A Spiritual Test to Serve in the Military! Are You Kidding? If only…

I had read about the Army’s test of spirituality earlier last week, so it was with great interest that I read Rev. Andrea Ayvazian’s piece about the test in her guest column in the Daily Hampshire Gazette this past Saturday.  I had felt quite appalled at the idea that the military felt it was necessary, as a means of discovering who was most fit to serve, to administer such an evaluation of one’s belief system.  That it was comprehensively biased against those without a belief in God was no surprise, nor that the test is being challenged in court as unconstitutional, but I was moved by Rev. Ayvazian’s take on the test and wrote a response to her piece.  Below you will find her thoughtful comments as well as my response.

Andrea Ayvazian: Armed with spirituality?

By Daily Hampshire Gazette
Created 06/09/2012 – 5:00am

HAYDENVILLE – The U.S. Army has made the big mistake of creating a “Spiritual Fitness” test to assess a soldier’s spiritual depth and readiness to serve in the military. The consequences of failing this test are dire. And by instituting this Spiritual Fitness test, the Army is treading on shaky theological ground.

The Spiritual Fitness test is part of the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) program, a $125 million “holistic fitness program” begun in 2009 with the aim of reducing the alarmingly high rate of suicides and stress-related disorders experienced by soldiers. The CSF measures a soldier’s fitness level in five areas: emotional, physical, family, social and spiritual. Every soldier is required to complete a survey that consists of some 100 questions.

If their responses fall short of the accepted fitness level, the soldier is required to take courses in a classroom or online to strengthen their resilience in the areas in which they received low scores.

The spiritual component of the test contains questions clearly written for soldiers who believe in God. Nonbelievers inevitably test poorly – and, due to their low scores, are forced to participate in courses and exercises that use religious language to train soldiers up to an acceptable level of spiritual beliefs.

The survey asks the soldier to rank himself or herself on statements such as: “I am a spiritual person. I believe that in some way my life is closely connected to all of humanity. I often find comfort in my religion and spiritual beliefs.” Another question asks the soldier to respond to this statement: “In difficult times, I pray or meditate.”

The Spiritual Fitness test is taken online. If the person does not measure up to what the Army considers appropriately “spiritually fit” for a soldier, the computer program provides this assessment immediately: “Spiritual fitness may be an area of difficulty.”

The on-screen message continues, “You may lack a sense of meaning and purpose in your life. At times, it is hard for you to make sense of what is happening to you and to others around you. You may not feel connected to something larger than yourself. You may question your beliefs, principles and values.”

The Spiritual Fitness test is being challenged in the courts as a violation of the First Amendment. Many “foxhole atheists” are outraged because when they “fail” the Spiritual Fitness test, they are being told they are unfit to serve in the Army.

Mikey Weinstein, a former Air Force lawyer who founded the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, believes that the term “spirituality” is a smokescreen for religion – particularly evangelical Christianity – and that the test is “blatantly unconstitutional.” Weinstein is adamant: “It has to stop.”

I find the Spiritual Fitness test troubling not just because it violates a soldier’s First Amendment rights but also because the ironic twist embedded in this assessment makes the results of the test simply bizarre. The Army believes that people who pass the Spiritual Fitness test make acceptable soldiers.

However, as a Christian pastor, I think that precisely the opposite is true. Those who pass the Spiritual Fitness test are least likely to make good soldiers because their deeply held religious beliefs should make it impossible for them to kill others.

Those who score the highest on the Spiritual Fitness test should actually be rated as failures on this assessment tool because they should be bound by their faith to protect and promote all life.

The soldiers who answer a resounding yes to a particular statement (“I am a spiritual person. I believe that in some way my life is closely connected to all of humanity”) would not consider anyone an “enemy” and would not kill another member of the human family – of any nationality, any ethnicity, in any country. Period.

The Army believes that soldiers need to be “spiritually fit” to serve in the military. And yet every major religion forbids killing, so if you are spiritually fit, you cannot serve. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, a sacred commandment on the lips of every faithful person is “Thou shall not kill.” And that sentiment is found in all the holy books and in every religious tradition around the globe.

So the Army has it backwards. Those who pass the Spiritual Fitness test – especially those who sail through with flying colors – should not be issued a gun.

They wouldn’t use it.

The Rev. Andrea Ayvazian, pastor of the Haydenville Congregational Church, writes a regular column on faith, culture and politics. She can be reached at [email protected] [1]. Her next column will appear in September.


Tom Weiner
A wonderful letter from a spiritual leader! It is outrageous that a spiritual test that overtly discriminates against those who do not believe in God is being used by the military to… what? Weed out those who are more likely to be able to take another’s life because they don’t believe their lives are “closely connected to all of humanity?” This is utter hypocrisy and Rev. Ayvazian does a fine job in pointing this out as she writes about the absurdity of requiring a soldier to pass a test of his spirituality and then expect him to see the enemy as other, as less human in order to become the killing machine he is trained to be.

My only very minor criticism pertains to Rev. Ayvazian’s conclusion – that those who pass the test “shouldn’t be issued a gun (because) they wouldn’t use it.” I have to beg to differ, since it is just those often evangelical Christians who “sail through with flying colors,” who justify taking another’s life by connecting God and the American flag via patriotism. If only we could succeed in dissolving this connection that has lead to innumerable deaths going back to the beginning of time and extending through Rome’s persecution of Christians, the horrible Crusades, Pakistan and India’s endless often bloody struggles, the unending wars between Israel and the Palestinians and right until the current wars pitting, in the eyes of many, Christianity against Islam.

If only the equation was made that Rev. Ayvazian points out when she mentions the pan-religious/humanitarian principle “Thou shalt not kill,” a connection that would equate leading a spiritual or atheistic life with refusing to take another’s life. That will be the day that the leaders will no longer have anyone to send to do their bidding and war will become unacceptable as a way to resolve conflict.

Frances Crowe

 Frances is in her ‘80’s and has been an activist for over 50 years. She lives in Northampton, MA. She is married to a local doctor and has three children. She continues to protest against war and is now counseling people about the War in Iraq.

Prior to the escalation of the Vietnam War, I was a full time mother, housewife, and homemaker with three kids, two of whom were adolescent boys. The kitchen seemed always to be filled with young men after school talking about what they were going to do about the draft. After hearing their stories I decided when they went off to school, I would go off to CCCO, the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors in Philadelphia, where you could take a week’s draft counseling training course, which I did. I came back and visited some draft centers like the AFSC one at the Friends Meeting House in Cambridge, one in New Haven, and various other places, but I didn’t see draft counseling, I saw angry young men conducting interviews, mostly resister types who were very angry and were telling other men about their options, mostly illegal. Things like how they could throw protein in their urine samples or gain weight or lose weight or cut off their index fingers – crazy demonizing things that were very disturbing to me.

I came back and went to UMASS, the School of Education, and took a course in Group Counseling. I decided to take what I called the feminist approach to draft counseling, which meant I would do it in groups. We were living at the time in a big house up on Round Hill Rd. in Northampton and our kids had all gone off to school by that time, to residential high schools. We moved to this house, which had a good lower floor where I could have a draft center. I decided that Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and Friday nights I would do groups from two to five and seven to eleven or something. I went to the Daily Hampshire Gazette to see about putting an ad in the paper and they said it would be illegal. I asked them to check with their lawyers – here I was already telling people about their legal options under selective service. They checked and found out that, yes they could put the ad in, but it was a little ad in the classifieds. “Young Men, are You Conscientiously Opposed to Participation or Is There Any Warrant Facing You? If so, come to a draft information session”. Nobody came.

Now remember this was before there were Xerox machines. I had big old mimeograph machine. It was very hard to cut stencils and grind out copies, but I prepared flyers. In those days we didn’t have a 5-College bus and everybody hitchhiked. I decided the thing I should do—and I always picked up hitchhikers—was to drive back and forth between Amherst and Northampton picking up hitchhikers and giving them the flyers with information about the counseling sessions. The first Monday morning I went out and managed to fill up the car with young men going to Amherst. As soon as they got in the car, I asked them,” What are you going to do about the draft?” and oh, they had crazy ideas about going to Canada or Sweden or failing physicals, and I talked fast and drove slow and kept handing out material to them that I had stenciled with maps to my house and the invitation to my first session the following Tuesday at 2 o’clock.

I did that all day, and by Tuesday afternoon I had a roomful. We sat in a circle. I had studied the draft law carefully and I had materials and I had forms for them to fill out. I was prepared. The first thing when they came in we went around the room with each young man telling his particular story. Eventually it ended up that there were people in the military as well as people trying to decide how to not go into the military or whether they would go. There were girlfriends, mothers, wives, even at one point, a father of a potential draftee who was chairman of the Holyoke Draft Board, who said that he really wanted to understand the law. I had all the legal books. I even subscribed to the Law Reporter. We went around and they all said what they were objecting to and they gained confidence by hearing one another. They could identify. “Yes, that’s the way I feel.” We asked them questions like, “What’s the basis of your belief and where does it come from,” and “What do you think are the seeds for these ideas of your conscience in your background,” and they shared stories about maybe they had accidentally killed a squirrel once with a bb gun when they were young and their feelings, their emotional response to taking a squirrel’s life. Or maybe it was a book they had read like JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN.  We talked about books or music or films and we all shared and then those who didn’t know about those things tried to go out and get in touch with them to better understand them and see if they were helpful.

We also began counseling the high school drop-outs from some depressed areas.  They heard about us. One comes and then they bring others. We had a very diverse group of people, totally diverse. We had Amherst College students with Chicopee youth. The Amherst College students were often very articulate, but out of touch with their feelings. The Chicopee youth were really in touch with their feelings but maybe lacked the competence to express it and they helped one another, and out of that came a support. They all filled out a form when they came in and I never had anyone who objected. They were very confident students. They gave their name and address and their draft status and whether they knew of any physical exemptions and a little bit about what other exemptions they might qualify for and where they thought they wanted to go. I kept those forms so that if they were on vacation and the draft law suddenly changed and they called me from Montana, I could look at their record and say, yes, I think you should do this.

They came back week after week after week and they clarified their conscience. They also began to write their answers slowly and they took notes and then as they wrote their answers new people were coming in and they were helped by the experience of people who were further along in the process. We went over their applications together and people strengthened their forms in hearing the ideas that other people expressed saying, “Yes, that’s the way I feel.” I showed slideshows about Vietnam and they were pretty political. It really helped them to get in touch with what was going on in Vietnam. I showed Don Luce’s “Remember Vietnam”, and the slideshow made the viewers think about Vietnam a lot. We had coffee and tea and people would bring cookies and cheese and crackers. We stayed up late, and sometimes it was hard, Friday night particularly, to get them to leave because they had developed a group. It was a community. We role- played personal appearances in front of the draft board and then, after those who got their 1-0 classification as conscientious objectors came back and shared their experience it was very exciting. We celebrated, and those who had been successful stayed and helped with the others. That first year that we did this counseling from ’68 through ’69, I had 1,776 office visits. That’s how many people came through the door; how many visits. It’s a wonderful number, don’t you think.

We went on for three years until the draft stopped and out of all those who came only one person went to prison. He was registered in New Hampshireand had his trial up there. We all went up to support him. It was like a Greek drama and we wrote to him and I picked him up when he got out of prison. So we saw him through his choice. Only one person went into the army. He went in as a 1-A0, as a medic, because his brother was in Vietnam. Everybody else ended up as a C0.We discovered that getting the draft board to give you a 1-0 classification was like getting the first olive out of the jar After that they gave up and I think this is an important thing to pass on to young men when they apply for the 1-0 classification. Whether you get it or not it reduces the local board quota by 1, so nobody goes in your place and, of course, draft boards always send you for a physical after you get the 1-0 classification and they would rather classify you as 4-F then 1-0. We tried to really help people find creative alternative service employment. We got churches and non-profit organizations to sponsor C0’s so that they worked for alternative schools, health care centers, food banks, and shelters. A lot worked in hospitals. We tried to make them useful. The law says it has to be something in the national health, safety, and non-profit organizations, endeavors which at least slightly disrupt your personal life, which usually means moving out of your local community. Now I frequently run into people in all walks of life who say, “I came to your session and it was the turning point of my life.” Facing the draft, taking control of my life, figuring out who I was and where I wanted to go with my life and why, and seeing that I had a conscience and that I could control it, that changed my life forever. They’re all doing wonderful things now. They’re principals of high schools, they’re working on all kinds of very interesting alternative things. I had all of the medical regulations, but I really urged them not to take a medical or illegal way out because I said, “It’s going to be on your record for the rest of your life. It may influence your health insurance coverage. It may influence a job you want to get if it says you are psychologically unstable. It’s hard enough to figure out who we are and if you’ve got this label of being unstable…There are times when you think well, maybe I am. And I don’t think it’s a good way to see yourself.” So, I really urged them, and I think it was a very positive experience for me and for the young people.

The lottery changed things for sure. There were more calls with men asking what they should do. The overall numbers I’m sure were not as great, but we still had people -a lot and more people who were already in the military contacted us and that was good. We had great success with people in the military and the only way we could tell was the haircut when they came in. We worked with the first CO in the air force. Donald Dawson was a pilot doing bombing raids in Thailand. He was home on leave when our Women Against the War group blockaded the entrance to Westfield Air Force Base. We dressed as Vietnamese women and Donald was back on in the States serving at the base. He was given an AK-47 and told to put on guard duty. He later told us that he looked at that group of women kneeling there and many of us were crying. We had been leafleting there for over three years by that time. That particular day we had been reading Vietnamese poetry and it was International Women’s Day. We just went out spontaneously and knelt down for the Vietnamese women. He said suddenly the hairlines, the crosslines that he had been looking at when he was bombing became real. He wasn’t aware of all of the conflicting emotion at the time, but that night he was watching “West Side Story” with his wife and he started crying and he couldn’t stop. The next day he was called back to Thailand. He thought very seriously and decided that he would never bomb again. He went to see the chaplain over there and I heard on the radio later that week that this Lieutenant Donald Dawson had refused an order to bomb and was condemned for his decision. He was being court martialed in Connecticut. I couldn’t get to the phone fast enough to get all the numbers of all the Dawson’s in Danbury, CT. I heard his mother on the radio say, “My son is not a CO. He would have fought in World War II.” I got her on the third call. I asked for Donald Dawson. She said he was in Thailand, and I said, “I want to talk to you. Your son does not have to say what he would have done in World War II. He will never know. He only needs to say how he feels about this war. I want to send him some material.” So she gave me the address and I ran downstairs and got all my best copies of things and sent them to him. He got the package just as he was getting on the plane to come home so he called me and we met and he got the help he needed. Now he’s a lawyer in Nashville, TN doing really good anti-death penalty work, but there were others. He was just one.

I was always saying look at the law. Read the law, you are qualified. I said the government doesn’t want anyone who is conscientiously opposed to the war. Under those circumstances you are actually violating the law if you go in. That’s what the draft board in Holyoke had no idea about. There was this landmark case during World War II. Dan Seeker, who I know in New York now was not religious but he held a moral, ethical, philosophical objection to participation in war. He declared his beliefs with the same degree of intensity as one would hold a religious belief. He was in prison when the Supreme Court took his case, and said he’s right. Belief in a supreme being, if you hold the moral, ethical, and philosophical objection, is not essential. It took them a long time before the Supreme Court heard that case, into the ‘60’s actually. It was really THE turning point and I keep saying that. In fact I have a letter explaining the role of this case because most people don’t understand its significance. One of the things that we did, there was a family over in the Belchertown/Granby Area that had three sons. The Northampton Draft Board had turned down the oldest one as a CO. He had gone to Canada and when his younger brothers understood the law, they said, “Our brother shouldn’t have been denied. There was no reason for him to have to refuse induction.” We brought him back from Canada and they dropped the indictment against him. An important part of the draft information work we did here was that I monitored this draft board. They met on Monday nights and I would go down Tuesday mornings where they posted the draft card minutes to be sure that they were drafting people in the right order and they weren’t skipping over people who had political connections. They knew I knew so I didn’t challenge them on it, but they were more careful. I don’t know whether they fudged their minutes to the meeting, but we watched them. We monitored them and when they knew that we were monitoring them it made a difference, and I even parked out in front of the draft board. They met there on Main Street where the Chocolate Emporium is now, upstairs. I would park there and observe who went in for a personal appearance and who went out. I could check to see how honest they were, but it took that kind of vigilance and I think most draft counseling centers didn’t put that kind of energy into it.

I think the experience of being counseled was transformative. I don’t think humans are made to kill each other and once you get some insight and support you see how crazy it is for the government to train you to be a murderer. For me personally, I didn’t care if I was taking risks. I was acting on my conscience. I knew the government watched me. They even sent someone in who was very bumbling with a tape recorder and I knew he had a wig on. So I said, “Look, take off your wig. It’s too hot in here. Put your tape recorder away.” And he bumbled and fled. It wasn’t always easy. My neighbors objected to all the motorcycles and the kids coming in with jeans torn at the knees and there were lots of people. One Saturday night we had 79 people, and we had to break up into small groups all over the house and the yard.

There were women, too. We had Victoria Safford who went on to become the minister at the local Unitarian Society. She came with Ross who would later become her husband. She was very lost. They both were and they’ve really gone on to do great things with their lives. She came and she stayed and after a while she said, “I want to help you.” She volunteered and she ended up doing an action with us down in Groton, CT against the Trident submarines. She served her time in jail and went on to work at the alternative school in Vermont that our son had gone to, then to Yale divinity school, and now they’re doing great things, but there were others like Victoria and mothers and fathers. Some were very skeptical. “What are you doing?” “Who are you?” “What’s this all about?” But we were just right out there. Honest and trusting and they trusted us. It was just a wonderful open process, but there was no media coverage of what we were doing. Now there’s a little bit. They let me tell the story, but people are still so socialized into this artificial patriotism which is just filled with lies. Advertising, propaganda – it’s just unrelenting so that people’s minds are totally paralyzed and fearful, and only people like Amy Goodman and her show, “Democracy Now”, are breaking through that awful inertia and trying to wake up people. People need to pay attention and listen. That’s what I want to tell people, what the law is, and the GI Rights Hotline number where they can get help so that we don’t have to have other soldiers committing suicide like the one that happened this summer in Belchertown. The Gazette won’t even print the GI Hotline number. I have a letter I have written to the newspaper, but I held it up for a week because I wanted to have Jo Comerford’s (head of the local American Friends’ Service Committee) permission to use the AFSC hotline number in the letter to offer assistance to people facing this war in Iraq.
I feel that parents have a lot of responsibility to really level with their kids about their feelings and not to say, “It’s your life. You have to decide.” Parents are responsible when our kids are growing up, to promote their moral and philosophical lives. I have a son, Tom. He was away at this farm high school in Vermont. He was trying to be very objective and his mother was so deeply involved in this thing so he was a little skeptical. Eventually he said, “I think I’m going to go into the army and find out what its really like.” My husband and I felt very strongly about this and I called him and said, “Tom, you’ve got to come home and spend a day with us and we’ll talk this through because we feel this is not you. Come on a Wednesday when I don’t have a group and we’ll take the phone off the hook. I won’t answer the door and we’re there totally for you.” He came and we talked all day. We sat here and we really talked it through, and at the end of the day he said, “I will apply for a CO on environmental grounds.” It’s interesting that for him it was to protect the earth. War damages the earth and animal life and endangers species and so he applied for his CO, but it was where he was. He said, “I’m not a Quaker,” but you know it was his belief system that he tapped into. Then he got a number that didn’t put him at risk and I was very glad and since he said, “That was really important what you did. If I had waited to go or volunteered it would have been a big mistake.” So I think parents should be encouraged to get actively involved.

We had one young man who was totally out of the system. He was a drop-out who was living out in the woods in Chicopee. He had trouble expressing himself, but he was a very good wood carver and the way he decided to express himself, and the group encouraged him, was to use his art. He made this beautiful box, and on one side of it was Gandhi and Martin Luther King on another side, Dorothy Day on another and César Chávez on another – all of the non-violent heroes and he took that into the draft board to show, and of course, they were sure that there was a bomb in it (Frances laughs heartily). He got a CO.

A few years ago, I got an honorary degree at UMASS and afterwards one of the people ran up to me and said, “Jesus Christ! I can’t believe you’re still here doing this stuff. I was one of your CO’s.” His son was graduating and he said, “I’m so happy you’re here.” Last winter I got this. Someone emailed me saw something on one of the listserves or websites about me, somebody in New York and he wrote me and said, “I want to see you. I was one of your early people when I was a student at UMASS.” Apparently he became very active in the US-China People’s Friendship Association and he went to China and participated in talks. Now he’s an immigration lawyer in New York City working with the Chinese immigrants. He came to visit on his way through town with his wife and children and we had a nice visit, but the most important thing is they all felt good about themselves.

Some of the most difficult sessions involved those who were serving. They came and we helped them and some had to go back. There was one who was AWOL and we helped talk it through for him about what he needed to do. I didn’t consider myself a military counselor, so I sent him off to get military counseling to help him sort through the issues. I remember at one point he turned himself in to go back to apply for a CO discharge, and of course, we helped them with their letters of reference and we had certain ministers in town who we knew would be willing to talk to these people and help them search their conscience if they felt they were sincere. Then they’d write them a letter of support. We helped him figure this stuff out. He went back and refused to wear a uniform. He told us later that at one point he was standing there in this wooden barracks someplace down south and he refused to put on his uniform and he had only his undershirt on. They threw a gun at him and said, “You pick that up or we’re gonna kill you.” And he didn’t do it. He didn’t pick it up. He later said, “The group was with me and I was there.” They tested him and he used his feeling of solidarity to withstand their pressure tactics and we used that in later trainings to help people in our role plays. We rehearsed people with the crazy questions that the draft boards would ask them, like, “What would you do if someone tried to attack your grandmother?” And we coached them to respond, “That’s not war and my grandmother locks her doors. She doesn’t have guns and I don’t have a gun.” We also talked through the vegetarian issues. Some people are vegetarians and some people aren’t, but we talked a lot about the crystallization of your conscience, that it’s a slowly evolving thing, that you take one step and you decide how comfortable you feel and where you’re moving helps you take another step. People asked, “What if the draft board says that you pay taxes so you obey the law?” We would counsel them to say, “It’s illegal to not pay taxes just like it’s illegal for me to go into the army if I am a CO.” So, we were helping by doing the legal thing. After a draft board hearing the young man would come back and tell us and we took turns being Chairman of the Board and members of the board, reenacting and that was fun stuff. They loved that and we helped prepare them for their personal appearance. We kept records. I knew the draft boards in Long Island and draft boards in New Jersey, in Vermont, New Hampshire, all around. With that information we were better able to be of service and that’s what we were all about…

Those who Found Ways to Beat the Draft


In many ways it is the kind of stories in this chapter that are most directly responsible for this book. In the immediate aftermath of the physical of a friend the accompanying story would be told and it became quite clear early on that some extraordinary efforts were being put forth to “beat the draft”. There were the actual occurrences themselves and then the mythologizing that invariably accompanies such tales. The archetype for such approaches is Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant”. One of the men I interviewed was actually an extra in the film and several others make reference to its influence on their decision and/or behavior surrounding the draft. That such responses could be somehow societally accepted if not sanctioned is indicative of the level of malaise this particular war gave rise to as well as of the determination on the part of those involved to avoid the war. That it is past time to separate fact from myth is also a factor. Each man who shared his experience was invariably plunged back into the turmoil that surrounded the choice to find some way, any way, to get out.

Prior to the lottery there were already many precedents for employing both legal and illegal means to escape service. Men who saw the writing on the wall and knew that either graduating high school with no further education planned or finishing college would propel them into the 1-A category, had a decision to make. If that decision was based on either supporting the war or being willing to serve regardless of the government’s policies toward S.E. Asia, then the decision was essentially straightforward. If the draftee was either morally or politically opposed to the war and had no readily deferrable condition, then social class and access to doctors, lawyers and therapists could very well become factors.

Depending upon how much one’s circumstances vis a vis the draft were allowed to impact daily life, the planning that seeking to flunk the physical entailed would occur. For those who chose to remain distanced from the possibility of serving, little preparation would occur. For those who felt the draft breathing down their necks well in advance of its arrival, the planning could be long-range, intense and elaborate with numerous avenues investigated and pursued. The responses of family and friends were varied as well and, as the following stories will illuminate, had a variety of effects on the men involved.

I made the decision to move beyond recounting the stories of only those who were affected by the lottery, as was true for me, to those whose lives were irrevocably changed by the draft because it became clear as this project unfolded that the draft – pre and post- lottery – was the essential piece in the story, not the lottery. Yes, there were those for whom the lottery provided an instant escape route, but more significantly, the draft was what required a response. Even many of those who were exempt due to a high number prepared themselves in advance of the lottery with tactics that would enhance the likelihood of their never having to take the physical or being assured of flunking. That some men enlisted to avoid what they thought and were told would be a certain tour in Vietnam if they waited to be drafted, is indicative of the power the draft had to affect lives.

After the first lottery in December, 1969, a divide occurred vis a vis those who continued to be confronted by the draft and those whose luck had resulted in their being deferred. The draft lottery was intended to even the playing field since there were so many men, almost all white, who were finding loopholes as a result of their economic standing. The result, similar to the current make-up of the army based as it is on those who enlisted in the National Guard and the Reserves, is an armed force that is over-represented by economically disadvantaged men (and women) and people of color. The desire to improve one’s economic circumstances during peacetime is what led many currently serving in the war in Iraq to enlist. In the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s the lottery did contribute to a slightly more balanced fighting force, but as the following stories make clear, the loopholes were still there, the advantaged still took advantage of the “privileges” wealth afforded and a disproportionate number of poor people served.
But the divide did not have the effect of squelching the ever-growing protest movement. Many men felt an on-going sense of responsibility to participate in the anti-war efforts regardless of their number, since what had inspired them in the first place, before the lottery, was a sense of the immorality and futility of such a war.

Once again a word must be mentioned about the difficulty of selecting those narratives to include as well as the challenge of determining when to stop interviewing. The truth of the matter is that each story is compelling, illuminating of the times and circumstances and revealing of the trauma the draft resulted in regardless of the individual outcome. Yes, many of the men I interviewed currently live in Massachusetts where I could most readily access them and their stories, but they originated across the country and their home town draft boards represent a cross section of the boards that were set up to deal with this draft. The hope is that those who read this account of these stories will be inspired to come forth with their own and that there will be a gathering place on-line much as there has been for a variety of Vietnam War related experiences. In the meantime the narratives that follow will suffice to indicate at least part of the range of experiences possible.

Judson Brown

For Judson, this is the “year of turning 60.” He is in his fourth year as the home-care program director of the Highland Valley Elder Services in Florence, MA. This is a new career after working as a reporter and editor at the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, MA.
He and his wife, Sandra, an elementary school teacher, are the parents of a 26 and 28 year old. He is actively involved in St. John’s Episcopal Church and in his small condo community, Laurel Park, the evolution of a Methodist community from the 19th century. He also sings with much enthusiasm in a local chorus.

I grew up at Phillips Academy Andover as a faculty brat. My Dad was an English teacher and I had a very protected childhood. I was quite young for my age and was young for my class chronologically, which stayed with me. The prep school campus was idyllic and I had a wonderful childhood. My parents got a place for next-to-nothing on the coast of Maine when I was a child so in the summer months we went to this primitive old island and lived a basic, wonderful summer idyll. I was clearly very privileged and all of this happened without my folks ever really any serious money. We were not rich, but we were really lucky in a lot of ways.

Politically I had no consciousness through high school. In 1965 I went to the University of Pennsylvania and had a huge awakening. I hit Philadelphia, the streets of Philadelphia and suddenly the whole civil rights movement was happening. The movement was in full flower and I had hardly ever even seen a black person. I remember my first encounter downtown and just being taken, almost intoxicated, by the urban environment. That experience was really very defining for me. My story with the war really begins with my awakening to some sense of social justice. I plunged in my limited way towards the end of Penn in urban issues. Through that work my political consciousness was changed. My parents didn’t talk about world events. We didn’t live in a town; we lived in a boarding school. My father is a very literary man and my mother is an artist and life was sweet. We didn’t get involved in local or state politics. I don’t remember my parents expressing opinions on any major issue. They were Republicans though not arch. I remember singing the song “Eisenhower’s got the power, Stephenson’s a jerk,” which reveals where our political leanings were. The war wasn’t on my mind neither in high school nor in college. But discovering the black community through a thesis I did about urban renewal issues related to Penn expanding. The students basically said, “Come on, Penn, you’ve got to do better.” I was writing for the school paper and I believe I had something to do with raising the issues.

Right after I graduated I went to work for the EVENING BULLETIN and within 6 months I had been recruited to work for a black community organization in west Philadelphia. I left a remarkable career opportunity and went to work for this charismatic black man, Herman Wrice, who had started a group called the YOUNG GREAT SOCIEY. He needed a writer. Herman was very savvy and he pulled me in when I went to interview him. Before the interview was over he had offered me a job. He wanted me to write a chronicle of the work he was doing with gangs. He was a former gang member who had almost died when he was caught in crossfire. He was committed to turning gang kids around by exposing them to the business and university communities and giving them opportunities they never even dreamed of. My job was to chronicle these gang guys going through the maze he had set up for them. It was like one long feature and I had an enormous document that actually got stolen by a filmmaker he had also recruited. I ended up with a fragment of it, which took me to Breadloaf Writer’s Conference. My Dad had been there as a young man and I applied and got in.

While I was in college I had a 2-S deferment, but in 1969 I drew the number 12 in the lottery. It scared the shit out of me. It was narcissistic, but I fell in with the black movement and I just couldn’t get enough of it. There is no heroism in my story. I got the number 12 and I had gotten married by then and my wife, Sandy, and I had considered various possibilities. The Peace Corps was a possibility once the number hit. Our first apartment downtown had been occupied by Edward Rendell who had been the immediate past director of the Democratic National Committee and is now governor of Pennsylvania. At the time he was a D.A. and moving up fast in Philadelphia politics. It was a gross apartment and the first thing we did was wash Ed Rendell’s facial hair out of the sink. He goes on to become big timber politically. But Ed is important in another way because my first ploy was to duck into the Army Reserves and he got me into his unit. Somehow he made that possible. I joined the Reserves and started to go to monthly meetings. I had long hair and I remember putting grease in my hair on Sundays to go to the Guard meetings.

Meanwhile I continued to work at the Young Great Society and I just didn’t want to have anything to do with the war. I had determined that I was against the war so I applied to be a CO. I was reflecting upon my work in the ghetto community of West Philadelphia – a community called Mantua. It was more intellectual than felt, but I put together a case. Here I am doing this humanitarian work and I have no interest in being in the military. I based my case on the work I was doing as a reflection of my conscience, my social conscience. I had partaken peripherally in the protest movement. I had a couple of high school friends and I remember a defining moment sitting around a kitchen table in one of their houses in New Jersey. These guys were saying, “We’re going to go for it. We’re going to join the military. We’re going to be soldiers, that’s how we’re dealing with this.” I wasn’t going with them. I didn’t know my path. They knew theirs. They both went into the Marines. Then I remember my uncle saying, “This is the defining event of your generation and you should go. You should be part of this.” I heard him, but when the time came and the number came up I was scrambling. I knew I wasn’t going, but I saw no clear path.

I didn’t get the CO. They probably saw me as an opportunist. Drugs figure in the next chapter of this. I went up to Breadloaf with my writings from the Young Great Society. There was always this ambition to be a writer. It was a heady time for me and it was enhanced by some heavy doses of hashish. By the time I came out of Breadloaf – down from Breadloaf – I had decided in that euphoria I was in that I was going to “Fuck ‘em.” I was going to go to basic training, but I was going to be a resister. I wasn’t going to go through with it. I think what pushed me was an infallible sense, an exuberance that took me to this point – I am just going to say no to the system and let them do to me what they will. Maybe it was hubris…

The basic training was for my service in the Reserves. My CO application had delayed things a bit, but after Breadloaf I was called. I was definitely in a bit of a haze coming off that experience and I was told to report to Fort Jackson in South Carolina. I had decided I wasn’t going to cooperate. I didn’t know what the consequences would be and in a very immature way I felt invincible. My wife was terrified. We were very different ages and she could tell you the story from the outside looking in and it was definitely scary for her. I was very young when I got married and I was hardly grown up at this point. Having grown up in the environment I did and marrying early I had a lot of immaturity to work out. But I was exuberant and invincible and on this “trip”.

When I got to South Carolina I hooked up with this radical little cell. There was a gay guy I remember and there were lots of drugs in the house. I had a few days before I had to report. I didn’t show up exactly when I was supposed to and I was befriended by this group and encouraged by them in the course of action I was about to embark upon. I decided to keep a diary. I showed up for basic training in the pouring rain and I tell the story in here (Judson reads from his almost 40 year old account of his experience):

I was barefoot with hair looping down my neck, shirt open.
Some friends left me off at the end of the Commanding General’s
driveway. I walked up, rang the doorbell. The general’s wife
“Hello, Ma’am. I’m a friend of the General’s and I’d like to talk
to him. Is the General in?”
No, he wasn’t, but would I like to come in?
My toes sunk in the carpet, leaving little brown tracks.
“You see, ma’am, I don’t believe in war and I’d like to talk with
the General and tell him what I intend to do. I’ve never actually met your husband, but…”
She poured me a Coke.
We talked. I explained that I had joined the Army Reserves a
Year and a half ago, had applied shortaly after for a discharge as a
Conscientious Objector, but that had been refused and I had been
considering other routes including leaving the country, but had
decided instead to report for duty and immediately refuse all orders.
“To sort of ‘test the System’? she quizzed.
“Not really for show, Ma’am. Just to state my case, that I can’t
remain in the Army in good conscience and take the consequences.”
She nodded dubiously.
“Would you like a ham and cheese sandwich?” she asked, going
into the kitchen.
I accepted, drawing little circles of sweat and grime on the
polished table while she cut big hunks of ham. She opened the icebox.
“You say you’re opposed to war?” she called in. The icebox door
“Yes, Ma’am. You see, I think the world’s coming to an end,
“Yes, well. It says that in the Bible, you know,” she stated,
placing the thick sandwich before me.
We talked for about an hour. I told her I believed in non-
violence the way Ghandi practiced it in India.
“Yes, but where do you think this country would be if…”
I washed down a leaf of lettuce.
“Would you like to live in India or China?”
“I don’t really think that’s the point.” I swigged down the Coke.
“Ah, do you have any cigarettes, Ma’am?”
She handed me a Parliament. We smoked and talked some
more. We got along very well, and in a while, found that we agreed on many things, but that we just phrased things differently. After a while she drove me down to the Reception Station.
“Good luck,” she said as I was getting out.
“Thank you, Mrs. Coleman.” I started to walk up the sandy
“By the way,” she called through the window, “keep to that
non-violent thing.” She smiled.
I made a peace sign. She drove away.

I went to the Reception Station. I told them, “I am not going to get my hair cut.” I was number 104. (Judson resumes reading from his diary):

“Hey, 104, you didn’t bring no shoes or nothin’?” They laughed.
“You crazy.” They sat around in their fresh fatigues drinking Cokes
and eating Oreos, playing pinochle. Puerto Ricans, Chicanos, Blacks.
A group of Arcadians from New Orleans. Some of them had finished
high school; most hadn’t. The Puerto Ricans couldn’t speak English.
One Chicano kept saying he wanted to kill a Jap.
Tuesday the Commanding Officer called me into his office and
told me that at exactly 0900 he was going to give me an order to
have, cut my hair and begin processing for training.
Two hours later he called me in, issued me the direct order and
read the maximum sentence I could receive for refusing: 5 years hard
I refused. That afternoon I was ushered into the Stockade.

I was looking at five years. I was still euphoric. I haven’t looked at this since I wrote it and picking it up is strange. There are parts that are actually O.K., but a lot of it is immature. I was in a kind of fantasyland. I was living off this idea that I am this privileged guy. They can’t do anything to me.
There were a bunch of losers in there – me among them. I was the only one there who was “politically motivated”. Most of these guys were high school dropouts, working class from all over the south. Some of them had been to Vietnam and, in fact, Vietnam runs through here in the things I hear. Like on the golf course detail I heard about mutilations and it was all completely surreal. There was no pain involved for me. I go off on these little poetic fantasies in here, little aesthetic asides. I was reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer – it was all contrived in some ways, but in the meantime I was observing and listening to these guys who were much less privileged. What you find is this privileged, preppy guy who thinks he is invincible meeting these loser guys and in some cases a war hero. There’s an element of honesty about the thing as well.
While I was in there I was keeping notes, I was writing and I saw my time there as an opportunity to chronicle this experience. Sometimes I would get asked why I was there:
“How many times ya’ll been AWOL, Brown?” I’d be asked.
“None. I refused an order to go to basic training.”
“No shit, why?”
“I’m, ah. Well, I’m morally opposed to the Army.”
“Dig it. Fuck the Army.”
“Well,” I’d continue, “it’s a little more complicated than that.
You see…” And I’d try to explain exactly how it was more complicated,
But whatever I said came out sounding very contrived and ridiculously
“You see,” I’d begin, “the reason I’m opposed to the Army is…”
No. No. It didn’t make sense. So I soon gave up my explanation
altogether, realizing that if there was any difference between my
“objecting” to the Army and merely resenting it like everybody else,
it was a difference of erudition, not heart. It was fine to be “opposed
to war” – I suppose I always shall be, and shall always feel compelled
to explain myself – but I realized soon after I entered the Stockade
that that particular belief had nothing to do with being a prisoner,
except perhaps by way of explaining why I became one.

At one point I quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
In general a prisoner is no doubt inclined to make up, through
an exaggerated sentimentality, for the soullessness and lack of
warmth in his surroundings and perhaps he may react too strongly to
anything sentimental that affects him personally.

I think that is the dignified way of saying that that is how I was. It was a hyper-real moment for me and I was taking it in aesthetically, emotionally and in terms of social learning. I was treated decently. I am above it all, of course. Everyone is a little bit caricatured in here. I keep going off on these lyrical passages trying to evoke some kind of beauty out of the place – a surreal painting of the whole event.
There are some places where I was able to capture what was really going on:
Alan Vencomo is a Puerto Rican dude (I’d gotten to calling
everyone “dude” while I was working in Mantua with black people)
from the Bronx. He served in Vietnam for 11 months until he was
wounded in both knees and got a “compassionate” leave, returning
to a hospital in Florida to get a steel spring put in his right knee and
a small rod in his left. When he was released they ordered him back
to ‘Nam, to serve his last remaining month. He hauled ass. Got
caught. Now he has sat for 57 days in the Stockade awaiting a
General Court Martial and he hasn’t yet had his charges read to him
or had any word when his trial will be.
His skin is brown and smooth; pupils dark hard mahogany; hair
black and wiry an parted down the middle. He talks in a rolling Bronx-
Spanish-English that sounds like marbles rolling down a board.
“I’m a leader, man. Whenever we went out on patrols I’m in
front. They thought I was a sergeant, man, and I told them, “Man,
I’m only an E-2.” But I was out front, so they thought I was a
Sergeant. Later they wanted to make me one, but I said, man, “Fuck
And when his knee was shot they gave him a medal. Then his
other knee was shot and they gave him another.
“The medals don’t mean shit, man. You can’t buy a cup of
coffee with ‘em. I don’t wear the damn medals, man.”

He starts to talk to me about ‘Nam and about the hooch he built over there and I tried to get poetic.
Alan was a leader. In the field he’d tell the new recruits. “Be
cool, man. Don’t try to be war lords.”
Alan concentrated on survival. Kept his medals in cans. He
went about his business like a businessman and got 31 “kills”. He
went about his killing and survived.
Now he went out 30 days to the field. And back for 10. And out
30. And he went out to the reeds and the quick knives that flashed in
the mud. And he lay low in the reeds and hugged the bunkers. Then
he turned, in 30 days, and then in 30 days back to the base and to his
hooch, buried 14 feet in the ground, which he built in 3 months with
his hands, and in which he survived.
He dug a hole 14 feet deep. Then he planted 9×9 beams and
reinforced them with steel plates. Then he poured concrete for a floor
and concrete for walls. Then he built a six-foot thick rocket-proof roof with the ramp he took off an old Marine amphibian landing
craft, and a sheet of plastic they use for runways, and chicken wire
and sandbags. Then he poured concrete over all this, like gravy, then
bulldozed earth and worms and crushed grass over the works.
finally a friend drove a 50-ton tank over the works, and the hooch
held, the beams didn’t splinter. As a last touch he got an old
submarine door to seal the entranceway, which made the hooch,
at last, grenade-proof, bomb-proof, gook-proof, death-safe.
He lived there, in 10-day spells, for 11 months. Once, when
There was an attack, and GI’s were going crazy and running mad along the bunkers, Alan unlatched the sub door and yelled, “In here!
In here!” They jumped off the bunkers, 115 GI’s, scrambled and packed into the hooch and lay there, in piles and layers, breathing,
Until the pounding and yelling ceased above and, through seven feet of runway and ram and chickenwire and worms, the world was still, and there were the dead and the Asians retreated to the trees. The
Hooch held. And all the little hooches in the ground lay quiet beneath a dark solitary mountain, called Nudy Bah Dinh, the Black Virgin, a
distance from which “you could spit into Cambodia.”

I go on to talk about his love affair with a French Vietnamese girl. I am sure he was leading me on, but he talks about his hooch. “I love that place man. You know, when you build something with your own hands, you love it more.” Then I asked him, “Were you changed by Vietnam, Alan?”

“Ain’t got no more heart. Ain’t got no feelings anymore. If you
Fell out that window and cracked your head, I wouldn’t give a damn. I
Saw so many men cut down there, and there, and there.” He points at imaginary corpses. “Gone. Dead. And you can’t cry over every death.
And it just don’t mean nothin’ anymore.”
Alan, with his broken knees, head thumping with rockets, came home – one month short – to Florida to get his knees fixed. They fixed them. Then they said, “O.K., go on back soldier.” So he split and went to his wife and two kids in the Bronx. But he couldn’t get into that anymore. That was gone. He was caught, put in the Stockade. Here he is for 57 days. He laughs a lot and makes jokes and people think he’s funny. He always got along. He’s a leader.
But the prisoners don’t see him at other times, wandering around the barracks with his mahogany eyes, all sad and dumb and dazed and shiny hard, talking about his hooch he made with his hands.

I was really listening. I had been doing this kind of writing in west
Philadelphia and so I was continuing this act of being the recorder of these lives that were very different from mine. Here’s what I said when Alan left us:
“In Vietnam, man, we were all brothers. Black, white, Spanish. We had to stick together, man. And I…” He rubbed his arm showing his amber color. “I could go between black and white.”
Everybody at the Stockade loved Alan. Whites. Blacks. Puerto
Ricans. Alan had all our blood in him. He was happy, or seemed so,
and perhaps the prisoners were drawn to that. He was empty and
lonely. Maybe it’s that that drew us so. He was true.
Of course, no one will miss him. It is as if one of the barbs has
fallen with a clink of the wire…
Out on the golf course detail I heard some horrible stories:

Then he looked to the ground and his spade sliced into the earth and a brown weed shaped like an asterisk popped out. We went along, popping asterisks, as Carl told me how he lopped off Gook’s ears after he killed ‘em. Said he had a whole string of ears in his hooch, and for each set he had a medal.
A tall, tanned sergeant, the greenskeeper as it turned out, was
standing by us. “Ya, man, he chuckled. “Guys used to slice off the
gooks ears and penises and they’d saw the ears to their fatigues and
wear the dicks on their belts.” He burst out laughing. I looked at him
“No shit,” the sergeant winked.
“You’re sick!” I shouted. “You’re both sick!”
We argued. Carl said Gooks weren’t human beings and didn’t
have any feelings or values. I protested. They tried to tell me what
war was like.
“Can you describe pain?” the sergeant asked me. “I try to tell
people what it was like, but how do you describe awful continuous
pain? You can’t.” He said when he first got to Vietnam, his buddy was
lost one night and found the next day skinned alive. And Carl
described decapitated GI’s hanging from tree limbs.
“You learn to hate Gooks, man,” said Carl.
The sergeant put a hand on my shoulder and asked, “Have you
ever hear of revenge?”
Crushed, I told them if the Vietnamese weren’t human or didn’t
have morals or values, how were the Americans any different.
butchery was butchery. We moved down the fairway squishing
mushrooms under our boots. But soon the conversation had become
intolerable of all three of us.

There was another character, a man named J. He was a musician. He played ten instruments including drums, guitar, trombone, trumpet, and flute. He was drafted after a year and a half at Julliard. In Vietnam he minstrelled about with his guitar. He wrote ballads and here’s one he sang for us:

I’d like to see the Prezident
In an Army hospital bed
With a broken arm and a fractured leg
And shrapnel in his head…

Then one day he fell off a 40 foot tower, busted his pelvis, and
was shipped home. Spent five months in traction, and when he was
released, flew the coop. Went back to the City and joined up with his
band again. Played a few nightclubs. Trucked down to Ft. Lauderdale.
Then he got picked up on the Gator Run (a weekly sweep of Florida for
AWOLS). When I got to the Stockade, J. had been there 44 days
Already, awaiting a Special Court Martial.
Sitting on the concrete steps of the barracks, J. was stoned on
painkillers he took because his pelvis ached. He missed his
instruments. He said at home he had millions of them. So he played
himself, slapped his knees like bongos, made twanging noises
imitating a guitar, blew air through the hole in his teeth as if he were
a clarinet:

I’d like to give the Prezident
His very own M-16
Send him into the woods
The woods he’s never seen.
` Then I’m sure that he’ll be back
To tell you what he saw.
He’ll tell you that he’s had enough
And that he wants no more….WAR!”

I thought if I were going to title this I’d call it Yentser’s Hat.

This evening in line-up Sergeant Ace came up to Yentser and
Took the hat off Yentser’s head, thumbed the rim back and forth, stuck
His fingers through the moth holes and the cigarette burn holes.
“Burn it, Yentser,” he barked. Now Yentser’s hat had become a weird
symbolic diadem. He’d sliced the cloth up, the cloth of the brim and worked the cardboard out through the scar leaving the brim soft as flesh. And the brim flopped over his eyes and flapped in the breeze and his red hair licked out like flames through the holes in the top. The hat seemed nearly organic and stood out in a trim in a row of trim caps like a vegetable. Now the order came down from Ace, “Burn it!”
Back in the barracks, Yentser emptied a butt can and put old cigarette packs in the bottom and lit them and dangled his hat in the flames. It caught with a sizzle, flamed and bubbled and began to melt and drip back down the sides of the can and the thick black smoke smelling terribly of roasted nylon clouded up in the can. Finally the hat was just a large crusty ash with the texture of a meringue cookie. I got a matchbox and we broke the large crust down and filled the box with the little burnt, shriveled up pieces of hat and wrote on the side, “Yentser’s hat died October 7, 1971.” I’ll carry the casket and keep it in my footlocker and remember Yentser, faced filled with flames, gazing wild-eyed over the cremation.

I think it was a final example of juvenile revolt against the system –
person against the machine. The environment was totally dehumanizing and these guys were trying to live their lives against this backdrop. We were all in it together. It was solidarity. To me there was something about all of it that was exotic. Coming out of my past there was the exoticism to the blacks efforts in west Philadelphia and then this. I was drawn to something so other, something so beyond what I had known. I also saw this opportunity to use my descriptive abilities to try to capture this.
I applied for an “Undesirable Discharge” while I was in the Stockade. Sandy had hustled around and found out information we needed to know about what I could do. My brother was a lawyer in D.C. and somehow he made an intervention. To this day we are not quite clear what he did. They wanted me out of there without a court martial – out of the Stockade and out of the Reserves. I was branded “undesirable.” I remember the feeling of being kicked out the door and being barefoot again. I went back to the little marijuana house and it was over. I was done with the military after 5 weeks.

I continue to this day to have enormous respect for those who went to Vietnam. My friend, Jim Munroe, recently described his experience including being seriously wounded in a grenade explosion. It changed his life entirely. He became a priest. Thinking back to my uncle saying, “This is the defining experience of your generation. You ought to be part of that.” In a way I suppose I was. But I didn’t suffer a loss. I got through it without injury. I got something from it – a rich encounter with folks I hadn’t seen in my life. As a journalist and in the work I do now I try to break out of the class crap and try to be with folks who have other things to speak to you about – courage, character – and it is a privilege to take it in, to respect it and to honor it and magnify it. It was all a part of my process of coming of age.

In retrospect if I had gone where my classmates from high school went it would have been gut-wrenching. This was a learning experience. I don’t have any sense of courage about what I did. This is how I took it on and I was very lucky that I was able to avoid it. I just respect those who took it on and served in the war.

Charlie O’Dowd (unedited – not in CALLED TO SERVE)

Charlie lives in Hatfield, Massachusetts.  He is a widower whose wife died from cancer.  He lives with his daughter, Mona, who is 29 years old and has disabilities.  His son, Chip is 33 and married to Lisa.  They have a 1-year old daughter and live in Northampton. (Chip is an Iraq War veteran.)  Charlie is the Postmaster in Wendell Massachusetts, and has held the job for 21 years.   

In the fall of 1967 I had finished three years of college in the Boston area.  I dropped out of school with a broken heart when my girl friend married someone else.  Needing a change of locale and discipline, I enrolled in two evening   programs – one at the Museum School (School of the Museum of Fine Arts) and the other at Boston University.  I studied two vastly different perspectives: ceramics and art history and economics.  My primary focus was on gaining an education.  Going to two colleges part time didn’t exempt me from the draft though.

Instead, I was notified by my local draft board in Concord, Massachusetts, that I was being inducted into the service.  I made an appointment with the board and asked that they reconsider calling me up because of my social contributions: (1) doing community work at the Boardman School in Roxbury, and  (2) my Quaker religion.

I had been an attending member of the Quaker Meeting of Friends at Longfellow Park located near Harvard Square the whole time I was in the Boston area. I was very impressed by what Quakers had accomplished through demonstrations of peace, recognizing dissent, and doing selfless good deeds in the community while holding progressive ideals.  I knew also that ever since Quakers were first recognized as a religious sect, that Friends had worked tirelessly for peaceful ends both domestically and internationally.  Logically, this approach was one that was constructive, inclusive, and a tract to guide me.

It was already very clear to me that the Vietnam War was a terrible war; that we were simply taking the place of an exploitive French government.  It appeared to me that the United States was trying to get a foothold in yet another Third World country for it’s own purposes.  One purpose was to gain a foothold closer to Communist Russians and Chinese. I would later wonder why our country hated communism so much.  Moreover, it was clear to me that we could never ‘win’ there.

The draft board recognized that I was sincere in my beliefs and actions, but that I didn’t have a case to be considered a Conscientious Objector.  They noted that I didn’t have a family history of my parents being involved in pacifist activities. So they gave me a date that I was to report for induction.  I was told that if I was sincere, that I could re-apply for CO status at the induction center.

Selfishly, I kept my impending call-up from my parents. Therefore they were not aware of my preliminary dealings with the draft board.  I didn’t believe that their knowing would have been able to help me at any rate. Born in the nineteen forties, I came from a very traditional family that was grateful that it had survived the Great Depression and World War II.  They held blind trust in the country’s leadership and the security that new social reforms provided.  My dad worked, and my mom raised our family from home.  My dad had served in World War II and suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome. To make a positive contribution to the world, and to rescue distressed and impoverished people from Europe, he set up a foreign auto repair shop in Concord and used it as a gateway to bring over (rescue) and train refugees in order to provide them with a fresh start in a safe America that he had so mush pride in.

The day of my induction, I asked my dad to get up a little early and drive me to the draft board office where all the draftees were to meet. I felt I had dad’s support when he left me off to join the army.

There was only a single representative of the draft board there, and he checked our names off, as if he was filling an order.  We new recruits boarded a very old school bus for the ride from Concord to Boston.  I recall thinking we were being treated like livestock. We didn’t know what would happen to us next.  It was very cold and still dark out.

When we arrived at the Boston Navy Yard, they wanted to get us sworn in.  We were led into a room, and an officer began to read a script that said that we were going to receive the oath. He also said anyone who could not take the oath should please leave the room.  So I did. That was my first separation from the group of inductees.

It was at least ten minutes before someone from the military came over to me, seemingly a bit nonplussed. I was surprised that apparently they had never had the experience of a person saying “No!” to searing, unquestioning allegiance to the president of the United States and it’s country’s policies.  Basically, the people in the induction center appeared to have never dealt with this kind of “situation” before.   They gave me a piece of paper to read.  I read it, and it said that, as a citizen, I recognize my responsibility to serve this government and this country as well as the alternatives to this service. I agreed with the obligation for alternative service and I signed that paper. They were relieved.

It was at this time that I applied again for Conscientious Objector status.  By then, I had heard of Muhammad Ali and I saw how much he had to give up for his beliefs. He served as a model to inner city blacks by refusing induction, so I was strengthened by the example that he had set.  I knew what the right action was that I had to take. From my short seven or eight months of working in the inner city, I knew how important it was to provide a heroic male model for children, and to take a stand on an important issue of the time. Seeing the injustices that minorities experienced on a daily basis in the 1960’s was heart-rending.  I felt strongly that being a conscientious objector was the only right and moral thing that I could do. (I had known that well before I got on the bus that day.)  The fact that I had already stated and demonstrated my position when I spoke up earlier for CO status, only strengthened my resolve.  I felt for the first time that I could do something that would make a difference. I could set an example for the guys around me, if not for the induction center people, and maybe my courage would help someone else to act as a step toward change.

But it certainly wasn’t going to be easy.  By now they had us confined and guarded everywhere we went. They now had the number of guys they needed to meet their quota, and like captive slaves, they shepherded us down to South Carolina for “processing”.  However, so many people had been drafted at the same time, they didn’t have room for all of us.  We were sent into a field where there were ten-man tents awaiting us.  This was February, 1967. After issuing us military clothing and giving us some screening,  basically, for two weeks they had nothing for us to do. We just lived in these tents and exhausted all our coal and scrap paper fuel trying to stay warm.  Although we were in these tents, we weren’t in much contact with the military.  They just issued us underwear, blankets and coats to make us look like soldiers and had our civilian clothes sent back home.

To their credit, not a single person with whom I was quartered or who knew my anti-war position ever referred to me as a coward or was critical of my views or me in any way.  During this period there was a screening process, and I was again set apart.  I had had a vitamin deficiency as a child, which manifested itself as a sunken chest caused by rickets, so I was separated off into a small group of maybe eight men.  Several of these men had enlisted.  Some of them were desperate enlistees: convicts who would have their criminal records expunged if they would volunteer to serve. One or two were sole surviving sons who were the primary support of widowed mothers, some had no hearing and others had physical abnormalities such as missing a finger or an eye that had been purposely overlooked.

While I was with this general induction camp, five of the several hundred draftees we came with died of spinal meningitis!  But, instead of isolating us, the military’s response was to immediately disburse us by bus all over the country. I was in a group that was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky.  Once again, we got on buses and once again the timing was such that we arrived at night at one or two in the morning.  From the bus we were hustled into a florescent-lit surreal setting and lined up. When our names were read out, we’d run here, run there, and then stand and wait in some line.

At one point during that strange night at Fort Knox, we were issued our rifles. I refused to take mine.  Again I met confusion. These were people who’d never seen a CO before.  They were accustomed to dealing with people who either wanted to be in the service or who were resigned to being there.

I was sent to see “the First Sergeant” the next morning. He was a Korean War veteran and his experiences had hardened him.  He couldn’t imagine seeing someone standing in front of him, in his office, with a contrary point of view.  After a short time, he took me to the Company Commander who was just the opposite type of individual.  The company commander was an easterner who’d had been a civilian with some education and a wider view of the world.  While I was told to wait in an outer room, the sergeant went into the Commanding Officer’s office. I could hear the First Sergeant urging the Commanding Officer to be really tough on me, but he couldn’t convince his superior officer.  When the sergeant kept yelling – going on and on and on, I broke in, saying, “I had already applied for CO status back at the Induction Center.”   That quieted things down.  Then I was told, “Well, yes, that’s allowed, but you’ll have to do it again, because none of the records had been included with my paperwork.”

Although I was in Basic Training Company C-19-5, I was immediately separated from all the troops who were about to go through basic training.  I was told to remain in the barracks. I became a kind of  “houseboy” to all the guys in my platoon. While a lot of guys were in the field, I would make their beds and wax the floors, and my platoon loved that.  They especially appreciated my efforts when unannounced inspections came, and we were in exemplary condition. This made our Platoon Sergeant

look good, too.  In addition, I pulled KP over 20 times and was on fireguard every night – to rest the platoon.

After several weeks of these details that benefited only my platoon, the military changed their approach and sought to make a negative example of me.  They gave me a pick axe and put me to hard labor, breaking up cement.  When the handle of the pick axe broke, they left me with just the head of the pick to work with.  They had me out there sixteen hours a day breaking up cement into big pieces.  Then I had to break the big pieces down into big stones (that they put under the barracks) and little stones (that they used for the company street).  I kept breaking up cement until that job was accomplished. It took me a few months. Then they had me break up the clay beneath the cement and had me plant grass seed.  I was the Fort Knox Beautification program.

One night I was out gathering straw-like tall grass from beside the roadway, which I was to spread all over the grass seed.  While I was pushing a 2-wheeled cart loaded with straw back to the company area, a Protestant minister drove by.  He recognized me from seeing me at work all day, and asked me about my situation. I told him I had been assigned to do this work while I was awaiting a determination on my CO classification and assignment.  He said, “Well, they can’t be doing this to you.” I told him more about my background, and he said that he would personally look into my case.

Perhaps that helped move things forward.  In any event, when nothing could be found regarding my CO request, I was sent to the Brigade Commander, Colonel Cawthra, who was just back from Vietnam.  He was really gung ho.  From his rank and the honors in his office, I could see that he was very proud of his career and that he had been well trained at West Point.  It was his view that once I was in the service,  I could not be a Conscientious Objectors only a non-combatant combat support personnel.  He told me about different types of duties that he could see me performing, while being of service to the army.  He tried to talk me into being a medic, but I knew even then, the role of a medic was to patch people up and send them back into action.  I said that as a CO, I just couldn’t support that route as “alternative service.”  Basically, I didn’t want to contribute to supporting the war in any way.

By this point, I was artificially advanced beyond Basic Training to Advanced Individual Training.  I was sent to Quartermaster Supply School. It was a program where you advanced at your own speed.  You would read a topic and answer some questions.  It was a very basic and understandable program; I just went right through the course and graduated within days.

Then they had no place for me.  I told them I had gone to college and they asked me if I could type. I said yes and they told me they had another program called the Clerk Typist Program.  Like the quartermaster program, it was a self-study, advance at your own speed course, and once again I finished it within days.

It was at that time that I was promoted.  Ironically, my name was published in my hometown newspaper, The Beacon, because  I had been named “Soldier of the Month.”  I even appeared in the Army newspaper, and I was given a savings bond.  I certainly never imagined being in this situation.  To the credit of the Army, they looked only at performance.

First, they decided to use my supply skills, and I was assigned to issue blankets and other supplies from the supply room when a tragedy occurred, and I gained further insight into the Army’s view that everybody is replaceable.  The armorer, who issued the weapons, had been the target of ridicule after he had received a “Dear John” letter.  One night he couldn’t take it any longer, and he went into the arms cage, and committed suicide.  The Army simply treated it as another vacancy, an opportunity for someone else to get a permanent position, which everyone hoped would keep them from going overseas.

My CO status was not going forward.  It was on some back burner, and they weren’t doing anything about it. I learned from the minister that my application had been substituted for the routine security clearance check that was made of all clerk typists because clerks open mail that is classified as secret and addressed to field grade officers. I had now completed my Advance Individual Training for a specialty, and was eligible for assignment. Wouldn’t you know it, all my quartermaster supply school classmates got overseas assignments `for Germany, while I was assigned to “Hold Over Barracks” and put once again on housekeeping details.  More time was going by, and I was still waiting for my CO status.

Then suddenly, without anything more having been said to me about my CO status, a levy came down, and they needed a clothing fitter in Vietnam. My only recollection of my preparation for the Southeast Asian climate was going on long marches dressed in extra heavyweight clothing, sleeping in an insulated mummy bag, and learning about such dangers as frostbite and freezing. Occasionally we had a command information session in a Quonset hut where we watched films on “sizzle, simmer and scorch!” and learned all we really needed to know about the three-step viper. If that snake bit you, you had three steps and then you were dead.  Then I was sent off to Vietnam loaded down with the heaviest woolen clothing, long johns and gloves with glove liners all bundled onto a cargo plane.

As I said earlier, even while I was still in the States, I felt the U.S. was only replacing occupying French troops and my country didn’t belong in Vietnam.  This view was more than confirmed once I was in country. There I learned that for thousands of years the Vietnamese had retained a separate identity, nation, and society quite different from that of surrounding countries.  In the rural countryside, their culture was much like a tribal society: living in small villages that were compatible with the environment of Southeast Asia and supporting one another, for the common welfare.

The only analogy I knew of was that of the American Indian.  It appeared to me that most rural Vietnamese had not reached an industrial or mechanical age.  There were so many things they did by hand.  It was an ingenious and adaptive lifestyle that we Americans were intruding upon by inposing our American military power and American commercial way of life. I felt that American leadership was negatively labeling this traditional agrarian society as “communist”.  It was a way of life that predated “socialism” and “communism”.  It was a successful way of life and a unique system that had been working well for many centuries before we arrived, and we ‘protectors’ were labeling it as somehow wrong.

By and large it was a good way of life where people looked after one another and their extended families.  American expectations and our way of living were breaking up those extended family bonds by forcing young men to be conscripted into the service and young women to go into urban areas and to work sometimes as prostitutes.  Americans were responsible for a black market and a drug market that weren’t familiar with or felt morally right to them.

While I was “in country” I really identified with a lot of the guys who were like the guys I had known on the streets in Roxbury and Dorchester.  They just happened to be the Black and Hispanic guys in my outfit. They were decent guys. They gave me the nickname “Howdy”.  I saw different approaches people were taking to coping with military life. Some of the guys were there because they had some misdemeanor and the court had said, “If you go to Vietnam, we’ll clean your record.” It was not a story I heard from white soldiers. I became very disillusioned by the unfair way our country treated its inner city Blacks and Hispanics.  It almost certainly appeared that these groups were targeted for arrest so that they would have a record that would preclude any advancement other than through the service.

My basic training bunkmate from Ft. Knox was a black man from New York.    He was married, but he had a police record.  After Basic, he was sent to “Tigerland” in Louisiana, a swamp similar to parts of Vietnam. He ended up in Vietnam as a door-gunner. I told him of my teaching in the inner city of Roxbury and we were good friends. He led a synchronized hand- jive drill team.  Before he left Ft. Knox for Ft. Polk, I gave him all the money I had, so he could go back to visit his family one last time.  He was a good man, I didn’t think I’d ever see him again.

My group was a colorful kind of outfit.  It was the First Air Cavalry, which had the biggest military patch, a big yellow shield.  The patch had a big black horse on it representing Comanche, the only survivor of the Battle of Little Bighorn, since it was also Custer’s regiment. They were full of bravado and pretty much acted as if they were back at home in San Antonio, Texas. They all wore orange neckerchiefs and we got unofficial berets provided by the Falstaff Beer Company.  After the war, I watched the movie, “Apocalypse Now,” and my outfit was in it! The film really caught the essence of the First Cav.

I was assigned to a detachment of a Headquarters and Headquarters Company.   We were a personnel replacement and detail unit. I laugh now, because I never got to be a “clothing fitter.”  Everyone was interchangeable there, and I was assigned to bring some tanks to the Pleiko area.  At this point we weren’t taking the tanks on flatbed trucks.  Instead I would walk alongside my tank to “ground guide” the driver away from any livestock alongside of the road.  I went over as a Specialist E-4.  I passed a rare board and was promoted to Spec 5, and over there I was designated a Tank Commander, so I was ground guiding, driving and clearing livestock.

On one particular occasion, I was watching some Vietnamese civilians coming in my direction, and a girl caught my eye. I can’t explain it, but there was an instantaneous feeling of being able to read her mind, and  I imagined what her experiences might have been.  But I felt that she looked back at me like I was just another male, foreign invader, in a uniform, who was responsible for something bad that had happened to her.

It was a revelation.  I saw myself from her perspective.  I read on her face that I did not belong there.  I did not speak her language.  I was not needed there.  My people had caused great hardship and tragedy to her and her loved ones and were threatening bullies.  I imagined a lot of things that I projected on to this young and pretty woman.  I even had the unrealistic thought of marrying a Vietnamese woman and rescuing her and her family from the insane tragedy going on there, and trying to offer them safety, and a healthy peace back home.

But all these thoughts and projections were lost in a second.  Suddenly she was blown up right there across the street from me.  All I could see was her outline, like a woman’s shape with a light behind it.  I had also been blown up, and had a surreal imagining of flying slowly backwards and upwards into light.

I remained unconscious for four days and awoke in an infirmary.  I got a commercial flight back home over the South Pacific.  On the way I felt an unusual feeling, like I was entering into a protective bubble, and all that time in ‘Nam was outside this imaginary bubble. I went back to Ireland Army Hospital at Fort Knox.  I was a lucky one.  Guys were getting Purple Hearts, but being patched up and sent back into action.  I was going home… or so I thought, because I had shrapnel stuck in the roof of my mouth and jaw.  There were more and more wounded, that at first I wasn’t aware of.  The number of wounded guys just proved we shouldn’t have been fighting this war.

Coming back by commercial airlines (with a morphine needle) I came back from Vietnam a far different way than the way I had arrived.  We went over in cargo planes via Alaska and Japan.  I came home by commercial airplane via Hawaii.  Going there, we were treated like livestock.  Coming home, we were treated like airline passengers.  As I said, on the way home, I felt an unusual awareness.  I felt as though I had passed through a protective membrane into a wonderful safe world.  While I was in Vietnam everything felt dangerous and unsafe and unreliable.  In the States, no one comes into your house in the middle of the night.  No one wantonly destroys your property and possessions.  Here, we have clean water, clean air and clean food.  Here we have so many freedoms and opportunities and so many things to be thankful for.

My experience gave me a new perspective.  People in the States aren’t aware of the senseless cruelty and the bad things that are going on all over the world.  People here can grow and be strong, or smart without fear.  Some even leave this protective bubble and try to make things better back “there”, wherever “there” might be.

I was now back in the States.  I was back at B-7-2 at Fort Knox, and they had no place for me.  There was another fellow who’d come back from Vietnam. His name was Peacock, and he suffered from wounds that caused him to reflexively dive to the floor whenever he heard artillery blasts or reports from tanks engaged in night firefights.

No one wanted combat veterans around, especially wounded ones like us, and especially talking to new recruits and draftees.  They sent me to Fort Drum in upstate New York to set up the base for summer reservists.  There I was made a company mailman.  I met a colonel in the Office of the Inspector General.  I told him my story.  Hearing that I’d moved around so many times and filed so many different applications for my CO, he immediately sent a request for information up the chain of command, called a “Twixt”; it went to the Department of Defense specifically inquiring about my situation.

The information he got back revealed that no one further up the chain of command had ever seen my requests, and that all they had in my files were the applications for the secret clearance for clerk typist I had passed.  I had been in now for over a year, but no one had seen, let alone dealt with, any of my efforts to be designated as a CO. Meanwhile, I had seen so many crazy and terrible things!  As a sheltered kid with pets, things I saw in market places especially struck me.  The senseless cruelty to helpless animals – and helpless orphan children – still bring great sadness to my heart and I blame these on our perpetuation of a war climate.

The colonel who had tried to assist me with obtaining information about my CO status immediately sent out orders for me to return to Fort Knox.  He assured me that there were people at Knox who were going to answer his inquiries.

So I went back to Fort Knox. But low and behold, my whole company was gone, and so were the old barracks from 1918!  They had been razed.  All that was left were the four-by-four concrete blocks that marked the corners of the buildings.  When the main post taxi driver dropped me off at my company there was no orderly room to report to, no company to report to.  I said to myself I should just go home. They didn’t want me there in the first place and to this day, I don’t know what stopped me.

Eventually, though, I saw a company up the street.  That ended up being A-7-2 while my orders mistakenly read B-7-2, a place that no longer existed.  A-7-2 was to become my new home. Still, I was feeling more optimistic: the colonel had taken me under his wing, I thought, and he was going to finally make things right.

I reported in and they used me temporarily to march troops to the mess hall and to do the mail.  Part of this involved bringing the mail out to prisoners in the stockade. These were men who refused to serve, or who had come back from the war and had problems adjusting that led to them having committed some crime.  They were always getting drunk and couldn’t care less if they got busted in rank. They had seen everything, and no one held any power over them any more.

It was at this point that I got orders again.  I had been selected as a typist in a most unusual spot. I was tasked to be Emergency Operations Logman, a glorified clerk typist with a top secret clearance on the third shift from eleven in the evening to seven in the morning at the Main Post, 1st Army Emergency Operations Center (USATCA), the most highly secure operations center in the Army.  This was the center for the most secret Army operations going on during the Cold War. I was told that we were in direct contact with an Apollo satellite, the Department of Defense, etc… Messages would come in from satellites and go to Washington to the special red phone and places with the plots on the wall map. We had loads of time zone maps.

There were only four of us in this missile-proof, windowless, blockhouse vault.    There was an Officer of the Day, an NCO of the Day, a cryptographer and me, the, historian if you will, “Emergency Center Logman.”   As the typist, my duties included logging in decoded messages and turning them over to the senior officer and enlisted man in the office.  At the end of my shift I would destroy the typewriter ribbons and everything else!

During the course of my time there, the four of us got to know each other.  People wondered how I got such a plum job, being just back from Vietnam and sporting a Purple Heart.  I told them about my application for CO status and I said, “They’ve really got the wrong person here.  I could be viewed as the biggest security risk they could ever have!”  I didn’t misuse my position; I only worked and I never took leave, but I should never have been put in such a position

Even after my sharing this information, I was kept in the position until the last days of my service.  Then they gave me a two-day early out.  Prior to that my company commander called me to his office and said, “I have a few things for you.”  I had been awarded the Good Conduct and Army Commendation medals.  All in all, I ended up with five or six ribbons on my chest, NCO grade E-5, and a Combat Patch.  Quite a collection of awards and adventures for a Conscientious Objector who never wanted to be there and could have done so many more meaningful things while in civilian life.

I came back home.  I couldn’t fit in.  I changed my name from Bill to Charlie.  I grew a beard.  I did not talk with anybody from my school days.  I swore off going into Boston.  I moved to the western part of the state where I tried to put everything behind me and start afresh.  I met and married a Hispanic girl and we began a new life together.

But the Army wasn’t through with me. In the summer of 1969, when people were beginning to feel the war was a losing proposition and there was a lot of visible opposition, the Army wanted to re-activate me, because I had a critical MOS – a military occupation specialty.  I had already gone from high school “Renaissance Man,” with promise in anything I would take up, to unsuccessful war resister, to a damaged and wounded war hero.  I had done my part and risen through the ranks to become a decorated NCO, but my country had let me down.  I had trusted in the system, but it had disappointed me. I had risen through the ranks to become a decorated NCO, but I could have been a better teacher or successful community builder.  Instead I got an unnecessary insider’s experience into the war machine.  I vowed never to go back.  I had given a lot and been discharged.  I had seen so much and talked with so many people about my experience that I could never go back.

So I went to a group called MassPax in Cambridge where lawyers assisted people in becoming educated about their rights regarding the military, thereby making it more difficult for the government to kill people. I talked with them for two days. They were very helpful to me, and told me I would never have to go back.  I would never have to serve in the reserve unit ever again.  I have no idea what they did, or who they wrote to, but it worked.

As I’ve mentioned, I grew a beard when I finally got out. I wanted to change my identity, start anew. After all my experiences, including being in a place so different from Boston as Vietnam is, I looked at things differently and wanted to dissociate from my former identity.

I felt like I had let everybody – my parents, my professors, my friends – down by being swept into the war and not staying in school and weathering the psychological problems I had felt in college.  Now I had a chance for a new beginning.  My top priority was to take some sort of course of action to deal with the bad memories I’d brought home from the war and to live again.  I enrolled in a student International Meditation Society to learn Transcendental Meditation.  I applied to go back to a different school than the one I’d left and was accepted to Columbia University in the Anthropology Department.  Margaret Mead was there and Mark Rudd was an undergraduate there, organizing SDS (Students for a Democratic Society).  I went to N.Y.C., did the orientation, paid my two hundred dollars to hold my seat and didn’t end up going.  At that point, the anti-war activists, the expansion of the university, looked on negatively as gentrification, but resulting in new mixed income housing with free daycare and local clinics, and my financial supporter’s anti-Semitism kept me from having that promising opportunity.

Using my Veteran’s Bonus of five hundred dollars from the State of Massachusetts, I moved to the Amherst area and attended the University of Massachusetts where I got 2 bachelors degrees with honors, a Supervisor’s Teaching Certification, 2 Masters with honors with membership in Beta Gamma Sigma, and worked on my Doctorate until I went on to public service.

Unfortunately my first marriage didn’t last.  I subsequently met a wonderful woman.  Her family had experienced discrimination and difficult times, because her father, a microbiologist, was Hispanic from Costa Rica.  Due to her parents’” interracial” marriage, they suffered social discrimination, which I understood all too well.  I fit right in.

Now I have a son, Chip.  He has always loved the “ideal hero,” and has always identified with knights. Somewhere he got the impression that military leaders are noble and has always believed he can do what he sets his sights on.  After all, nothing is impossible to the hero. Of course I have shared my experiences with him many times to dissuade him of this notion. Fortunately he has found a different way of fulfilling his need to be a hero: instead of being a military commander, my son works with children with special needs, teaching and coaching them, as well as being an on-call volunteer fire fighter. This makes me very proud.  When he joined the Air Force National Guard and conducted boat rescues of little old ladies and their pets trapped in their homes in Rhode Island, I was very proud of him.  When he went off to Iraq to serve his country, I could only hope that he would return and not face mind-scaring memories.

One thing the war and my experiences did provide was a real life student counselor for my undergraduate classmates. I provided leadership in the Student Senate, and added an experience beyond my years when I was a student teacher in the Amherst Common School.

The years have gone by.  I remember that I once looked back on my war resistance experience like I am doing today. That occasion was my twentieth reunion of my graduation from the University of Massachusetts.  I went back to the old dorm and met with a small group of guys twenty years younger than myself.  I told them what it was like to go back to school after Vietnam, being much older than my classmates and having gone through the war.  I told them what things were like on campus during the final days of the Vietnam occupation when men had lottery numbers and were still being drafted.  I described to them how extremely stressful those times were, that   schools were going on strike.  I think I talked to them the whole evening.  They asked lots of leading questions and identified with much that I said. I thought to myself, “Gee, I’m amazed at myself for having the strength to do those things I did.”  I realized my ability to be as strong as I was throughout my war travails was all about the moment, and being cornered, and choosing one way over another even if the other way would have been easier. The fact that I also had had some education probably helped me hold to my beliefs.

There was something else I want to remember experiencing when I finally had gotten out of the Army for good.  I went back to the Boardman School in Dudley Square.  Like my old Army company that I had been told to report back to, the school where I had worked before being drafted had been torn down.  Years later after finishing college I went back to the Amherst Common School site to visit and that building, too, was torn down.  I guess what this points out is that time passes, and things that were important once can easily be forgotten.  Soldiers like myself, who went through horrendous experiences during the Vietnam War, need to remind others of how ill-informed government decisions can bring on all the horrors of war. I trust that our presence and experienced voices can prevent the same mistakes from being repeated over and over again.  Those of us who survived that terrible war need to speak up and underscore the overall need for peace and education.

I have experienced a feeling of real loneliness of late. In part this is because I’ve kept so much inside – experiences and feelings that a veteran can only share with another veteran. The Iraq War has also triggered this feeling of isolation. Revisiting my own experiences, and seeing the National Guard soldiers in Iraq experiencing even worse things than I did, has taken me back to 1967-8, and 1969 when I began growing my beard to reflect my new identity- of maybe an older an wiser man.  Until now, neither of my children has ever seen me without it.

Jim Humphreys (unedited – not in CALLED TO SERVE)

Jim Humphreys grew up in Erie, PA, received a four-year National Merit Scholarship and spent two years each at Swarthmore and Oberlin.    After two years of graduate study at Cornell he switched to Yale and finished a Ph.D. in mathematics.  He taught at the University of Oregon, New York University, and the University of Massachusetts, along with research time at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ and visits at dozens of universities around the world.  He lives now in Northampton, MA.

My own story from the Vietnam era is different from many others, but all of us certainly had a story.  I had decided very early against that war, even before attending my first teach-in during a summer math institute at Boulder in 1965, while I was still in graduate school.  In fact I had become skeptical about all wars and became more so in the Cold War era.

Though I was raised in a conventional lower middle class setting in Erie, PA and some of my 20-odd first cousins became career military people, my parents were not especially religious and were suspicious of politics and militarism.   My father had first-hand exposure to the intense pro-war social pressures during World War II, being exempted from the draft to support his wife and three young sons.  But like most of my peers I registered for the draft (then hypothetical) in 1957 when I turned 18 at college, trekking to the nearest draft board in Media, PA (the one which later became famous in the Vietnam era).

Long before it was finally revealed that the Tonkin Gulf affair, which whipped up war frenzy in the US was basically a hoax, my private decision was to go to Canada or otherwise evade the draft.   Initially I had student and occupational deferments during graduate school and also while I started teaching at the University of Oregon in 1966-68.

With the war intensifying and the draft lottery looming, I applied for and was granted conscientious objector status by my hometown draft board (back in Erie) in spite of not being affiliated with any conventional religion and expressing my objection mainly to that particular war.   By then even the more conservative draft boards were starting to recognize conscientious objection based on deeply held ethical principles.  It probably didn’t hurt that my own application was supported by a senior colleague at Oregon who had delayed his own college life for years to serve in the Navy during World War II.

That draft card got shredded not long after.   (Of course, at that point I didn’t play the really winning card: the fact that I was gay. Too difficult to deal with then.)   The war didn’t end anytime soon, so I got used to being in antiwar demonstrations in Eugene, New York City, Washington DC.

The draft still exists in theory, but Americans have mostly gotten used to perpetual wars fought by mercenary soldiers and paid for in borrowed dollars as well as distant blood.  For most people Vietnam is a vague memory, a place where US investment dollars now flow, but tourists mostly don’t.

Penny Rock (unedited – not in CALLED TO SERVE)

Penny Rock grew up in Minneapolis and planned from a very young age to be an opera singer.  She served in Vietnam from 1967-68.  She currently lives in San Francisco and is president of POWER OF A CLEAR MIND: EXECUTIVE CONSULTING AND COACHING.  Penny was featured in the Academy Award nominated documentary film A HEALING and was the inspiration for Normi Noel’s play “NO BACKGROUND MUSIC”.   Penny visits the Berkshires annually and this interview was conducted during one of her visits at the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, MA.

There is a theme and it is music.  There’s no question about that.   My first performance stage was the driveway of a fire station when I was 2 years old. By the time I was 13 I had decided that I wanted to be an opera singer.  I made another decision at that time. The idea of the starving artist life didn’t appeal to me.  I realized that I needed to have what I called a portable career and be able to make money – to support myself, to live and to pay for my education.  My family didn’t have any money.  I knew that was up to me.  I looked at what was available to women as far as careers that wouldn’t confine me were concerned and the one that made sense was nursing, because I would be able to work anywhere – as many shifts as I needed – and if I did well enough on my state boards, I would have reciprocity so I could work anywhere in the world.  I thought that was a pretty good strategic plan for a 13 year old.  That’s what I set out to do and that’s what I did.

For a long time my home was a war zone.  It was very abusive.  I knew from the time I was a very young child that it didn’t have anything to do with me; that my experience of life was something I had inside me.  I didn’t express it that way then, as I do now, but that was an understanding I had.  I enjoyed myself – except at home.  I found ways to be away.  Music was one of my releases. I had the theater, piano, clarinet and school.  I loved school.  I was engaged in a lot of activities that allowed for creative expression and intellectual stimulation.  When I was at my house I created a room for myself.  It was my office, which was a closet in my bedroom and that’s where I wrote and composed.   That was my haven.

I graduated from high school in ’63 and from nursing school in Minneapolis where I grew up – what was then Swedish Hospital and Augsburg College – in ’66.  During that time I knew there was a war on.  I had opinions about it and my opinions were that we had no business being there.  It didn’t make sense to me.  The whole idea of war didn’t make sense to me.  In my family I was the youngest by far.  I didn’t really know my siblings so I grew up essentially as an only child.  My father was too young for World War I and too old for World War II, so that wasn’t something that was a factor.  In high school I looked around my classes and I saw my classmates and I wondered – what’s happening with these young men that I know?

Nursing school was professionally very rewarding.  I loved surgery.  I loved working in emergency situations.  I am good at that.  I don’t need to create a crisis in order to feel complete, but I’m good in one because I can keep my head.  In my junior year in 1965, there was a parade of military recruiters for nurses.  They needed nurses.  Not one of them talked about Vietnam. We sat in these classrooms as these women came in front of us and talked about the benefits of joining the military and I, like many, paid attention to the economic benefits

I decided on the Army because it was a two-year obligation, while others were 3 or 4 years.  I found out that they would pay me a salary during my senior year.  That took care of my financial pay-off and I could do extra shifts and learn what I needed to learn.  You go into the service as an enlisted person with no rank the first year and then when you graduate and pass your boards, you are given your rank and you start your two year hitch.  My recruiter never mentioned anything about Vietnam either.  I had said that I wanted to sign up for Germany. I thought that would be great, because I’d be over there in the hotbed of opera land.  Since I had reciprocity with my state board I could work and study over there, learn and travel and listen to glorious voices.  It was something that appealed greatly to the artistic part of me.

In the meantime there was this war that was intensifying.  I heard nothing about it from the military people.  I went off to work at a psychiatric hospital while I was waiting for the results of my boards and then went to basic training in Texas at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio at the Army medical hospital.   Fortuitously it was and is a location that has marvelous facilities for burn patients – a different kind of burns than what we had to deal with over in Vietnam, but still it was a fascinating experience.  Basic training didn’t necessarily prepare us all that well for what we were going to face and it was when I got there that I found out it was not if I was going to Vietnam, it was when.  It was like the earth opened and swallowed me up.  I had no idea that I would be serving over there.  I had no understanding about that kind of carnage.  I had worked extra shifts as well as my own rotation in emergency, but it does not compare to what weapons of war will do to a human body, spirit and psyche.  It was not something I could imagine.

In basic training I didn’t find that learning how to march made much sense for us nurses.  I could see the importance for any enlisted man of learning how to move in a jungle.  We did go out and live in the fields.  We would be dropped off places with a compass and a map and we were supposed to find another location.  I didn’t know at the time that that would be useful later.  We had to learn how to deal with weapons and use them.  Once when I was doing target practice, I thought I had shot myself.  I had never held a gun in my hands before, but the casing came out and hit me in the helmet and I thought, did I shoot myself?  Am I dead?  Am I dying?  I looked around and saw the casings and one of the instructors came around and I asked, “Did I shoot myself?”  It was a bizarre experience…

A lot of us lived in motels off campus in Texas.  You weren’t living in nursing quarters.  When we went out in the field we were together.  We would build hospitals and then have simulated mass casualties, where enlisted men would be our patients. You would have a field of young men lying on the ground with a 3 X 5 card pinned to their chests.  That card gave their symptoms and we would do the triage based on that.  We would make decisions about what would happen with them, take them into the hospital, do whatever dispositions we needed to do and then take the hospital down, move someplace else and do the whole thing over again.  Nobody in Vietnam was building hospitals.  They were fixed facilities or huts, so they didn’t have that MASH kind of situation there. You don’t have tropical diseases that you have over there.  And you didn’t have real wounds and there’s nothing about a 3 X 5 card that does anything for you other than testing your intellectual, medical capabilities to know what to do.  That’s useful.

We also had to learn how to record our nursing notes in military form.  We had classes on military procedure.  At the end of that time I went to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C.  I thought, that’s pretty good.  It’s not Germany, but it’s on the east coast and there’s music there and I’ll be able to do some of what I wanted to do.

My entry to the War in Vietnam was really through the backdoor.   When I went to Walter Reed, they knew what my background was and they said, “We’ve got a place where we really need you.”  It was in cardio-vascular and thoracic surgery.  At that time that was, no pun intended, the cutting edge of open-heart surgery.  It was again professionally very stimulating.  I don’t regret that for a minute.  I just learned so much.  I wasn’t treating anybody from Vietnam, but what I walked through everyday were the wards where I saw young men in varying stages of rehab.  That’s what I mean by the backdoor.  These were not fresh wounds. That’s not what you were getting there.  There were too many young men in wheelchairs; too many young men who were missing various parts of their bodies.  I remember getting a phone call from one of my sisters at the time and she said, “Oh, Penny, I saw something today.  It was just grotesque. I had no idea what it was, but I thought you might know.”  So she explained that she had been at the grocery store and she saw a young man whose nose was attached to his arm like a long tube.  So she explained this and asked, “What could that be?”  I knew by that time and said, “He’s just growing a new nose.”  She said, “What do you mean ‘he’s growing a new nose’?”  I said, “Well, they’ve taken skin from elsewhere that is healthy and has a vascular component to it and there has to be enough of it so the tissue can be generated and then you cut it off and create a nose.”

I was seeing a lot of those kinds of injuries and that’s what I mean – it was the backdoor.  I could only imagine what it looked like when it happened.   I didn’t work with these men, but I spent time with them.  I just wanted to know how they were doing.  I wanted to see if I could get any sense of what it was like for them over there because I knew I would be going at some point.  Was there advice they had for me in terms of how they were over there and how they were treated?  I wanted to know something from them before I went over and in some way it felt important to me that they weren’t feeling abandoned.  They weren’t abandoned in terms of the nurses who were working with them, but I just wanted them to know that somebody who was going into that environment wanted to know something about what they had been through – that there was some kind of 360 degree connection for them.

There was one nurse on my ward who came back from Vietnam some time during my tour and I wanted to know what things were like and she wouldn’t talk about it.  The only thing she told me was to shake out your boots in the morning – all kinds of things crawl in there – and duck, move fast and that was it.  I would ask her over and over, “What kinds of wounds?”  She just wouldn’t talk about it and at that time I didn’t understand why.  I certainly understood that she had just come back from a horrendous experience that I could only at that point imagine.

There was a nurse who lived with me for a couple of weeks.  I had an apartment in D.C. with another nurse who went to Vietnam, so this woman came to stay with me for a while.  I was very concerned about her because she was drinking and taking Darvan heavily.  We talked and she would express her concerns and the next thing I knew I got word that she had jumped out of a window in an apartment building across the street from the hospital.  I went over to see her and she was just hanging on and later she managed to finish it off.  I don’t think her name shows on the wall, but you tell me what that casualty was all about.

Those was the kind of experiences we were having while waiting for our orders.   You didn’t get your orders in the mail.  They were military orders and they were delivered to the ward.  They were posted on a board for the world to see, like a casting call.  You’d come into work, make your rounds and see what was going on with people’s fragile hearts and then you’d look at the board and hope not to see your name.  I called my girlfriend Lois and I told her I wanted to go to Europe.  I wanted to see as much as I could and because I was in the military I had certain travel benefits.  I called her and told her, “I am going to have to go to Vietnam and I don’t know if I’m coming back.  So if we’re going to go on this trip we’ve been planning we better do it now.”  I wanted to do this trip before I died and I knew I might not make it back.  It sounds strange for a 20 year old to say I want to do this before I die, because you don’t think about it in those terms normally.  Lois got busy and we made our plans.  I was the visionary and she was the tactician.  Those were the roles we always had with each other.

She came out to D.C. and spent a few days with me and then we took off.  We covered as many countries and cities as we could and it was great.  My first day back on the ward, I went to the board and there they were.  You look at those orders, but you can’t make it out. The lights not right and you misunderstand something.  That was the mindset I had in looking at that board.  There’s a knot in the pit of the stomach about that.  So I knew and then it was just a matter of closing down my apartment and finding folks to sell things to.  I went home and saw some relatives.  Some knew where I was going and some did not.  My mother was not an easy person, so she spent a lot of her life either being violent or not speaking.  My dad was the one who would not speak for long periods.  He would shun.  I remember going for 3 or 4 months with him never saying a word to me and so that was a part of his modus operandi, but she was a full-service abuser – silence, vicious talk and physical abuse.  The poor woman was just caught in her own fears and didn’t know how to get out of that and my heart went out to her, but I had to be quick of foot around her as well.  By the end of my high school time I laid down the law with her so at least that part of the abuse ended.  I was bigger than she was.

My mother and I went to California to my sister’s home.   I don’t think either my sister or mother understood what I was about to face.  I am not sure how you get it. They were wrapped up in their own worlds and if you put the blinders on you don’t have to look at it or deal with it.  I can’t say that anybody expressed any concern about my leaving.  I was used to being very independent.  It was just the norm, so it didn’t feel odd to me except in juxtaposition with what I saw with other families, particularly at Travis Air Force Base in California, which is where we left from.  I saw warmth and caring being expressed by the families of others heading off to war, so there was definitely a contrast.

Arriving in Vietnam was an incredible experience.  Consider first of all how we were dressed – in summer dress greens with pumps, nylons, the whole bit, hat, purse – it was just bizarre.  It was a very long trip. There was quite a hush on the plane.  It was going along and all of a sudden there was almost a stopping.  When you are on a plane and it as about to go into a descent there is a push you feel.  It was something like that and then what they did was what they call a “corkscrew landing”.  You go in high and drop as far as you can.  The point is to avoid gunfire.  It’s almost like a nosedive and it felt like the plane was crashing and I looked at my fellow nurse and friend, Sonni, and said, “Wouldn’t that be the pits. If we can’t even land properly in this place.”  Nobody knew what it was and you could hear people gasping.

We landed and they tried to get us off the plane in a hurry.  When those doors opened and you got to the door the thing that struck me was the heat and the smell – the stench of that country was amazing.  I didn’t know at the time all of what those smells were comprised of.   I know now and when I went back to Vietnam the first time in 1995 there was the heat and a stench, but it was missing something and I realized what was missing was the smell of rotting flesh, the dead bodies, and some of the charcoal fires.   It was garbage stacked high and all of the smells that go with military warfare.

We were rushed onto these buses and the buses had wire mesh screens over the windows.  We were running along in our pumps and next we were told to get down on the floor.  We asked about the screens since it wouldn’t have been bad to have some air coming in, but those were to keep the grenades out.  We got on the floor and the bus took off.  It was like an amusement park ride and you’re under the seats.  There was a male nurse who got on with a rifle and we knew who he was from basic training – he was just bizarre.  We said, “Get rid of that.  You’re going to kill us.”  He didn’t know what he was doing, but he thought he was G.I. Joe.

We went to our location where we were processed in.  We were dog-tired and we hadn’t eaten.  We were ushered into these rooms that had bunk beds in them.  We were told not to bring much money – maybe a couple hundred dollars – and to keep it locked in something.  I had $300 with me – $20 on me and the remaining $280 locked in my suitcase.  We were taken over to a mess hall area and there was music and a space where people were dancing.  There were steaks and baked potatoes and all I wanted to do was go to sleep.  We had something to eat and some man asked me to dance and I said, “Are you crazy?  My feet are on fire and I just want to go to sleep.”  I said, “No, I don’t want to dance and Sonni said, “You have to.  He’s a high ranking person.”  I said, “I don’t care what his rank is, I am not dancing.  This is not what I am here for.  I just want some sleep.  I want to find out where I am going.”  We still had miles to go before we slept and some of us were sick already.

I went back to my room and my suitcase was open and my money was gone.   So were the suitcases of others.  I thought, that’s a fine how do you do.  You come here and everything’s gone and, almost at the same moment, I realized, wait a minute, that money has to be a year’s living or more for an entire Vietnamese family and so, of course, they’re going to do that.  It didn’t mean liking it, but it was certainly understandable.  But I didn’t know anything about that culture – just the poverty.  And there was no warning.  Shake out your boots could have also included keep your money on you.

The next day I was dropped off near a building with a screen door, like a hut, but it had nothing else around it.  I waited there for 8 hours for somebody to come get me in the dead of day.  It was just burning.  I would go inside and it was hard to breathe so I would go outside, but I was by myself, which was scary.  Sonni was gone to another assignment.  I was in fatigues by this point – not pumps – but after being there for quite a while I thought, what if this is it?  What if nobody comes to get me?  I’m here and there’s nothing around me…But somebody’s around.  There had to be VC (Vietcong – a communist army based in South Vietnam that fought the United States and South Vietnamese governments during the Vietnam War fro 1959-1975. It had both guerrilla and regular army units, as well as a network of cadres who organized peasants in the territory it controlled), and I didn’t know much about VC at that point.  What if I just burn up? You didn’t have a bottle of water that you took with you back then.

After 8 hours I finally saw this tail of dust coming.  The driver took me around to a lot of places on the way into Saigon.  There were funeral processions and I was able to see what that looked like from their culture.  It was fascinating.  Everything was fascinating and I really appreciated what he did, because he gave me some sense of the country.  He’s the one that told me when you’re walking down the street, don’t walk in groups to avoid giving too good a target, so he gave me some good practical advice.

After I got settled in I had to go over for medical clearance.  We had to take primaquine for malaria while we were there.  I was already sick with something.  I had a really high fever and I started to faint, sliding down this wall, and this young corpsman (an enlisted person in the Medical Corps who accompanies combat troops into battle to give first aid, carry off the wounded, etc.) grabbed me because I was losing consciousness, but he was sick, too.  I realized here were all of these medical people, and each of us was sick in some fashion and we weren’t there because we were sick.  We were there to be cleared so we could help others.  Turns out a couple of days later that the guy who helped me was one of the corpsmen I would be working with.  We’d arrived at the same time.

I was introduced to my ward.  Because of my experience with trauma, emergency situations and intensive care, I was assigned to those wards.  That was where the journey really began.  It was a large hospital and it was good in one sense because we had more capability than a lot of places.   Some of the first aid stations had little more than aspirin to give people and that was a tragedy, because they would get people covered in shrapnel and to give someone an aspirin for that… We had something to work with and that was good because we certainly needed it.  From a professional point of view the work was intellectually rewarding – not something I would have asked for or recommend for anybody, but if you are in that situation you make do.  Not only that, but there was necessity being the mother of invention. You’ve got these terrible things going on, so there’s a good deal of experimentation to help you cope and that’s how a lot of new procedures and new medicines are developed.  There are procedures that become part of the norm for society that are advanced procedures that come out of the need for invention in the middle of war.  Is it good or is it bad?  It’s both things at the same time.

I saw some of what I saw at Walter Reed, but in the earlier stages, before they had been evaced (removed usually by helicopter from combat due to injury) out.  It was almost like if you were the camera operator in a film and you were panning and you panned from the area where you would have young men in their blue pajamas walking around or pushing other patients in wheelchairs and you kept panning and the condition of the bodies you’d see deteriorates.  That was my ward.  When I went through those doors in the beginning, I remember walking in and looking around and the stench – the country smelled terribly, but the stench in this room…I am looking around and I can’t take in what I am seeing.  I remember saying to this one guy, “What in the hell is this?”  And he said,  “Welcome to the hell-hole.”  I asked him, “What do I do?  Where do I go?”  They were busy and that part of me kicked in, but my eyes were just drinking in carnage and all that goes with that.

I wrote a poem once called “Naked in My Care” and what it’s about is that the patients on my ward were all covered with a sheet.  We just dealt with what we could see on the body.  It is a very exposed kind of living for these young men and for us.  Every time you’d pull back a piece of sheet you’ve got something, maybe covered in a dressing, but you know what’s under the dressing.  First uncovering some of those dressings – you’d see where they were and how much.  You’d see young men who looked mummified, because of all the stuff that was wrapped around them and you’d undo that and you’d unveil the atrocity that was underneath.  They were just young kids.  That was one of the things that was so terribly difficult in the beginning.

I asked that corpsman those questions and he responded, “You can start out with patients over here and I’ll be over there.”  So I asked, “Which patients?” And he said, “Well, all of them.”  It’s not that there weren’t other nurses there. There were.  You had certain patients you were assigned to, but you were responsible as a medical person across the board so there was a lot of crossover.  We had a little board and a grease pen and we would write down the number of the bed and the nurse and corpsman who would be operating that side of the room.  It was straightforward in that regard and you just started working your way down the beds and found out where things were.  It’s like any kind of orientation, but it’s not like you have orientation week to learn your way around.  It’s on the job and you had an orientation of about five minutes.  You had to know where things were and you kept asking questions, but it happened very quickly.

I felt immediately old.   I was young.  I was 21, but I felt ancient. I had only been there for about three weeks at that point, but I already felt part of the ancient earth.  I was not a young girl any longer.  To understand that feeling of being transfigured into something different and knowing that you’d never be the same person again and not knowing what that person was going to become or if that person was going to stay alive… It was just a step into the unknown.  I knew that and understood that, but it was kind of girding your loins with some kind of steel structure that you could bounce within, but not fall apart from.  It is a coping mechanism and an understanding that your purpose in being there is to be clear, so you can do what’s needed for them.  It’s not about you.  You don’t take chances that are going to place you in a position where you’re going to be a jeopardizing force for them.

A way for me to be able to find some peace for myself was being with my colleagues.  We didn’t spend a lot of time talking about what it’s like in war because we already knew that.  We would talk about the war, but we didn’t always have good intelligence.  We didn’t always know what was coming at us.  We would get blindsided at times with a bunch of people we had no idea were coming in.  For me it was also about being able to be alone.  Writing was something that I always did so I wrote a good deal while I was there.  Nobody really knew that.  My correspondence with Lois was significant.

And, as always there was music.  I would sing in my room.  I brought sheet music with me.  I brought various things with me that helped me with artistic nurturing.  I had Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams.  There was a chapel in the hospital building that had an organ and, at certain points, I would go there and play music.  Something unusual happened there.  Sonni was going to get married and her husband whom she met over there broke his leg.  It was almost like an episode of MASH.  She wanted to get married where I was so I could be her bridesmaid.  He was going to be evaced out with his injury.   So the chief nurse had approved this and I don’t know why, but it was one of those crazy things.  We had the wedding in the chapel and I sang and played the organ.  It was one of those Lucille Ball types of things where you put a different hat on and now you’re the mayor.  He was evaced out and she went back to where she was working and we never saw each other again.  It was sweet and I was glad I got to do that for them…and I got to sing.

In my room when I was writing I had a tape recorder.  I have talked about writing letters to Lois, but there were tapes actually.  The tape recorder was probably twice the size of the normal ones now.  It was reel to reel.  Taping things was a big deal back then.  I didn’t get mail much at all.  There was one person I had met when Lois and I went to Europe.  There was a family who were friends of a friend of Lois’s.  They were from the Netherlands and they were delightful and I struck up a friendship with these people.  The daughter was a translator and she spoke very good English, French, Dutch and German.  She wrote me every week.  I didn’t get all of the letters.  It wasn’t a page or two and it was tiny handwriting in perfect English – 12 and 15 page letters and we had only met that one time.  I wound up with half a dozen letters, but I knew there were many more because she would reference letters I hadn’t received.  She said something in one of those letters.  “I think a weekly note from your Netherlands home is the least anybody can do given what you’re facing.”  She absolutely understood.  She was close to 30 – about a 10 year difference.  I did send her a few letters, though I didn’t have much time to write.

When Lois and I went on another trip to Europe soon after I returned to the States, we went to their home and this young woman was so excited and wanted to know if I had gotten all the letters and whether it was helpful.  It was an incredible gesture on her part and I was very moved by that.  We got there and they brought us in and the father, mother, brother and sister were there to welcome us.  I was standing there looking outside and I felt somebody take my hand and I looked down and she had my hand and I looked over at her and there were tears streaming down her face.  Then she looked at me and she said, “I’m so glad you’re alive.”  That meant more to me than anything at that point.  Nobody had said that and here was this woman who was a stranger to me in so many ways, and yet they had been so worried.  I was a part of their conversations around the dinner table.  How does that happen?

Back at the farm…in Vietnam, it must have looked stupid because I was lugging my tape recorder around with me, but I would tape in my room and I would often go up on the roof.  It was kind of a joke that I had my own radio program so…”Reporting to you live from the roof of the Claymore, Penny Tralstad…”  We weren’t supposed to be up there, but I would sit up there and I would watch the war, especially at night, firefights and the various images of war.  I would record letters to Lois and in some of those letters I would have the mic on and I would just say, “Here’s what it sounds like.”  She could hear what was going on in the background and I would describe what I was seeing.  Sometimes I would take it with me over to the ward and from time to time when we had a break I would say something more.  The initial part of those letters was to plan our trip back to Europe because after I had gotten my orders to Vietnam I called her and told her I was going over to Vietnam and I still don’t know if I’m coming back, so we made a pact that if I survived we would go on a trip around the world and if I didn’t survive Lois would go on the trip for us.  That was not the easiest thing for her to agree to, but she did.  That was initially a part of her thinking of what would help me – planning for this trip while I was there.  And I wanted to because my intention was the minute I am out of this country we’re on a plane going somewhere else to experience more and different life.  That was the plan and we did that.  We sent those tapes back and forth.  I would tell her I want to go here.  I want to do something in Shakespeare’s place.  I want to see this architecture that we really need to look at.  I want to go to the Vienna Statsopera.  She had a travel agent who she worked with at Pan Am and this woman apparently thought we were crazy young girls, but she was very invested in this trip and she was very helpful to Lois.

As time elapsed for me over there, the tenor, tone and content of those tapes changed.  We still talked about the trip, but less so and she started asking me questions about what it was like, what I was going through, how I was doing.  This was not the kind of thing Lois would normally want to know.  In fact, my nickname for her was Lily-livered Lois, because she was scared of everything.  If she would see a cut on somebody, she wouldn’t want to be around that.  If I were sick she would pull the covers up.  I am allergic to seafood and I had something to eat someplace that had a fish stock and you couldn’t taste it and I was sick as a dog, but Lois would have those covers pulled up and say, “There’s nothing I can do to help you, is there?”  I’d say, “No, because you’d be useless anyway.”  It was a joke.  She just couldn’t stand any of this stuff.  For me that was one of the greatest acts of generosity for her to be asking those questions when nobody else was and I thought, I guess I’ll answer them.  There were times at first when I said, she doesn’t want to know this.  She’ll throw up listening to what I have to say.  And yet I did.  I just answered.  It became part of my way of reflecting on and incorporating what war was like from the inside out.  I could talk about the things that were surreal, the things that were grotesque, the things that were beautiful.

There was a man who was VC (Vietcong) working on our ward.  These people were trying to survive so they would take money from whomever they could get it.  What that meant was they would work on the ward or in our quarters during the daytime and at night they would go out and do their thing. Some were arrested, but it was a known quantity.  They were mama-sans and papa-sans, some of whom did the washing, ironing and cleaning.  There were others on the wards, too.  They would clean bedpans and sweep the floor.  Early on, this one papa san came up to me and said, “I go now lady.  I want you know, I no kill you tonight.”  I looked at him and I was trying to make sense of his words and I said, “Thank you.”  He said, “You good lady.  You good people.  You do good things my people.  I want you know, I no kill you.  I don’t know my friends, but I no kill you.”  I thought that was one of the most lovely, generous acts.  It sounds strange maybe to say that, but here is a man who is according to our country my enemy, according to his country their hero.   That’s all we are.  When we are in other people’s lands we’re guests and how well do we treat the country and how well do our hosts treat us.   In the daytime he did what he could to help us do what we needed to do and that was in aid of our people and his to the extent that we treated locals.  His view was that what we did was good, but at night he belonged to the people of his land.  That was another story.

I’ve written a play where I have used four patients for the major story telling points.  There’s one who comes to mind – a young man named James who, when I would come into the ward, would always be out in a wheelchair.  He had a big blanket over him.  He always had a radio and every time I would come in he would greet me and he would joke with me.  He would say, “Lieutenant, would you dance with me?”  I said, “Sure, as soon as you’re ready I’ll dance with you,” and I would be on my way. One day he said, “I’m going to be leaving soon.  Will you dance with me.”  I said, “Well, I don’t know.  Are you going to be able to stand up and dance with me?”   He said, “No, I won’t be able to do that really.”  I said, “How do you want to dance and what do you want to dance to?”  He said, “It doesn’t really matter.  I just want to dance with you before I go.”  I said, “Great,” and I started to take off his blanket and I said, “Well, maybe I can hold you up.”  He stopped me from removing the blanket and he said, “I’d be too heavy for you.”  And I said, “What do you mean?”  He pulled back the blanket and he had no legs.  I saw that he had just stumps and I said, “If you’re still up for dancing we’ll figure out a way.”  He said, “I really want to do that.”  I knew those stumps had to hurt, because they were fresh enough.  I said, “I’m too heavy for you, so I can’t sit on your lap.  We’ll figure something out.”  Some guy came over and he had some kind of a board and he put it across the arms of the wheelchair and I sat down and somebody twirled us around and that’s how we danced.  It was a beautiful moment, because here was this young man who had such spirit and courage, to even bring that up and it was such a small request for him.  I was struck as I was by so many of these patients, by the innate courage to just go on living no matter what you’ve got wrong with you and to just make do and do the things you love to do regardless of the impediments.  That’s a strong message and when I look at the things that a lot of people find befuddling in life, my own feeling is that’s not the half of it.  There really isn’t anything that can stop us from living a fulfilling life if our minds are clear.

Davy is certainly another patient I will never forget.  He was a wise young man and he wanted to know if he was dying.  He understood how to live every moment of his life until he was gone.  He was a dancer.  He also wanted to dance with me but couldn’t.  He was a kindred spirit in so many ways – our love of the arts, of music and being able to give a message of hope and uplift in a world that seemed sadly lacking in both.   I gave my heart to Davy and I knew before he did, that he was going to die.  What is the option, but to give your heart?  To withhold it?  That doesn’t make any sense to me.  If you look at giving something with the idea of what you might get back that negates everything.  I don’t think there can be too much hope.  I don’t think there can be too much love, too much opening of your heart.  The more you give the more you receive and quite apart from the fact that that was a very tough thing, I learned so much from him and others like James.  I learned something different from each of these people, but always it was clear that whatever I had to give was not going to be wasted or lost.  It really didn’t matter whether it lasted for another few days in his life because his spirit would go on.  People have different views about what that’s all about.  In my view what difference does it make?  People ask, “Do you believe in an after life?”  My thought is, who cares?  It doesn’t matter.  It’s the quality of how we live now that’s important.  If there is something later, then great.  If there’s not, then why wouldn’t you want to give it your best?  Nobody knows what’s in store.   Davy and I both had that feeling and that was something that was incredible – the coming together of our two spirits.  He gave me as much as I gave him – more, actually, through all these years.  Has he contributed to this world?  For every act of compassion that I have been able to render to anybody he’s there.  I would say he’s done a lot for this world in his short 18 year span.

The other young man didn’t have eyes.  Somebody asked me once, “Was he blind?”  And I said, “No, he wasn’t blind.  He didn’t have eyes, but he could make the world better.”  I don’t know if they were ever able to reconstruct an orbit for the eye or bone structure.  I don’t know if he made it.  I know he made it out of our ward.  His message was, “Love is what we’re here for.  It doesn’t matter what we’ve got on us.  We’ve got love and we can give out a loving spirit.”  He was a seminal moment for me as well.

Another one was a guy named Max who, 25 years later, found me at the Vietnam Memorial in D.C.  He was an amazing young man.  He asked me for something of me, because he believed that I had saved his life four times.  He knew that I was upset with him because he kept being on the brink of dying.  I said, “You are a real pain in the neck because you keep taking up my time.” You’re in a constant state of needing to set priorities.  You cannot have a muddled mind.  Something is happening around you all the time.  You also have to be a chameleon.  You are what that person needs you to be.  For Davy I was one thing.  For James I was another thing and for the young blind man…He wanted to feel my body.  He wanted to feel my hair.  He knew what I looked like.  He had heard.  What do you do about that?  He wanted to be able to see me the way he could see me.  Do you let somebody do that?  Yes.

Max was a banterer.  A part of how he made do was joking, bantering back and forth.  He was about to die four times in a row and he kept eviscerating, but he also kept coming back.  So I would joke with him.  You become what you need to be to feel more comfortable.  He was a wise young man as well.  He and his wife had two kids and he asked me for something to remember me by.  The thing that I thought of that was simple was that from the time I was a little girl, my name is Penelope, but people called me Penny.  I would sign cards by taping a penny to them when I was a little girl.  So I thought, that’s what I’ll do.  I gave him six pennies, because he had told me that he and his wife wanted to have 4 children.  You’d think I had given him an Oscar.  He was so excited with these 6 pennies. I said, “That’s one for you, one for your wife, one for each kid now and one for each of the two kids you’re going to have.”

Fast forward to the Vietnam Memorial dedication in ’93.  I ended up staying an extra day after I dropped my husband off at the airport.  I thought it would be quiet on Capital Mall – not as many people would be there.  I went to the Wall a second time.  I then went back to the statue of the nurse with the young man and I was kneeling.  That’s when Max came up and he said, “You used to wear your hair that way,” pointing to the nurse in the statue.  And I did.   I looked up and I saw this man standing there smiling at me.  I stood up and he said, “I don’t know, but I think you might be the woman I’ve been looking for for 25 years.”  I asked him, “Who do you think I am?”  He said, “You were a nurse in Vietnam,” and he gave the years, ’67 to ’68.  He said, “If you’re the one I think you are, your name is Penny. And your last name began with a “T”,” and Trustad is my Norwegian name.  He used to joke with me about my name.  I was just dumbfounded.  He started lifting his shirt and pulling down his pants and showing me the various scars.  I didn’t remember him at that moment.  There were so many like that and for somebody to come up and say, “I have a big abdominal wound,” it was like, well, who didn’t.  But it was exciting to me.  I enjoy people doing that because they’re so excited about being alive.  Scars are wonderful in that regard.  So we talked about that.  Then he said, “I came here to find you and here you are.  I’ve got something for you.”  I asked, “What do you have for me?”  He told me the story about the pennies.  He reached into his pocket and pulled one out and said, “We have three children. The family talked it over and we all said that you needed to have the sixth penny.”   He gave me the penny.  It was amazing. It’s a beautiful story.  He was fit as a fiddle.  He said, “I wanted you to know I am O.K.  You  saved my life four times and you’re part of what lets me stand here now. Thank-you.  I want you to have our family penny.”  He is somebody who I would say is a testament to resilience and to his love for his family.

Everybody had crushes on all of us.  We could have all looked like a bunch of mudhens and it wouldn’t have mattered, because we were what looked like a civilized world.  And we could help them.  I learned a lot about how humor helps from Max.  Humor is evidence of perspective.  When we take ourselves too seriously we have no humor and the minute we have humor we can see irony and we can laugh about the things that were psychological guillotines at some point in our lives.  In that moment it looks like the blade is very near, but in retrospect there is that perspective and humor comes in.

There is another thing I remember about these young men.  You don’t think of young men in the prime of their lives being weak as kittens.  Here’s a guy who’s beefy, muscular, a bit stocky, but there is the weakness in these young men when they’re wounded and I don’t think anybody realizes that.  In the movies, you see people get hurt and you see people die, but it’s hard to show them in this profound sense of weakness. Max used this sense of perspective and humor as a necessary ingredient in his resilience.  We cannot be resilient unless we have perspective on what we’ve been through and about how we fit into the total picture – our culpability, our innocence, which is part of a simultaneous experience of life.  I don’t think we have compartments in our life.  When I talk about being in war, part of what I see and talk and write about is the experience of humanity in the most inhumane circumstances – the beauty coexists with the grotesque, so the resilience has a sense of humor or it wouldn’t allow us to do anything but go insane.  Max was a real testament to that – to not giving up.

Knowing I was leaving Vietnam was hard for me.  Getting towards the end for me there was that same kind of thing that a lot of us shared – who’s counting the cards for us?  What are the odds that we’re going to make it through here?  I didn’t cross off days on a calendar as many did.  As much as I wanted to leave I didn’t want to leave.  It was a very difficult time. On the one hand, I just wanted to get out of there.  I wanted to meet Lois and go on our trip.  On the other hand I didn’t want to leave because I was needed and I was worthwhile.  I had something to offer that not many people had.  We were a special few in many ways – we had experience. You’d see people leaving and there were no good-bye parties.  You worked until somebody said, “The truck is here,” and you’d have your stuff packed up waiting by the door and you’d say, “O.K. Bye,” and off you’d go.  There’s no leave-taking.  You’d toast each other with a can of coke as you’re handing your dressing to somebody else.  How do you say good-bye to a country that has consumed more of your life than you knew you had?  How do you say good-bye to people upon whom you have relied for sanity, for camaraderie, for professional skills.  We were able to work together in a seamless fashion.  How do you say good-bye to the people lying in the beds?  My very first patient that I ever had asked me to go home with him and I had just gotten there.  Here’s a young man who’s scared stiff, but not when he’s got his nurse and he wants her to go with him.  I couldn’t, of course, go anywhere with him, but…how do you do that?  You have to leave everybody and you have to leave the way in which you are able to contribute something in a way that you will never do again – one would hope – so it is a gut-wrenching experience.

I was the only woman on the plane home and a lot of the men were sick so I spent a good deal of the flight going around being a nurse.  I knew that something had happened to my vocal chords while I was “in country”.  I had a couple of doctors examine me and they said it didn’t look good.  I knew that something was going on.  I didn’t know if it would get better and that had been my dream.  That’s why I became a nurse.  When I came back from my trip with Lois soon after my return from Vietnam I found out the dream was finished.  Then I had to find a different way to use my voice.  You know the song, “What I Did for Love”?  It was that kind of a feeling.  You gave it all and then, oops, something happened and what you thought you’d be able to give is removed and then you move on from that.

Coming back was very challenging. Nobody was saying a thing.  The hush in the plane was overwhelming.  There was no cheering when we landed.  People kissed the ground – the ground that didn’t welcome them back.  That’s hard to take.  For me that was the end of the military so I was processing out completely.  There was nobody who asked a question. Nobody said, “Welcome home.”  These were military people for heaven’s sake.  You filled out forms, you changed your clothes, you turned in this and that.  I stayed overnight.  I put on civilian clothes and nobody waved good-bye.  Nobody said anything about not only what you’d been through, but whether there was anybody to talk to about it.  I don’t know how much that happens right now.  I hope more.  But there was no reaching out.  What you were left to do was find your way home.

I called my sister and my brother-in-law came to get me.  They were glad to have me back, but nobody asked me anything about what I’d been through.  My mother was there and she was mad at me as she usually was – not one question about what I had experienced.  My nephew – they had four children – was 5 and he was in kindergarten.  He came up to me and asked, “Would you come to school with me tomorrow?”  I thought he wanted to show me where he went to school, so I said, “Sure, I’ll go to school with you.  Is there something special going on?”  He said, “I want to take you for show and tell.  I think I am the only one that has a soldier.”  And that’s what I was.  I was the show and tell. I was a soldier.  So I went off to kindergarten with my nephew and the teacher was definitely puzzled.  He said, “For show and tell today this is my Aunt Penny and she’s a soldier.”  That’s about as close as anybody got to what life was like from me – from the mouth of a five year old.  The kids wanted to know what it was like.  Kids are amazing.  They ask very direct questions.  While we were in Vietnam, one of the nurse’s sisters was a third grade teacher so she had her class write us letters. They were hilarious, but to the point.  “Does it hurt to get shot?”  “Does it hurt to die?”  “Do they bury you there or do you come home to be buried?”  Some of the letters we didn’t give out to the patients and some we did, but we read them.  There’s no artifice there whatsoever, so for my five year old nephew to call me a soldier was…he didn’t realize how wise that was, of course, but it was.

My sister had good friends who lived across the street and they came over for dinner and it was like I had been on vacation for a year in an exotic land.  There were a few questions about what  the land is like, what is the food like.  To this day, if somebody has a French bread, a baguette, I’m looking for bugs to pick out because that’s what you did.  My experience of living back in this country was so foreign that a part of me just wanted to get on the next plane and go back because I knew that land by then.  I knew what to do and I knew how to help and I didn’t know what in the world was going on in my own land.  Then, of course, I got a much better earful about how the country viewed anybody who was over there.  There were some other neighbors and they asked me what I was doing over there and I told them.  They were as cold as could be.  “How could you?”  I responded, “I was sent there.”  Military experience for women has always been voluntary.  I never made any moves not to go there.  I didn’t want to go there, but I accepted it.

I went up to Minneapolis to meet Lois on our way to New York.  She was so excited to see me.  She was all packed and ready to go, but I walked in and her parents kept me in the living room.  Her dad was extremely reticent.  He didn’t talk to anybody.  He wasn’t angry, he just didn’t talk.  But he could never stop talking to me.  I was in the living room with him and he was asking me questions.  I was talking with him and then Lois and her mother came in from the kitchen.  They were beaming and they said, “O.K., it’s time to come in and have a cup of coffee.  So we go in and sitting on the kitchen table is a big chocolate cake with an American flag stuck in it.  That was my welcome home – Lois’ parents were the ones who welcomed me.  And Lois was so proud of me.  She’d gone shopping and found the flag to put in the cake.  It was lovely.  They asked questions and they talked and all of her relatives were over at some point and they wanted to know what I did.

When we went on our trip to Europe, I didn’t realize what good sense that was at the time.  I just knew I wanted to get over there and see more.  We were able to get into Cambodia before it shut down.  This was a dream and we were living that dream and I was alive.  We went to the places and we did the things that we wanted to do.  While we were gone some of Lois’s character and strength were present.  Here was the woman who didn’t want to know anything, but she asked and while we were traveling she had this ability to sense where I was.  There were times when she would know or ask if there was something I wanted to talk about.  Or she would say I want to know about such and such, but only when you’re ready.  We did that dance throughout that six months.

There was some decompression that was taking place during that time.  Poor Lois. I don’t know how many fingers it would take to count the number of times I threw her to the ground and covered her with my body.  You would do that if you were under fire.  Our job was to protect the patient.  On the trip we would be places and there would be loud noises or maybe there would be a helicopter.  When we were in Nurnberg the neo-Nazis were having some big riots so there was a lot of gunfire.  I would just grab her and slam her to the ground and lay on her and then I’d realize what was happening.  She would be still. She knew.  She didn’t know the first time I did it, but she became used to it over time.  And that happened for years – gradually not so much me throwing somebody to the ground or me going to the ground, but I did and still do have that instinct. What I was able to talk about is what we would talk about.  Then she would delve a little bit more.

Coming back from Europe, Lois and I lived together in an apartment in California and it became clear the depth of vitriol that was present for Vietnam veterans.  I was treated even worse because I didn’t have to be there because I wasn’t drafted.   Nurses were considered not very nice people.  As people asked questions – where have you been, what have you done?  What could I say.  “I was overseas.”  Where overseas?  “In southeast Asia.”  Well, where in southeast Asia?  “In Vietnam.”  “What were you doing there?”  Either it was, “Get away from me,” or they would harangue me.  There was also the entertainment piece – let me vicariously get a little bit of excitement out of this.  That was not what I was going to deal with.  I still get that, but I don’t go there.  I’ve got a much better sensor over the years of when people really want to know what it was like.  I will tell you anything you want to know if you want to know, but I have to go some place to bring that out.  If you’re not going to be respectful of that and want to know because you want to learn and be part of a different message, then I won’t go there.  My message is not one of hate.  If you want to experience the fullness of what I have to offer, then I’ll go anywhere, but not as a party trick. Within the first few months I realized there was no safe place for that so I just stopped talking about it. Lois continued over the years to ask questions so I would talk to her, but I didn’t talk to anybody else.

Gradually there were a few people who would ask enough questions where they would realize there was something there and I would say a little, but not much.  And even with my second husband, Bob, until one night… He and I went to a concert at the Presidio in San Francisco.  We were both looking forward to hearing the Big Band music from the 40’s that was on the program.  There were pictures of the stars of the 40’s who sang the songs and over the loudspeakers were the songs being sung – Peggy Lee, Patti Page, Frank Sinatra.  The stage was set up to look like a radio station from the time period of the music.  There were signs that said, “On Air” and “Applause”.  There was a program that had a listing of all the songs. so at some point we thought the program was over, but it wasn’t.  The orchestra was still there and the next thing I realized was I had stepped away.  I was no longer there.  I was sobbing – gut-wrenching sobs and I had no idea what was going on.  People were there. “Is she O.K.?” “What’s going on?”  Bob got people to leave, but we were then alone there and he didn’t know what to do to help me.  He didn’t know what was wrong with me.

Finally I realized that the song was “I’ll be Seeing You,” and it wasn’t on the program.  There was no reason that song should have been played.  They had already done the planned encores.  I felt betrayed by that.  They should’ve told me if they were going to play that song, which is, of course, irrational because how was anybody supposed to know what that song meant to me.  It was a very personal moment of hell in a way, because here was this song, but I didn’t know what was going on for me.  It was like parts of me were breaking loose.  We got out of there and started going to the car and I saw this vision of Davy, the patient of mine I spoke of who died.  That was his favorite song and the song I sang to him as he was dying.  It’s not that I hadn’t heard that song before, but for whatever reason it stayed in a safe place, but that night it just ripped the doors off the hinges, broke the windows and at that point I had no sanctuary.

That began a very unnerving period for me .  It went on for some days as the images started to build out and I heard his voice telling me what I needed to do to live our dream.   That’s when the full memory emerged. I never completely forgot him, but the strength of that memory and the ferocity of it said, “You’ve got to stop being silent.  There are things you need to say and a message that you have that can be as helpful as being in the midst of war and doing hands on help.”  He was chastising me in some way for maintaining a silence that was only for protection, but at some point started to seem more selfish for me to maintain.  I don’t mean in terms of judging myself harshly, but if I had a message… Who knows how much time we have?  That was when that message started to get stronger for me and then I started talking more about it and testing the waters with people; talking with Bob more about it, telling him more of what happened.

Soon after that fateful night, I started thinking seriously about going back to Vietnam.  For so many years I had nightmares.  I still do, but they don’t mess my day anymore and I am not afraid of them. I am familiar with them.  One of my frequent nighttime visitors was a dream about having to go back to Vietnam.  I had a lot of nightmares that I called “oldies but goodies” that would keep coming back and then others that were variations on a theme.  They were pretty brutal.  Over some time and as memories started to come back more I shifted.  I didn’t hate Vietamese people, but for a period of time I was afraid around them.  In San Jose there was a huge immigrant population from Vietnam and a part of the downtown of that area where I worked for a period of time was full of Vietnamese people and the stores looked like little Saigon.  I would hyperventilate.  I couldn’t be around them.  The memories of what that meant frightened me so much.  That coupled with the nightmares was very difficult.

I finally decided I wanted to see if I could find my young self in Vietnam, because a part of me felt that I had abandoned her there.  I left her there and I needed to know how she was getting along.  I thought it was time to do that.  There was a returning veterans group that was going back and I asked Bob if he wanted to go – I was going to go regardless.  He wanted to go and thought it would be helpful if he would be there.  I had been talking about it extensively with Normi with whom I had begun to collaborate on what was to become the play, “No Background Music”.  I thought it would be good for her to go and to be in that land she’d been writing about.  She wanted to go as well, and then there was another friend of mine from Philadelphia and she, too, is one of those people who asked me anything and wanted to know and was so very respectful of my soul.  So she came along and it was the four of us.  It was enormously beneficial for me to have good spirits with me.

I found where I lived and where I worked.  Where I lived didn’t look much different, just older.  I met the people who lived in the two rooms that I had lived in.  I got to know them and was adopted by them and I adopted them.  They wanted to get in my suitcase and come back with me.  A 21 year old girl living was living in one of the rooms and I had been a 21 year old girl living in that room.  The hospital had been chopped up and transformed into a lot of sweatshops.  My ward was a sweatshop that was owned and operated by the South Korean government so I couldn’t get in.  I got into the operating area and they made cardboard boxes there.  They invited me in for tea and there were certain things left over from the war there – sign-offs, dispositions of people – various detritus of our time.

I had a dream two nights before we were going to leave.  For our last night in country we had dinner at the Majestic Hotel in Saigon on the river. I told the three of them about my dream.  It was that I was in a cab – my current self and my young self – and I was going out to Tan Son Nhut Air Base to leave.  My young self was sitting next to me in the car.  She was turned and she was looking back at the hospital.  She was tugging on my arm saying, “No, no, no.  I’ve got to go back there.  I’ve got people to take care of.”  My current self was telling her, “No, it’s over. It’s O.K. now.  We can go.  There’s nobody left to take care of.  I’m sorry for leaving you here all these years, but I am going to take you home now.”  The young girl wanted to stop the cab.  She tried to open the door and get out, which is exactly the kind of thing I was doing back then.  Finally she asked, “Is it true? Is it real? Will you take me home?”  And I said, “Yes, that’s what I’m here for – to find you and take you home.  Everybody is O.K.  And what you did was fine and it was enough and you don’t need to do it anymore.”

It was a beautiful dream.  I told it to them and they were delighted, because in a way for us it was a lovely ending to this very disruptive period, all of it a healing. I would keep being asked, “Is there closure?”  “Can you put it behind you?”  I don’t want to put it behind me.  How could I put it behind me?  I can’t any more deny that then I can deny I was once a six year old.  It is all a part of my life, so I wouldn’t deny that, but healing with it and having it incorporated into my life as a part of who I am as a human being is what it is about for me.  That whole period of being there at that time was a part of that re-integration, which is a part of healing where you live with something instead of living something.  It’s a whole different theme.

I came back and I wrote three poems about my time in Vietnam.  I continued talking about my experience more and more.  In my business with clients, it’s not the first thing I bring up.  I don’t go up to somebody and say, “Hi, I’m Penny Rock, I’m a Vietnam vet.  You want to know more?”  It would be pretty stupid.  But even in business where I work with CEO’s and senior teams it’s relevant.  If you want to keep a clear head in something and you want to look at how tough business is take a look at what it’s really like.  There are wars within communities and it’s relevant there, too.  I have found a way to give voice to that when it is relevant and when it’s appropriate and to be able to expand that message, which is why I was willing to talk with Nomi about creating a play about my Vietnam experience.  It is about the message of healing and hope and of integration.  The notion of enemy is a far-fetched one – a very interesting thing that we carry around with us.  It doesn’t mean that I’m stupid and not going to take care of myself in a dangerous position.  Certainly I will, but I don’t live my life looking for enemies.

Going back to Vietnam another time in 2005 on my own was a whole different experience.  It was absolutely lovely.  I found my hospital and got into my ward.  I went back during Tet because I wanted to experience that celebration instead of the offensive.  I had cancer in 1999 and after going through the overt part of the treatment – surgery, chemo and radiation – there was an onslaught of poetry.  I couldn’t stop it.  I didn’t want to, but I couldn’t if I had tried.  A lot of that was the unleashing of a good many memories and that has continued.  On the second trip I felt even more embracing of the country.  Talk about a resilient people.  They have been occupied more than they haven’t and by different countries.  I talked to an old man once when I was living there during the war and I asked him, “How is it for you.  You’ve had people here all the time and here we are now.  What is that like for you to live in a constant state of war?”  He just looked at me and smiled and said, “The Chinese have been here.  The French were here and now you’re here and you’ll leave and somebody else will be here.”  As it turns out the Communist government took over and now they’re still communist, but they’re a very capitalist society.   A lot has changed there, but my most recent trip there was one of greater joy and greater embracing of the culture and learning more.  Being an integrated self and going back, of course other memories came back and I wrote while I was there on a lot of different levels.  I had very interesting contacts and connections with people.  It was surreal and other-worldly.  I just belonged there.  The place was my own.  I can’t wait to go back.

Eliot Fratkin (unedited – not in CALLED TO SERVE)

Eliot Fratkin is a professor of Anthropology at Smith College.  His wife Marty Nathan is a physician and activist who for many years headed the Greensboro Justice Fund, created after her first husband was killed with four other demonstrators by Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina in 1979. Elliot and Marty live in Northampton MA and have three grown children, two of whom are adopted from Ethiopia.

I graduated high school in 1966 and registered for the draft like everyone else.  I thought it was a sign of maturity at 18 years old. I’m from Philadelphia and went to Central, an all-city high school.  There were more than a few of us who were politically conscious in high school. In 1964 my twin brother and I sent books to Mississippi and tried to go down to march in Selma in 1965, but our parents wouldn’t let us.  My first real job was as a teacher’s aide in an inner city kindergarten for the Headstart anti-poverty program.  President Johnson really did a lot of good things around civil rights and against poverty; he was a genuine New Dealer. But I remember in 11th grade when, in February 1965, my history teacher told us that the US had begun bombing North Vietnam. Basically this told me that this war was not coming to an end, but that we were escalating it instead.  That’s what Johnson did to us. We felt much betrayed.

I went to the University of Wisconsin and was there for two years until ‘68 when I transferred to the University of Pennsylvania. Across the country the protest movement was expanding from civil rights to the anti-war movement. At Wisconsin things had really started heating up by 1967.  In October 1967, there were about 300 demonstrators led by SDS* who blockaded a chemistry building where Dow Chemical was recruiting prospective employees, mainly engineering students. Dow was making napalm as well as saran wrap and we didn’t want the university to contribute to the burning of Vietnamese villages and children. The police came in, clubs swinging and literally dragged us out.  I was this skinny guy at the time who should have known better, but this policeman came up to me and started hitting me with a stick, so I grabbed it and said, “Stop hitting me.” Then they all starting clubbing me and I started punching back in self-defense.  That moment was caught on the news.  It played on CBS and was later used in the film “The War at Home,” which was about the blowing up of the math building in Madison in 1970 that killed a young researcher.**

After the police pulled us from the building, I was put in this van with about 4 other demonstrators. A bunch of guys were outside asking us what we wanted to do, and I said, “Go get my brother.”  My twin brother Jake came and found me there.  He just kept saying “Don’t worry. I’m gonna get you out of there. I’m gonna get you out of there.” I told him, “Fine, go find a lawyer.” About three minutes later the back door of the van opened and my brother and another guy were tossed in. They had taken out the valves from all the tires so the van just deflated and was stuck. We were all in it together now.

The police had asked us for our names and were about to let us go, but the van was now immobilized right in the middle of the campus. Soon it was surrounded by a lot of students, and the police, stupidly, set off tear gas. What had been a demonstration of 300 became a demonstration of 5,000. They called it the Dow Riots and the police sent scores of demonstrators to the hospital.

We did get out on bail, and later William Kunstler*** defended us.  The six of us were arrested on disorderly conduct charges.  He argued, “How can you claim disorderly conduct for civil disobedience?” Ultimately they agreed and threw the charges out. My dad called us the night of the arrests.  He was a very mild-mannered, quiet accountant from Philadelphia; he said to us in his south Philly accent, “Okay, so let me get this straight. There are 40,000 students at Wisconsin, six of them who are arrested, and two of them are my sons?” I don’t think my parents knew what to do with us. They were worried about us being radicals. They had friends who had been blacklisted in the 1950s and worried the same thing would happen to us.

The entire country was experiencing anti-war demonstrations and marches. It always amazes me when the media or Hollywood depicts the anti-war movement as if it were a few crazy outsiders.  It was hundreds of thousands of people; most of my generation was against the war.  And not just us. I marched in a demonstration in New York City led by Martin Luther King, and there were several hundred thousand people in the streets that day. I believe it was this strong public opposition which helped end the war; this plus the fighting power and endurance of the Viet Cong.

I remember when Johnson resigned. Hundreds of us were watching the news in the U Wisconsin student union (no one had a TV in their room in those days). Lyndon Johnson came on the news and with a weary face said, “I shall not seek, nor will I accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.” People started whooping and running in the streets like this was going to change their lives, “The war is over, I don’t have to go!” But it didn’t end for another bloody eight years.

Many of us were very aware of the class differences and how being in college got us out of the war, at least until the lottery was instituted in 1969.  Even Dick Cheney, who was a grad student at Wisconsin, got deferred because he was married. But we knew they were running out of bodies and had to end the college deferments.  That’s when they instituted a tougher draft with the lottery. Up to then, poor people who couldn’t afford the deferments filled the draft.

There were crazy stories going around about people trying to get out of the draft.  I heard about this one guy who put a mouse up his ass.  During the physical the doctor saw the tail coming out and asked, “What is that?” and the guy said, “Hey, that’s my mouse, leave it alone.” I knew people who took massive amounts of drugs the day before the physical. I even heard of a guy who cut his thumb off to avoid going into the service, like the Russians in World War I. I never heard anyone defend the war itself. Some World War II and Korean War vets would talk about the duty to defend the country, but nobody my age liked the War in Vietnam. Even the soldiers had an anti-war movement going on within the army, at great risk to themselves.

I wasn’t passively waiting around to get drafted. Going to U Penn and living in Philadelphia, I became a draft counselor with the AFSC (American Friends Service Committee); we helped young men apply for CO (conscientious objector) status. We had to train them to answer questions like, “When they are raping your mother, then would you fight?” or “Should we have fought against Hitler?”  But in truth it was very hard to get a CO unless you had a specific religious background.  In Philadelphia this meant you had to be a Quaker or Amish or Jehovah’s Witness or Mennonite, but certainly not a member of a regular mainstream religion. If you could convince the draft board you were a genuine pacifist, you also had a chance of getting a CO.

I never applied for the CO status myself because I could not in good conscience claim to be a pacifist. I felt the Vietnamese were fighting a necessary war to defend themselves and their country. When we started the War in Vietnam none of us had any idea why we were fighting over there. But hearing some lectures from radical professors you saw there were real political and economic reasons why we (the US) were there. I came to see the war from the Vietnamese point of view. I know it’s a hard thing for some Americans to accept, but for them it was a just war, to keep a world power from destroying their country.  The Vietnamese, and I mean the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, were incredibly organized and selfless.  Theirs was a ‘people’s war,’ a war of the grasshoppers as they called it.

So the lottery came around and my brother and I joked that, of course, the biggest schmucks were going to have the high end numbers and not get drafted. Being twins we had the same number since they were assigned by your birthday, but ours was a middle to high number, around 200. My brother wrote a ‘fuck-you’ letter to the draft board and got called up, but he got out on a medical release – he was up for three nights on speed before he appeared for his physical exam. I think they just knew they didn’t need this guy, hair out to here, wild-eyed and crazy, up all night. They didn’t want someone like that in the barracks or battlefield. Following my brother’s lead, I guess, I sent back my draft card  saying, “I don’t need this, thank you very much. I don’t want to participate in this war.”  About every three months or so after that, the draft board would send me a new card saying they understood that I had lost mine and here is a replacement! So I would have about three draft cards in my wallet.

The University of Pennsylvania was more conservative than Wisconsin, and their anti-war movement was not as strong. So people would go to a demonstration, and someone would say “Let’s burn our draft cards,” but nobody would move. So I would pull out my wallet and pull out one of my draft cards and say, “Sure, to hell with the war,” and set it on fire.  And then a few others would get the nerve to burn their cards. While the students at Penn might have been more cautious than at Wisconsin, the cops certainly weren’t. I remember Frank Rizzo himself (then captain of the Philadelphia police and later mayor) would come with the cops with his own billy club, just to join in the shoving. I never did get called up, but I did leave the country by going to grad school in the United Kingdon and later to Kenya to do my graduate research. I didn’t return for seven years, in 1977. Sometimes I thought I should have gone into the Army. Why should class privilege keep me from going through what poor people had to go through?  I didn’t want to die, but I thought I could more effectively organize a resistance among the troops from the inside. If you could join a service and organize within, even though it was a very dangerous thing to do, that seemed to me the best way to do it. I had distributed anti-war newspapers at Fort Dix in New Jersey and what really inspired me was what these self-educated servicemen were talking about, how this was not how they thought their lives were going to turn out, especially with the casualty rate so high. People had different reasons for wanting to be in the Army: for manhood, for an education, or just plain employment, but unless you were really bizarre, you didn’t go in to kill people.

After the war wound down, a lot of people my age just seemed to stop caring about politics. In part the assassinations of King and Bobby Kennedy wore us out, and the Nixon administration was very repressive. Many young people withdrew into “drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll”; others joined hippy farms and communes, others, like me, traveled or moved abroad. Some radicals joined underground groups like the Weathermen;**** I knew one of the bombers of the math building in Wisconsin, who ended up serving years in prison.

I went to the UK for graduate school in anthropology. I was at the London School of Economics (LSE) from 1970-1972. As an American I was criticized about what the US was doing in Vietnam, and the only thing I could do was to say I was opposed to the war. But if I asked about Britain’s own imperial politics including British rule in Northern Ireland, some of the so-called liberals at LSE got defensive and said I could not possibly understand that situation, it was entirely different. But I didn’t really see it as that much different from Vietnam.

But there was a lot of anti-war activity in England, and I went to several demonstrations in London. Once I got arrested at the US Embassy for demonstrating against the mining of Haiphong Harbor in North Vietnam, and I got my nose broken by the police. Later in my life I did a Freedom of Information Act search and was surprised to learn the FBI has a record of my arrest in London. They seemed to monitor the anti-war activities of Americans abroad, even though the FBI is supposed to be a domestic agency. There were all kinds of information they were getting about us.

Today, our military is so-called voluntary, but it is still made up of less educated and poor people. I think people go into the service in their 20’s or even late teens without a clue as to what war is like, and then they see it.  They get shot at, bombed, see their friends die. Some have killed people – not just enemy soldiers but women and children – all the things your body screams at you against doing. My wife, Marty, says this is a reason so many soldiers come home from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder.

I’m very anti-military so I wouldn’t endorse a draft lottery if there was one, but a lottery would be the fairest way to draft people. Then we would see what happens when rich and powerful people have their sons and daughters go off and get killed in a useless and imperialist war.

The Vietnam War radicalized people who would normally not have been radicalized. There was, for a brief time, unity across color and class lines. Today more than 60% of Americans oppose the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but they are not demonstrating against it. Many people think we are doing the right thing over there. “We’re liberating their society, spreading democracy, educating and freeing women.” All these things are covers for corporation greed and the government’s need for political hegemony.

I think it was really interesting to have gone through what I did in the ‘60s and ‘70s.  I was 18 to 24 years old and very impressionable; to be active in that time and place was a real privilege. We got to see lots of things you would never see in a so-called normal period. You got to see what the military and police really do.  You got to see what poverty really looks like. You got to see the effects of imperialism. Maybe people will see that again soon. It wasn’t a very happy time, no matter how Hollywood and TV describe it.  People were dying. Many of us became activists because we were pushed into it by what was going on around us.  It changed my life.

*Students for a Democratic Society was a student activist movement in the United States that was one of the main iconic representations of the country’s New Left. The organization developed and expanded rapidly in the mid-1960s before dissolving at its last convention in 1969.

**The Sterling Hall Bombing occurred on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus on August 24, 1970. It was committed by four young people as a protest against the University’s research connections with the US military during the Vietnam War. It resulted in the death of a university physics researcher and injuries to three others.

***William Kunstler (July 7, 1919 – September 4, 1995) was an American self-described “radical lawyer” and civil rights activist, known for his controversial clients. Kunstler was a board member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the co-founder of the Law Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the leading gathering place for radical lawyers in the country.

**** The Weather Underground Organization – abbreviated WUO – was an American radical left organization. It originated in 1969 as a faction of Students for a Democratic Society composed for the most part of the national office leadership of SDS and their supporters. Their goal was to create a clandestine revolutionary party for the violent overthrow of the US government.

John Strickland

John is a retired schoolteacher who taught middle and high school history for over 25 years in Canada and the U.S. He now lives in Amherst, MA. He has two children, ages 36 and 28, both of whom live in Canada. He has a list of about 65 articles and books he wants to write – one, for example, on an old dissertation topic, the role of history in the political philosophy of David Hume.

I grew up outside of Savannah, Georgia, in a rural area. Neither of my parents had more than a 7th grade education. I have no idea why I started reading the things I did, science, math and philosophy in particular, but I just got interested. I had teachers who would mention things and I would run off and read them. Novels were more problematic – all of those crazy, subtle emotional words, which were hard to think with. I preferred to think my way through John Dewey or try to think through Descartes and Spinoza and Kant. I remember reading the METAPHYSICS OF MORALS. I am sure I did not understand it at the time. A lot of “overreaching.” I was still in high school. My teachers didn’t know I was reading these things. School was hardly challenging. I did my homework on the bus. I had some good teachers and very bright classmates in spite of being in the middle of the Deep South during those years, which would have been ’57- ’61. One of the reasons I got into the sciences was that there was a terribly big jump into trying to promote the sciences after Sputnik. There was a group that conducted a talent search and I got picked up along with a lot of other raw talent using the Westinghouse science exam they administered to find us. I got to take special seminars with all of the scientists in the area while I was still in high school.

I applied to Harvard and my high school principal said to me, “How can you do this, you have no money?” I didn’t know his son was applying to Harvard that same year…When I left Savannah on the train there was a brass rail down the middle – colored on one side, whites on the other. That’s how I grew up. Occasionally I would talk with classmates at Harvard who would ask me, “Why aren’t you prejudiced?” They knew other southerners there. But I didn’t have any prejudice – at least not other than what could be uncovered in dreams perhaps. I just rejected it. Maybe it was that I had grown up so poor. I didn’t have the black color, but I had the same poverty. We didn’t have indoor plumbing. I grew up on a little dirt road outside of Savannah. All my relatives were sharecroppers and poor people. When I said I was going to Harvard they didn’t know what it was. I believed I could go because of reading Alfred North Whitehead’s AIMS OF EDUCATION as a model. I like to joke I misunderstood him because his model was really the Harvard Business School and I went for an undergraduate education.

I knew about politics, but I was at times offended because people believed that since I was from the South I couldn’t possibly be “enlightened”. I would bristle. You can tell I have very little southern accent. I got tired of answering questions about why you people hate blacks. The crisis for me came with civil rights work. I went to hear Claude Weaver, a Harvard classmate, who talked about the Mississippi Summer Project; he described Mississippi in great detail and that got me interested in the Freedom Summer Project. Then I went to a meeting in Roxbury and Fanny Lou Hamer was there. She still had her bruises from being beaten in the jail for “daring to vote”. I was outraged. I understood what she was up against. I spotted a Ku Klux Klansman in the audience. I have a good eye. I know the faces of southerners. There is a certain face. He was there as a spy and I told people, “This man is a spy.” I had grown up in the South. I know southern types. It stamps you – where you live and your climate leaves a stamp on you. It was easy to spot.

I went to Mississippi after that. I was in Biloxi and later in Macomb. It used to be called the church bombing capital of the state because there were so many bombs. In fact, the restaurant I ate in the day before was rubble. It looked like it had been hit by a mortar, but it was blown up by dynamite. It was in a black neighborhood. They finally caught two guys who turned out to be demolition experts with army experience. My family didn’t know what I was doing with Freedom Summer. It was a tutoring program, which took place at Freedom Schools. I was ostracized by my family. My father wouldn’t talk to me for two years – no contact. This was the summer of ’64. When I came back I took time off in the middle of my senior year. I took a leave of absence and then came back and finished in the spring of ’66. When I left I got a draft notice and I filed for a student deferment because I was on leave from school and was fully intending to go back. They granted me that. I didn’t really want to go back to school after Mississippi. I wanted to go to New Orleans and be a writer. I didn’t care about finishing. I got a lot of pressure from my family. My mother wanted me to graduate. It wasn’t fear of the draft at that point.

I had mixed feelings about the military. I come from a military family. All of my family are big on the Army, Air Force and Marines. I still don’t know what I would have done if I had been drafted at that point. If I had been asked to take a step forward I might have done it and gone into the Army. In fact, I looked at Officer Candidate School. I took a test for it. I might have done that. I grew up wanting to go to West Point. I almost applied. I talked to the recruiter. I asked him about the philosophy department at the Point. He looked at me like I had crawled out from under a rock and that was it. I never took one step beyond that. I probably could have used the discipline, since I was a little undisciplined, but it was not for me otherwise.

So I took 4 1/2 years to graduate from Harvard, but I got to keep my scholarship. At the time I was reading political philosophy – Rousseau and Nietzsche. In the middle I stumbled into Hegel and I needed an extra half-year to read Hegel. They voted the scholarship extension to me. After I graduated I drifted. My roommates pushed me to fill out an application to the graduate school of education so I wouldn’t get drafted. They actually filled it out for me and made me sign it. I was very ambivalent about the draft. I am not very decisive and certainly I wasn’t at that time. I got accepted to Harvard with a fellowship and took courses required to receive a master’s in teaching for elementary education, but I left before I finished. I didn’t really want to teach. I’ve been a reluctant teacher all of my life.

I didn’t want to be in the U.S. I didn’t agree with the war. I knew what the problems were. People I knew were communists and they offered me a chance to join the party. I said, “I can’t do it. I don’t believe in the historical inevitability of communism. I am very much more conservative.” The first thing I did was sort of humorous. I was going to go to Japan and send my draft board a letter from Nagasaki or Hiroshima refusing to go. My friends were saying things like, “You can probably get a job as a westerner in Japanese movies.” We had it all figured out until we got to the Japanese consulate in N.Y.C. The woman there didn’t understand what I was talking about. She said, “We don’t have immigration.” We were in shock then.

So Canada made more sense and Quebec in particular because I wanted to be in a foreign culture, but I didn’t want to be that far away from my family where they couldn’t visit or I couldn’t visit. My family and I had reconciled. My mother had come up to north for my graduation. By that time my father and I had agreed to disagree and we didn’t talk about it. They drove me to the airport and they knew I was going to Canada. They sort of knew I was going out of protest. Technically I didn’t have to go. I hadn’t yet received a draft notice. It was my way of protest. I didn’t agree with the policies on Vietnam. I didn’t want to be in a country that was waging war on adolescents with guns. Vietnam had muddled communism and nationalism inextricably and you couldn’t rip one out without the other. That was their form of patriotism and it was their country. So what are we bombing them for? I wrote a letter to Congressman Hagan of Georgia to express my views and to protest the war. I never mailed it, but I made copies and handed them out at Harvard Law School with my neo-conservative friends. They thought it was funny to help me hand out a Vietnam protest letter at Harvard Law School. A lot of little ironies. I had a funny group of friends. It was a well-reasoned letter and I was very serious and everything in it is still appropriate. I didn’t send it because Hagan was a typical southerner and it would have ended up in the circular file folder.

I considered going in as a CO. I went to Atlanta to talk to a friend’s husband who is still there. Spencer B. King, III, is a professor of cardiology. He had been in a MASH unit in Vietnam as a cardiologist. He showed me 200 slides of Vietnam and explained to me why I couldn’t go in as a CO because you had to carry a gun to pick up the wounded – an M-16 in one hand and the wounded in the other. We looked at the whole situation. I saw things that were not supposed to be in his possession – aerial photos of the camp. Every time they went out, they would get picked off by a sniper. They finally got mad and burned the village to the ground, which doesn’t win the minds and hearts of the people. I saw pictures that were never published. The ones where the wounded were really visible. I used to think MASH was just fiction. It wasn’t. It’s exactly what happened. He showed me a picture of a beer party the night before when they laid out the wounded. “These will survive. These have priority.” Among those who wouldn’t survive was the son of his commanding officer. (John becomes emotional and holds back tears.) What a thing to have to call your commanding officer for…How could it not get to you. And then a story about two American companies shooting each other in combat, each thinking the other was Vietcong. One was armed with M-1s and one with M-16s. The M-1’s, unless you got hit in a vital organ, you were O.K. But the M-16’s had a very high-speed bullet and a very small bore. If it hits your arm it blows it completely off because there’s so much lateral force because of the speed of the bullet. It’s a horrible weapon. Worse yet, they wouldn’t admit there was an overheating problem. The guys in the foxholes after firing a couple of rounds with the M-16, it jammed, so all they had was a big stick to defend themselves. There was a guy who offered to fix it. He had an invention, but the Army denied having the problem. Eventually it was forced out of them by the newspapers and they took his invention.

I got all of this from this doctor in Atlanta. I got a really clear picture of what it was like. I saw slides of Saigon and of roadside fruit stands that were blown away the next day. I had so much the same experience in Mississippi. A place would look perfectly normal one day and then it would be obliterated the next. I knew perfectly well what was going on. When I was in Mississippi I woke up in the middle of the night. We had intercoms – 2-way radios with us all the time – and we heard that one charge has gone off; there were still 9 unexploded charges – 10 sticks of dynamite thrown onto a guy’s lawn and one had exploded. He was arrested and charged with stealing electricity and operating a garage without a license. Actually there was a police car in his front yard that he was fixing up, but it didn’t keep him from going to jail. Those explosives were typical of those intended for a church or a rally. Another place I slept, the entire wall of the living room was missing. 10 sticks of dynamite did go off successfully and took the whole wall out. That was the night before I got there. They would drive around with their license plates taped up and just toss these explosives. They were part of the APWR – Americans for the Preservation of the White Race. They were highly armed with grenades and machine guns. They had raided an armory and had high-powered assault weapons. In a way I was in a war and here was another one. As much as I believe in anti-communism, and I was very conservative in that respect, I couldn’t see what we were doing in Vietnam. It was too muddled. Why should we do that and support Tito. It was stupid. There was no logic to it.

I did pass the test for OCS and I would have gone to Officer Candidate School, but I would have been on the front lines. I had to believe in the war to do that. I could see from talking to the doctor in Atlanta that there was no way not to shoot people who weren’t at all guilty of anything other than being in the wrong place. It was an unwinnable situation. I remember a Harvard mathematician who said, “No theorem is as complicated as this war.” People who simplify it just don’t get it.

So my parents actually drove me to the airport. My father hadn’t wanted to go into the army. He was in the National Guard. He hadn’t wanted to go to war either. I had an uncle who hid out in the barn because he didn’t want to leave his girlfriend. She visited him in jail for 2 years. But, on the other hand, I had an uncle who was a prisoner of war in Germany and another who is my favorite uncle and was in the military police. He was always a driver or a bodyguard for high-ranking officers.

I flew to Montreal. I had gone with a Swiss classmate from the School of Ed, Doris Winkler. She lived in Montreal. That’s how I got to thinking about going there. She drove me with most of my belongings, but I flew in to get my landed immigrant status. I was prepared. I had all the necessary paper work. I even had a signed, sealed chest x-ray from Harvard Medical services. I arrived exactly at the stroke of midnight on June 30th 1967, as the fireworks were going off to celebrate Canada Day, which is July 1st. I had a German doctor who attended me at the airport who said he got all nervous when he heard the explosions because he had been in London during World War II. I figured out that he probably had not been in London but was more likely to have been in Berlin! It took me about 20 minutes to go through immigration, which was some sort of record. All they wanted to know was whether I had the possibility of a job and whether I would be a teacher or would need some more teacher training.

I had done everything possible. I had prepared myself. I was wearing – unusual for me – a jacket and tie. I even had a tie pin and a London Fog over my arm. I had a briefcase full of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but it was a new briefcase. I looked pretty spiffy for that crossing. A friend of mine figured I might have a headache because I was prone to migraines so he had given me some kind of headache tablets. I finally got through all of the hoops and I am outside of the airport. I am clear. I’m across the border. It was like a scene from when Harriet Tubman takes that guy across the Canadian border and he says, “Great God, almighty, I am free at last.” I took out the vial of tablets to take one and I said, “What?” I was in shock. It was full of marijuana. I had taken all of this incredible care in crossing the border and this friend thought it would be funny to give me this vial of marijuana instead of the headache tablets. I immediately threw it in the garbage. I needed the aspirin more than I needed that.

There was a draft dodgers’ hostel below the tracks. There were a couple of students and a fellow who was a world traveler, Tony, from Australia. I remember helping the two students get ready to sail in the Royal Regatta in Ottawa. In fact they came in 2nd place and got photographed with Prince Philip. Tony sent the photograph to his mother Down Under, because he said she was big on the queen. For him it was just one more adventure. The other guys ran the Montreal Draft Resisters Counseling Center and they had this hostel where we stayed. It felt like the atmosphere from Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh.” Everybody was waiting for landed immigrant status. They didn’t trust me because everything had happened too fast for me. I had done it in record time. I was dressed too well. They started spelling their names for me thinking I would be reporting on them to Washington since I must be a CIA agent. Part of it was they were seeing me walking up and down outside the place listening to a radio. I was listening to French stations teaching myself French. It was a very paranoid environment so that’s all it took.

I met a lot of interesting people, other draft dodgers. The most interesting was a guy who came with his wife. His lawyer had advised him to come to Montreal to stay. He had a wife and they had just had a baby. She was legally blind. She could only read three letters at a time. He was an art therapist on a psychiatric ward in N.Y.C. He was needed by this woman. He figured it would eventually work out to get landed immigrant status so he stayed with me and his wife delivered the baby prematurely. He would come back to the apartment and say, “She gained two more ounces today!” Her mother was a nurse and flew in from California to help them and it eventually worked out. They were a great couple.

The most famous resister I encountered was Jesse Winchester, the folk singer. Jesse landed on the street. Jesse arrived with the shirt on his back. As soon as he got his draft notice, he just hopped on a plane and headed straight to Montreal. He accosted these two guys who gave him a place to stay. One of them, Sy Dardick, started and still runs Vehicule Press. They put him up and he eventually got an apartment. He had his electric guitar and he was from Memphis. He was in a bind, too. He also had mixed feelings because he had the same kind of family background – southern and the south is very pro-military. There were things he wouldn’t sing. There was a wonderful song I heard him sing many times in nightclubs there entitled, “Jesus Christ Was a Teen-ager, Too.” It was very funny, but he wouldn’t record it because it would offend his mother. Jesse had a conservative streak. He had another song about twigs and seeds left at the bottom of a marijuana bag, which was really funny, too, and could have been a real best seller, another “Puff the Magic Dragon”, but Jesse wouldn’t record that one either. He’s stubborn that way. A lot of people sang his songs – “A Brand New Tennessee Waltz”, Judy Collins, Joan Baez did another. He’s a very good singer. He was a major figure in Montreal.

I helped out for a while with the counseling center. I helped one guy who was Canadian. I told him, “You just need to file your student deferment thing. You’re not even American. You’re only subject to the draft if you’re working in the U.S. You don’t need to worry.” I got him to fill his papers out and fly back. Another guy was a Marine who was probably the worst character I ever met in my whole life. I don’t think he meant to be, but he had a split personality with a sadistic streak. I hope he stayed out of the Marines. He would have been a very bad soldier. He would tell me stories about going to the zoo and tormenting the snakes. He had gotten a girl pregnant and taken the money her family had given them for an abortion and fled to Montreal. He was AWOL. He just took the money. One evening of talking to him was enough. I called him from outside my apartment and said, “I am coming back to my apartment and I don’t want to see you there anymore.” But I did help other people.

I ended up working in a school called Sir George Williams University. It had started in a YMCA and become a university. They called it the Concrete Campus. It was an alternate to McGill. They forced a marriage between Sir George and Loyola, which was run by Jesuits, and called it Concordia. They share resources, but reluctantly. The French didn’t want to support two English universities. At the time I worked in the library in the stacks and they put me in government documents because of my background in political science at Harvard. I filed government documents during my first winter there and it went down to 30 below.

There were a lot of draft dodgers who got employed in the libraries. It was like when I had briefly gone to New Orleans to write, there was a kind of subterranean community. I was part of it for a time. I was very busy learning French. I ended up marrying a French Canadian, but she never spoke a word of French to me, except when she swore. I had to learn it on my own. In my mind I was going to be a Canadian, which is why I gave up my citizenship. I wanted to go back to school and I knew I needed a fellowship. The Canadian nationals weren’t keen to give fellowships to people who were going to go back to the States, so one way of doing that was to give up my American citizenship, which you can do. That was another adventure. I had an argument with Arvid Holm, who was the U.S. Counsel General who told me he would blacklist me forever – that I would never be able to return to the U.S. I had gone to him to find out about renouncing my citizenship and he was so offended by that he got into this argument with me. I am not one to get into such confrontations. I was a little non-plussed. I wanted to go on the 4th of July, but they weren’t open. His argument was basically that I owed the country so much. I said, “Yes, but this war is totally unjust. I can’t abide it and this is my protest.” I did eventually want to go back and I had talked to friends about my options if I wanted to return and they weren’t sure. This was a friend who was second in his class at Yale Law School. He asked his professors. They didn’t know the answer. I wanted to leave the possibility open. I knew there were French people who protested against the Algerian War and left the country. They were never able to come back. The French bureaucracy is so unrelenting. My thinking at the time was, if I don’t refuse the draft I am not a criminal and I had never refused to take the step forward.

It was shortly after the confrontation with Holm that I got my draft notice. I had to report to the Boston Army Base for the exam. I flew from Montreal back to Boston to take my exam. So I went through the exam in Boston after having been in the clear in Canada. I had a piece of wire in my leg that I gotten while in high school so technically I would have probably been rejected anyway. They tell you to waddle and I couldn’t, but the guy was checking off all of these tests, but he wasn’t even looking. He wanted to get to his golf game. The wire didn’t even come up. This guy was just processing us. Unless we were obviously crawling or paraplegic, we were O.K. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. If I didn’t pass the exam I wouldn’t give up my citizenship. I might come back. It was part of the ambivalence.

When I passed, and it was obvious that I had because the guy wasn’t even looking at my inability to waddle, which is still true, they give you a second form, a moral exam. I balked. I refused to sign it. I didn’t know about some of the organizations that I had to disavow. I was very polite. They were very polite, but they didn’t know what to do with me so they sent me away. They rescheduled me for a week later and I had to be interviewed by an Army Intelligence officer. I stayed in Cambridge. He was a young officer and we went over what I would and would not agree to and I have a copy of the form in my file. Would I agree to support the Constitution of the United States? Of course, wonderful Constitution. Would I say I had never been at any meetings where communists were present? I said, “How do I know. I have been to any number of meetings.” The funny thing was that despite being young and relatively shy at the time, I guess I had a kind of confidence because he asked me if I wanted a lawyer and I said, “No, but if you feel comfortable having one it’s O.K. with me.” I can’t believe I said that. He was just very nervous. I was very straightforward. I gave my reasons. I said, “I don’t want to contribute to an Orwellian future for the United States of America. I wanted to know the national security relevance of every organization I was being asked about. Cervantes Fraternal Society? Maybe it’s a front, maybe not. Explain it to me. I know the Ku Klux Klan. I can disagree with them. I don’t want anything to do with them. Chopin Cultural Society? He wrote the ‘Revolutionary Etude’, but…” So we agreed to that. I signed off on it, but left many organizations out. I have no idea what effect that had. I went back and I never heard from them.

They asked me about psychiatric records. Well, I had lost a girlfriend freshman year and seen a Harvard psychiatrist. That tied them up for some time. Then I went back to Canada. I figured it would take quite a while for them to process everything, because I didn’t do the ordinary things. It would tie them up for some time, by which time I had renounced my citizenship. It was July 11, 1967 that I became a stateless person and I remained a stateless person for 5 years and 4 months. The whole thing took 11 days from when I had first arrived in Montreal. I came to some serious conclusions about staying in Canada.

Eventually I heard from the draft board. I was re-classified. I had done everything by the letter and spirit of the law. Would I let them know if I changed my residence in Canada? I told them exactly where to find me – where I lived and where I worked. I told them I would inform them if I changed my residence. I told them I was planning to stay in Canada. I told them that I had given up my citizenship. My local draft board classified me 1-E, which I presume is still my classification since I am still not a U.S. citizen. It’s “alien not currently liable for military service”. If I had come back I would have been 1-A. I have always been in good standing with my draft board.

So once I had resolved the issue with the draft board what I had was landed immigrant status, but I was a stateless person. I had a little white card, but I had no citizenship. I had to wait 5 years and 4 months, which was the soonest I could become a Canadian citizen. For those years I had no passport so I could not travel outside Canada. I went to Toronto in ’69 to graduate school. I met neo-conservatives there. The person I studied Constitutional Law with there was Walter Berns. He was prominent at Cornell when the blacks had the confrontation there and he and Alan Bloom resigned and went to the University of Toronto. I studied with both of them. Bloom was there for the period I was a grad student there. We didn’t see eye to eye, but I was careful not to let him know that. It was hard to work with Bloom. Saul Bellow’s portrait of Bloom in RAVELSTEIN is quite accurate. I never signed up for a course with him because I didn’t trust him. He was one of the Straussians (named for Leo Strauss, a German philosopher and neo-conservative founding father) all of whom are ardent anti-communists.

I taught political science and Canadian government while at Toronto and while at York, which was essentially just up the street, I taught federal/provincial relationships. York University, interestingly enough, had a group of left wing people. One had written a history of the Communist Party in the U.S. I worked with Norman Penner and his father, Jacob Penner, was one of the few communists ever elected to public office in North America—an alderman in Winnipeg in the Thirties. Norman was still a member as far as I could tell. Despite his party affiliation he was not an ideologue; he was a real political person. He knew many people by their first names and most of what was going on in politics in Canada and elsewhere. I was his assistant in this course on Canadian government. So here I was working with one Canadian who was a communist and studying with highly influential neo-conservatives. I am a quiet person. Straussians being Straussians have their own form of paranoia or curiosity and wanted to know about me. Bloom liked to interfere in everyone’s lives – arrange girlfriends, a big gossip. I told them enough to satisfy their curiosity. They realized I wasn’t going to drop a bomb or anything.

I went to one meeting with Bloom. He did everything he could to test your character. He introduced me to this professor who was about my age to see if my being an older student would affect my interaction. The way I found to distance myself from Bloom was to be stupider than I was. Not that I had to work very hard at it. I would ask a stupid question and that took care of it. He wouldn’t bother me after that. Berns would leave you alone. He doesn’t push and probe. Not Bloom – he’s a totally different character, a cross between Milton Berle and the Mad Hatter. He looked a lot like Milton Berle.

The question is what happens now. I have been back in the U.S. since ’86. I told myself I would wait to see if Gore was elected in which case I would probably have tried for citizenship, which I could have done after 5 years of being here in ’91, but I didn’t. I continue to hesitate. I am not sure how people would feel about it. There’s still a lot of anger around the Vietnam issues. Look what happened in ’04 with Kerry’s candidacy and his Vietnam record. Are there people who don’t want me here, who don’t want me to become an American citizen again, who want me to go back to Canada? I am not a confrontational person. I would go back.

I was even reluctant to do this interview. There’s a question on the application for American citizenship that asks: “Did you ever seek to avoid military service by going overseas?” What’s the answer to that for me? I would answer no. I don’t know what they would think. I have this concern about how people would respond. There’s been this reversion under this administration regarding who the enemy is. I am an alien. Yes, I am white, but my status is still “other” and there has been much hostility directed at those who are “other”. Now it’s changing. It’s becoming impossible to put a spin on wounded people coming back. Iraq veterans, I believe, are going to lead this next phase of the anti-war movement. They can’t lie. The Administration didn’t learn from Vietnam. They learned in terms of trying to manage the publicity, but they didn’t learn from the mistakes that were made. They’ve screwed this up royally.

When I first came back I wasn’t sure about regaining my citizenship. I wanted to see where the country was. I felt generally at home and welcomed by some people, but I don’t know generally if there is acceptance. In Canada I know of a group of draft dodgers who got together in Vancouver either last year or the year before and they got a lot of hostility from Canadians. It was another generation and they don’t really understand what Vietnam was like. They don’t have any sense at all. It’s like when I went back to Georgia from having been in N.Y. to see what a non-segregated society would be like. They don’t have a clue about the civil rights movement. They don’t understand what trouble it was, black or white. It’s mind-boggling to me. They don’t have an understanding of history. The same is true with the Straussians. They have a canon and it is a rather narrow set of big guns– like Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, and Hobbes. Bloom rejected my thesis at first, my thesis on Hume, because he wanted me to read Hobbes first, because his master’s voice came through Hobbes. I disagree with that. When I look at the ancient world I am more attracted to the approach of Jacob Burckhardt (The great discoverer of the age of the Renaissance with regard not only for its painting, sculpture and architecture, but for the social institutions of its daily life as well) who wrote The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860).) He also wrote about the civilization of the Greeks, who were very contentious, litigious people, but what Burckhardt did as an historian would be to read not just the big guns, but also every small writer going. He was a cultural historian. That context is missing in the Straussian teachings. They teach a few books known extremely well almost line for line. I partially understand what they are up to, though you almost have to be in their inner circle to see it up close. It goes back to Plato and Aristotle. The most profound teachings were delivered orally as they are in Zen Buddhism. Oral teachings are primary. The writings are secondary. It bothers me that the historical dimension is de-emphasized—though I am no Hegelian or historicist. They put the political at the primacy – the regime becomes the most important thing. If you don’t have a historical sense, it’s disconnected, lobotomized. They don’t have a sense of history. You need the historical context and it’s morally ambiguous. I call myself a Plutarchan conservative. He was very much a historian and very much a family man. In the Vietnam era I felt like a dangling man. I’ve read Bellow’s book (THE DANGLING MAN) and the dangling man may be the epitome of the age in some key ways. Of course, Bellow got it right. I love Bellow.

I continue to keep a low profile, invisible to everyone. It’s a habit now. I still have my old habit of shyness, though I can speak easily to an audience of 300. The fact is—theoretically–I could still be hauled off to Guantanamo in the middle of the night since I have no American citizenship. I am also subject to possible arbitrariness when it comes to my social security payments. It shouldn’t happen because there’s a treaty between the U.S. and Canada vis a vis social security. So I worry about my social security payments, which keep me in my retirement, not a prince’s wages, but it’s there. It’s a little nerve-wracking. Also, if you’re a resident alien, you can’t be out of the country for a year or you have to start all over again. You have to be here five years straight and I’ve been here since ’86. In fact, I have been here longer than I was in Canada (19 years), but I feel more Canadian than I do American. How do you explain that? For one thing I was Canadian, married to a French Canadian with children who are Canadian.

I tend now to be more philosophical. I am not indifferent to politics. Barak Obama appeals to me in terms of coming back towards the middle of the road. He’s a sane voice in the wilderness. But the outcome of the 2008 election isn’t going to determine things for me. I’ll just do it probably, but I am not sure when that will be. For one thing there’s a big price tag – $400. I don’t know how a dishwashing immigrant does it. Where are you going to find that money? I have friends who will lend it to me if I get to that point. I have dreamed about the whole question of nationalism. I realize I am American. There’s no way around it. We are nationalistic by virtue of body movements. Count Keyserling, (Count Keyserling is the author of numerous books, many of which were best sellers in the 1920’s in Europe, North America, and South America, including The Travel Diary of a Philosopher, America Set Free, Europe, The World in the Making, The Book of Marriage, Immortality, Creative Understanding, South American Meditations. Count Keyserling is the first Western thinker to conceive and promote a planetary culture, beyond nationalism and cultural ethnocentrism, based on recognition of the equal value and validity of non-western cultures and philosophies), “Americans walk like blacks and have the souls of red men.” Or maybe it was Jung. They were both a little skewed in the way they approach things, but there is truth in it.

I have never attempted to tell this story and I didn’t want to pre-formulate it. It was painful, which I knew it would be, but in some ways I didn’t expect. I didn’t know the image of the photograph from Vietnam was going to be so painful for me to recall. The same is true of the civil rights movement memories. Thinking about seeing the bruised and battered Fannie Lee Hamer is difficult. There’s a lot of emotionality attached to much of this. And then the Canada story. Americans just don’t understand how different Canada is. Even Canadians have a hard time with it. I taught at a very fancy private school in Montreal, typical of a school like Dalton, where I also taught in Manhattan. The headmaster once got mad about the French only law in Quebec. He said, “They should just submit it to the Canadian Supreme Court.” I should have bit my tongue, but I didn’t. I explained to him the difference between the two courts. They have to declare it constitutional. They don’t have the same latitude of judgment that the American Supreme Court has. They don’t follow precedents in the same way. Canadians haven’t got a clue. One of my books-to-be-written is called CENTRIFUGAL FEDERALISM – LOOKING AT CANADA AND QUEBEC. Quebec has always been a drag on the centralization of authority in Canada along with the geography, which is a pretty big drag. I am glad that I came to know the country so well…

Craig Dreezen

Craig was born and raised in Nebraska and now lives in Florence, MA with the woman who came to Canada to be with him in 1970. He worked for the University of Massachusetts for 17 years before retiring only to set up his own non-profit consulting firm. He is also president of the board of trustees at the Northampton/Florence Unitarian Society.

In 1969 I was a senior at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. It took me five years to go through undergraduate school. I kept changing majors. I ended up in English after a couple of other choices, so that took five years and of course there was an undergraduate draft deferment in 1970 so I could finish school in those 5 years instead of the traditional four and still not face the draft. I was living in an apartment that was in the hometown I grew up in. I went to school in the same town. I was also married.

Everybody was anxious about the war and I was active in the protest movement. I was student body president in my last year and I had been planning to go to graduate school. That was my career choice, and of course, they drafted me right off the bat, but my plan all along was to go to graduate school. The academic life suited me and being at the university was a comfortable place to be, kind of sheltered from the storm of the war that was raging. Nebraska’s a pretty conservative place, too. At the university there was a cluster of people who protested the war and supported opposition to it, but the surrounding state was very conservative. There was definitely that clash of values there. I was active in student government so I was connected with most of the people who were working against the war and had explored conscientious objector status, but a friend of mine had sought it and been rejected. This guy had a lot more formal credentials than me. He had been active in a church that was anti-war and at that time, the draft board in Nebraska interpreted the conscientious objector very narrowly. You had to be a lifetime Quaker, something where there was a creed that required pacifism so I didn’t even apply. It would have actually been smart if I had done so because later on, having applied and been rejected was grounds some people used to have their status changed.

My parents were and are still conservative Republicans and Nebraskans don’t talk about things too much. I got along more with my father by not talking about politics or religions or environmental issues. They probably presumed that if I were called I would go. We didn’t talk about it. They supported the war in principle and I imagine that, to some extent, they were just hoping that it wouldn’t come up. That was probably the prevailing attitude. When I decided to go to Canada and told them about it, they were incredulous. I’m sure there were lots of feelings going through their head. Shame comes to mind. I don’t know if that were the word they would have used. Perhaps they would express it as disappointment that I would be protesting, but then they probably also felt relief that I’d be safe. Those were not talked about. It was mostly stunned silence at first and then, what will you do and will we see you kinds of things. So that became a jarring break. It was the only thing I had ever done that struck them as oppositional. There was no warning that it would be like that.

The fact is, Nebraska was pretty tame compared to some places. There were a couple buildings occupied, but I didn’t actively do that. As for the lottery, it’s funny. I don’t remember the number at all. When I talk to people—most men can name their number—I cant remember that. I can remember that it was well within the range of what they were accepting. I’ve got real strong memories of getting the number because there was no chance that I wouldn’t get called. I went into kind of a shock. I didn’t sleep for a couple of nights. I was pretty bent out of shape trying to figure out what to do and didn’t eat. I went into a precipitous physical decline, lost weight and looked pretty haggard. Then I was filled with all kinds of ways to try to escape the draft. In those days everyone had schemes so I decided that I would pretend to be a drug addict. I poked a pin into my arm to make it look as if I had been shooting drugs and went to talk to a counselor at the University to tell him that I had a friend with a drug problem to try to figure out what some of the symptoms were of doing drugs. I said he was doing cocaine. So I went in for the physical. I hadn’t been sleeping and hadn’t been eating so I looked pretty drug-addicted. I claimed to be having a drug problem, but that didn’t bother the doctors at all. They were going to straighten me right out. It was not a cause for exemption.

From the moment I got to the physical I felt like a pawn in a system. It is a very demeaning process. They make you run around in your underwear and stand up and talk to people behind desks in a way that introduces you to the idea that you are about to become cannon fodder. I was very frightened and alarmed. It’s hard to know whether my convictions about non-violence get mixed up with my own fears for personal safety. I like to think I was taking the high ground of a moral stand against violence, which is true, but then that’s tempered by not only the fear for personal safety, but also facing becoming part of a demeaning system like the military is. Every bit of doing it ran against my grain. Every dimension – philosophically, morally, fear for my own safety, and just not wanting to subject myself to that military hierarchy and the demeaning mode that you have to operate within. The whole process of the induction hammers at that from the moment you receive the first letter – you’ll report at this time and you’re treated as if you are already in the military. I passed my physical.

At this point I made the decision to leave for Canada. My wife was very supportive, but the marriage was not great. It’s not the marriage that I have now. The marriage didn’t last. I don’t think my facing the draft was the critical factor, though. She followed me up to Canada. Throughout this whole process, from receiving the low number to the physical, I had been investigating Canadian immigration. I explored any kind of exemption I could get. I hoped not to pass the physical and that didn’t work. There was a network of people who could aid men to get to Canada. In those days there was no internet, so it was telephone calls and letters. I was connected with campus politics. There was literature and bulletin boards and tables set up in the student union. I called a number with information about leaving for Canada and got coached on what it would take to get accepted as a landed immigrant and even the border passages that were the most supportive, the least likely to be confrontational. I quickly assembled as much cash as I could. I sold everything I owned, but I was a college student so I didn’t have any capital. I still wish I had my coin collection. I sold my childhood collection and books and records.

We decided that it would be a sort of back-to-the-land move. This was a time when people were questioning their lifestyle choices, so we decided when we headed to Canada to go into the deep woods. I was reading about survival and organic gardening and acquiring camping gear and trying to get in better physical shape, walking around with a backpack full of books, which was the only heavy thing that I owned. We assembled some cash. Our stockpile was a couple thousand dollars, maybe three at the most. We began poring over Canadian maps. We picked out a remote fjord, although I don’t think they call it that in British Columbia, which was our destination. There were months of preparation; assembling cash, getting together equipment, stripping life possessions, getting a vehicle that would be fit to travel a good amount. I never considered any of the other more distant possibilities – Sweden, for instance. I’m not by nature a traveler so it was the same language, the same continent, less risk, more familiarity that drew me.

We went to Alberta to cross the the border guards were very polite. They wanted to know that we wouldn’t be taking welfare soon, but an English major doesn’t have that many obvious job prospects. I talked about my hopes and I didn’t talk about the back-to-the-land idea. I explained that I was going to seek a job, which wasn’t my intention, although it proved to be my plan eventually. It was the best part of the journey because the welcome was gracious. I told them what I was doing – avoiding the draft – and I’m pretty sure that’s why I was directed to that crossing because the folks there were sympathetic to that.

There were six of us traveling. The others were just fed up with the country. They weren’t evading the draft. They thought my departure would be an occasion for them to do something adventurous, too. We all crowded into a van. We crossed the border at different points and times and then merged because nobody else had the same legal problems that I did. We headed up to Bellacoola, British Columbia, which was a couple hundred miles north of Vancouver on the coast and it proved to be an absolutely beautiful place. But it was a long way from anywhere else and I learned later that people didn’t drive in, they took a boat in or flew in. But we drove in and left the muffler along the way because it was several hundred miles of gravel road. As you merged down the mountain into the valley, there was pavement and lawns and suburban homes and so it was very disappointing when we got there that this was not as isolated as it had seemed on the maps. Of course, there was no land to be bought. It was expensive and there was no work to be found. We spent a few weeks there trying to figure out what would work, and of course, nothing would work. We had to go back down to Vancouver. We had this really naïve view what it would take to get settled. My three thousand dollars was diminishing. We were living on peanut butter sandwiches and rice. The cash that would buy the land was diminishing. We stopped at a campground – we camped all the time – and somebody said to us, “There’s cheap land in western Ontario.”

So we headed to Western Ontario. It was summertime and fall was coming so we knew that we couldn’t go into a Canadian winter unprepared. We were sort of burning our bridges behind us. There was a sense of anxiousness about this, but we continued on. Coming from west to east, the first part of Ontario in Canada, northwestern Ontario, is lakes and forests, the Canadian Shield. It was very beautiful. We stopped in a town called Dryden. It’s a pulp and paper town, really stinky. We stopped at a real estate agency to see if there was anything and found this little farm for sale. We had pretty high standards. The conventional wisdom there was that it took a dirt road off a dirt road to get isolated enough. With other realtors, we had looked at lots that were just bush and beaver swamps and just horrible places, but found this farm that an elderly couple had to sell to move into a nursing home and the price was $1500 for 140 acres with a river running through it. It was just perfect. We bought it and that brought our cash down to about two hundred dollars.

It was early September so it was getting a little bit cold and we had no firewood. The place was essentially a little shack. Our companions decided that winter would be too rough and they went back. Eventually they came back up for a brief period and two of them bought property nearby and settled there and the other two lived with us, but eventually all of them left and went back to the States. That first winter we were alone. In addition to all the drama of trying to avoid the draft and trying to find a place to live, my first marriage was falling apart. It had started before we left for Canada. I had known Diane by that point and so she followed me up to Canada and joined us and my former wife went back to the States. Diane had a great leap of faith to follow me up. I think we knew each other three weeks. When I realized my marriage wasn’t working. I called her up and said, “Well, would you like to join me?” To my amazement she said yes. It’s been a great marriage, but it certainly started with a very odd circumstance.
She and I loved each other and I think she was looking for something – not this, but she expected to go to Boston and become an airline attendant. Instead she found herself in rural Canada.

It was a beautiful little farm, but there was no water. The well had been filled in. There was no electricity. There was, of course, no phone, no joys of any kind. No firewood. There was a river, but the well had gotten polluted and they just filled it in. We hauled water from a spring a couple of miles away. Our friends who owned the only vehicle among us said they could only stay for another few weeks so we went to Winnipeg, which is of course a city. You have to understand this was 250 miles away from a city. There was a town twenty miles away, but it was tiny. We went back to Winnipeg to buy a vehicle, but we only had a few hundred dollars left. We got a $50 truck, a crank starter, drove it about a hundred yards and it died. The guy returned our money so we bought another little truck, a little more modern. We went back to the farm and our friends went back to the states. Winter was coming on. We were now down to about $50. By that time, I realized I had to get a job. I went into town looking for work and immediately got stopped by an Ontario police officer. The car wasn’t insured and the fine was $50. We were faced with having no money whatsoever. We were just eating rice and mixing dried soup mixes into it to give it flavor and this is poverty. I had been imagining subsistence farming, but this was a hard land. That first winter it got down to 40 below frequently. Winters are long , but we didn’t even consider asking for money from our families. When I left, my parents were quite disappointed and Diane left her family just a note. They were away on vacation so she left a note that she was leaving. Having made such a break it wasn’t like we could call for help.

I finally got a job as a paper handler at a paper conversion factory. There were a few weeks were we were destitute, but over the years we found our place there. I worked at this paper conversion factory for a year probably, shift work and interestingly saw the other side of society I never would have seen. Manual labor and tradesmen and shift work and working class people, all of which had not been a part of my experience. Diane took a job as a secretary in a clinic and then a pulp paper mill, and she had a steady salary as I tried other things. But that first winter – I think we still have a picture of our Christmas tree. We cut this straggly little tree and hung paper ornaments and popcorn on it. It was so cold that we just lived in one room of the house. We had a little tin stove and the firewood. Someone took pity on us and brought us firewood. The neighbors were kind, but also very curious about us. We were the first people who hadn’t been born there. So people brought us firewood, but it was wet. We would struggle to get fires burning. Routinely the pail of water would freeze in the kitchen and the old truck wouldn’t start because it was so cold. To start it, we had this elaborate ritual. On the very, very coldest days, I brought the battery in and put it on the stove to keep it warm. I would take a scoop shovel and put twigs on and pour some kerosene and light it with the shovel underneath to heat the oil and then put the battery in and then it would usually start. By this time I had a job so I had to make it work. I remember one morning when nothing made it work. I put the battery in a wheel barrow, lit a kerosene lamp, put that in the wheel barrow and wheeled it three quarters of a mile to our nearest neighbor to plug it into his charger. I then went back to the house and returned an hour later to get it and wheel it down the road, put it back in the truck and finally got it going.

It definitely was an adventure. There was a part of us that was excited about it, but it was just such hard work. I don’t remember being discouraged. Diane got discouraged, and while I was going into town to work that first winter, she was just there in this little cabin. There was no electricity, no phone. There was no way to call anybody and no radio, not even a radio. I’d come back from shift work, hard physical work, just exhausted and we’d crawl into bed and she’d want to talk. I’d say one word and be asleep and that drove her nuts. She was very brave. I’m sure there were some times when we were just really frustrated, but we were committed and for me, I didn’t see an obvious alternative. For me, the decision was made and so we just lived with it.

We were cut off from what was happening in the States. There was no television. I think we probably got Canadian broadcast. There was only one radio station, the CNC. So there were many years where we were completely unaware of the news. That first winter was the lowest point and then things got significantly better. We met other people our age and found close friends. They were all Canadians, but very sympathetic to our circumstances. In fact I don’t think we’ve had as close friends since that time. Thanksgiving just passed and it was just the three of us, but there we would gather with many people. One family had converted a church into a house so there was this big hall and we would put the tables together until we had enough for 20 or 30 people, friends who gathered. There was a lot of that, and there was nothing else to do and we had no money so visiting friends was the entertainment. The work that I did at the paper factory only lasted about a year and then I started doing carpentry work. We had given up the idea of subsistence farming, but we liked the idea of craftsmanship and we decided that we would be craftspeople and that eventually became my career of 15 years.

Since we lived on a river, we used to say we either needed a bridge or a boat. We decided a boat would be more useful. There was an old man who made boats living nearby and we heard he made a canoe so we decided we wanted to become canoe builders. I went to visit him and find out where I could get materials for canoes. I was going to build a fiberglass clad canoe and he persuaded me that that wasn’t the kind of canoe I wanted and I should build a traditional canoe. I kept hanging around long enough that he handed me a hammer and said, “Well, help” and that ended up being about a four or five year relationship. I would have called it an apprenticeship if I had known that is was called that, but I was just helping. Eventually he paid me. At first, since I was hanging around so much, he put me to work and he eventually paid me. I helped him build these traditional fishing boats. They were oak rimmed and cedar planked and they’re used at fishing camps. I helped him build those, but I really wanted to learn how to build a canoe. I built one canoe under his supervision, but his methods were a little hybrid. He used his boat building methods to build canoes, which were quite unusual. He was self-taught in that regard. He’d apprenticed with a master boat builder to learn how to build the fishing boats. Diane and I took apart an old canoe to learn more about how it was built in the traditional ways. She and I became canoe builders. First with him and then we had our own shop and for ten years we built cedar strip canoes.

Then two things happened. First in the mid-70s, there was an offer of alternative service. I’d been indicted soon after we left and there was an offer that I could do some alternative service and I didn’t take that seriously at all because we had a good life, we were happy, we had friends, we had a home. There was no need. Then, when Carter was elected and offered amnesty, it sounded enticing, but even then we never seriously considered returning. We stayed until ’84. We had every intention of being lifelong Canadians although we never took the step of citizenship. We researched and learned that Canadian citizenship meant renouncing US citizenship. We weren’t prepared to take that step. I suppose it was because family was here and our roots were here.

In about 1982, Diane was getting restless. She said pretty strongly, “Well, I want to leave. You’re coming too?” She kept asking, but for me there was the business. We made canoes and we made toys and she was a wood trimmer. It was still subsistence. The very best year we grossed $13, 000 and with that you can just barely get by, but it was possible. So, I kept saying, “Well, next year we’ll do better, Next year we’ll do better.” And eventually she said, “Well, there have been a lot of these years when we should have done better and I need more.” She wanted to go back to school so we agreed and in ’82 we went to Toronto. She went to school and I worked at the Ontario Craft Counsel. That was my first professional job and that launched my arts management career. We worked there two years and in those two years, we asked, “What is it we want to do next?” Canadians are very accepting of Americans, but still there was that hint of resentment. Without citizenship and with our American heritage… Canadians are in the shadow of the United States and our culture dominates, our politics dominate, our economy dominates. Some Canadians were very resentful of that. Still we had great friends. I wasn’t limited in my profession at all, but there was always this kind of sense of we weren’t quite fitting in and again, Diane was thinking that she wanted to get home. She had gotten us off the farm and now she sought to persuade me to go back to the United States.

For a year we would talk about it over dinner and discuss what we should do next. She has a great draw here because her family owns a summer cottage in New Hampshire that always felt more like home than any other place else to her. She missed it a lot and by the time we came to Toronto we would come down to visit. Before that time we had no money and until amnesty we couldn’t legally go. One time we did come back illegally. I borrowed somebody’s library card as a proof of citizenship and snuck across the border to visit my family for Christmas time. The guard at the border looked at my ID and kind of smiled and handed it back to me. It could have been otherwise. When we got to Nebraska my parents were so nervous. They didn’t want me to leave the house while I was there. They had been to visit us in Canada before. After the first couple of years, they’d come often, but I remember my mother reporting that the FBI called, trying to figure out where I was and she was having a hard time which is very unlike my mother. They came up and visited us often and once amnesty had cleared we’d go back and visit. That started our leaving for the United States and Diane wanting to be in New England again tipped the scale. We moved back. That summer home in New Hampshire which she went to every other summer is such a beautiful place. It had a very strong magnetic pull for her and eventually for me and that’s why we’re here.

We sold off our belongings. We were in Toronto by that time. I gave my notice at work and we went back to the farm. We had tenants and we prepared the place to sell. We spent a few weeks getting organized. We packed up our belongings, sold a lot of stuff, which proved useful because that became our capital in getting established. We rented a truck and filled it up with what was left and drove back. At the border crossing, they asked the usual things. They asked how long you’ve been away and I said twelve years. The guard smiled and invited me into his office and checked his computer screen. That was the first acknowledgement that I’d had that I actually was granted amnesty. The government doesn’t send you a letter telling you that you’re granted amnesty. You read about it in the newspapers. I was a little nervous about whether the official record would be enforced, but the newspaper said that it was fine and the guard smiled and said, “Welcome back.”

We were headed right toward the Amherst/Northampton area. In that last year in Toronto, I had hired somebody to teach a class for a conference I’d planned who came from Amherst from the arts extension service. She did a great job and she also admired what I was doing. In that last year when we were debating about whether to leave, I corresponded with her and actually came down to the Amherst/Northampton area to visit. We made visits to Portland, ME, Portsmouth, NH, and here. We actually put a compass on a map and drew out 50, 100, and 150 mile circles around the little island in New Hampshire where the summer house was located. In Portland, we arrived and it was a holiday and the town was deserted. Before it’s resurgence it looked kind of gritty and it wasn’t nearly as attractive as it is now. Portsmouth we loved, but we couldn’t figure out how to make a living there. Concord was too tiny. One reason we left the farm was because Diane wanted to be in college and to get a degree. She went to a community college in Toronto for a while. We decided we wanted a college town, and so the Amherst area was very attractive. When we visited the Amherst area, the woman I had hired up in Toronto to teach toured us and had a party for us. It was very welcoming. In addition to its inherent factors, we also had a great contact. When we decided in Toronto that we were going to leave, I called my contact here and said we’re coming and she said, “It’s funny you should ask because we just opened up a part-time job opportunity.” It was actually a contract. We had already decided to come, but before we packed the truck, there was an offer, which included a two day a week contract to do consulting, which gave us just enough to make it work out and it did.

The truth of the matter is I never would have done any of this had it not been for the draft. I have no regrets. My life would certainly have been a whole lot different. I’m sure I would have gone to graduate school and then have gotten an academic teaching post. That was my career track and the career I would have been most suited to. In a way I’ve hatched something like that anyway, but without the tenure track position. I found a university to work in and I became a teacher. I did research. I published, but all from outside of the academic career. I worked in continuing education so I was always trying to act like a professor. But it worked fine. I would have liked to have a cluster of students around me and the security of tenure. Instead I had a soft money position. I had to raise the money for it, and when I wanted to publish a book I had to raise money to print it. So it was much different than it would have otherwise been, but it’s been very rewarding. I have no regret. As far as having children is concerned, for the first ten years in Canada we were poor. We couldn’t afford it. The last two years there, we were in transition and the first years here we were in transition. We experienced a way of life we would never have lived, subsistence living, working in a factory. Those years in Canada had a lot of great things. We lived in the wilderness. We could hear wolves, We could see the northern lights at night. We could ski out of our backyard. We learned where water comes from. We had to dig the well by hand. We had to pull by hand to get electric poles up and cut down woods to make a path. We were aware of what it takes to survive in a way we never would have been. So that was good. The biggest impact on the negative side is that we had no savings. I was almost 50 years old before we started making retirement savings, and so that’s been a scramble, trying to prepare.

Given that there was a draft, I can’t imagine any fairer way to do it. Now with the threat of another one, my daughter and I have been talking about it and she pointed out that in the absence of the draft, it’s the working poor who end up being in the military. With a draft, everybody has to share the risk.

As for me it was a decisive event of my life. It’s probably the single deciding event. I mean you don’t often get a distinct choice. It made me do things I never would have done, but I don’t have regrets. With my marriage, once we were up there, it would have been a big step not to be together. Whenever there was a rough period, we only had each other. We worked it all through. When she wanted us to leave she did ask if I would come, but I think she just put it in strong terms so I would know how serious she was about it. She did not want us to be apart.  By that time, I had worn out my excuses of “next year, next year things will be better.” We love each other a lot and always have. She just was making it clear that I’d run out of next years.

We continue to have periodic reunions with our Canadian friends. We’ve gone up there a few times. We’re hoping this summer that some of our closest friends will join us again in New Hampshire.