Millions of Americans will be watching the Super Bowl in a few short weeks.
I won’t be one of them.
Please don’t get me wrong - I like professional football as much as the next person. I even cheer for my favorite team all season long. Folks who regularly read these words each week probably already know that my team of choice is the Green Bay Packers.
I came by my love for the Packers quite honestly, actually. Living in Sweden during the summer of 1968 (it was my love of baseball and the thought of getting to know my Swedish relatives that took me there after I’d completed my Army tour in April) I cared more about learning of my heritage than I did about professional sports of any kind.
During that entire summer, while I played for Leksands Baseballklubb and we won the Swedish National Baseball Championship, I found it next to impossible to keep even a passive interest in American baseball. The newspapers available to me on a daily basis carried nothing about the pennant races going on in America. And, the few American newspapers available to me - most notably the New York Times - were, at best, two days late.
Besides that, those who remember that long ago summer, will no doubt remember the turmoil of the time in America.
So, I pretty much went about my daily duties, working as a draftsman for company called “Insjons Fardighus” - literally translated to mean Insjon’s Ready House. Every day, the home designers would send me their finished blueprints. Pre-fabricated homes were sold all over Sweden and my job was to take the finished blueprints and break them down into components that would be used to finish those new homes.
My job title was “ritterer.” All the components of each house were constructed on what was called the “3M” system; in other words, each separate component used in construction of the house was in the “three-meter” system. Without getting too specific, it meant that each corner piece was 1.5 meters. Windows could be 4.5 to 6 meters, but once each wall was drawn the components had to be divisible by three.
It was an interesting job and I fell into it quite easily, my architectural classes at Waldorf College coming in quite handy.
Even though I had my own office that whole summer, I got to know my co-workers quite well. Every morning there was a 45-minute coffee break; every afternoon came another break for 15 minutes.
My co-workers always wanted to know about life in America and how I’d found my long-lost relatives in Sweden and how I’d found this summer job. Of course, it all was because of baseball.
That summer, not only did I work five days each week at Insjons Fardighus, I also played baseball every weekend for Leksands Baseballklubb.
But, it was the love shown me by my daily co-workers that helped me get through the summer of 1968.
I lived in a small (one room down, one room up) summer cottage on the property of my Swedish relatives. It was called a “stuga,” and it was home for a summer. It sat on the property of Georg and Karin (Haglund) Andersson. Karin was my father’s cousin.
It was a wonderful time in my life. I was, as they say, living a dream - meeting my old-world relatives for the first time, learning about their lives, learning about a hard life that had driven my grandfather to leave for a better place in America.
But, it was also a very difficult time. Just as I was preparing to drive to Sweden, news reached us all that Dr. Martin Luther King had been assassinated in Memphis. That was also the summer Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. It was also the year when anti-Vietnam protests ballooned across America and young men burned their draft cards in protest of the war and American flags were burned. More than 50,000 people assembled at the National Mall in Washington in the “Poor People’s March” to protest America’s growing problem with poverty.
As a young man living far from that turmoil, across the ocean in Sweden, I was, quite naturally, disturbed at what was going on back home. I was uncertain about whether or not I should even return. In the end, though, I did. I missed my mother, brother, sister and hordes of aunts, uncles and cousins.
I returned to a newspaper job in Wisconsin. For the most part, too, I kept my mouth shut. As a young man returning from the service, I wasn’t certain whether or not I should be proud of that service, or simply keep quiet.
I’m not so quiet any longer. I’m proud of my service and I’m proud of the young men with whom I became friends during that service - several with whom I’ve remained friends for more than half a century.
I hold disdain for those who fled to Canada or Sweden, seeking asylum in those neutral countries. And, I hold an absolute disdain for those who used wealth and privilege to avoid service to their country.
And, I specifically hold disdain for those who used that power and privilege … and “bad feet” … to avoid the draft. It sickens me when those types of people rise to the most important office in this country and feign their patriotism with outward displays, like hugging the American flag.
It honestly makes me sick to my stomach.