On Sunday, September 24th I was outside Cleveland Browns Stadium in uniform and holding my peace flag, greeting folks heading to the Browns-Tennessee Titans game when one gentleman asked my thoughts when people say, “Thank you for my freedom.” I told him, “That puzzles me. I don’t understand that since we had our freedom before I went to Vietnam, and we had our freedom after I returned. Neither the Viet Cong nor the North Vietnamese Army had any interest in taking away our freedom.” He said he hadn’t heard that observation before.
His friend said, “What do you say when people say, ‘Thank you for your service?'” I said, as I have often said before, “I didn’t serve my country. I served deceitful, lying, fear-mongering war-mongering politicians and their war-profiteering bed partners. Those truly serving our country are medics, nurses, doctors and mental health professionals who work very very hard to mend as best they can, the psyches and bodies of those savaged and ravaged by war. They are the real war heroes. Not those who kill and destroy. That’s not heroic, it’s barbaric.” He said nothing, but I gave him, too, an observation he likely had not heard before. Both men shook my hand before walking toward the stadium.
One man on his way to the stadium said that out of fear of being drafted during the Vietnam War, he joined the navy and his ship sailed in the Atlantic Ocean, about as far away from Vietnam as you can get. I told him, “I talked with a man last year whose father had been in the navy and his dad told him N-A-V-Y stands for ‘Never Again Volunteer Yourself’. I guess he had a bad experience in the navy.” The gentleman laughed and then headed to the stadium.
One young man walking to the stadium loudly said as he walked by me “God Bless America!!” I shouted back, “Peace on Earth!!” Several people walking by shook my hand or gave me fist bumps, saying “Thank you for your service.” I often said, “Wasn’t my idea. I got drafted!!” Then they would laugh.
An elderly fan–okay, she probably is younger than me–pointed to her husband next to her and said, “He was drafted too.” I said, “Ya gotta do what ya gotta do.” They understood completely that I and her husband had no choice but to “go along for the ride.”
One man said he had a veteran friend join the army with the stated objective to work in a certain job but the army assigned him to a totally different MOS (Military Occupational Specialties). I said, “When you sign on the dotted line, the army owes you. They can do whatever they want with you.” I told the Browns fan that back in the ’60s the army had commercials with the rather misleading slogan ‘Choice not chance’, meaning if you enlisted you could choose a job in the army, rather than face the chance of being sent to Vietnam if drafted. That encouraged many young men, with the Vietnam War underway, to join the army thinking they could choose a safe job stateside that would keep them far away from Vietnam. (Those who enlisted had a three-year obligation to serve while I–a draftee–had “only” a two-year obligation.) I told the fan that a friend of mine fell for the commercial’s enticing slogan, asking to be assigned to intelligence work at Fort Holabird, near Baltimore. His “dream” did come true–for a while. After several months at Holabird, he received orders transferring him to a place called Da Nang–which is nowhere near Baltimore. (He returned home safely from Vietnam.)
About 10 minutes before the Browns-Titans clash, three fighter jets in a wedge formation flew over the stadium, which really, REALLY annoyed me and I muttered to myself: “Fuck me!”