In 1975, in my teens, I was stationed at Fort Lewis, WA: home of The Old Reliables 9th Infantry Division. Our nation’s involvement in the unpopular Vietnam War had only recently come to an end. The Sixties were fading fast but had yet to succumb to society’s desire to move on from the excruciating memory of all the rebellion, pain and shame … of which there was ample supply, regardless of which side of the dividing lines one stood, or fell.
I’m a native son of Washington State. As a child, in those days, my State’s claim to fame were apples, the Space Needle, Boeing, and not much more. My, my, my how times have changed.
When I entered the US Army, it only made sense to me to request Ft. Lewis as my duty station. I’d be close enough to get home often, by hitchhiking mostly as it turned out. It was a different time then, and things that seem out of place now were in vogue. Thumb in the air for transportation, disco for dancing, and a rock for a pet1 were normal.
Yesterday, President-elect Trump forced me to look back on yesteryear, with its reminders that there are events, moments, traumas in each of our lives from which escape from pain or shame does not exist and where memories refuse to fade.
One such episode in my life occurred while hitchhiking home with a coveted three-day pass securely tucked in my uniform. Soldier boy attire usually made the 170-odd miles of travel home a breeze. I rarely ever waited long for a ride when wearing the OD Green. Though I do remember a weekend post Labor Day in ’75 when I waited, and waited, and waited. Back then, school started the day after Labor Day. So, the following weekend traffic was usually scarce in rural Washington State on US 97. I had been dropped off on it, right outside of Liberty. That’s where the agrarian driver lived, who left me on that lonely stretch of road with directions to his abode in Liberty – “Just in case,” he said. He also said, “Good luck my son, it will get better.” He was a very kind man and he was referencing our conversation initiated by me that there were many in America who viewed the soldier of the Vietnam era as either the first to loose a war, or as baby killers.
It was not to get better for me that day. After two and one half hours of waiting, I was destined to interact with people of the persuasion that I was a baby killer, simply due to the uniform I wore and era we were in.
On quiet country roads, the sound of approaching automobiles carries far and wide. The wind, if you listen closely, arrives in the ears long before you feel it upon your face. When I heard the welcome and familiar sound of tires on pavement, my heart raced, I stood straight, threw my trusty uniformed thumb up in the air and hoped for a ride … the car came, passed, stopped, and backed up.
Homeward bound, I thought while the car backed up and I raced towards it. As customary, and as hitchhiking etiquette called for, I approached the passenger-side window to make the obligatory greetings before opening the door. The car was fairly full, but that had happened before, catching a ride crammed together.
When I arrived at the window it was rolled down, and then everything happened very quickly. I heard it before I felt it and realized it, that I had just been sprayed with a well shook can of beer, spat upon and called baby killer, then hearing laughter and tires squeal away…..
I collapsed on the side of that barren road.
I really don’t recall the rest of that three-day pass. I must have made it home. There must have been some fun. I just can’t remember. I can’t remember the kindness that surely must have accompanied the ride that got me home, smelling of beer but not drunk, scarred by saliva, shamed by uniform. Surely, the people who picked me up off of that roadside were kind to me. Surely … I just can’t remember.
We are a nation of laws. And I trust that those people’s lawlessness came to an end.
And while I never spat upon, or sprayed beer upon, another human being, nor even considered desecrating a United States military uniform – I have committed shameful acts, too. We all have. Oh youth. If only I could revisit you. If only I could speak to you. How ashamed you’d be.
I would never burn an American Flag – never! I don’t particularly like watching one burn either, but burning an American Flag is protected free speech; challenged and upheld by the ultimate arbitrating body of our land: The United States Supreme Court.
Free speech means nothing unless I have to see and hear things I vehemently disagree with and which offends me. It is the only way I’ll have any hope of being able to express myself when it is not fashionable, vogue or politically correct.
When President-elect Trump took to Twitter yesterday to tweet: “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”2 He thumbed his nose at the Supreme Court, he mocked all who defend the law of this land, he trespassed upon me. He acted like Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Lenin, ad infinitum, because that’s what dictators do – trump the law!!
President-elect Trump, I’d prefer if you just spat and poured beer on me because that is not protected under the Constitution of the United States, to which I pledged to defend all those years ago. I could simply dismiss you as I have those in that car on that faithful day.
Instead, your reckless disrespect towards Texas V. Johnson3 requires me to stand guard duty again, late in life.
You have made a mockery of my service, of my oath, of my willingness to find the cost of freedom and lay my body down. Please President-elect Trump, please abdicate the presidency and take the only crown you have earned by your life’s example and your only talent: Tweeter in Chief.
Editorial note: The author is unsure of the exact date that he was spat upon and used Labor Day simply as a literary vehicle.
Copyright © 2016 – Hunting For Thompson – All Rights Reserved