Franks wows ’em at Lyceum

A couple of things stood out from Gen. Tommy Franks’ talk Thursday night at the annual BSA Lyceum.

— I was struck by the West Texas dialect he heaped on during the first part of his talk. The retired Army four-star is no hick, but he sounded like one as he regaled the crowd with his stories about growing up in Midland, his entry into the Army after flunking out of the University of Texas, the pearls of wisdom offered by his dad and the gifts he bought his wife as they prepared to celebrate their 41st wedding anniversary. I leaned over to Amarillo College President Paul Matney, and asked: “Is it me or is he laying the corn pone on a little thicker than usual?” Paul nodded “Yes, he is.”

Then, seemlessly he moved into the serious part of the speech, speaking in the dignified language he used to brief the media on national TV during his time as commander of combat forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But here’s the strange part: I cannot remember precisely when he dialed back the twang in his tone. I just noticed it after he had been talking for a few minutes.

— I also was struck by the political jabs he offered at what generally is a non-political event. The Lyceum is staged as a fundraiser for BSA Hospital. BSA has invited political dignitaries previously: Bill Bennett, Bill Bradley and Elizabeth Dole to name just three. Colin Powell, another soldier of some renown, has spoken too. Gen. Powell, if memory serves, managed to stay away from lacing his comments with political barbs.

Franks wasn’t quite so discreet, although he wasn’t terribly rough in his treatment of former President Clinton and the current commander in chief, President Obama. He referenced President Clinton’s call in 2000 in which he asked the general if he wanted a fourth star. “This is a great country,” Franks said to the BSA crowd, drawing laughter throughout the room. Later, he talked about President Obama and explained that he’s never commented on Obama’s tenure as commander in chief “because the people voted him in and if they want to vote the sucker out in 2012, they’ll do that, too.” That comment drew throaty cheers and applause from his overwhelmingly Republican crowd.

The general knows his audience.

It was a wonderful event, though, to witness a true American hero — as he was described in state Sen. Kel Seliger’s introduction. Three Purple Hearts earned in Vietnam and nearly four decades of service to his country give this giant figure a special place of honor in our nation’s history.

And, as Franks noted, he was entitled to say whatever he wanted for as long as he wanted because “I’m the only four-star general in this room.”

Thank you for your service, Gen. Franks.