Originally created 11/30/97

Senator turns 95 Friday



AIKEN - If you think your holiday shopping list is tough, consider the plight of John DeCrosta.

As press secretary for Strom Thurmond, he and his staff must find a gift for the nation's oldest senator. The South Carolina Republican turns 95 on Friday.

"It's a tough shopping list," Mr. DeCrosta said.

In years past, Mr. Thurmond's staff has given him a sport coat and some executive-type gifts. One of the more innovative birthday presents was an M1 carbine, similar to the one Mr. Thurmond carried into Normandy during the D-Day invasion of France in World War II. The gift was given to the senator in 1994 on the 50th anniversary of the attack.

But if you ask Mr. Thurmond what he wants, he'll tell you.

"Good will," he said.

Mr. Thurmond, who set the record earlier this year as the nation's longest-serving U.S. senator of 41 years, 9 months and 30 days, spent Thanksgiving in Aiken with his family. He attended the annual Chitlin Strut in Salley on Saturday.

Festivities will begin in earnest later this week as Mr. Thurmond's staff holds an informal gathering, Mr. DeCrosta said. The staff usually orders barbecue or pizza for lunch and then presents him with a gift. On Thursday night, the Austrian ambassador to the United States will hold a reception in Mr. Thurmond's honor.

On his birthday, the senator will be quite busy. He'll go to lunch with some friends and then fly to Columbia to present the Strom Thurmond Excellence in Law Enforcement Awards to federal, state and local officers. After making some appointments to the nation's military academies, Mr. Thurmond will take part in a tree-planting ceremony at the state Capitol. He'll cap the day by attending a dinner, with Gov. David Beasley as host, to raise funds for the monument that is being planned in his honor.

Not bad for someone who is turning 95.

On Saturday, Mr. Thurmond will serve as grand marshal in Christmas parades for Graniteville-Vaucluse-Warrenville and Edgefield. Then it's back to Washington on Sunday, Mr. DeCrosta said.

"It's a pretty full calendar for the birthday weekend," the spokesman said.

In addition to keeping his constituents happy, Mr. Thurmond spent a good portion of the recent session of Congress getting the defense authorization bill passed.

"He's pretty pleased," Mr. DeCrosta said. "It got hung up on some contentious issues that required a lot of finesse and compromising."

Mr. Thurmond, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has also been keeping up with the situation in Iraq.

"Saddam Hussein is dangerous and cannot be left unchallenged," Mr. Thurmond said. "He has defied the United Nations, suppressed his people and attacked five countries."

Earlier this year, Mr. Thurmond's own health came under attack after he twice spent time in hospitals. But now he appears to be fine, his spokesman said.

The senator spent 12 days in Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington after being admitted Jan. 30 suffering from influenza. Later in the year, he checked himself into Dwight D. Eisenhower Medical Center at Fort Gordon after he complained of feeling ill during a family visit. He stayed in the hospital overnight.

But for now, Mr. Thurmond is preparing to enjoy the holiday season and all the trappings - parties, parades and other events - that he is asked to join.

"Everything's quiet right now," he said. "Congress is out now, so the country's safe."