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Preacher emphasizes ability of one person to make a difference
James Vandiver.jpg
James Vandiver addresses members of The Rotary Club of McMinnville on Thursday, saying key moments in history have been decided by one vote, such as the decision to make English the official language of the 13 American colonies and the election of Adolf Hitler to lead the Nazi Party.

As we approach the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on iconic American targets, one voice and a single two-word rallying call comes to mind.  

Todd Beamer, one of 37 passengers on United Airlines flight 93 that departed Newark, N.J., into clear blue skies shortly after 8 a.m., became an unexpected leader of other flyers in revolting against four Al-Qaeda hijackers. The cockpit voice recorder captured his memorable command, “Let’s roll!” as he led other passengers in storming the flight deck to try to seize control from the terrorists.   

The giant Boeing 757 flipped over and streaked belly-up into an empty field in Somerset County, Pa. With an impact speed estimated at nearly 550 mph, the plane took all 47 aboard to their deaths.

In that act of American heroism, the intended target of the suicide attack, either the U.S. Capitol or the White House, was spared. The twin towers of the World Trade Center were already in flames and collapsing, and the Pentagon headquarters of the U.S. military was damaged by three other attack missions that same morning.

James Vandiver, minister of Westwood Church of Christ in McMinnville from 1963 to 1973, cited Beamer’s action when he addressed The Rotary Club of McMinnville on Thursday. The speaker’s focus was “the power of one,” whether it be one life, one moment, one deed large or small.

By just one vote in the Electoral College, Thomas Jefferson became the third president of the United States, the Rotary speaker noted. A single vote determined the admittance to statehood of Texas, Washington, Oregon and California.

In 1776, a solitary vote decided English would be the official language of the 13 North American colonies that would soon emerge as the United States. German was voted second choice, but only by the slimmest margin.

President Andrew Jackson was spared Senate conviction on impeachment charges by one vote in the early 19th Century. Some 100 years later, Adolf Hitler was elected leader of the German Nazi Party by a single vote over his rival.

Other pivotal moments were determined by one vote, Vandiver said, including the beheading of English King Charles II in the 17th Century and the subsequent Parliament ballot elevating Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector and virtual dictator over the British realm in 1645.

Charles Plum, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and fighter jet pilot in the Vietnam War, flew 75 combat missions before his plane was shot out from under him and he landed unharmed thanks to his parachute, Vandiver related. But he was captured by North Vietnamese fighters and spent his next six years as a prisoner of war struggling night and day to survive his brutal captivity.

Years after his release and return to his home in the United States, Plum, a much-in-demand motivational speaker, was approached by a man he didn’t know. After exchanging a few memories of their shared experiences in Vietnam, the other gentleman explained he worked on the same aircraft carrier, the Kitty Hawk, where Plum was based. Toiling in obscurity several decks below, the man had the duty of packing the pilot’s parachute.  

“Who packed your chute? We all need a chute in life,” the Rotary speaker affirmed. “The power of one requires that we give it all away,” he said, emphasizing the relationships and mutual dependencies that are the heartbeat of families, communities and civilizations.

Vandiver expands on the idea of “the power of one” when he appears this week in the FOCUS interview series on public radio 91.3 WCPI. The half-hour conversation airs Tuesday at 5 p.m., Wednesday at 5 a.m., Thursday at 1 p.m. and Friday at 1 a.m.