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Notes from the Boonies
By Paul Wisovaty
Joe Miller delights in chiding me because I never show up at any of the progressive get-togethers at the University of Illinois, which is about twenty-five miles up the road from my home town of Republicanville. Actually, it's called Tuscola, but sooner or later the City Fathers are going to get around to changing the name. Certainly no one will object. Then, as Joan Baez once crooned, "When summer comes rolling around, we'll be lucky to get out of town."
No, Joe, I don't get up to the old alma mater much, largely because I am extremely uncomfortable in any large metropolitan area with more than 5,000 people in it, and certainly in any such city that has one-way streets. Besides that, I just turned 61, and I don't see well at night, which is when most of these events are held. But Iraq Veterans Against the War recently sponsored an anti-war rally at 5 in the afternoon, so I sucked it up, climbed into my 1992 Bonneville and headed out on the interstate.
About seventy-five students showed up for the event. I was just there to represent VVAW and listen. When the two IVAW guys got up to talk, one of them graciously said to me, "Paul, come up and stand next to us. You've earned that." I was sincerely honored by the invitation.
When they finished their brief talks, I couldn't help myself. I said, "Gimme the bullhorn." I proceeded to rattle off a couple of less than real intelligent remarks, but ended with one I stole from our late comrade Bill Davis. "Never again will one generation of American veterans turn its back on another generation of American veterans. Never again." Thanks, old friend.
I then got interviewed by the student newspaper, the Daily Illini. Since we don't get the DI down here, I have no idea to what if any extent I was correctly quoted, but here's what I said, loosely paraphrased. I got back from Vietnam in June of 1968, and two weeks later was enrolled for summer school at the University of Illinois. Many readers will realize that it was more than a little difficult for me to comprehend that, in two weeks' time, I had been transplanted from the 3/5 Armored Cavalry to a quiet Midwestern campus. It was the quiet part that bothered me. Walking around the university quad, I saw all these young men and women dozing, reading, or playing frisbee with their dogs. I wanted to walk up and slap them and say, "Hey, goddammit, don't you realize that people are dying because of your government?" With my luck, I'd have picked a college football player, and everything would have gone south real quick. Anyway, forty years later, right before I showed up at this rally, it was déjà vu all over again: dozens of students playing frisbee with their dogs! I have nothing against frisbees, and I love my dog. But – sorry to be repetitive – don't these 2007 hot-shot mega-university kids realize that people are dying because of their government? There are something like 38,000 students at the University of Illinois, and apparently 37,925 don't, or don't care. That's the bad news.
Here's the good news. During the rally, I stood there watching these seventy-five U of I students, and they were fantastic. The speakers were articulate, knowledgeable and pumped-up. The audience was enthusiastic. How should I put this? It was 1970 all over. I almost felt young again.
As I was leaving, five real young kids stopped me. They were from Armstrong-Potomac High School, which is even tinier than Tuscola. Their history teacher had sent them over to cover the rally, and they interviewed me for a mini-documentary they were putting together for use in their class. The next day, I called the high school principal to thank him.There are 37,925 college students at a major university who had better things to do than attend a short anti-war rally, and there were five high school students from a school nobody ever heard of who thought it was important.
Damn that made me feel good. We might win this thing yet.
Paul Wisovaty is a member of VVAW.
He lives in Tuscola, Illinois, where he works as a probation officer.
He was in Vietnam with the US Army 9th Division in 1968.
Students die-in at the University of Illinois