Sgt Slaughter has recalled the extraordinary sequence of events that occurred after it was said on WWF television that he had been caught burning the American flag.
When Sgt Slaughter returned to the World Wrestling Federation he had turned his back on his formerly beloved USA. As the political crisis in the Middle East reached fever pitch, Slaughter announced his admiration for the Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein before the conflict turned to an all-out war. It was the storyline that would lead to Slaughter main eventing WrestleMania 7 in 1991.
While Slaughter disparaged his homeland in promos, there was one act he was accused of on television that caused no end of trouble – burning the stars and stripes.
“We were doing all these promos one night with Gene Okerlund and all of a sudden he goes, ‘All right, here we go, New York City, Sgt Slaughter!’ You know, announcing a match of mine and giving the date and whenever it was going to be. All of a sudden he goes, ‘Wait a minute, hang on, ladies and gentlemen. Can you believe this? I’ve just been told that Sgt. Slaughter’s out behind the Miami Arena, burning the American flag.’ I went, ‘What did he just say!?’”
“I jumped up and I went in front of the cameras, and I started waving. ‘Cut, cut, cut.’ Gene stopped, the professional he is, he just stopped on a dime and asked, ‘Hey, what’s wrong?’ I said, ‘You said I was burning the American flag.’ He goes, ‘Yeah, they just told me to say that in my earpiece.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m not burning the American flag.’ At that point, Kevin Dunn came out, and he said, ‘What’s the problem?’ I said, ‘He just said I’m burning the American flag behind the building,’ and he goes, ‘Yeah, we’re just telling people you did.’ I go, ‘No. Not only am I not burning the American flag, but you’re not going to tell them I’m burning the American flag. What, do you want me to get killed?’”
Despite Slaughter’s protests the claim made it onto television and that was when things took a turn for the worst for Slaughter outside the ring:
“Somehow, somewhere down the road, it got said and it stayed in the show. Then I was out one night getting something to eat with my agent and we set up at some 24-hour mom and pop place that was still open. But nobody was waiting on us, even though the place was almost empty. Finally, I said to the waitress, ‘Excuse me, honey, could we get some service?’ She looked at me and she disappeared, then all of a sudden this big, burly guy came walking out of the kitchen with a spatula in his hand. He said, ‘Is there a problem?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, we were just wondering if we could get something to eat. We couldn’t get any service.’ He looked at my agent and said, ‘You can eat.’ Then he took the spatula and put it an inch from my nose, shaking it, and said, ‘You’re not.’ He lifted the sleeve of his t-shirt and he had the United States naval insignia tattooed on his arm. He said, ‘Anybody that burns the American flag ain’t eating in my restaurant.’”
Getting a coffee was the least of the problems that awaited Sgt Slaughter when he turned up to a show in Philadelphia where he got some gut-churning news:
“At the Philadelphia Spectrum, Jay Strongbow, who was the agent of that particular show, said, ‘Hey, Corporal, good match last night. That was good— real good. Real heat. Got some good heat.’ Then he said, ‘By the way, have you talked to your wife today?’ When I told him I hadn’t, he suggested that I might want to give her a call. I said, ‘What, is there something wrong?’ He said, ‘I don’t know. I was just told that you should probably give your wife a call. Have you talked to the emperor [Vince]?’ I said, ‘No, I haven’t talked to Vince either.’ He told me I ought to give Vince a call, too.”
“So I rushed off to call my wife and all I got was a recording. Finally, I called Vince. He said, ‘Hey, Sarge, I didn’t get a chance to really talk to you much last night, I had to get back here. Have you spoken to your wife?’ I said, ‘No! What’s up with my wife? Has something happened with my wife?’ He said, ‘No, no, nothing’s wrong with your wife. I just wanted to know if you’ve spoken to her. I took the liberty to talk to her.’ When I asked him what was going on he explained: ‘When I got up this morning, here in Connecticut, I was making my way to the shower when I got a call telling me that someone called the office this morning and left a message on the answering machine that they were going to kill you, kill me, kill our families, blow up our homes, blow up our cars, blow up the wrestling office, blow up the studio, they know where you live, they know your children’s names, they know my children’s names—and that we would be hearing from them soon.”
“I took the liberty to call your wife and see if she had a place that she could stay for the night and if she needs to go to a hotel, that I would get it all arranged.’ As I took all this in I simply replied, ‘Uh-huh, what did she say?’ ‘She said her friend had just come over and she’s going to go over to her house and she’s going to pick up your daughters at school, and take them over to her friend’s house for the night. I told her that she should stay there until I can get security to your home.’”
Upon returning home Sgt Slaughter found out how serious the WWE Chairman was about security as a four-man detail awaited him, as well as a less than thrilled wife:
“When I finally got home and reached the top of my driveway, there was a Winnebago parked there. As soon as I got out of the car, four gentlemen wearing suits got out of the Winnebago and walked over and introduced themselves to me, opening up their jackets to show me they were packing weapons. They said they were there to walk the perimeter of my property 24/7 until told not to and they were advised to go with my children to school, with my wife to the store, or wherever she wanted to go and to follow me, taking me to the airports or whatever arenas I had to go to. I said, ‘Well, that last part is a possibility, but I don’t think you’ll be going to my daughters’ school or with my wife to the beauty parlour.’ I asked, ‘Is my wife here?’ They said, ‘Yeah, she just came home a little while ago.’ I said, ‘Okay, well, have you got an extra bunk in that Winnebago? Because I might be spending the night in there!’”
“When I got into the house my wife was standing with a rolling pin in her hand . . . Not really, but that’s the look she gave me. She said, ‘I told you this was not a good idea! I’m not going to the store or the mall with an armed guard and the kids aren’t going to go to school with an armed guard!’”
Sgt Slaughter then discussed how having the guards with him on the road affected his travel arrangements:
“The bodyguards would follow me everywhere. Actually, they would meet me. I dropped my car off at a parking area and a car would take me to the airport and we wouldn’t go into the terminal. We would go through a gated area, fenced area, and they would find out what plane I was on, and we would drive underneath the plane and they would go up and do their thing. Then I got on the plane from outside. I would be on the plane before anybody else got on. As soon as the plane landed, everyone would get off while I waited for the security team to come up and get me, then we would get in a car with a police escort and go to either the hotel or to the arena.”
“A lot of times, I would get to the arena early in the afternoon and wait all day, have my match, then during intermission I would get in another car and either go back to my hotel or go off to the next airport. People wouldn’t see me coming or going. That’s the way we did it for quite a while.”
Finally, the former WWF Champion recalled one night in New York City where things escalated once again. Unbeknownst to Slaughter the FBI had been keeping tabs on whether he should be allowed to wrestle because of the threats made against him. While the Bureau let Slaughter compete, they did ask if he could wear a bulletproof vest in the ring:
“One night in Madison Square Garden, Vince came over to me and said, ‘There’s some gentlemen here that want to talk to you.’ They were from the FBI. I invited them into this little locker room that wasn’t being used and they said, ‘We don’t know if you’re aware, but every night, wherever you appear, there’s death threats and there’s bomb threats, and everything. And a lot of times we are told to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as to whether you should wrestle. So far, we’ve allowed you to wrestle, but we’re hoping that you will consider wearing this vest.’ It was a bulletproof vest, some brand new mesh-type bulletproof vest, very lightweight. They said, ‘Would you mind wearing this under your wrestling outfit?’ I said I would give it a try if they wanted me to and they said, ‘We would appreciate it if you would.’ I wore this bulletproof vest for quite a few matches leading up to WrestleMania, and even some times after, but things calmed down after WrestleMania.”
Following his WrestleMania VII defeat to Hulk Hogan, Sgt Slaughter began to see the virtues in the good old USA once again and became a hero to his American fans once more.