Jimmy Carter's presidency intersected with Northwest Florida's history when, in April 1980, he sent eight helicopters to rescue 53 American hostages held in Iran. The secret mission ended tragically. Two copters turned back, a third broke down and the rescue was scrubbed; in the rush to leave the desert staging site, two aircraft collided and burst into flames, killing three Marines and five Hurlburt Field airmen.
In the view of many, this and other failures branded Carter's single term weak and indecisive.
Now some are changing their minds.
We realized this in 2012. During the presidential campaign, GOP candidate Mitt Romney belittled President Obama's role in the killing of terrorist Osama bin Laden. "Even Jimmy Carter would've given that order," Romney smirked, evoking Carter's image as a wimp.
We responded in a May 2012 editorial: "Jimmy Carter is not our favorite former president, but implying that he was a doofus who took the easy way out shows that Romney either doesn't know what happened on April 25, 1980, or doesn't care."
We heard from a fair number of readers who did know what happened on April 25, 1980, and this is what they said: The rescue mission didn't work, but at least Carter had the guts to try.
Carter, who's 90 now, is still showing remarkable fortitude. He said this month that cancer found in his liver had spread to his brain. He made the announcement at a news conference marked by his characteristic grace and dignity.
"I've had a wonderful life," he said. "I've had thousands of friends. I've had an exciting, adventurous, gratifying existence."
As for that Iran rescue mission, Carter said he wished he had sent "one more helicopter."
Yes, that might have changed much that followed. But it wouldn't have changed the challenge Carter faces today. Our prayers are with him as he continues to inspire us with his faith, his humor and his courage.
REPRINTED FROM NORTHWEST FLORIDA DAILY NEWS