An American Hero

From the Blog of Phyllis G. Pollack.

The other weekend I attended a retirement party for a neighbor, Kenneth R. Hughey. He is retiring as a Deputy City Attorney to go into a private criminal defense practice with a good friend. This will be his fourth career: he is 79 and a true American Hero!

Ken started his first career at age 17 by enlisting in the Air Force. While in the Air Force, in 1963, he earned a B.S. degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Colorado. During the Vietnam War (1965 to July 1967), he flew the most sorties ever flown in combat before and since – 564 missions to be exact (of which 106 were over North Vietnam). Unfortunately, on July 6, 1967, he was shot down over North Vietnam and taken as a POW. He spent 6 years as a POW, with five months of it in complete isolation. Some of his time was also spent at the Hanoi “Hilton” along with Sen. John McCain. For the first 31/2 years, his wife did not even know if he was alive or dead.

Ken was finally released as a POW on March 4, 1973. He returned to college and obtained a masters degree in English. In 1979, when he retired from the Air Force as a colonel, he did so with two Silver Stars, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Bronze Stars and four Purple Hearts.

Ken then went to work for Hughes Aircraft Company. While working full time at Hughes, he went to law school at night and on weekends. At age 65, he became a member of the California State Bar (and probably one of the oldest to pass the bar!)

As a tribute and sign of great respect for Ken (if not affection), more than 80 people attended his retirement party, including the City Attorney (The Honorable Carmen A. Trutanich), several judges and commissioners of the City of Long Beach. As is typical, several of them got up to say a few words about Ken. One of them was a superior court judge who talked about jury trials in which Ken participated as the Deputy City Attorney. He commented on how so many of us try to avoid jury duty and get out of it any way we can (me included!) So – after every trial concludes in which Ken participated – he tells the jury about Ken’s background including the 6 or so years as a POW and the over five months in complete isolation. He makes this point; if Ken can give up 6 years of his life for the United States and what it stands for, we – as citizens, can give up a few days – if not just 1 day (under California’s one day/one jury system) – as a juror so that our fellow citizens get their “day in court” – in our democratic society. Sitting in a jury room all day pales to sitting in the “Hanoi Hilton”!

At the conclusion of the party, I went up to the judge to tell him how much I was struck by the point he made. Never again will I try to get out of jury duty.

I know this blog has little to do directly with mediation and dispute resolution – but indirectly it does. We should not let ourselves get caught up in the small stuff and lose sight of the forest for the trees. Yes – we all have disputes – but let’s try to put them in perspective. Most of them pale to the “disputes” that Ken Hughey has encountered

. . . Just something to think about!


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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