He grew up at Uncle Sam’s expense over 9 years while serving in the USAF, and felt it was time to acknowledge that support, this Veteran’s Day, November, 1969, here on the campus of Florida State University. He had been granted a two-semester leave to complete his bachelor’s degree, after a three year tour in Latin America and the Panama Canal Zone.
In Panama, the upper-forty-eight’s daily-on-TV Vietnam War turmoil of the sixties was lightly felt if at all, as there was not much in the way of national media of any kind. Things in the Canal Zone during the mid-to-late ‘60’s were pretty much status quo ante Vietnam.
By November, his final 18-hour semester was about half over. Hundreds of military and ROTC students were on campus every day. Active duty military wore civilian clothes to school and he had worn his civvies daily because it was what was done.
Today, November 10th, the day before the 1969 Veteran’s Day legal holiday, he had decided to show his appreciation of Uncle Sam’s scholarship, and wear his dress blues to class. This uniformed recent re-arrival to the States, naïve as to the changed moods and even changed values of his fellow citizens was, he had by then found out was the only person on campus so attired.
It was after lunch and he and his fellow Political Geography 400 class mates had gathered outside the classroom, chatting.
The grouped students were talking about the course and grades. Suddenly, a student in hippy-typical attire of floppy sandals, ember-pocked tee shirt, and scruffy jeans, preceded by a waft from his abundant hair of still fresh marijuana smoke, physically broke into the group and sans preamble assailed the officer for committing war crimes, especially against children, on behalf of imperialist hate-driven America.
He followed this with a spittle-flying and strangely happy sound of doom: “Don’t you know that China has submarines?” which was apparently to his mind, a rational sequiter. Not being a combatant, the officer was not well versed in responding to surprise attack, but was a veteran of hours of harassments during training, some with spittle.
He responded, “Yes, those are coastal submarines thousands of miles away and you and our Navy know about them.” Oblivious, the smoke-scented, staccato, and vituperative nonsense continued for about a minute, abruptly “concluding” with a closed mouthed smoker’s cough.
Perhaps I needed no further saving; perhaps I now appeared to him as a convert in dress blues. He puffed out his chest, his face shiny, smirky… and with an up-swished chin and bouncing pony tail, departed with a mission-accomplished smile.
I have been complimented on my chutzpah for wearing the uniform that day.
I wore it from a dated valuing of ourselves, and learned something off-curriculum.