General Lou Walt was an authentic war hero. He started out in WWII as a sergeant, got promoted up to general, then was commandant of Marines in Vietnam.
He took seriously the notion of capturing the minds and hearts of civilians;
so he was booted out of command, and left the service.
There was a student group of ‘Viet Vets Against the War’ at CSU; they were looking for a faculty sponsor, a peacenik veteran. (The administration insisted on a faculty sponsor, as someone vulnerable to punishment if the student-group got out of line.) The VVAW students recruited me as their faculty sponsor.
One Saturday I got a call from a VVAW student: Gen. Walt would be making a speech the next day at the Knights of Columbus Hall: “We have to picket that somabitch!” (It was widely thought that professor activists goaded the students into action; in reality, it was the other way around.)
I agreed, partly because the right-wing pastor of St.Joe’s had clashed with me in the past. I made up a poster, with 4 crosses in the corners, worded thusly:
“Whatever you do to Vietnamese children,
that you do unto ME!”
We stationed ourself outside the hall: myself,
a guy in marine uniform with one leg, and a small marine, in uniform, very twitchy.
Around the corner they came: a Boy-scout band in the lead, followed by a dozen beefy salesman-types, followed by the general and Monsignor Cavanaugh—who gaped open-mouthed at seeing me with my small entourage. The general was about 5’6 and equally wide, with no fat; I could have sworn his shoulders had corners.
The salesmen were all for attacking us; but
the general waved them down and came over, smiling, for dialogue. He asked the one-legged guy, “Where did that happen?” The guy admitted that he’d never got to Vietnam, losing his leg in a motorcycle accident in California.
Walt smiled and said, “Actually, we lost more men in highway accidents than from combat.”
Then the general quizzed the nervous little marine, who said: “I was at Pyong-DongPhu!” The general looked suspicious; “The marines were never at Pyong-DongPhu!”/
“YOU were never there, but the marines were !”
Seeing a uniformed marine talk back,
the general lost all civilian sophistication,
all general’s sophistication, and reverted back to pure sergeant.
A vein stood out on his bull-neck.
He and the youth began arguing about who had the most wounds.
I could see that in a minute, the boy would leap at Walt, so I said, “Gentleman-we can’t settle our disagreements by counting wounds !” Walt came back to his senses; he barked at me “Where were you?”/”..in Inchon in 1952.”/”That doesn’t count,’
he sniffed and returned to his cohort.
Now I had a perfect response, which I suppressed from sheer physical cowardice;
I was sure he’d leap right for my throat.
I could have said,
“Huh—at least we TIED OUR WAR !”