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Intriguing people for December 9, 2009

By Jay Kernis, CNN
World War II veteran Vat T. Barfoot attends a Medal of Honor convention in Chicago, Illlinois, in September.
World War II veteran Vat T. Barfoot attends a Medal of Honor convention in Chicago, Illlinois, in September.
  • Sen. Orrin Hatch says he hopes Barbra Streisand might someday cover one of his tunes
  • Medal of Honor winner gets to keep his flagpole, soldier earns the Silver Star in Afghanistan
  • American Indian activists win 13-year battle and $1.4 billion settlement from feds

Editor's note: Every weekday, CNN focuses on a handful of people in the news. This is a chance to find out more about what they've done -- good or bad -- what they've said, or what they believe, and why we think they're intriguing.

(CNN) -- Van T. Barfoot
UPDATE: The retired Army colonel and Medal of Honor winner will be allowed to keep his 21-foot flagpole in the front yard of his suburban Richmond, Virginia, home, where he raised, lowered and folded the flag each day, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Barfoot's homeowners' association had demanded that he remove the pole and had threatened the 90-year-old with legal action.

Richmond Times-Dispatch: Deadline dissolves in flagpole fight

CNN's intriguing people for December 3, 2009: Van T. Barfoot

Van T. Barfoot's Facebook tribute page

Martha Coakley
Massachusetts is one major step closer to electing its first female U.S. senator. State Attorney General Martha Coakley won Tuesday's Democratic special election primary. She'll face Republican State Sen. Scott Brown next month in a general election that will determine who fills the remainder of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy's term. Massachusetts hasn't elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate in 30 years. Coakley was the winning prosecutor in the 1997 trial of Louise Woodward, the 19-year-old British nanny accused of killing a child in her care.

CNN: Coakley, Brown to vie for Kennedy's Senate seat

Elouise Cobell
The activist was part of a group that waged a 13-year legal battle to settle claims that the U.S. government has mismanaged the revenue in American Indian trust funds -- and won. Cobell joined Obama administration officials to announce an agreement under which the government would spend about $1.4 billion to pay some unpaid royalties. The government would also establish a $2 billion program to help tribes buy better tracts of land. One attorney who argued the case compared Cobell to civil rights legends Rosa Parks and Cesar Chavez, National Public Radio reported. President Obama said the agreement was an "important step towards a sincere reconciliation" between the federal government and American Indians.

CNN: U.S. offers to pay Native Americans $1.4 billion for lost funds

Sgt. Zachary Swelfer
The soldier, based in Fort Knox, Kentucky, received a Silver Star on Tuesday for bravery and quick response in combat. The 27-year-old from Merrillville, Indiana, was deployed to Zangabad, Afghanistan, when his platoon began taking heavy fire from Taliban fighters. He charged the enemy with a rifle and grenade launcher and saved the life of one of his comrades, Stars and Stripes reported. The Silver Star is the military's third-highest medal for combat valor.

Stars and Stripes: 2nd Platoon soldiers survive harrowing Taliban ambush

Sen. Orrin Hatch
The New York Times reports that the Mormon senator from Utah has written a holiday song, "Eight Days of Hanukkah," and posted it Tuesday night on the online magazine Tablet. The senator has written many Christian hymns and patriotic songs, but this was his first try at music with a Jewish theme. Hatch said his goal was that his idol, Barbra Streisand, would one day record one of his songs.

New York Times: A senator's gift to the Jews, nonreturnable

What makes a person intriguing?

There are people who enter the news cycle every day because their actions or decisions are new, important or different. Others are in the news because they are the ones those decisions affect. And there are a number of people who are so famous or controversial that anything they say or do becomes news.

Some of these people do what we expect of them: They run for office, pass legislation, start a business, get hired or fired, commit a crime, make an arrest, get in accidents, hit a home run, overthrow a government, fight wars, sue an opponent, put out fires, prepare for hurricanes, and cavort with people other than their spouses. They do make news, but the action is usually more important than who is involved in the story.

But every day there are a number of people who become fascinating to us -- by virtue of their character, how they reached their decision, how they behaved under pressure, or because of the remarkable circumstances surrounding the event they are involved in.

They arouse our curiosity. We hear about them, and want to know more. What they have done or said stimulates conversations across the country. At times, there is even a mystery about them. What they have done may be unique, heroic, cowardly or ghastly, but they capture our imaginations. We want to know what makes them tick, why they believe what they do, and why they did what they did. They intrigue us.