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Washington diarist

We are in Washington tonight because of this evening's annual Correspondents' Dinner. I fully suspect this evening will have a somber cast to it because of the news yesterday concerning Tony Snow. This city, where I've spent something like a third of my adult life and all of my college years, is a very small town -- a Company town, at that. The Company is government, and so tonight's odd mix of government and media will bring 2,000 people under the blue-tinted "Star Trek" ceiling of the Washington Hilton Ballroom -- all of whom play some role in the Company. Tony would normally be on the dais, looking up at his boss during his remarks. There will be an empty seat, figuratively at least, on that dais tonight.  Our thoughts and prayers are with Tony, his wife and his three girls.


ABOUT TONIGHT
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I just interviewed Sheryl Crow, who was in town today to testify on the Hill about breast cancer. The MRI development is just the latest piece in this ongoing "national conversation" about breast cancer of late, prompted by the very public battles being fought by some public figures.

We'll also update the Iran and Iraq situations tonight. The political fight between the President and Democrats on the Hill intensified today. The President enters into this veto battle without his usual spokesman... and another first today: the Speaker of the House told the President of the United States to "calm down." David Gregory (who I just called at the White House to thank him for letting me borrow his office to write this) will wrap it all together for us tonight.

We're still moving pieces around and working on the timing (an effort that continues up to airtime and while we're on the air), due to a common problem around here: more news than time to tell it.

CELEBRITIES
At last night's annual New York dinner of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society at the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street, there were celebrities all over the room, though not the kind you'd find in US Magazine. At one table was the pilot of Super Six-Five, one of the choppers in Black Hawk Down. There was the newest recipient of the Medal of Honor, Vietnam Huey pilot Bruce Crandall, played by Greg Kinnear in "We Were Soldiers."                
                     
Scattered around the room were 31 of the 111 living recipients. John Finn spoke about the morning of the Pearl Harbor attack. John's 97 now, and the oldest living recipient -- old enough to remember traveling by ox cart from his birthplace of Los Angeles to a family farm his father had purchased along the California coast. The family later ditched the cart for a Model T. Walt Ehlers, who still wears the pain on his face of the loss of his brother during the war, spoke about getting his men off the beach, alive, on D-Day. You'll get to know Walt as one of the central characters of Ken Burns' towering new film "The War" in September on PBS. The noted financier and public servant (and Higgins Boat driver on D-Day) John Whitehead was there last night to be honored, as was the brave Iraqi Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, who rose to prominence for reporting the location of Jessica Lynch to American forces. There was a lot of gold braid in that room last night -- a lot of medals -- and a scattered few aging businessmen wearing tiny colored lapel tabs indicating, to those conversant in the meaning of the various color combinations, an extraordinary decoration they'd received for an extraordinary act of heroism... in a jungle, on a beach, in a forest or foxhole, years ago, when they were young. We talked about Iraq, and generals we knew, and about the rocket that landed in the Green Zone yesterday. It was the largest single collection of brave men in the city of New York last night. Again:  not a celebrity among them in terms of "US" -- just in terms of valor, duty, honor and battlefield exploits. Most share a hard-earned hatred of warfare, and a kind of modesty that is hard to explain. Whenever I think I'm having a bad day, I think of any one of 111 guys.                           

One more time:  please read their stories. The book chronicling their exploits helps pay for their care. Close to 40,000 copies of the book are now in American schools -- and it's about to become part of the city-wide curriculum in Erie, Pa.

We hope you can join us tonight from Washington.

Photo caption: Brian and Sheryl Crow pose for a snapshot, post-interview. Photo by NBC's Antoine Sanfuentes.