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by William H. Benson

November 18, 1999


     “‘The eyes.  The eyes.  Cover the eyes!'”  And immediately one of them produced a regular blindfold and tied it around my head.  Another young man then produced what turned out to be, when I examined it later, the cover from a front seat headrest of a car.  He pulled this too over my head for good measure–and, though I blessedly didn’t know it then, that was the last time I would see the sun for the next six and a half years.” 

     So wrote Tom Sutherland in his account of his kidnapping in Beirut, Lebanon on June 9, 1985.  He was a Colorado State University professor in the Agriculture Department who had been teaching at the American University there since 1983.  He had returned to the U.S. for a short visit, and then the day that he returned to Beirut, he was kidnapped while driving from the airport.

     On November 18, 1991, his captors released him.  He was immediately flown to Wiesbaden, West Germany where he was tearfully reunited with his wife Jean and their daughter Kit.  They then flew to San Francisco where they celebrated Thanksgiving at their daughter’s home.  Finally, on December 1st, a Sunday, they flew back to Fort Collins.  He called the view of the Rockies as they landed “absolutely spectacular”.

     Hundreds of yellow signs with “Welcome Home Tom” converged upon him.  Thousands of well-wishers lined the road from the Fort Collins/Loveland airport to the CSU campus and to the crowd gathered in Moby Gym.  There, he met Senator Hank Brown and Governor Roy Romer and CSU’s President, Dr. Al Yates.  He then spoke to the crowd.  Finally, he and Jean drove back to 812 Garfield Street, to their two-story wood-and-brick home, with fully-grown trees, to the place he had dreamed of seeing thousands of times.

     I heard Tom Sutherland speak earlier this year.  One comment stuck.  “Here in America things kind of work.  We get along.  Things work out.  Problems get solved.  But in many places in the world things don’t work.  The problems are incredible and can’t be solved.  People hate each other and have done so for generations.  The young people in such countries don’t have educations, jobs, money, nor hope.  Instead of being in school learning, they spend their days getting even, causing trouble, and hurting others.”

     The columnist George Will recently wrote of  “the cohesive power of the American experiment.  In spite of endless talk of differences, American society is an amazing machine for homogenizing people.  Its citizens are absorbed into a culture of consumption. Immigrants quickly fit into this common culture which may not be altogether elevating but is hardly poisonous.”

      It has not always been so.  Throughout much of our nation’s past, labor and racial and class strife bitterly divided America’s citizens. Hundreds died.  It was as if someone was invariably shouting, “The eyes.  The eyes.  Cover the eyes!”  Today America has never been less divided by bitterness about the differences among the people.  For example, regardless of a citizen’s birthplace elsewhere, either he or she or their children soon come to enjoy and appreciate the annual ritual of pausing to Give Thanks.


     Those Separatist Pilgrims from seventeenth-century England led the way.  To leave the Old World, to come to the New, to celebrate the harvest irrespective of the yield, to sit at the table with family, to eat turkey and sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie on a Thursday in November–those are the true American tradition, a point in time when we “get along”.  I suspect that no family in 1991 celebrated a happier Thanksgiving than did the Tom Sutherland family.