Like most Americans, the older man saw on TV the violence, the killings by the national guard, that occurred that in April 1970 at Kent State University in Ohio. Four students had been shot. The man couldn’t sleep that evening. What was happening to his beloved United States? He was a veteran of World War II, and he was deeply disturbed by the images that had flashed across his screen that day.
After a night of pacing and thinking, the man, who lived in the Washington, D.C. area, decided to take a walk in the pre-dawn hours. Like many of his generation, he looked to Abraham Lincoln as the embodiment of American values and strength in times of trouble. So, he made the trek to the Lincoln Memorial to try to get some peace and some understanding of what the nation was going through.
Along the way to the memorial, the man encountered swaths of young protesters who had come to express their anger at their government. These young people had come to protest not only the killings at Kent State but also to speak about against the Nixon Administration’s policies about the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, and what they felt were Nixon’s movements against free speech and personal freedoms. The man felt odd, out of place, among the long-haired young men and the girls who wore peace signs around their necks and on their clothes. The young people noticed him, too, but in the early morning, they said nothing to him.
When he reached the Lincoln Memorial, the man realized that he was definitely the oldest person on the scene. The protesters had been sleeping in and around the monument, seeking, perhaps, as the older man was, some comfort in the spiritual presence of the great president memorialized there. Some of the young people sleepily woke up as the man made his way up the memorial steps. “What are you doing here?” one of the youngsters asked.
“I came for the same reason you did,” he answered. “I also want to see the war ended. I want the killing to stop.”
Other kids woke up as they heard the conversation, and they gathered around the older man. “Where do you go to school?” he asked one of the young men. “Syracuse,” the student answered. “Good football team,” the man answered, looking for some connection, some link between him and these young people who seemed so different, so strange to his version of America. Another kid told him he went to Stanford. “Ah, California,” the man responded. “Do you surf?” “Yeah,” the boy answered.
“I understand that you hate the war,” he said, changing the subject. “I do, too. But don’t let your hatred of the president and the war make you hate the country,” he advised. “The country is good. I know you probably think I’m a son-of-a-bitch, but I do understand how you feel,” he admitted.
The young people looked at the man skeptically. They later said that he seemed to be trying to connect with them, but that was impossible.
So, as the sun began to rise over Washington on that early May morning, Richard Nixon left the Lincoln Memorial and headed back to the White House.