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Special Thanksgiving Edition

Aired November 25, 2004 - 22:00   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again.
For the third straight year, Thanksgiving comes with the country at war, the troops in Iraq spending the holiday again far from home, far from loved ones. As holidays go, Thanksgiving, we think it's fair to say, is among the purest. Gifts and glitz don't get in the way. Religion doesn't have a formal role. In that sense, an equal opportunity holiday, a time to gather with friends and family, a time to eat too much, a time to give thanks.

NEWSNIGHT isn't about family, strictly speaking, but it is in large part about characters and their stories. So tonight, we gather some of them together for a reunion of sorts, the program dedicated to the people we are grateful to have met in this past year, first, though the news of this Thanksgiving day.


BROWN: We said at the top you'll be meeting people tonight, so call this one a bit of a stretch. The person in question stands 111 feet from head to toe and has no name. The face, on the other hand, the face stays with you.

This summer, nearly three years since the attack on 9/11, the Statue of Liberty reopened to the public and when it did the country got back a part of itself but it was more than that in a way. Americans, many of whom were born elsewhere, got a loved one back as well.


SYLVIA ROSEN: It is so hard to really explain the emotion that you felt when you saw the Statue of Liberty, freedom at last, safety, and America. I was born in 1914 and we came here in 1923 and I think even if you were two years old you would remember the Statue of Liberty and the excitement and the tears that everyone just shed.

It was very, very late afternoon and we suddenly saw people running up on deck and the excitement and they said, "We're here. We're really in America. Look at the Statue of Liberty. Look at that lovely lady." And people began to cry, "We're really here. We made it." And it was a very emotional scene. I will never forget it.

ROSA TATZ: The Statue of Liberty was like a new life for me at the beginning. I went up to the top and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and I couldn't believe it that's the Statue of Liberty. I couldn't believe it that we're going to have a life here.

SARAH NEUMARK: I have always, always been touched by the poem "Send me your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free." I think that is really remarkable and at one time I knew it very well. Now, at 93, a lot of things I forget.

I was married I 1944. It's part of the romance that led to my marriage. I went with this young man and not only did we go there but we went all the way in the torch to the very top step. It was exciting. It was something very thrilling.

NELLY ANDERSON: I arrived February, '39. I was 29 years old and America was just my dreamland before. It was pure joy. We came in late at night and the statue was all based in light, and in the background were the lights of New York City and I was just so excited. I stood at the railing and I felt like screaming.

The Statue of Liberty was joy for me. It was freedom. It was light. It was simply unbelievable. I'm old now but that moment missing all that I left behind, my family, my parents, and still I was overjoyed to be here and that feeling stays because the world has changed so much that nothing is holy anymore.

But when I get down to the Hudson and look at her, it's the same feeling that I had in '39 when I arrived. She protects me. I don't know if she'll be able to do it forever. Right now she still does. I've gone back time and again. I was there about four, five weeks ago on one of the Saturdays. I walked down the Hudson and greet the Statue of Liberty, my girl.


BROWN: In a moment, young men and women traveling the long road home from war and the longer, tougher road back to health, a break first.

On Thanksgiving, this is NEWSNIGHT.


BROWN: We received an e-mail from a viewer recently about the names we show on the program every night, the names of men and women, young and not so young, who die each and every day in Iraq.

"When I hear the music," she writes, "my eyes fill with tears but I try to stop everything. I look at their names. I try to hold each one in my mind to honor each one for a moment. It's painful," she wrote, "but it makes me more honest."

Those are the names, the hundreds of names by now, that we tend to focus on the most but for every one there are many, many more, thousands more who have been wounded in the war.

Last spring in the middle of an especially ugly spell in Iraq, NEWSNIGHT's Beth Nissen paid a visit to the first stop in their long journey back from Iraq, back to a new normal. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BETH NISSEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 1300 hours, Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, on approach the day's medical evacuation flight from down range, a C-141 Starlifter bringing in sick and wounded troops from Iraq.

CAPT. DAN LEGERE, MEDICAL CREW DIRECTOR: We continuously move patients out of theater. The patients that we see, most of them have trauma of one type or another from their battle injuries.

NISSEN: The war wounded, almost 20 on this flight, are also loaded onto busses that will take them to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the big Army hospital nearby. The plane is immediately reconfigured for the next medivac flight to carry another set of sick and wounded troops from Landstuhl to military hospitals in the U.S. for more surgery, treatment, long term rehab.

SR. MASTER SGT. RICKY SMITH, PRIMARY LOADMASTER: These kids they've done their job and it's our job to make sure that they get back to medical attention and get put back together, if you will.

NISSEN: 1700 hours, 37 patients are loaded onto the plane for the long flight to the U.S. Their injuries are typical of those carried on medivac flights, especially in the last five weeks, gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen, legs and arms fractured in mortar blasts, eyes ruptured by shrapnel.

Two patients are in critical condition, both with spinal chord injuries. One is on a ventilator. For the ground and flight crews seeing so many so badly injured is hard yet hardens their sense of mission.

LEGERE: Few things that you see will really tug at your heart.

MASTER SGT. MICHAEL POSTER, LAUNCH AND RECOVERY CREW LEADER: I just sympathize with them so much and I just want to make sure that we do everything, everything possible for them.

NISSEN: That isn't easy onboard a C-141 cargo plane, an inhospitable flying hospital. The challenges start on takeoff, especially for the critical patients.

DR. LARRY PUTNAM, M.D., CRITICAL CARE TEAM: The most dramatic thing here is when the airplane takes off and the nose pitches up, the tail pitches down and it kind of destabilizes things for us when that happens.

NISSEN: Changes in altitude, cabin pressure can cause drops in blood pressure. Turbulence can cause spikes in pain.

MAJ. STEVE GRIFFIN, AIRCRAFT COMMANDER PILOT: We try to watch out for it. We keep, you know, the smoothest flight that we can for our patients. It's their comfort level that we're concerned about and we try to make it as comfortable as what we can for them. NISSEN: Things are far from comfortable for the medical flight crew. Most crewmembers are Air Force reservists, Air National Guard. In civilian life they are E.R. nurses, EMTs. At 30,000 feet their work is the same but working conditions are radically different. The light is dim. Space is cramped. Stethoscopes are useless in the roar of the C-141's engines.

TECHNICAL SGT. TIMOTHY WITZEL, 139TH AEROMEDICAL EVAC. SQUADRON: We all have to wear earplugs. We can't hear. We can't hear blood pressures. We can't hear lung sounds.

NISSEN: Crewmembers use monitors, use informal sign language, lean in to listen to patients. For nine hours they work to control pain, to monitor mortar and bullet wounds, to dispense comfort.

LEGERE: The kids that we see they've all got still that great -- the spirit. You don't ever hear any of them complaining or whining or any of the things that you really would expect seeing the disfiguring and the severe injuries that these guys have.

NISSEN: 2200 hours, Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., patients are offloaded onto busses bound for Walter Reed Army Medical Center or Bethesda Naval Hospital. It is hard for the flight crew, especially the older ones, to see them go.

WITZEL: You don't look at them as, you know, some stranger that is on the other side of the world. You look at them as, wow this could have been my son or my daughter.

NISSEN: There is little time for reflection. Within hours the medivac missions go again back to Germany, back down range, back home with the latest casualties of war.

Beth Nissen, CNN.


BROWN: The new normal is a greater departure for some than for others. The people you'll meet next have been burned, seriously, severely burned. We mention this as a warning to the gentler souls among you but also as a reminder of what any gentle soul must already know. War changes people outwardly. It affects people inwardly but it does not have the power to erase their humanity. That's a given.

So, with that in mind, our focus now shifts to the Brook Army Medical Center in Texas and the men and the women Beth Nissen visited for a second time earlier this year.


NISSEN (voice-over): This was Specialist Edward Stephenson in October his lower legs were burned nearly to the bone after his convoy hit explosive devices near Tikrit. This is Specialist Stephenson today after five surgeries and eight months of intensive physical therapy. SPC. EDWARD STEPHENSON, 22ND INFANTRY DIVISION: In my heart I knew that I was going to walk again. I was going to do whatever it took.

NISSEN: What it takes for those with serious burns to recover is intensive medical care, skin grafts, reconstructive surgeries and time.

LT. COL. LEE CANCIO, M.D., DIR., U.S. ARMY BURN UNIT: Progress in burn patients is sometimes slower than you see for other types of injury. Oftentimes, I've thought about this process as a kind of battle that will take months or even years to win.

NISSEN: The battle first to close wounds and prevent infection. This was Specialist Gabe Garriga last October with second and third degree burns over 53 percent of his body from a fiery collision of two Humvees near Baghdad. This is Specialist Garriga eight months later.

SPC. GABRIEL GARRIGA, MILITARY POLICE CO.: Everything's a lot better than what it was before. I'm done with skin grafts. There's no, I mean there's no more skin problems. This is just pretty much healing now.

NISSEN: Specialist Aaron Coates is healing too. Coates, seen here last October, was badly burned on the face and hands when a rocket-propelled grenade hit the fuel truck he was driving near Kirkuk. This is Specialist Coates today. Like most of the longer term burn patients here, he's fighting a new battle against scar tissue.

CANCIO: Scar tissue, even though it's intended to heal the wound, often causes complications. For example, the hands can contract into positions in which they can't be used.

NISSEN: And contract into rigid claws.

SPC. AARON COATES, 173RD AIRBORNE BRIGADE: There are a lot of things I can't do like tie shoes. I don't have the grip to open containers yet because the joints in these fingers don't work.

NISSEN: Thick scar tissue has also formed on his face restricting his facial expressions, his ability to speak.

COATES: They're going to do surgery to help fix that pretty soon. They haven't started anything yet because it's still maturing. It's still kind of young scars there.

NISSEN: Corporal Jose Martinez is further along in that process. More than a year ago he suffered third degree burns on his arms, hands, head and face when his Humvee hit a landmine in Karbala, Iraq.

CPL. JOSE MARTINEZ, 101ST AIRBORNE: I heard people all he time saying that in a split second your life can change. One minute you're just a totally normal guy and the next minute you're disfigured with all these scars all over.

NISSEN: Martinez has already had 24 surgeries, skin grafts, fracture repair, plastic surgery with more operations to come.

Sergeant Josh Forbese faces extensive plastic surgery too. He was one of the few survivors pulled from the flaming wreckage of two Black Hawk helicopters after they collided over Mosul, Iraq on November 15, 2003.

MAJ. SANDRA NANEK, M.D., BURN UNIT SURGEON: He had severe burns to his face and scalp that were down to the bone on his head, his eyes. The lids, both upper and lower were burned. He had severe nasal burns.

NISSEN: Now, an outpatient and hospital volunteer, Forbese knows his reconstruction will take two even three years.

SGT. JOSHUA FORBESE, 101ST AIRBORNE: They're going to try to take these scars away on the right side of my face and I mean it's a slow process but it will all be done.

NISSEN: He knows he won't ever look like the young man he was just a few years ago.

CANCIO: No procedure can return a patient with very deep burns to their former state by any means. There is no perfect solution to those problems.

NISSEN: A temporary solution prosthetics. A few weeks ago Sergeant Forbese was fitted with a prosthetic nose and ear.

FORBESE: I use adhesive and they just stick on there and at the end of the day I take them off and clean all the adhesive off of them.

NISSEN: Eventually, surgeons hope to be able to rebuild a nose from Forbese's own skin, give Forbese a more permanent prosthetic ear.

FORBESE: They're going to actually put posts in my head so I can actually clip it on from then on out.

NISSEN: A visitor to these physical therapy rooms has to look hard for anger, depression, self pity, regret.

COATES: It could have been a lot worse. I was sitting on 1,000 gallons of fuel when it got hit, so a lot of people told me I shouldn't have walked away from it and I did.

STEPHENSON: I still get moments like a lot of the other soldiers that are here, you know. Hey, send me back. Let me do my job.

NISSEN: Would you go back to Iraq?

FORBESE: In a heartbeat.

MARTINEZ: I was going to follow any order that the president would give and I followed that order, you know and there's no regrets. There's no complaints at all.

NISSEN: No regrets? MARTINEZ: No regrets.

NISSEN: Beth Nissen, CNN, San Antonio.


BROWN: When we return saving the Jews of Iraq, the difference one woman made by way of dreams, determination and some handmade maps.



BROWN: We are certain we're not the only ones grateful to have met Rachel Zelon. The amount of viewer mail we received when we first told her story is the proof. Ms. Zelon has always been a dreamer. She joined the Peace Corps a generation ago. And her story really is a story of how one person can make a difference.

Consider a fact. Fifty years ago, just 50, a half a million Jews lived in Iraq. A year ago the best guess is there were only 35 left, not 35,000, 35 people. Rachel Zelon went to Iraq to find them with the support of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society of New York. She had only the sparest clues as to their whereabouts. She made up for that with her extraordinary determination.

Her story and their stories were photographed by Jeff Luderbach (ph) and put together by NEWSNIGHT producer Laura Palmer.


BROWN (voice-over): Rachel Zelon arrived in Baghdad with the names of 35 Jews believed to still be in Iraq and hand drawn maps to where they lived. The list came from members of the Jewish community who had already fled.

RACHEL ZELON: We went to this home in what was once the Jewish section of Baghdad. We knocked on the door and this 90-year-old gentleman comes outside and he is just charming. He just has these intense blue eyes and he speaks beautiful English because he had worked for the British Railways in the '50s until they fired him because he was Jewish.

Regina was 75 years old and Regina has such terrible curvature of the spine that she literally is bent in half all the time and she lived up a steep flight of stairs with no running water and so she had a little faucet at the bottom of the stairs and she would have to sot of crawl up the stairs and step-by-step move a pail in front of her.

During that week, we saw a lot of people and a lot of elderly people in this small community living in very, very poor conditions with little or no medical care at all.

BROWN: A week later, Rachel returned to Baghdad to see who in the Jewish community there would like to leave. ZELON: We went and saw (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and sat down with him in his little room and I said, "Would you like to go to Israel?" And he finally looked at me and he said, "I'm 90 years old and every day I get weaker. I'm just not that strong and my heart isn't very good and I'm afraid that I'll die." He said, "I think it's better if I just stay here."

And I started to cry and I looked at him and I said, "It will break my heart to leave you but I understand." That was a Wednesday and on Friday I just -- I wanted to go visit him and he came to the gate that day and he just, he wasn't right.

We became very worried and he said, "No, come inside and we put cold compresses on his head and on his neck, because he was just burning up.

So about 2:00 in the afternoon, he sort of opens his eyes, and I'm sitting there, and I'm holding his hand. And he looked at me and he goes, "If I go with you, do I need a passport?" I looked at him and I said, "No, no, you don't need anything. Don't worry." And he closed his eyes, and he went back to sleep.

So Sunday morning comes, and I'm, like, OK, let's go see how he is. We were very, very worried that he wasn't going to make it, he was so sick. And he comes to gate Sunday morning, and he's just his old self, and he opens the gate and looks at me and says, "Where were you yesterday? I was so worried about you."

And I just gave him a big kiss and I said, "Oh, I told you I couldn't make it yesterday." I said, "But you look better." He goes, "Oh, I feel fine. I told you I would be fine."

And about 15 minutes into our conversation he looked at me and he said, "You know, I would never break your heart." And I sort of looked at him quizzically and he said, "I'm going to come with you to Israel." He said, "I realize I really need to be taken care of." I said, "And we will take care of you, I promise."

BROWN: Nine Jews left Baghdad on two chartered flights last year in July and November, the departures intense and emotional. At 90, Sasan walked away from everything he had ever known to board an airplane for the first time in his life.

ZELON: You know, I've been doing this work for 25 years. Baghdad and these people were different than everything, there were so few, but they needed all of us so much. And we just didn't know it.


BROWN: A change of pace when we come back. You'll meet a man who has been singing for his supper since 1954, and another guy who spends his nights prancing around in a fur coat all year round.

We'll take a break first. This is NEWSNIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BROWN: Imagine for a moment going through the life with the name Picasso or Sinatra or Ali. Not a burden, perhaps, just as long as you don't sing or paint or box.

But what if you do? Could you measure up? More important, could you stand apart?

Last spring at New York's Metropolitan Opera, a man who has been doing both celebrated 50 years on stage. And if you're an opera fan, you might have already guessed his name. If not, we'll let Nissen tell you.


NISSEN (voice-over): Charles Anthony grew up in New Orleans, thinking he'd be a doctor. But when he was 15, the local opera association came to his high school, looking for boys to be in the soldiers' chorus of "Faust."

CHARLES ANTHONY, METROPOLITAN OPERA: And I was in solid geometry, and I could not abide solid geometry. I was terrible in it. So I went down to the assembly hall.

NISSEN: He was too short for the soldiers' chorus, but the director did notice him.

ANTHONY: He said, You know, you have a good voice. You should study. I have a friend who's a voice teacher.

NISSEN: He abandoned premed, studied voice. At age of 22, he entered national auditions for the Met and won a place in the company. There was just one problem, his name.

ANTHONY: I was Charles Anthony Caruso, like the great Caruso.

NISSEN: Enrico Caruso, one of the most famous tenors in history. Sir Rudolph Bing, then the Met's general manager, urged the young tenor not to use such an auspicious name.

ANTHONY: Who needed that? It was like being a second Babe Ruth, you know.

NISSEN: So on March 6, 1954, 50 years ago this week, Charles Anthony made his Met debut as the Simpleton in the opera "Boris Goudenov."

(on camera): Were you nervous?

ANTHONY: Very nervous, very nervous. As a matter of fact, I've been nervous for every performance of my life.

NISSEN: So nervous on debut night that he blanked on his first musical entrance.

ANTHONY: And I got, (singing) di, dah, di, dah, you know, the cue. I couldn't think of the first word. What's the first word? And at the last minute -- moon. (singing) Moon is shining. I said, Thank you, Blessed Mother, thank you.

NISSEN: The critics didn't notice. A review in "The New York Times" said his debut performance was so vivid that he risked being stamped as a character singer for life. That review was prescient. Charlie -- everyone from the maestro to the stagehands calls him Charlie -- quickly established himself in comprimario roles, that's the opera term for a sidekick.

ANTHONY: You evolve into a niche where you are useful to the opera company. And mine has been in the supporting role category.

NISSEN: He's played the Sergeant in "Barber of Seville," the Innkeeper in "Rosenkavalier," the henchman Spolotto (ph) in "Tosca" -- 110 different roles in 69 operas, more than 2,800 performances over 50 years. He's sung in Italian, French, German, English, and Russian. He's mastered dancing, swordplay, acting, comedic and dramatic.

JAMES LEVINE, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, THE METROPOLITAN OPERA: It takes enormous artistry to sing many supporting roles. It's like that old Hollywood adage, there are no small parts, there are only, you know, small actors.

NISSEN: It isn't always easy forever walking in behind the lead singers, standing by for their showpiece arias.

ANTHONY: I'm listening to this beautiful tenor voice. And I'm there doing Spolotto, (sings in Italian).

NISSEN: But a career of smaller roles has helped him keep his voice strong for five decades.

BILL MALLOY, WARDROBE DEPARTMENT, THE METROPOLITAN OPERA: Everybody has a bad patch where their singing, you know, starts to slip, or whatever. Charlie really hasn't reached that yet, because he's stayed within what his voice can do.

NISSEN: At age 74, Charlie is not yet ready to retire. He's already signed with the Met for next year, his 51st season. He insists there's no secret to his extraordinary success, except that it's important, he says, to love what you do and to give your all. And, of course, to do your part, whatever it is.

ANTHONY: I got some good advice from one of the stagehands. And he says, Charlie, he says, if they give you a broom, you sweep that stage better than anybody else ever swept it, or try to. I approach everything that I do to try to do my best, to do it as best as I can, maybe, possibly better than anybody else ever did it.

NISSEN: The opera term for that, bravo.

Beth Nissen, CNN, New York.


BROWN: Nissen also paid a tribute this year to another kind of working man, the kind of person without whom we would all be just a little poorer, especially in spirit, a guy who heads to the shop each day, punches the clock, puts on his furry nose for the night shift.


NISSEN (voice-over): Steve Blanchard is on his way to work.

STEVE BLANCHARD: I work nights and weekends and on occasion a midweek day.

NISSEN: Six evening performances, two matinees, the standard Broadway work week.

BLANCHARD: Since 1996, I have been in "Beauty and the Beast" on Broadway, and since 1999 I have been the Beast.

NISSEN: Been the Beast for five years, more than 2,000 performances.

He clocks in about two hours before curtain, begins the transformation from suburban dad to bearish brute.

BLANCHARD: It takes them about a half hour for makeup right off the bat.

NISSEN: To attach a beastly nose.


NISSEN: A prosthetic chin with attached fangs. His face is encased in latex and spirit gum. His head and neck will be covered by a heavy mane.

BLANCHARD: It's extremely hot and sweaty. The only things that are really exposed are my cheeks, my eyes, and a little bit of my forehead.

NISSEN: Moving, singing as the Beast, involves hard physical labor.

BLANCHARD: At the end of the first act, the Beast climbs up this huge enormous set and sings this big, you know, power ballad. Sometimes, you know, hauling a 30-pound costume, you get to the top, and you're -- (pants), Let the world be done with me...

(singing): ... the world be done with me.

Physically, it is the most demanding thing I've ever done in my career.

NISSEN: From the orchestra seats, his job looks glamorous, starry. But work on a stage can be as repetitive as work on a factory floor.

BLANCHARD: You go to work the exact same time every day, do the exact same thing every day, sit in the same chair every day, get the same makeup put on every day, put the same costume on every day, and then go out on the same stage and say the same exact lines every single day.

NISSEN: Like millions of conscientious employees, he strives to keep his work fresh. It helps to have occasional changes in co- workers, leading ladies playing the role of Belle. In five years, he has played opposite a carillon of different Belles. And every time the curtain goes up, the audience is new.

BLANCHARD: Because those people change every day, it creates a whole new atmosphere every single day.

NISSEN: Enough people are still coming to "Beauty and the Beast," now in its 10th year, to make the show a Broadway staple. Yet Blanchard says he, like millions of his fellow American workers, knows no job is secure.

BLANCHARD: An actor always knows that any job they have is going to end. One day it's going to stop, it's going to end, and you go to the next one. In order to be able to work, in order to be able to support your family, to, you know, to pay the mortgage, you got to go.

NISSEN: In the meantime, he is grateful to have such a good job, grateful there is still a market for the product he and his co-workers manufacture, a few hours of art and music and magic.

BLANCHARD: That's what we make for the audience. We make a memorable, moving experience.

NISSEN: Beth Nissen, CNN, New York.


BROWN: Still ahead on this Thanksgiving, two stories of unswerving passion, both involving four wheels and a singular focus.

ANNOUNCER: This week in history, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed while riding in an open car in Dallas, Texas. Kennedy was 46 years old.

And in 1999, Elian Gonzalez was rescued at sea off the coast of Florida. The 5-year-old boy became the subject of an intense custody battle when his father demanded he be returned home to Cuba.

And that is this week in history.


BROWN: Some passions are unshakable, even when life throws a curve that would appear to put them out of reach. This is about a passion that prevailed. It's also about fast cars. When the unexpected happens sometimes, you have to find a new path to the desired destination. That's what Jay Blake did.

Our Boston cameraman, Bob Crowley (ph), found the story and put it together.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JAY BLAKE: The first time to see a drag race is mind-blowing. It's ear-piercing. The ground literally shakes. It just hits you, and you feel it.

The car I run is called an alcohol funny car. I am the owner and crew chief of the race team.

What is unique about me and what I do in drag racing, I have no sight at all. I am totally blind. I move around the engine and around my tools all by feel.

I guess I'm not driving today, huh?

I truly love getting my hands dirty.


Putting the tools in my hand and working on the car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Feel the single wire ties?

BLAKE: Yes, I did. Yes, right there.

TOM HOWELL, ENGINE TUNER: When you got a guy that deals with...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a oil filter.

HOWELL: ... what he deals with every day...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fired up, ready to go.

HOWELL: ... makes it tough for us to stop whining about things, you know?

BLAKE: I have been a fan of drag racing for most of my life. And after my accident, I decided that I was going to follow my dream and start my own race team. With the right attitude, you can do anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the new driver for Jim and Jay Blake. Jay, the car owner, lost his sight in an industrial accident.


BLAKE: This program is about helping people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To follow a dream, a concept, that pretty much means exactly like it says on the race car.

BLAKE: I go out, and I will do presentations and talk about things will happen in life. But it's how we choose to handle them, and what we do with that, that makes up the difference.

I was sighted for 31 years.



BLAKE: And I didn't think I could do half the things I'm doing.


BLAKE: I am one of the luckiest guys in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For Jay Blake, what a marvelous run.

BLAKE: Just doing what I'm doing is awesome. I love it.


BROWN: Some passions knock us flat from the get-go. Others reveal themselves over time, and in this case, acres.

Cameraman Bob Crowley discovered this story as well. In one sense, though, it would have been hard to miss, provided you were driving down a certain New England road.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's always been here. Probably always will be.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It does draw some people into the area.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stuff you don't see every day.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every now and then somebody pops up and asks where the truck museum is.

DICK KEMP, TRUCK COLLECTOR: It was way over a hundred the last time I counted. There's nothing I ever wanted. I never wanted a collection, it just ended up that way. I just wanted one truck to start with. About '54 that I bought the first one, though, of this collection.

Well, I swore I wasn't going to buy any more back in 1960, but I've been buying them ever since. Today they're pleasure cars with truck tires. These things, you had to work to run them.

This is the one that actually started the collection. And it's a Bulldog, which is a rare one. It's an old tank truck from out of Massachusetts.

This one I got for 50 bucks, but you can't find one for $50 today.

Most of them here, I've had some kind of a memory of. Most of them I worked around, worked with, some of them I drove over the years. I don't mind seeing a dent in them, because most of the trucks I drove had dents in them somewhere.

There's everything in here. Most of them would run after a little tinkering and a little work on them.

It's for a love of old trucks, because I was born around trucks. I was near them all my life.

That works.

I'm not for show. I don't take them anywhere. I just fix them up because I like to see them.

It just runs good. A good old engine.

You know, they say, Why don't you go to the truck shows? I says, I don't know. If I want to see a truck, I can come out here.

But everybody asks me, you know, What's going to happen to this collection when you go? I don't know. That's somebody else's problem.


BROWN: Still ahead on NEWSNIGHT, families often rely on each other, this one more so than others. They were looking for a new start, so they bought an empty town and filled it up, all seven of them.

A break first.


BROWN: People reveal themselves and what's important to them in lots of different ways. Across the country tonight, millions of Americans have spent this Thanksgiving Day with loved ones, many traveling great distances to get there. Home is a powerful magnet. And where we choose to live can say something about what we value.

Once again, here's NEWSNIGHT's Beth Nissen.


NISSEN: In the high desert in central Oregon, a picture of smalltown America, really small. This is Millican, Oregon, population seven, all members of the Murray family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Jesus' name we pray, amen.

NISSEN: Two years ago, after a family deli and bakery went bankrupt in nearby Klamath Falls, the Murrays were looking for a place to make a new start.

JAY MURRAY, MILLICAN, OREGON, RESIDENT: We saw an ad in the paper, it said two homes and a storefront for $800 a month. And we came out, and this places was a dump. PATRICIA MURRAY, MILLICAN, OREGON, RESIDENT: I wouldn't even come in this room here, it smelled so bad. There were dead cats and stuff in here. And I was walking around, and I could just see it as a little town.

NISSEN: The way it used to be, just after the turn of the last century. The town was founded by homesteader George Millican in 1868. At its peak, it had a population of about 60.

JAY MURRAY: About the time the Model A was showing up out here, they did have a garage, two schools, the motel, and a blacksmith.

NISSEN: But water ran short. People moved on. By the 1930s, the population of Millican had dwindled to Billy Ron, who was featured in "Ripley's Believe It or Not" as the one-man town. One of Ron's successors, Bill Melon (ph), also lived here alone in the 1980s, until he was shot to death in the store in 1988.

Millican went into slow decline, was finally abandoned to fugitives and transients until the Murrays arrived, 21st century pioneers.

DANIEL MURRAY, MILLICAN, OREGON, RESIDENT: In America now, most things you hear, people that have already made it. And to hear about someone that is doing something out of nothing is -- it's rare anymore.

NISSEN: For months, they lived without electricity, hauled water from a cistern. They still chop wood for heat. Wood stoves warm the front rooms. Back corners are stuffed with newspaper to keep out the winds that can reach 90 miles an hour.

They slowly rebuilt, restocked the store. It now just breaks even, selling snacks and cold drinks and hot coffee to local ranchers, passing truckers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How far are you going?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rochester, New York.

NISSEN: Money for bills and groceries comes from son Daniel, who works as a chef in Bend, Oregon, 30 minutes' drive away. A few windblown chickens provide some eggs. Patty grows what vegetables she can in her garden.

PATRICIA MURRAY: Pick some for dinner.

Didn't think anything would grow in this soil, it's so sandy. But it just takes water and seed and sunshine.

NISSEN: The Murrays take care of basic community services in Millican, from sanitation to schools. Daughter-in-law Katie home- schools 6-year-old Jacob.

KATIE MURRAY, MILLICAN, OREGON, RESIDENT: You remember how to write a nine? Yes. Good job. NISSEN: There is no sheriff in town.

JAY MURRAY: Breathe in deep.

NISSEN: Jay is teaching Patty to shoot a .22, although wolves have been more of a threat than crime.

There isn't much the Murrays miss about what others call civilization.

JAY MURRAY: We are on the Internet. We have satellite TV. We've got three phone lines. We're plugged in.

NISSEN: Yet they are miles away from air pollution, rush hour traffic, noisy neighbors.

KATIE MURRAY: When I was little and I read "The Little House on the Prairie" books, I always wanted to live in a house where you didn't see your next-door neighbors right out your window.

NISSEN: This is what they see out their windows, and this, and this. The Murrays would love to scrape together enough to buy the two-acre town and the 80 acres around it, build back the original storefronts.

PATRICIA MURRAY: We could be like a lighthouse in the desert here. We could help people. We could serve people. We could make something out of this mess.

JAY MURRAY: This little area out here is not going to change the world. But it's a little piece of history where we can hold together.

NISSEN: Beth Nissen, CNN, Millican, Oregon.


BROWN: That's our report for tonight. We're pleased you spent part of your Thanksgiving with us in what's become a NEWSNIGHT tradition, the people we've met.

We're back tomorrow with a live program. We'll hope you join us too. Until then, good night and happy holiday from all of us at NEWSNIGHT.


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