Saturday, April 17, 2010
Brian Wilson imagined himself in a tank as he bore down on Washington, D.C. He was responding to a call that went out over the Internet to all American Veterans. He was really just chugging along in his Chevy Gladiator conversion van , an oldish vehicle that was still in reasonably good shape, much like Brian himself.
Brian held the title of Viet Nam Era veteran. He held the title with a combination of pride and embarrassment. He had some notion of what real Viet Nam vets went through, having lived among them in the Army and hearing many stories. He had lived among them long enough to also hear the stories they never told. The ones that invaded their sleep, causing them to awake screaming or shivering or just laying in the darkness that seeped into their souls.
The vision of driving a tank toward the nation's capitol was a bit silly, as well. Brian had been in stock control. Missile repair parts. He had been assigned to Germany, and had "fought" the Cold War during the waining years of the Viet Nam conflict. Still, this was a real assault. The call had gone out to all living vets of every war in recent history. Too many lives and bodies and minds had been wrecked in too many conflicts, and too little had been done to compensate for the sacrifice.
Brian had been to Washington from time to time over the course of the years. Often enough to recognize that the traffic seemed normal enough. One concern of the organizers was raising so much concern in Washington that the veterans would be prevented from reaching the National Mall. The assault was intended to be sudden and so entrenched so quickly as to be impossible to dislodge without a huge media uproar.
Soon enough Brian was motoring past the Lincoln Memorial, and turning toward the side street recommended by his Internet contacts. He looked up and saw Wanderwolf parked near the edge of the Mall. Mike, the veteran who lived in the RV named Wanderwolf, must have been pretty pissed off to uproot from Ajo, Arizona and make his way here. Brian had read Mike's blog and knew that the lack of real care for veterans was near to Mike's heart.
Brian found a parking space not too far from the Mall, with a clear view of the Washington Monument. He secured his humble road home and got out onto the sidewalk. He shouldered the gear he had been directed to bring along, and made his way toward the Mall.
He noticed a lot of converted vans, as well as box trucks and other vehicles around that could be used as living spaces as well as vehicles. They were scattered around, not being too obvious. Many other people were making their way toward the Mall, each carrying enough gear to get the job started, but not so much as to draw too much attention.
Here was a young man with an artificial leg, trundling along. There a young woman with a prosthetic arm. One old veteran had a hat celebrating his participation in three wars. World War II, Korea, and Viet Nam. He walked with a cane, and had two younger fellows in attendance, but he made his way toward the Mall on his own two feet.
Brian wiped a tear from his eye. Tears came often, over the years, when he saw a brother or sister who had given much for the United States. Most still believed the country to be great, and worthy of their service. Still, too much sacrifice had been demanded over the years, and it was time to do something.
Finding a place that was not too crowded, Brian sat on the grass and waited. Others were finding places to wait, as well. Brian hoped that they were scattered enough not to draw the eye of law enforcement too soon. Nobody wanted a conflict, especially recognizing that many veterans had found their way into continued service wearing the badges of cities, counties, states and Federal agencies.
There were a lot of police cruisers in the area, most with two officers on board. Still, none were out on foot, and the Mall seemed surprisingly clear of blue or black uniforms.
A trumpet sounded somewhere across the lawn. That was the signal. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of veterans stood and moved quickly onto the lawn. People holding up little American flags began directing the flood of men and women. They all followed direction and fell into their assigned areas, for the most part. There were a few arguments, here and there, but no fights broke out.
Once sufficient order was established, the trumpet sounded again. Three long blasts. As one the army of veterans sprang into action. In a very short time tents were erected and a well-ordered camp sprang into being. The old veteran of many wars sat in a chair as his young attendants set up a nice sized tent for him. Most were the recommended dome tents, which were light and quickly assembled.
With that the Assault on Washington was begun. Brian sat on his patch of the National Mall and watched as the tourist cameras began the informal documentation of the event. He could see the first news crew setting up, their satellite dish pointed toward the sky and the men and women milling about.
The police finally began arriving. No big lines of cops with shields and sticks as in the days of the protests in Washington during the Viet Nam war. Just some crews unloading perimeter barricades and establishing some kind of perimeter. Perhaps the sympathies of the police ran deep.
It was a loose perimeter, Brian noted. Veterans moved in and out of the camp unhindered. Some were bringing in supplies and additional gear from box trucks nearby. A porta-potty service was unloading portable toilets and setting them up on the sidewalks on the edge of the camp.
Brian was not politically savvy. He was not part of the planning, and certainly not part of the more political body that would eventually present demands and make negotiations to end the siege. He was just there as a body, to swell the numbers and establish a presence, much like his primary purpose as a soldier in Cold War Europe.
He thought wistfully about his van. Brian was pretty sure it would eventually be impounded. He hoped that he might be able to trek back to the old beast and gather a few more of his things before that happened. Glancing at a legless fellow veteran sitting nearby in his wheelchair, Brian considered the old van to be a small sacrifice for the cause.
The beachhead was established. Now it came down to waiting. Summer was just around the corner, and Brian knew it would grow hot. By then, if they were still in place, their numbers would swell. Brian hoped that they would have things wrapped up by winter.
It didn't matter, really, how long it took to get some kind of justice for the years and years of sacrifice. This battle would demand one of the greatest skills instilled in the nation's warriors.
No matter what branch of their service, soldiers knew how to wait.