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I have never missed voting in a local, state or national election. Why? Because of Ralph Bobian and Paul Harrison — two boot camp buddies who died in Vietnam — and the more than 58,000 men and women who did not come home.
Only a small percentage of Americans — 9.7 percent (2.7 million) — served in Vietnam. I am proud to have served, but I remember every day of those young Americans who did not return home from a war that was unnecessary.
… “my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” – John F. Kennedy, Jan. 20, 1961
Those words, spoken by a newly-inaugurated president who was a Naval hero of World War II, inspired me to join the U.S. Marine Corps in 1966. I was 18 years old and could not vote.*
In 1968, just nine days after a bloodbath known as Tet, I turned 21. I was in Vietnam, in a war many American had come to oppose. Because we were in locked in a battle in Leatherneck Square in I Corps, I was not able to vote that year. But since then, I have voted in every election.
Now, more than 50 years after my involvement in Vietnam War, I think of another segment from Kennedy’s inauguration speech
“Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.”
Regardless of political persuasions, I respect the loyalty of all veterans to this great country by voting in each and every election. I owe it to every man and woman who answered the call to service of this nation with dignity and honor.
* That changed in all states in 1971 when the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 by the 26th Amendment.
When I think of voting, I think of being a kid. Voting in the classroom, this is a democracy, so who wants to do this or that. And it seemed it wasn’t what anyone independently wanted to do, it was just whatever their friends were doing. Who the OG was was elusive to me. To everyone, but who cares. So right along with them, I looked to someone’s taste I trusted and voted for what they voted for. Maybe they knew something I didn’t know, what it really was all about, what it really meant. Something about voting as a child and voting as an adult, despite much more at stake, is primarily the same game.
There’s only been four presidential elections I could have voted in. 2008 was the first I could have, and it was a year into being in the military. I felt so separate from the world, and embodied a sense of having much less of the already limited control I felt of my environment prior to enlisting. Still, I tried to vote in such a historic election but the barriers in place deterred me, so I didn’t. I just hoped. And I was certain to open my window when it was announced, and the combination of honks and screams told me who it was, and I was happy. There was still a trace of not quite understanding the difference between democrackers and The Republicans, I just knew on one side of my family, they believed in crackers and the other were against crackers. Crackers were fake-nice to me. The Republicans hunted and told me to stop being a baby when I didn’t want to skin deers.
Before that, I didn’t grasp what the president was and its relationship to me. Prior to joining, it might as well have been an alien on Jupiter. But after in uniform the He was now in my chain of command, plastered on the wall to look up to like a crooked Jesus photo at my grandma’s. I was now acutely aware nothing could be said against this individual as being one who is so-called serving Him, because I had and they yelled at me. It was like having a weird quasi-famous dad who never talked to you but could tell you what to do. Through the others.
The only presidential voting I have done was the times it involved the current Him. The first time I voted for who I really wanted, not understanding that’s not the way it works if you want your vote to count. This week I voted for those taste’s I trust’s vote. Returning to the classroom, where socially the rules are set for life in democracy.
I live in Washington State, one of the States that votes by mail. The ballots are mailed to registered voters prior to the day of elections. After completing the ballot, it is either mailed back or a voter can put the ballot in a special box near the office of the Board of Elections for their pick up. A voter can also vote in person on election day, but now with the Pandemic making exposure to the virus more likely doing that. My wife, Micki, and I chose not to mail our completed ballots back by mail, instead deposited them in the special box provided by the Board of Elections prior to the day of Elections.
One of the requirements of vote by mail is certifying on the envelope containing by voter’s signature, that the voter if eligible to vote by listed criteria. In the past couple of year, I have developed a tremor in my right hand, and I have life-long always written with my right hand, therefore my signature may be somewhat illegible (not always). Unfortunately, when I wrote my certifying signature, it was readable, but far from perfect. I was concerned that my ballot might be rejected because of this. I certainly hope not.
“So get out the vote. Talk to your friends. Talk to strangers, and help them to get there vote counted,” our speaker said in conclusion. Leaving this meeting, saying our good-byes and heading for home, one of the statements resonated with me. ‘Talking to strangers’ had broken loose a clot in my memory.
It was 1968, in October. Fire season was over. I’d sold my ‘68 Toyota Lemon in preparation of my impending draft orders. I was feeling like a rich man, bicycling to the bank to deposit the $1980 profit from my piece of shit car.
Waiting to turn left at a red light, and thinking about who might buy my surfboard, a ‘65 Mustang pulled up on my left. A couple dressed as though they were preparing to be run up a flagpole; sat like Brooks Brothers mannequins in this open carriage. The driver in a blue blazer, red tie and white shirt smiled at me from inside his country club tanned face. The woman, dressed in similar patriotic colors, displayed her tan from beneath a glaringly white mini skirt.
Dirk Square Jaw and his bee hive haired girlfriend Buffy, were sitting in their pristine white Mustang convertible, looking like an advertisement for toothpaste. A light yellow scarf delicately covering Muffys’ blonde monument of shellacked hair. Pouting red lips, the color of arterial blood, protruding from beneath a perfectly upturned nose that balanced a pair of TV sized sunglasses.
Biff Dimple Chin called over to me, “Don’t forget to vote for Nixon!” Wondering to whom he might be addressing, I pointed to myself. “Yeah, you. Vote for Nixon!” Simply repeating what he’d just been told at the Young Republicans meeting, he smiled with confidence that I would follow through with his edict.
“Why,” I asked, “Is Nixon gonna to end the war?” This confused Todd and Heather. Rifling through their card catalogue of political responses, they came up empty for this particular question. Sharing blank looks with one another, they turned to me for the correct answer. Feeling their confusion, I pulled the hooks out of their mouths with the assurance, “Not to worry, I won’t vote for Humphrey.” This produced smiles on Becka and Rockos’ shining faces. I continued, “I’m only 19. I’m not old enough to vote; but I am old enough be drafted into to the Army and go kill people.”
Oh, dear, more confused looks. “Hey,” I said, “you wanna buy a surfboard? I gotta get rid of mine before I’m inducted. I’ll make you a good deal.”
By this time two green lights had come and gone. In a “Lolita-esque” manner, Meagan lowered her sunglasses to better squint in my direction. In a perfect Valley-Girl voice she said, “Do we look like Beach Bums?” Good point Brittney. That perfect tan could only be cured at poolside. If you got into the ocean with that much suntan lotion; volunteers would have to line up to start soaping down penguins and seagulls.
Heading home from my political action meeting, I stopped at a red light and waited my turn to turn right. A classic, fire engine red, ‘65 Mustang, convertible, stopped to my left. An older couple was smiling from the seats of this perfectly preserved survivor of the Vietnam era. A red, white, and blue scarf circled the shock of white hair of the female passenger. The woman smiled at me. “I love your BMW,” she said. With a roar of a glass pack exhaust, they sped away in a cloud of nostalgia. Welcome home Dirk and Buffy. I’m glad you made it.
I turned 18 and felt like the most important person, because I knew I could make a difference and do what my parents showed me was important. I remember standing in line the first time along with all of these other people so much older than me as I finally felt like an adult, even though I already had been one from the time I was 11. I finally made it inside and just followed the line and went over to the person that was handling the last name that began with a V. I followed the instructions she gave me and signed the roll. She directed me to a booth where you had these levers that you made the selections with. Before you could make any selections you had to use a lever which closed the curtain behind you. I was a little slow and was so cautious as I did not want to make a mistake. I already knew who I was going to vote for so I went down the list and made the selections. It took me a little bit to figure out that I was not done and my votes were not entered until I hit that lever for the curtain again. I voted and so proudly walked out in the direction of the arrows, and as I was leaving they put a sticker on my chest saying I Voted. I did it and felt like such a big man, oh yes, I am a big man, I forgot. I proceeded to my thunderbird, got in and started it, then I headed home knowing I was never going to miss my chance to vote.
In November 1960, John F. Kennedy beat Richard M. Nixon and in January, 1961 he became the 35th President of the United State of America. I was 17 and in my senior year of high school when he was elected. I couldn’t vote yet, but really would have liked to. Both of my parents voted for Kennedy and we had a lot of discussions about him and Nixon.
When I was younger, my parents had a picture of President Roosevelt (FDR) on the wall of their home. Now we had a picture of President Kennedy, the only two presidents I ever saw in our house. My parents were from Canada and both proud to be American citizens. Voting was very important to them, and that was fostered in me.
When President Kennedy was assassinated in November, 1963 I was just 20. I thought at the time I would never get to vote for him. Then Johnson took over as President and I was definitely NOT impressed. He struck me as one of those “Good-old-Boys” that did a lot of wheeling and dealing behind the scenes.
Then in 1964 Senator Barry Goldwater was picked to run against Johnson. I really didn’t care a lot for Johnson because of his slick conniving nature and the escalation of the war, but I strongly disliked Goldwater. He had the arrogance of a person that had already served to long in the senate – kind of like McConnell, or Graham who both seem to have their heads so far up Trumps Ass that they know what he had for breakfast.
So the very first national election in November, 1964 that I was able to vote in, I voted for Johnson. Little did I realize that within seven weeks, I wouldn’t give a rat’s ass who was president, and a few months later I would be thanking him for his war as an opportunity to depart this hell hole of a world!
My views of the world have changed but I still think back to what I would have done if I could have voted at 18. Eighteen years olds were given the right to vote in 1971 (26th Amendment) and I realize I still would never have been able to vote for Kennedy, the one president I truly liked. Such is Life!
Growing up, whenever we got new leather shoes mom always took us to the Cinderella Shoeshine Shop on Main street. It was so fun to climb up into the big marble steps and into the leather chairs and have your shoes polished by the nice Italian men. They slapped the polish on the shoes in a rhythm and ran the brushes over the shoes. They always put on two coats and they used different brushes for each coat. It felt good and the shoes looked great when they were done. I loved going to get my shoes polished. We got shoes usually in the fall for school and in the spring for Easter and I always looked forward to getting them polished.
My family has always been big on voting and being involved in the process. My mother worked for the county auditor’s office twice in her life; she worked there in the late 80’s until she retired; and before she was married in the mid 40’s and in fact; when the republicans took over after the election that year, she lost her job because, well, she wasn’t a republican and at the time, it was still legal for them to do that. She was ok with it because dad and mom were starting the family, so she figured it was just time. Mom learned about politics from her parents; they were big democratic supporters; which wasn’t easy in a republican town like Walla Walla; mom often kept her opinions to herself when she was out and about; but Grandma and Grandpa worked hard for the party and they even had Senator ‘Scoop’ Jackson to the house for dinner. They lived their values. They worked hard, they went to church and were involved in the community. My grandmother helped raise us kids. She babysat us every afternoon and made dinner. I never met my grandfather; he passed away the year I was born. I only knew him through family stories.
One day, mom was telling a story about the family that owned the shoeshine shop. One of their relatives was being deported back to Italy. They called grandpa, Henry and asked if there was anything he could do? Grandpa made some phone calls and the next thing they knew, the relative was getting his green card and getting to stay. They were so happy they never let grandpa pay to have his shoes shined again. grandpa didn’t like anyone to know; so as he was leaving the shop he would always say; “I’ll get you later for that.” Knowing they would never take his money. With a rich family history like that it’s impossible not to vote; and with grandparents like that it’s even harder to not vote for democrats without thinking of them rolling over in their graves. I have though. I know they would just want me to use my mind and vote with my heart. And that is what I do; and that is what I’ve taught my children to do.