Back in January of 2007, there was a large anti-war rally held in Washington D.C. The war in Iraq was raging and the U.S. had been fighting in Afghanistan for six years already. Peace Action of Wisconsin offered bus transportation from Milwaukee to D.C. and back so that people could attend the demonstration. I went, as did my oldest son, Hans. I remember Hans asking to come along with me. Hans remembers being coerced into going. Maybe he’s right. Two years later, he enlisted in the Army, and in 2011 he was deployed to Iraq.
It was a brutal bus ride to Washington. We drove all through the night to make it to the rally in the morning. The bus was packed with an eclectic population. There were numerous old-school hippies, some of whom insisted on showing anti-war documentaries on the bus’s television all night long. There were a variety of college students, one of whom was a Che Guevara wannabe. The people who most impressed me were the Skinheads for Peace. They were three guys with shaved heads, black leather jackets, and combat boots going to D.C. to protest against the mayhem going on in Iraq. I really liked them.
When we got to Washington, the bus driver, named “Coach,” made it abundantly clear to all passengers that he would be leaving the bus terminal to return to Milwaukee at precisely 7:00 PM. He emphasized the fact that it is a long walk back home. He suggested that we get back on the bus a little before seven.
The demonstration was fascinating to me. There was no lack of interesting people there. I heard plenty of politicians, and I saw numerous cops. Lots of signs and banners. I remember distinctly one that said, “Fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity.” I stayed and mingled with the crowd. Hans snuck off to see the Smithsonian. That was a smart move on his part.
Hans and I made sure that we were back at the bus early. Two of the skinheads showed up a little bit after we did. We struck up a conversation. I asked the two punk rockers, “Where is the other guy? Where’s your buddy?”
One of the young men took a drag off his smoke and said, “Oh Benny, yeah, well I don’t think he’s going to make it.”
I asked him, “Why not?”
The guy told me, “We don’t know where he is. We got separated.”
Benny didn’t get on the bus, and Coach didn’t wait for him.
Hours later at a rest stop, I asked the skinhead, “So, have you heard from Benny?”
He replied, “Uh yeah, well, Benny used somebody else’s phone to call us. He lost his wallet somewhere.”
“So, where is he now?”
The guy took a puff of his cigarette and shrugged. Then he said, “Benny met some guys from New York. He got on their bus going to New York City. He’s never been there. He thought that it would be a cool trip.”
I was stunned by what he said. Benny was a guy with no money, no I.D., and he was on a bus going to New York with total strangers. That blew my mind. I couldn’t decide if Benny was courageous or batshit crazy, or both. I wondered if I would ever have the balls to do something like that.
Now, years later, I realize that I have done things like that. I went on the Longest Walk in 2018 with a ragtag group of Native Americans, people that I had never met before. I traveled across most of the country with them, going from reservation to reservation, for about two months. I never knew what would happen from day to day. It was like joining a cult. I got home okay, but it was the wildest thing I have ever done in my life.
Going back four decades, I think about when I showed up at West Point at the beginning of July 1976. I arrived at a place I knew almost nothing about, and then put my life in the hands of total strangers. I gave up what little money I had and got a brand-new identity from the U.S. Army.
Benny and I have a lot in common.
Frank (Francis) Pauc is a graduate of West Point, Class of 1980. He completed the Military Intelligence Basic Course at Fort Huachuca and then went to Flight School at Fort Rucker. Frank was stationed with the 3rd Armor Division in West Germany at Fliegerhorst Airfield from December 1981 to January 1985. He flew Hueys and Black Hawks and was next assigned to the 7th Infantry Division at Fort Ord, CA. He got the hell out of the Army in August 1986.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.