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Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Character in a Romney Campaign Anecdote Appears on the Trail

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. - Experienced watchers of Mitt Romney are familiar with an anecdote that he first told earlier this year, about a Boy Scout troop in Monument, Colo., that bought an American flag and then sent it around the country. First they had it flown above the Capitol. Then, they asked NASA if they would send it up into space. The flag went up in the space shuttle Challenger in January 1986, Mr. Romney always tells the crowd, and the Scouts were so excited watching from their classrooms - until the shuttle exploded after liftoff, killing all seven astronauts aboard, including a teacher, Christa McAuliffe.

Somehow, the flag survived the explosion intact, and Mr. Romney tells the story, at event after event in these closing weeks, as a testament to American innovation and perseverance.

But Saturday night in Englewood, about 45 miles north of Monument, Mr. Romney had a surprise for the crowd: The scoutmaster, William Tolbert, a major in the United States Air Force who was assigned to Space Command, was in the crowd, complete with that same flag.

Below, the full exchange:

“Some years ago I was serving as a Boy Scout leader in the Boy Scouts of America and I was at a court of honor, that's where the Boy Scouts get the Eagle Scout Award or other awards, and there was a long Formica table at the front of the room, and I was seated at the far end of it next to an American flag. And the person who was speaking at the podium was a scoutmaster we'd flown in to tell his story, a scoutmaster from Monument, Colorado, that I just drove through.

And he said that his Boy Scout troop wanted to have a very special American flag, so they bought one and they had it flown above the Capitol building. Then, when it came home, the boys said, ‘I'd like to have NASA take it up a space shuttle.' And so they contacted NASA, and NASA agreed. He said, you can imagine the pride of our boys as they were si tting in their rooms at school watching the TV sets as thy saw the space Challenger shuttle launch into the air, and then they saw it explode on the TV screen in front of their eyes.

And he said he called NASA a couple of weeks later and, ‘Have you found any remnant of our flag?' And they had not. So he called every week, week after week, month after month, still no remnant of the flag from that terrible disaster. Then, he said he was reading an article in the paper, and it described some of the debris from the Challenger disaster and it mentioned a flag. So he called NASA again and they said, ‘In fact, we have a presentation to make to your boys.' So NASA came together and the boys were there, and he said they presented the boys with this plastic container and they open it up and inside was the American flag, their flag, in perfect condition. ”

After he told the story, Mr. Romney called Mr. Tolbert up to the stage.

“Come on up here,” Mr. Romney s aid. “Now, did I get that story right?”

“You did, sir,” Mr. Tolbert replied.

“That is a great flag representing the greatest nation in the history of the earth,” Mr. Romney said.