Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Spitting incident still fresh in local man's mind

I met a real nice guy last night while I was out and about. An African-American gentleman in his late 50's who was a bit fragile and missing quite a few teeth. He was quite gentle and had no idea I was a reporter as I was in blue jeans and a t-shirt.

He saw my "Army Veteran" hat and sprung to attention giving me a salute. Not sure how he guessed I was an officer but I smiled, returned his salute, and shook his hand to give the greeting of the day. Our conversation lasted less than two minutes.

I asked him if he'd served in the military, and he told me that he'd been Special Forces in Vietnam .. and at one time he had been the youngest Staff Sergeant in the entire Army.

He asked me about Iraq, and I asked him about his experience in the jungle. We shared a story about teaching young officers. I'd worked as a TAC officer in the Officer Candidate School .. likewise, he'd been a TAC Sergeant with candidates at the Federal OCS program at Fort Benning.

What sticks with me though is his story of returning home to Akron 30+ years ago. His eyes still burning from a lack of appreciation from those who didn't serve. He was genuinely still hurt and upset about being spat upon by Akron residents when he returned from service. That enrages me. Who would spit on a veteran??? He was spitting bullets just telling me about it. I wished that I could ease his wounds.

I could tell that he was in awe of the celebrations that today's veterans (me included) have received when we return from war.

While I didn't ask him, I made the assumption that he'd be drafted.

After our brief conversation ended and we said "have a good one", his pain made me hurt inside. How could someone who did so much for his country be treated so poorly? How could local folks who lived under the protection of our men and women in uniform be so inconsiderate and mean?
This weekend, the area is taking a big step to heal the wounds of our Vietnam Vets. State leaders will be on hand for the groundbreaking of Ohio's new Vietnam Memorial in Clinton in Southern Summit County. When complete, this site will be amazing. You can see more at the memorial's website. A great bunch of dedicated people will make this possible. I'll be there to emcee to the ceremony Saturday afternoon. Please stop by if you can.

I wished that I'd gotten the man's name last night, but I was with a group of people and I couldn't stay to talk any longer. Still, I'll remember his face. While I can't change what's happened to him, I hope I can see him again to just say thanks for being my Army brother of another generation .. and to let him know his sacrifice is appreciated.

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