By DENNIS DAILY, United Press International  |  May 27, 2002 at 4:30 PM
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Prolific historian-writer Stephen Ambrose's documentary on the Pacific theater in World War II airs this weekend. He got the idea for doing the program -- part of his massive collection for the National D-Day Museum -- while on an "assignment" for moviemaker Steven Spielberg. He had gone to the Pacific to look for people to interview about the battle of Iwo Jima (famous for the raising of the American flag, a scene imortalized by the world's largest monument of its kind, on the edge of Arlington National Cemetery). When he got to the Pacific, he was reminded that even though much of his earlier focus had been on the storming of the beaches at Normandy, a "hell of a lot of guys died in the Pacific," on that battlefront. The broadcast, "Price for Peace," was anchored by Tom Brokaw.


There would not be a Memorial Day, or an America for that matter, were it not for the sacrifices of those who fought and died so the republic might live. Some of us are old enough to remember this day when it was called Decoration Day. I have personal memories of going with my mother to her hometown in rural Indiana, visiting an old cemetery and hearing hymns sung, "Taps" played and speeches made. I can even remember asking my mom about the men in strange-looking uniforms, most very old at the time. "They fought in the Spanish-American War," she told me. At the time, it meant little, if anything. Now, half a dozen wars later, I have a greater understanding of the day and the reason we still decorate cemeteries. As James Madison, the father of the Constitution, said in his last public speech: If freedom is to continue we must "nurture and cherish it." Some did more than that. Many died for it. We honor them today.


When Britisher James Smithson gave money to this country to set up a national museum, his intention was to help preserve the "uniqueness" of the new nation. Little could he have imagined at that time that curators would one day set up an exhibit of scorched and ripped artifacts, remembering the greatest act of terror in the history of the world. The Smithsonian Institution says it will open its exhibit to the events of 9/11, "September 11: Bearing Witness to History," on the first anniversary of the tragedy. The institution, on its Web site, has announced that the first pieces have been gathered, including part of the scorched stone facade of the Pentagon Building, just blocks from the National Mall. Half-a-dozen people have been assigned the task of assembling the exhibit. It will occupy about 5,000 square feet in one of the museum's major buildings.


In the entire 86 year history of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, no driver has ever won the race every time he tried. But, statistically, that's what young Helio Castroneves has done ... winning last year (his rookie year) and again this Memorial Day weekend. Castroneves repeated his jump across the wall after his victory. Then, in Victory Lane, it was an emotional triumph, as his mother and other members of his family rushed up, screaming, sobbing and shouting to congratulate him. In one of the most exciting finishes in the history of the race, Castroneves finished on "fumes" and nearly bald tires. He became the first repeat winner in over 30 years. But he nearly didn't win. Driver Paul Tracy passed Castroneves with less than two laps to go, but his successful pass happened two seconds after the yellow caution lamps had been lit. He was denied the victory in a sport that often deals in seconds. By the way, Donald Trump was at the race. On the Indianapolis Speedway Radio Network's coverage of the race, the dean of racing announcers, Chris Economaki (editor of National Speed Sports News), noted that Donald Trump was so impressed by the third-of-a-million people who were there that he might now proceed with plans to build a track in the Meadowlands of New Jersey. At the conclusion of the coverage (the 50th race covered on radio), chief track announcer Mike King said goodbye for all the previous men who had anchored the race, living or dead. It was quite a day.


When popular singer Tracy Bird found that two newcomers to the country scene were in attendance at a recent concert, he invited them to come up to the stage. Byrd had noticed that both Tommy Shane Steiner -- best known for his single "What if She's an Angel" -- and Keith Urban were in the crowd at a concert in San Dimas, Calif. The two joined him in some spur-of-the-moment songs, including a spirited rendition of "Sweet Home Alabama." According to CMT, they also did "Space Cowboy," "Brown-Eyed Girl" and "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink." Later Byrd described the audience's reaction to the impromptu concert as "fantastic." Maybe the three should go on the road together.


The wedding plans for actress Claudia Schiffer included hiring Italian designer Valentino to do the gowns. According to People magazine, Valentino gave a sneak preview of the gowns at a Friday showing. He told assembled media that putting together gowns for the actress in a nuptial setting is far different than dressing her for a movie role. The bridal gown is described as a "classical, almost fairy-tale dress." The lucky groom is British film producer Matthew Vaughn. Both are 31.


First an OOPS. Yes, I did ask the same question twice last week, due to a computer glitch (in my head). We'll fix it later. Today's question: "Have you ever been mistaken for anyone else?" Put MISTAKE in the subject line and send to via the Internet.


Last week we asked how many charge cards you had. Here is a sampling of the replies: AWR is among those who finally paid off as many as possible and only retains a Visa, LLBean, Kay Jewelers and a Macys card. And purplepassion is among the luckiest of the respondents with ZERO cards. PS keeps three, but not to abuse, only for emergencies. Others reported as much as $80,0000-$100,000 in plastic debt. The average number of cards was seven. But, let's face it, many of the credit card companies are throwing them at people. Additionally, many banks that say are offering NON-secured cards, but ask for incredible sign-up fees, "club charges" and monthly fees. So, you see, there is no free lunch. As an older banker told me when I was interviewing him for a college project: "Young man, just remember, instant credit is instant debt!" I wish I'd listened. TOMORROW: Your thoughts on the soap operas. GBA.

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