• jdallasbrooks

The Rest of the Story

As Paul hurdled across the ten-foot fence to the Argonne National Laboratory’s nuclear research facility just outside of Chicago on a cold February night in 1951, a familiar feeling swept over the thirty-two-year-old: impending death.

On the day Paul was born, the stench of death was already all around him. While the Great War raged on in Europe taking thousands of young lives, the streets of Tulsa, Oklahoma were sprayed nightly with formaldehyde to try to curb the spread of the Spanish Flu, the worldwide pandemic of 1918. In the first few weeks of Paul’s life, hundreds of his fellow citizens died, and mothers held their children a little closer as they sang and hummed nursery rhymes, old ones like Little Jack Horner and new ones like Itsy Bitsy Spider. When he was only a month old, an emergency meeting of Tulsa’s top government officials was convened. Social gatherings were practically banned, including soda fountains and pool halls. Almost everyone with a car was ordered to have it available for the city to use in order to transport Red Cross nurses to and from their sick patients. If you so much as sneezed without a handkerchief, you could face fines or jailtime in the dystopian nightmare that was Paul’s introduction to this wild experience we collectively call life.

As the fog lifted on both the war overseas, and on the terrible pandemic that had killed so many, death once again entered Paul’s young life. At only three years of age, Paul lost his father, Harry, a Tulsa policeman, in a robbery. Shot by a group of armed men, Harry died five days before Christmas in 1921. As is common with boys who lose a father at a young age, the tragedy forever altered Paul. Rather than turning to drugs, drink, or hooliganism, however, Paul turned inward. Studying the world as if he weren’t a member of it, because for many of these tragic, fatherless sons, they aren’t. Paul found that he had a keen sense of observation. He also enjoyed fiddling with electronics, which at the time meant radios. It was only natural that he gravitated towards radio broadcasting. Eventually getting married to his sweetheart in 1940, he worked at a local Tulsa radio station while attending college. Paul later moved to Hawaii for a short while to cover the US Navy’s operations in the Pacific.

Death, once again, narrowly missed Paul, as he headed back to the mainland United States just before the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. Although there are conflicting stories about why, Paul’s service in the military was cut short. Perhaps it’s fitting in a way that a man born and raised in the presence of death should be spared the cause of so much of it during World War II.

Just past midnight on February 6th, 1951, Paul picked himself off the cold ground inside the perimeter fence to one of the nation’s most secretive nuclear research facilities. He had developed a lifelong fascination with security protocols, and in particular lax security, since his policeman father’s death three decades prior. Paul, as a radio news broadcaster, often told stories about how a lack of security could change historical events in ways never before imagined. The Korean War thundered on in the far east, and the threat of nuclear spies was very real. Americans were concerned that our nuclear secrets would be learned by the enemy, especially given that the Soviets had already mastered the atom two years prior. The very first telecast of a nuclear explosion had just occurred on US airwaves four days earlier, and nuclear war was the talk of the nation. It was because of this fear, and the incredible opportunity for one of the greatest “man on the street” reports in modern history, that Paul embarked on a secret mission of his own with a couple of friends that winter night.

Leaving his two friends behind in his car, Paul climbed the large fence, and made his way to the ground. The hot adrenaline rush of excitement coursing through his veins quickly turned to icy, cold fear as a security guard spotted him almost immediately. Rather than obeying commands to halt, Paul ran for it!

For those unfamiliar with top secret research facilities and military installations, a large sign is usually found all around the perimeter of these places. Printed in bold, red letters are typically found the words “Use of Deadly Force Authorized” or some derivation. The government, with these signs, lets would-be intruders know that the Grim Reaper is on speed-dial, should his services be required.

The security guard that night could have, with the full backing of the law, shot and killed the intrepid news reporter as he attempted to flee the secret facility. In fact, he very well might have except for one simultaneously minor and miraculous thing.

Paul tripped and fell, stumbling to the ground.

No longer able to flee, the radio newsman held his hands up and was arrested on the spot. Dragging him into the local FBI office in Chicago, agents quickly ascertained that this man, one Paul Aurandt, might be an atomic spy! When it became known that Mr. Aurandt was, in fact, a famous radio news broadcaster, he was released without charges. (Some suggested at the time that his friendship with J. Edgar Hoover might have also contributed to this decision, but it was never proven). The US Attorney’s office later attempted to charge Mr. Aurandt with conspiracy to transmit secret information to the public, a jailable offense, but after three weeks and a public spat on the airwaves between Mr. Aurandt and the prosecutor’s office, all charges were dropped.

Fifty-four years later, as President George W. Bush placed the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, around Paul’s neck, a loud applause filled the room as the award was read:

"For more than half a century, Paul Harvey has earned the trust of millions of Americans by telling them ‘The Rest of the Story.’ His news and comment program first aired in 1951, and today his broadcasts reach some 20 million people each week. He has built a proud legacy of integrity and excellence. The United States honors Paul Harvey for his extraordinary career in broadcasting and his contributions to the intellectual and political life of our nation."

In 2009, an old, familiar friend finally came for Paul Harvey when he passed away less than a year after his beloved wife of nearly 70 years. It seems unbelievable and unlikely that someone born in the shadow of death could live such a long, fruitful life. In his 90 years, Paul Harvey touched the lives of millions of listeners. His stories revealed something that tends to elude us until a talented, gravelly-voiced radio commentator hits us over the head with it from time to time. That is, historical events aren’t fairy tales. They are made up of real people doing real things, and even the tiniest actions can have enormous consequences. No one knows what the future holds, despite what the charlatan prognosticators might try to tell you. We only gain insight into how connected we all are and clear 20/20 vision by looking back through time. At best, we can learn from our mistakes and try to anticipate how our actions might impact the future.

Whether it was clumsiness, a guardian angel, or perhaps even the Grim Reaper himself who stuck a foot out to trip the young broadcaster that night in 1951 to spare his life, we’ll never really know. What we do know, however, is that we’re all the better for it. That, my friends, is the rest of the story.