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December 11, 1998

My recent comment on Pearl Harbor day brought back some interesting memories for several people. Phil Albertson, a Korean War veteran, remembers a day in his childhood when his parents lived in San Pedro, Calif. The year was 1937. With another boy, Phil was roaming around one afternoon when they spied a group of youngsters performing close order drill, just like the regular military. An adult man was giving them their orders. Phil and his friend watched for a while from a discreet distance and tried to figure out what was going on, but their curiosity really peaked when the man pulled a roll of dimes from his pocket and dismissed the group by giving each one a shiny ten-cent piece.

Phil, and his young friend had to know, so they asked the man what the session was all about. "Well," he began, "I retired from the Navy a short time ago. While I was in service, I concluded that someday in the near future we were going to be at war with Japan. I want to do something to make sure the young people of this country are prepared when that happens, so I'm teaching this group about close order drill" Sure enough, on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese staged their sneak attack on the Hawaiian Islands, this country was plunged into World War II.

Phil's family also lived in Norman when he was in high school, and there he met a happy go lucky young man named James Bumgarner. James was not exactly the scholarly type, Phil says, so he dropped out of Norman high school before graduating. Eventually he migrated to the West coast. You know him today as James Garner, the popular star of television and numerous-major movies. Even though he didn't hang around long enough to earn his diploma, Garner still returns to Norman occasionally for a high school reunion, Phil says.

Phil's wife, Mona, also can tell a story about a state celebrity. At one time her parents lived across the road from the parents of Wiley Post in a rural Oklahoma setting. Wiley, the well-known air pioneer who successfully made a solo flight around the world in the 1930s and helped pave the way for space travel, gave his mother two of the handkerchiefs that he carried on that daring adventure. His mother gave one of those to Mona and she has treasured it for years. The two families were very friendly.

Dr. Frank Scheide, the Arkansas University history professor whose chief avocation is compiling a file of information about Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, two of the silent film era's biggest movie stars, shared some of his research with members of the Noble County Genealogical Society here the other day. Later this month he will board a plane for London to show a Keaton documentary on the BBC, and it contains many references to the Keaton family's years in Perry. Local historian Millie Highfill is interviewed in the documentary, and the Keaton home on Grove street is shown. A new addition to his collection is a five-minute home movie made by Martha Moore in 1957 when Buster and his wife, Eleanor, were in Perry for the world premiere of Paramount Pictures' movie, "The Buster Keaton Story, starring Donald O'Connor in the title role. Dr. Scheide is fascinated by the Keaton family's connection with Perry, and he is surprised that we seem to have made no attempt to make the public more aware of that fact. Buster was born in Iola, Kansas, where an annual celebration is held on his birthday, but in truth the Keatons spent only a week or so there. They had a much closer tie to Perry. Someday we really must do something to let the world know that this little Cherokee Strip town was an integral part of Buster's early life. What do you think we should do?