GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) – Now more than 90 years into watching the world from a rare vantage point, former Colorado Gov. John Vanderhoof, of Grand Junction, said he has a fondness for the current holder of the office.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, called Vanderhoof, a Republican, June 2, the occasion of Vanderhoof’s 90th birthday.
Hickenlooper displays a rare characteristic, Vanderhoof said.
“He knows he’s not the giver of all money,” Vanderhoof said. “Some governors are like that.”
Vanderhoof, a Navy fighter pilot thrice shot down in the Pacific, a banker and a politician, still has a shock of distinguished gray hair, a thin, sidelong glance when necessary and an interest in all things Colorado.
Though sorely tempted, he hasn’t given up on the Rockies, and is looking forward to seeing the newest entry in the most-famous-Coloradans cavalcade – Peyton Manning – ply his trade at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
In the meantime, though, Vanderhoof, who was known in political circles as Johnny Van, said he’s disappointed with the relationship between states and the federal government.
“It’s very hard because gradually you see a change in the state House,” Vanderhoof said. “The balance of power has shifted to the federal government. If they give you something, you have to pay for it.”
That price has been independence, but only a few – “people my age” – seem to recognize it, Vanderhoof said.
Vanderhoof, then lieutenant governor, became governor in 1973, when he succeeded John Love, who left the governorship to become the first director of the Office of Energy Policy, which was dubbed the “Energy Czar,” for President Richard Nixon.
Nixon’s resignation in 1974, Vanderhoof said, “destroyed the Republican Party,” and with it his chance at being elected governor.
Disaffected, “Republicans stayed home,” and he was among several Republican governors who lost that November, he said.
Vanderhoof set down roots on the Western Slope after he was shot down for the third time in the South Pacific.
An F-6 Grumman Hellcat fighter pilot, Vanderhoof shot down four enemy planes and once spent more than 20 days bobbing in the Coral Sea before he was rescued. In fact, he had been declared dead.
Vanderhoof’s third time shot down was no charm. He joined in a raid on an air strip on the southern end of Luzon in the Philippines.
Unable to land on the U.S.S. Bunker Hill after his plane was struck by enemy fire, Vanderhoof ditched the plane, but the tail struck his right leg, shattering it.
Vanderhoof was sent to Glenwood Springs to recover and that’s where he remained in civilian life.
Now he spends much of his time comfortably before the television, which is tuned reliably to the Colorado Rockies broadcasts or, in time, to the Denver Broncos.
As for last year’s football season, Vanderhoof said he’s looking forward to seeing Manning.
And Tim Tebow? “He would make a helluva running back.”
– By GARY HARMON, The Daily Sentinel
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