Cleo Isom adjusted his World War II veteran’s cap and laughed a little at the election-morning memory.
He spent months in the Pacific during the war as a Navy man on the USS Houston, which survived two torpedo hits and "a never-ending rain of the kamikaze," he said, standing next to his Buick outside his Twin Lakes Elementary School polling place. His ship saw action in the Marianas, Iwo Jima, the Philippines, "all those friendly places."
"I don’t mean to distract for one second from what those guys put up in Normandy, but you know there was a lot of D-Days in the Pacific," Isom said. "They weren’t as massive and so on, but they were just as nasty.
"After spending a year over there, I came back and I was too young to buy a beer. I was too young to vote. I didn’t vote until 1948. First president I voted for was Harry Truman. That got changed. I’m glad to see that."
A lot has changed, he said, but not the importance of voting.
Isom turns 87 this month. He has lived in the same Twin Lakes neighborhood 57 years, has voted at the elementary school for decades. He wouldn’t dream of missing an election.
When I hear people come up with excuses for not voting, I think of people like Isom, who went to war in part to ensure our free and fair elections. I think of all of the African-Americans I’ve met who suffered through poll taxes and creepy voter suppression tactics by those who claimed they were interested in fighting voter fraud.
Voter turnout is always higher in a presidential election year, but a large percentage of Americans still don’t exercise the right for which so many have sacrificed. Meanwhile, forces again have worked overtime to attempt to suppress turnout under the guise of preventing voter fraud.
Outside the Doolittle Senior Center on J Street, Maryann Brown and Marvin Rasberry directed voters to their proper polling places.
"The whole world is watching our election," Rasberry said. "And, you know, we have men dying over there in countries trying to give them liberation where they can vote, and they play trick games here by not allowing people access to the polls. In some of those cold states like Ohio where I’m from, it’s 30 degrees or colder. So why in the world should you have to stand out there for eight and 10 hours in cold weather for the right to vote? It’s just infuriating to me."
Added Brown, "We always tell all the other countries, ‘Be democratic. Don’t block people from voting, and all this stuff.’ Then you come to the United States and people can’t go to vote, or they’re told that they shouldn’t vote."
At the West Las Vegas Library, Eileen Junior was told she would have to go all the way across town to vote because of a registration glitch. The delay would take several hours, but she refused to walk away from the process "because the country is important to me."
It’s important to Cindy and Perry Perkins, too. Perry, a military veteran, hobbled into the Twin Lakes polling place with help from his wife.
They can’t imagine why anyone would pass up the chance to make their voice heard, Cindy said .
It’s those super PACs that tick off Perry.
"They’re buying the vote." he said. "I’m so sick of it. We really need to stop that. How do we get that on the ballot? Money talks and B.S. walks, and I’m tired of if you’ve got more money than me you win. And that’s wrong."
America has experienced a dramatic transformation since war veteran Cleo Isom had to wait until 1948 to vote. He remembers when Southern Nevada’s polls closed at 5 p.m., decades before technological advances and expansion of our voting rights made casting a ballot so convenient.
"With all the early voting and the liberal hours and so on," he said, "there’s no excuse not to vote if you want to."
Those who don’t vote insult the sacrifices made by generations of Americans.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/Smith