from 1940 to 2002. Notable correspondents include Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, Thomas P. O’Neill, Edward W. Brooke, and John McCormack.
Audio recordings consist of long-playing records and tape cassettes. The content includes recordings of appearances by Russell on various radio programs, including a 1947 appearance on The Bob Hope Pepsodent Show.
Photographs in the collection are extensive, consisting of negatives and prints in color and black and white. There are many images of Russell acting in films, giving speeches, receiving awards, and at various ceremonies.
Memorabilia in the collection primarily consists of awards given to Russell for his work advocating for the disabled. Present are awards from the American Legion, the Committee on Handicapped Employees, the American Rehabilitation Counseling Association, the AFL-CIO, and various other organizations and municipalities. Also present is a certificate making Russell the Chairman of the President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped, dated 1977, signed by Jimmy Carter.
Today, we are missing someone to fill the role of Harold Russell.