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
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.
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?
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.