VOICES: Will you “do something right?”

In 1965, Lewis attempted to lead a group of marchers over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. They were repelled by police officers in what would be known as Bloody Sunday.
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In 1965, Lewis attempted to lead a group of marchers over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. They were repelled by police officers in what would be known as Bloody Sunday.

Note from Community Impact Editor Amelia Robinson: This guest column by Dennis Geehan, a retired photojournalist and Vietnam War veteran, appeared on the Ideas and Voices page Monday, Jan. 17.

I am a former Air Force “brat,” a combat soldier and a civil servant.

It should come to little surprise that my views weren’t strictly partisan. I leaned right on national security, leaned left on social issues. Like many “Boomers” my views were shaped by Civil Rights and Vietnam, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and my father.

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King said, “The time is always right to do something right.” The right thing for me, right now, is remembering “Bloody Sunday.”

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Dennis Geehan is a retired photojournalist who enjoys singing, songwriting and volunteering.

Dennis Geehan is a retired photojournalist who enjoys singing, songwriting and volunteering.
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Dennis Geehan is a retired photojournalist who enjoys singing, songwriting and volunteering.

On March 7, 1965 the late John Lewis led a Voting Rights march from Selma over the Edmund Pettus Bridge to Montgomery, passing by Craig Air Force Base from Selma.

The peaceful assembly was interrupted by tear gas, dogs, batons and the sheriff’s cavalry teaming with Ku Klux Klansmen and a White Citizens Council to beat them down.

Rushing to “do something right” that day was my father, Capt. Elmer Geehan. Protecting the base, he was undercover as a United States Air Force special agent in the Office of Special Investigations

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He spent his life guarding two symbols: the US Constitution and the American flag.

King lead a follow up protest just years later.

My dad was commended by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover for saving the life of a Black man being beaten in Selma. He pulled his OSI badge, but yelled “FBI” (Klansmen might not know of “OSI”) and scared the attackers away.

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A March 7, 2000 Dayton Daily News article about Capt. Elmer Geehan appeared on the cover of the local session. His son Dennis considers him a hero.

A  March 7, 2000 Dayton Daily News article about Capt. Elmer Geehan appeared on the cover of the local session. His son Dennis considers him a hero.
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A March 7, 2000 Dayton Daily News article about Capt. Elmer Geehan appeared on the cover of the local session. His son Dennis considers him a hero.

My dad would tell me, “I think Mr. Hoover thanked me for pretending to be FBI so he’d get the credit.” But Dad wasn’t a pretender. He was a hero.

In Vietnam to fight for freedom in another civil war pitting North against South, on June 8, 1972, I shifted my focus from body counts to those like 9-year old Kim Phuc, the “Napalm Girl” in a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo. Cries I couldn’t hear then now scream in my mind. Moral wounds, PTSD.

I don’t remember much else about those two years besides lying awake hoping I, too, would “do something right” when duty or lives required.

I did have friends, brothers there, of all races; but, what greeted my combat “Band of Brothers of another color” and me at home?

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Not far from the entrance t Fort Bragg’s was a Klansman on a billboard declare the area Klan Country. What had we fought for? Rights? Freedom? American flag?

On Jan 6, the MAGA mob of self-proclaimed “patriots and cop-lovers” killed U.S. Capitol Officer Brian Sicknick.

Some of them carried the American flag he had defended in the Air National Guard and on Capitol Hill. The American flag led a lynch party overrunning cops, hunting congressmen, wounding democracy.

I fear the possibility our nation will experience a sort of identity confusion, maybe political PTSD.

In his last days, Lt. Col. Elmer Geehan (USAF-Ret), would remind me of his favorite adage: “The biggest fools are those who fool themselves.”

Racists and insurrectionists may think the real heroes are gone, that democracy is unprotected but they are only fooling themselves.

We’re all heroes if we rejoin the cause of Freedom and show America we can still “do something right.”


Dennis Geehan is a retired photojournalist who enjoys singing, songwriting and volunteering. Guest columns are submitted  or requested fact-based opinion pieces typically of 300 to 450 words.

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