Paul told me about the number of artists who were set up around the hotel's main ballroom. He looked at paintings, poetry and sculpture, and bought a postcard featuring Dr. Martin Luther King. Veterans of all ages were meeting. People from all over the country, perhaps other countries, were talking about the day's upcoming speakers and workshops. By 11 a.m., hundreds of people were milling around in advance of the opening ceremony.
I asked them if the convention was what they expected. Ely said: "It's a lot larger. It's so much larger." I'm sure he didn't just mean the physical size.
The convention kicked off on Wednesday afternoon at the Holiday Inn and goes until Sunday. Sunday is the "March through the Arch," a rally that will go through Downtown St. Louis to the Gateway Arch.
The film was shown on Friday afternoon to an audience of a few dozen people. Paul said, simply, he was "appreciative and humbled."
"We had a bunch of people come and watch it. Afterward, some (Vietnam veterans) came up to talk to me and Paul. The older veterans spanned from Vietnam to World War II, and I remember one man in particular said thank you for telling this story.
"I was nervous about getting feedback but people really liked it.
"Right after we showed the film, they turned on the lights, we sat in front of the TV and started the talk. I was nervous at first but then the questions and answers started flowing. After a while most of the questions were directed to me, with Garrett (Garrett Reppenhagen, Iraq Veterans Against the War board chairman) facilitating the discussion.
"The third guy (Abe Cho, IVAW Boston chapter vice president) gave some statistics and gave some of his opinions. I could tell he was pretty nervous. It was all good though.
"I know they appreciated that a third party, someone outside of the fold, was willing to make a film about a veteran. They welcomed him in, and gave him some feedback. Paul was talking with veterans, answering questions.
"Some people were trying to soak it all in; some people said it was 'interesting;' some people maybe it went over their heads. But those were mostly the younger guys. Of the older veterans, they liked the fact that it didn't show him leaving the military, that it showed the night of a veteran and what could happen in the span of one night. They were just very thankful that from a humanistic point of view it was coming out."