When Babbie and I arrived in Alaska in 1974, I had political ambitions. I wanted to be a United States Senator, and incumbent Democrat Mike Gravel was my obvious target. Gravel was a whack job. He went to the Democratic Convention in 1972 and openly campaigned to get himself nominated as George McGovern’s Vice Presidential candidate. He made a complete nuisance of himself, and actually cried on camera when his scheme went nowhere.
Gravel had no business being a United States Senator from Alaska. Any decent Republican could take him out. Half the Democrats in the state couldn’t stand him. But in 1974 the Republicans nominated State Senator C. R. Lewis, a member of the national board of directors of the John Birch Society. Lewis was nuttier than Gravel, and never had a chance.
Which brings me to Montana. How is it that a phony lightweight like Jon Tester represents Montana in the United States Senate? Pure luck. In 2018 his Republican opponent was State Auditor Matt Rosendale, one of the worst senatorial candidates I have seen in my lifetime. In the Republican primary he beat State Senator Al Olszewski, who would have kicked Tester’s butt. Rosendale was only able to do that because he was the establishment pick, supported by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell knew he could count on Rosendale’s support, which wasn’t true of Olszewski.
But Tester’s luck is going to run out next time, in 2024. Former Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen of Culbertson, Montana just won the Republican nomination for Attorney General. Knudsen is a superstar — young, smart as hell, accomplished, principled, affable, and a natural politician. Four years from now, Austin will, at last, relieve Montana from the embarrassment of having Jon Tester as their United States Senator.
Austin comes from good Danish stock. His grandfather emigrated from Denmark to sparsely populated northeast Montana early in the 20th century, and then volunteered for service in World War I. The Danes are good people. Of all the people of Europe, no one hated the Nazis more than they did. They’re pro-American to this day, because they remember well who it was that liberated them.
In a way, one of them was my father, F. S. Pettyjohn of the 82nd Airborne. He jumped at Arnhem, just south of Denmark, in September of 1944. This battle is better known as “The Bridge Too Far”, and was the bloodiest airborne operation of World War II. In my office I have a memento of that battle that he gave me. It’s a small parachute, and was dropped carrying the additional ammunition the troopers needed to fight off the Waffen SS, which had them surrounded. He was a staff sergeant and a squad leader, and he wrote his name, and the names of his squad on the parachute, along with their status (KIA, MIA), and a list of the battles each of them had fought in. He was badly wounded before the Canadians finally broke through the German lines to rescue them, and was sent back to the states to recuperate. He got back to his unit in time to take part in the Battle of the Bulge, and the liberation of Berlin.
23 years later, in the early winter of 1967, someone in Copenhagen repaid the Pettyjohn family the favor. On the trolley back to the youth hostel where I was staying , after a night on the town, I lost my wallet. I was screwed. It had what little money I carried, and my Eurail pass. Without that pass, I’d have to go back to hitchhiking, which was very difficult.
On a hope and a prayer I went to the police station the next day to see if someone had turned it in. Lo and behold, there it was. I not only had my Eurail pass back, but all the cash that it contained. I’ve liked the Danish people ever since. And when I look at that little parachute on my wall, I see the explanation of my good fortune.