CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Vietnam War veteran Lou Pumphrey can't shake the death of a fallen comrade nearly 50 years ago.
The pins on his uniform, which he wears in full despite the 80-degree heat, catch the eyes of delegates and media as he stands in the crowd with an American flag mounted on his shoulder -- a white peace sign replaces the stars against the blue.
Pumphrey showed up outside of Quicken Loans Arena hoping to attract attention -- and he has.
The Cleveland native is critical of both major party candidates, but bore the weight of the nation's flag to highlight what he says is Donald Trump's contradictory perspective on war. The Republican candidate deferred deployment to Vietnam on four occasions before a medical disqualification, a luxury for veterans like Pumphrey who resent the candidate's eagerness to lead the country into war despite his personal attempts to avoid it.
"The guy is such a fraud," Pumphrey said. "I'm afraid of Donald Trump becoming president."
For Pumphrey, a Trump presidency is essentially synonymous with war. The veteran fears for the lives of others, who could be deeply impacted or wiped away entirely by the threat. Pumphrey can't help but gently cry when talking about his reasons for donning a uniform in the name of peace: he witnessed the death of a fellow comrade in Vietnam.
"It's like it happened yesterday," Pumphrey said, just seconds away from tears. "My worst moment in my life."
Discharged in 1968, Pumphrey didn't immediately join the anti-war movement. He spent the last years of the war hoping that it would eventually take a turn, giving meaning to the death of his friend. It was a hope that he eventually gave up on.
"I finally came to the realization that it was a waste. More than 58,000 [lives] wasted," Pumphrey said. "So that kind of motivated me to be pro-peace and try to discourage people from going down that road and maybe suffering the same terrible fate."
A member of Veterans for Peace, Pumphrey is also critical of the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and even the war-critic Bernie Sanders. He has little faith in the U.S. military reducing terrorist threats through traditional combat and doubts that military action actually makes America safer, calling involvement "trying to put out a fire with gasoline."
After nearly 50 years, Pumphrey still can't shake the death of a fallen comrade.
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