Lyndon Johnson was born 100 years ago this week, on Aug. 27, 1908, and one person who's even older than that and still around to talk about it is John "Cas" Casparis, the former president's high school classmate and debating partner.
President Johnson died in 1973, but Casparis, who celebrated his 100th birthday on June 29, is still going strong and remembers teaming up with LBJ at Johnson City High School.
|Cas Casparis (left) and Lyndon Johnson (right), 1924|
"It was back in 1924 and Lyndon and I were selected as being a debating team to represent the Johnson City High School in the Blanco County portion of the state of Texas interscholastic debate literary events," Cas said in an interview.
The subject of the debate was whether the United States should join the League of Nations, which was formed after World War I as a precursor of the United Nations. Johnson and Cas argued in the affirmative.
"We won all three decisions of the judges, and we advanced to the district in San Marcos where we got third place, being beat out by a debating team from the high school in Kyle, Texas," Cas said.
What was Johnson like?
"That's like asking how far is up," Cas replied, showing some of his old debating skills. "Be more specific."
Well, was he a nice person?
"Sure, Lyndon was a nice person," Cas said. "We're all nice people, now. Just like in the country, neighbors, if they're really good neighbors, you say their chickens roost together. Well, our chickens and Lyndon's chickens didn't roost together, but we were still good neighbors and good friends."
So you liked him?
"It depends upon what you mean by like," Cas said. "We were friends. We were schoolmates."
Cas and Johnson lost touch with each other over the years, but Cas, who lives in Austin, did look LBJ up one time.
"I never saw him as president," Cas said. "I saw him once as senator. I happened to be in Washington, and I went up to the Capitol building and saw Lyndon. The Congress was in session, and of course he was subject to being on the Senate floor, so our interview was very brief."
Did he remember you?
"Oh, yes, oh, yes, oh, yes," Cas said.
Cas, who's retired from Western Union, where he worked as a window cashier, said LBJ followed in the political footsteps of his father, Sam Ealy Johnson.
"Now, Lyndon's father, Sam Ealy, was a member of the Texas Legislature, and he was for the poor man, the farmer and the rancher, and he served several sessions," he said. "That's where Lyndon got the idea to run."
When Johnson first started mulling a run for higher office, he approached Cas' father, who was sheriff of Blanco County.
"He saw my father and asked if my father would support him, and did my father think he had any chance?" Cas remembers. "And my father told him, 'Yes, you have a chance, and, yes, I'll vote for you.' And he did every time he ran for public office."
Did you vote for LBJ, too?
"Yes, I voted for him," Cas said. "I'm a Democrat. I pull one lever."
Cas was one of the centenarians featured by Willard Scott on NBC's "Today" show. If you know of a centenarian who's had a brush with history over the past century, please tell us a little bit about it in the comments section below and be sure to fill in your return e-mail address so we can get back to you for more details.