Tag Archives: 1970s

Another Bozo on the Bus, by R.F. Part 3 of 4

15 Jan

R.F. lives in L.A. with a deaf, but talkative, elderly female cat. He is retired, meditates daily, practices tai chi and yoga, and loves his friends (including Kitty Kroger).

Part 3 of 4

Conscientious Objector?

In spite of all that had happened, with the police coming to the door and all, I didn’t worry that much, but I knew I couldn’t go on with my life this way and had to deal with being AWOL. I had heard that you could apply for conscientious objector status and possibly obtain a discharge, so I wrote an appeal*  [editor’s note: see the addendum for excerpts from the original draft].  A couple of older people read it and said they were impressed with how articulate and well thought-out it was. However, someone else told me to take it to the National Lawyers Guild before submitting it. I did, and a lawyer told me that my appeal wouldn’t go anywhere because it was based on philosophy, not religion. He said that the government investigators would look at my life and know whether I’d been religious or not. Well, I wasn’t going to pretend I was religious, because I certainly was not. I’d been an atheist since age eight. So that was that.

I wasn’t sure what to do. There were thousands of us who were AWOL. By now it was 1970, and the Viet Nam war was still raging. I had heard about Canada: Big country, no work, illegal, knowing no one. I wasn’t very accomplished at managing my life in Los Angeles, so the thought of what I’d have to do to make it in another country was just too scary. Finally, I realized that I needed to deal with the Army, so I turned myself in and expected to be court-martialed.

On a whim, before presenting myself to the Army brig at San Pedro, I decided to smuggle some LSD in with me. I had a vague notion it might come in handy somehow. In the cell the second night I took one whole dose and got very high, a feeling that I enjoyed. As it happened, it was the night of an inspection, and before long an officer in full regalia came walking through the cell block with his entourage. You might think that because I was high on acid, I imagined all of this, but it’s clear to me that it really happened. I was an experienced LSD user, so I knew what was real and what was fantasy. I was feeling somewhat exposed on the top bunk at about his eye level. It was all I could do to watch him through the corner of one slightly opened eye without revealing that I was awake, especially since I was blazing on acid. (Keeping one’s cool like this was known among street drug users as “maintaining”). If discovered, I probably would have gotten into big trouble. They don’t take too kindly to people smuggling drugs in body cavities.

And so it was on that same night, while still high, that I hatched my plan for getting out of the Army: I would tell the authorities at the appropriate time that I was very afraid and wanted their protection against the CIA, which was after me because I had discovered the Secret of Life! While coming up with that, I had idly twisted a common paperclip into a spiral shape and later realized that I could tell the interrogators that it was the working model of the Secret of Life. Of course, I knew this was silly, but it seemed crazy enough that it just might work, and besides, after having my conscientious objector appeal deemed inappropriate, I didn’t have a lot of other options. Soon I would be out-shipped to Fort Ord, along with all the other lucky bastards (we weren’t killing and dying in Vietnam), to be processed for a court-martial.

Also While At The Brig

One day I observed a guy bragging he was a kung fu expert. He seemed quite disturbed, saying to no one in particular, “They can come at me. They can try to make me go back into the Army, but they’ll never do it. I’m a black belt!” Right there in the cell he was demonstrating all kinds of moves and acting like he could fight off a whole army. Delusional. I heard later that the MPs restrained him, took him away, and put him in isolation.  It seemed to me the only difference between him and the gung-ho guys in ‘Nam I’d heard about was who each was willing to use violence against.

There was another soldier there who, like me, was trying to get out of the Army (I heard about him second-hand). Story goes that when the psychologist interviewed him in his office, the young man started whistling for his dog which, of course, wasn’t there. He’d say, “Here, Rover. Here, boy.” and whistle some more. The psychologist responded, “Oh, I see that you have a dog.” What could the fellow do now? Crazy people don’t act that way anyway. That’s how naive he was. The shrink then said, “I understand that you’ve engaged in some behaviors with a female that could get you charged with statutory rape.” This was the old ploy used to determine if the young soldier was gay, which at the time was a justifiable reason for a discharge. I don’t remember hearing what his response to that was. Of course, if he’d had his wits about him (not likely with this particular individual) he’d have done his best Johnny Ray impersonation and in a lilting, impassioned voice declared, “Oh no, I don’t think of girls in that way.” He’d have been out on the street in no time.

Back To Ft. Ord

A couple of days after processing into the Ft. Ord holding company for drug-addicted soldiers from Vietnam and other “undesirables,” I started chewing my fingernails and cuticles until they bled. I was shaking and acting out as if I were having a nervous breakdown. Some actors chew the scenery, I chewed my fingers. Anyway, a section leader in the billet noticed and said, “We’ve got to get this man some help. Send him to the Commanding Officer (CO) to see what can be done.” The MPs were called. At the CO’s office, I refused a chair and sat in the corner on the floor. I was shaking and chewing on the bleeding fingers of my right hand. In the other hand I had my little spiral paperclip. He asked me, “What’s going on with you?” With a deliberately flat affect I told him, “The CIA is after me. I was in the mess hall. They were coming to get me. They called my name. I looked, but they weren’t there. I know they’re closing in.” I did this whole schtick. Intently he asked, “But why do they want you?” With no emotion I said, “Because I have the Secret of Life.” He said, “What’s that in your hand? Let me see it.” I handed it over. He said, “OK, now I have the Secret of Life.” Again flatly I said, “No, that’s the working model. You don’t know how it works.” He blanched and after a long pause said, “OK, we’re going to send you to a safe place where you can have a good long rest.” And that’s when they took me to the psych ward in the military hospital at Ft. Ord.

From Day 1, I had to line up with the other patients to receive medication. I thought I was being clever by putting the pills under my tongue and spitting them out in the toilet, as I then observed that others were doing too. But the docs found out, and we were all made to take the drugs (mostly anti-psychotics like Thorazine and Stelazine) in liquid form and swallow them in front of the med station.

The Psychotic Reaction

After a while, I befriended a fellow patient, about my age and seemingly very intelligent. One day when he and I went to the mess hall for a meal, there was a guard at the door. As we approached him, I could tell by his demeanor that he was another of those barely mentally sufficient guys commonly found in the military because they can’t do anything else. He grabbed my buddy by the shoulder and in a belligerent tone said, “You’ve got a button undone. Button that up!” The blood drained from my friend’s face. He became unresponsive to questions and apparently unable to move. The guys in the white coats had to come to take him back to the ward on a gurney. I found out the next day that he’d had a psychotic reaction and that the docs had loaded him up with meds to try to bring him back to normal. A week later I learned that he’d suffered a another breakdown. When I finally saw him, I asked, “What happened to you in the mess hall doorway that day?” He said, “I was captured by the North Vietnamese.” He thought the asshole at the door was speaking Vietnamese to him and that the white-coat guys were also his captors! Can you imagine? So I said, “Have you taken a lot of psychedelic drugs in the past?” He said, “I’ve never taken drugs. I’ve always been afraid of them because I thought this could happen to me if I did.” Here’s a guy who was always clean and sober, and yet he had two psychotic reactions. When I first got to know him, he’d spoken glowingly about his wife. Everything about his gentle, relaxed manner and engaging conversation had suggested that here was a man firmly in control of his life, and yet…. I came away from the experience of witnessing that sudden mental collapse with the feeling that we are all so vulnerable, no one really has it all together, and any semblance of sanity we each possess is precious

Psst!

One time a patient whispered, “Wanna get high? Come with us.” The hospital was like a rabbit’s warren. It was a one-story building spread out with many long corridors set at right angles to each other. So I went with this group and smoked some pot. I didn’t think of it at the time, but since it was likely there was at least one staff member among those smokers, the incident probably added to my cred with the medical authorities that I was a paranoid doper.

AWOL Again!

One day we were put on an Army bus and taken to nearby Monterey to a ball field near the beach. Looking back on this incident, I think the docs figured that since we were so loaded on meds, we wouldn’t try anything and would be under their control. After we stumbled around for a while trying to play softball, we took a lunch break on the beach. I got my food on a paper plate and started walking, eating as I went, out to the edge of the strand. I soon realized the hospital staff didn’t know where I was, so I just kept walking. I was free—AWOL from the psych ward!

I wandered into town and saw a small pickup truck with an unlocked canopy parked by the curb. By then I was getting pretty drowsy from the meds and food, so I crawled  into the back of the truck, which seemed like a safe place to hide, and quickly dropped off to sleep. All of a sudden a couple of guys hopped into the cab and the pickup started moving through town. When the driver stopped at a light, I jumped out, ran around to his window and yelled, “I was in the back of your truck, and I need your help.” I was in my blue psych ward pajamas, by the way. I said, “I need to borrow some street clothes and get out of here.” The driver said, “I know someone with clothes you can have. We’ll take you there.” I got the change of clothes (just my size too), thanked my benefactors, and started hitchhiking back to L.A., “pumped” at the prospect that I would soon see my girlfriend, whom I’d started seeing again before I turned myself in to the Army. About half the way home I spent the night sleeping under a HWY 1 overpass, along with about twelve other itinerants. No one asked what I was doing there.

*Addendum: Appeal for C.O. Discharge, by R. F.  September 1969

As a person believing in non-violence and the dignity of Man, I sincerely believe that I cannot, in good conscience, remain in the military because its main function is, and always has been, to destroy lives and property. I believe that the destruction of lives (or property) cannot be justified for any reason. I cannot, without being treasonous to my own conscience, contribute in any way to the military because of its intimate relationship with destruction and the willful commission of violence. One can see that my intention is honorable. It is my duty to my country and my conscience to stand up as an objector to war and be recognized. I do not want America to become like Hitler Germany, where the people neglected to challenge the build-up of militarism, or like the Soviet Union, where the people do not have that right at all. If there is to be peace in the world, I believe that it is up to the people who believe in non-violence to affirm their belief in it by saying no to death; by refusing to participate in the military.

Any man who is forced against his convictions to participate in an armed conflict or war or to contribute in any way to the military, is being compelled to commit treason against his own conscience. I am no better than any other man regardless of the color of his skin or the part of the world he lives in. I believe that any man may cherish his life just as much as I cherish my own. Life is the most important possession we have. Without life we are nothing. I do not believe in a hereafter. What is important is what we can do with our lives. Salvation is having led a constructive life. There is no reward for fighting and dying violently in the defense of some arbitrary ideal. Religious groups, such as the Christians and Shintos, have killed and been killed because of their belief in a hereafter. This is the basis of heroism in our society. The Christians, who fought in the Crusades and other “holy” wars, missed the point of Christ’s teachings. He practiced and taught non-violence; the turning of the other cheek. He taught that love is the only satisfactory answer to the question of human existence; that men must learn to live as brothers.

I do not claim to know of the existence of a god, as some do. However, to me all that we are conscious of is but a part of the unique omnipresence of being, which encompasses everything. This universal wholeness is the dynamic and omnipotent force to which we owe our existence. In the face of the beautiful unity of the universe, it seems strange indeed that men kill one another and commit other acts of violence. Actions which destroy life and property and bring trauma to human beings are counter to the will of the cosmos, which is to maintain order and harmony. Albert Einstein held a similar view. This is why he repeatedly appealed to Presidents Roosevelt and Truman not to develop and deploy nuclear bombs, which his theories accidentally made possible.

Dr. Rollo May states in his book Love and Will that hope is born out of love for one’s destiny. This is why most people living in ghettos, for example, have no hope. By the same token, because most of the conditioning of the Army was counter to my beliefs, my hope for the future was destroyed. In desperation, I did the only thing I felt that was left for me to do, I went AWOL. In an attempt to overcome these feelings of desperation, I went to a psychiatrist. Dr. Fabian impressed upon me the fact that the way to counter hopelessness is for one to become receptive to one’s inner feelings and then to take positive action by doing that which he feels he must do. The encouragement and help I received from Dr. Fabian have led me to make this appeal for a C.O. Discharge. I believe that I can contribute to the welfare of my country and my fellow man by spending the next several years in college; studying to become a doctor. It is my hope that as a doctor I can disseminate a positive attitude toward living and help others just as Dr. Fabian helped me.

One day before I was to enter the Army as a draftee, I enlisted. At the time, I was confused about what the Army represented and uncertain about what my role could be as a contributing citizen of this country. Had I felt then as I feel now, I would have started my pre-med in college and been exempted from the draft. I signed up for medic because my convictions about war and killing had been somewhat formulated, but I became more disenchanted with the Medical Corps the longer I was exposed to it. First, I learned that corpsmen are expected to function as infantrymen, as they are assigned to infantry units. Then, I learned that the corpsman’s function is to patch up and evacuate casualties so that they can be “returned to battle as soon as possible.” To me this meant that as a corpsman I would be required to contribute to the perpetuation of violence. I became further disenchanted when some of the medical personnel at Fort Sam Houston expressed their disgust at the fact that captured Vietcong, human beings like myself, were being used as guinea pigs for practice operations and other “medical” procedures, which often resulted in their deaths. As a matter of conscience, I cannot function as a corpsman in the Army because it perpetrates such inhuman practices. (The Vietcong are notorious for their atrocities, of course, but because they are wrong does not make us right.) All war breeds such atrocities, and I am, for that reason, against all war. The military’s primary function is to engage in war; therefore, I cannot, in good conscience, engage in the activities of the military.

End of part 3 of 4

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A Political Turnaround by David Drum, Part 2 of 2

17 Dec

Part 2 of 2

David Drum 007

 

David Drum is the author of eight nonfiction books in the health area, as well as one book of poetry and many magazine and newspaper articles. He is also the author of the satirical novel, Introducing the Richest Family in America.

 

 

Somewhere along the line I lost my belief in Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy. Acting selfishly helped me get what I wanted, but it didn’t take other people’s feelings into account. I didn’t like what came with selfish actions — the guilt feelings, disappointments, and broken hearts.

I was accepted into the Iowa City Writers Workshop. When I arrived in Iowa City, I got some financial help from the school, and earned additional money through the university’s work study program. My second wife and I moved into a metal Quonset hut in married student housing. One of my fiction instructors, the novelist Robert Coover, was particularly encouraging my first semester of grad school. When he asked me to help him work on a film he was shooting, I leaped at the chance.

By the winter of 1967, campus sentiment was shifting heavily against the war. The University of Iowa campus was in turmoil. Every male student could be sent to Vietnam after he graduated, and TV news was revealing the Vietnam War to be a horrible quagmire. Students for the Democratic Society and other groups organized opposition to the war. The idea of revolution lingered in the air. Revolution could be heard in our music and our long-haired, restless, cooperative, love-making, pot-smoking campus culture.

Robert Coover wanted to make a documentary about a particular campus demonstration against the Dow Chemical Company. Dow made napalm, an insidious substance that our military was dropping onto Vietnamese civilians. Napalm burned all the way through the flesh and bones everywhere it touched the skin. And Dow was recruiting on campus. Students objected to Dow’s recruiters since their presence implied university support for the war and products like napalm. My role in the documentary was to carry a tape recorder and get some authentic crowd noise during the demonstration.

I remember that the winter air was cold on the morning of December 7, 1967. The sky was overcast. I was given a reel-to-reel tape recorder and shown how to use it. As students gathered, demonstrators set rubber dolls on fire to graphically dramatize the destructive effects of napalm. Angry speeches began on the steps of what I think was an old campus administration building. In the winter cold, I lugged my tape recorder up the steps to be closer to the speakers and the restless crowd. Suddenly one of the speakers shouted, “Let’s go get Dow Chemical!”

The front door to the building was locked, but students surged like a wave of water to the left side of the building. Someone opened an unlocked door. Protesters streamed into the building. I followed them, trying to stay in the middle of the crowd with the tape recorder.

I remember hurrying down a hallway. I remember seeing double doors burst open at the far end of the hall. I remember a wall of law enforcement officers running toward us, carrying batons.

One of them arrested me, and confiscated my tape recorder. I remember saying, “You’re making a mistake.” Reporters were supposed to have some immunity from arrest, but I didn’t know how to make that point, and anyway the officer who arrested me wasn’t listening.

I was handcuffed, led outside, and forced down on the sidewalk with some other arrested students. We were put into a police car and taken to jail. I wound up a group of about twenty other student protesters in a cell at the Iowa City Jail.

We were held for several hours. I remember all of us being walked into a small crowded courtroom, to enter pleas. Photographers were there, with flash cameras. Most of us were charged with disorderly conduct. I pled not guilty, as a lawyer I had never seen before advised me to do. I remember the rather distraught face of Robert Coover, who gingerly approached me when he had a chance and asked me how I was holding up.

Somebody posted fifty dollars bail for me. We were all released. The police kept the tape recorder, even though over the next several months I heard that the university made great efforts to have it returned.

My student life went on. I found another part-time job as a fry cook, working Friday and Saturday nights at an all-night diner and truck stop just off Interstate 80. I also stayed busy at school, where I had a full load of classes. A couple of my poems were published in little magazines. I worked on a novel. I reviewed visiting poets for the Daily Iowan, the university newspaper. It was a kick to see my articles in the newspaper, and wondered if I could do that for a living.

Although I had registered Republican, in the 1968 presidential election I voted for Hubert Humphrey, the Democrat, because I felt he was most likely to end the war. By 1969, the Vietnam War was raging. Lots of young men were getting draft notices, or joining up. A few weeks before I graduated, I was called to a pre-induction physical in Iowa City. My classification was now 1-A, which meant that I could be drafted as soon as I got out of school.

I had decided I didn’t want to serve in the military. However, I didn’t want to move to Canada. I didn’t want to amputate my trigger finger, or pretend that I was crazy. I didn’t want to find a psychiatrist who would write me a letter stating I was unfit for military service, as some of my friends did. My grandfather had hinted that he might pull some strings with the draft board, but I didn’t think that was right. My mother was urging me to volunteer. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.

My second wife and I drove cross country to San Francisco, where we rented an apartment on Haight Street. While in San Francisco, a draft counselor with the American Friends told me that if I changed my address every three months that the draft board would never catch up with me, since it took at least three months for them to update their records. Other options for avoiding the draft included applying for conscientious objector or CO status, which would keep me out, too.

Changing addresses worked for a while. After San Francisco, I lived briefly in Lake Tahoe, California, in two different apartments in Reno, Nevada, and in Los Angeles, always waiting until the last possible minute to send in change of address notices. Finally I got on at a newspaper in a small town in the San Joaquin Valley. I was hired as sports editor for the Madera Daily Tribune, the first job I’d had in which I was actually paid to write.

In Madera, I learned journalism the old way, by practicing it on the job. But the draft board caught up with me. When I received an induction notice, I filed for conscientious objector status. I submitted a written statement to the board, and I was granted a hearing with the local Madera County draft board. Basically, I argued it wasn’t Christian or right to kill other people.

Before the draft board could decide my case, President Richard Nixon cleverly split the antiwar movement. The first lottery in December of 1969 assigned potential draftees numbers according to birthdates drawn from a hat. Number one was the first to go. My birthday was drawn number 318, meaning that it was unlikely that I would ever be drafted for anything short of an all-out nuclear war. I never heard from the draft board again.

At the same time, politics beckoned. An organizer for the George McGovern presidential campaign blew through our dusty little town, desperate for someone to chair the long-shot campaign. All the old politicos in Madera County were committed to Ed Muskie, a senator from Maine who was heavily favored to win the nomination. On a lark, another reporter and I volunteered to co-chair the McGovern campaign. I had more enthusiasm than he did for the job, and I more or less ran our long-shot campaign in Madera County.

McGovern’s campaign was a continuation of Bobby Kennedy’s very progressive 1968 presidential campaign, which ended with his assassination. A former Methodist minister turned senator from South Dakota, and a personal friend of Bobby Kennedy, McGovern was campaigning on immediately ending the Vietnam War, drastically slashing the Defense Department budget, and more. In order to vote for him in the primary, I changed my voter registration to Democratic.

By late 1971 and early 1972, great numbers of Americans were staunchly against the war. Local people of all ages and races volunteered to help our campaign. Volunteers streamed into California from other parts of the country, and we put several of them to work canvassing precincts for the Democratic primary in June. McGovern won the California primary, and the Democratic party nomination, but unfortunately he lost the 1972 election to Nixon, who continued the war.

Sometime in there, I was surprised to receive a check for $50 from the Iowa City courts. Without explanation, they returned the money that had been posted for my bail. I wondered for years if Robert Coover ever got that tape recorder back, and if he was able to complete his film. Just last year, I corresponded with him and learned that the answer was yes. His 29 minute documentary film, “On a Confrontation in Iowa City,” was completed in 1969 and posted online in 2011 by the University of Iowa’s Digital Library. The film includes a brief shot of me and two other protesters being led to a police car just before the closing credits. I was also credited for helping with the sound.

After my political turnaround, I’ve remained more or less an antiwar liberal, or a progressive as it’s now called. I’m conservative in spending money, but I have marched in many demonstrations and given money to many good causes. As a registered independent, I now vote for the most sensible progressive Democrats or third party candidates I can find.

Like any good citizen, I read and think about the issues. I write and email my elected representatives. As I have done in the past, I sometimes jump up and demonstrate for a good cause when I hear the call.

END Part 2 of 2

Blasting Caps, Musical Challenges, Women’s Rules, and Vietnam. By Kathy Green

22 Nov

davis mesa 2006.with Chuck

Kathy Green was raised in St. Louis, Missouri. After majoring in geology, she became a National Park Ranger for five years. During that time, she met Chuck Kroger [the editor’s brother], whom she married in 1978. They settled in Telluride, Colorado in 1979, where they co-founded Bone (Back of Nowhere Engineering) Construction company. When Chuck died of pancreatic cancer in 2007, Kathy and co-workers continued the company’s projects. Kathy enjoys hiking, running rivers, making art (including silk dying), and working for environmental and social justice in her region.

 

I went to Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. There were only about 2000 students. The students and the faculty were liberal. When I arrived, I found out that Joseph McCarthy is from Appleton and is buried in a cemetery there above the Fox River and near our college campus. It had already been popular for students to go out there and have picnics and dance on his grave. I went to some of those parties and had my own personal vendetta to achieve; Joseph McCarthy had called my grandfather a communist on the U.S Senate floor! Our family considered that an honor. It was ironic to end up at a place where I could dance on his grave.

The administration at Lawrence was afraid of us, that we’d have a riot or something. But we weren’t very active. We did a few protests. Jesse Jackson came to speak to us in 1968 about the election when I was still 17. (I couldn’t vote then; the voting age was still 21. By the time I turned 21, the voting age was 18, and by that time my younger brother and cousin were 18. We all voted together for the first time even though I was older. I thought that was unfair.) We had a lot of black activist speakers come to our college; maybe it was an appeasement by the administration for the fact that Appleton had produced Joseph McCarthy. My education about civil rights continued to develop there, due to the civil rights movement and the war injustices. With Vietnam, the black and Hispanic and poor white kids went in first to the military and war. If you were white and rich, you had options. So in a way Vietnam and the draft were also civil rights issues.

We took over the president’s office once—I forget what our demands were, but we won them. Mostly I think the college administration was trying to protect us from overreacting and doing something horrible, resulting in students getting hurt. We students never got real active because the administration caved in on everything.

We were very concerned about the war. It was coming to a climax, the draft was changing—more rich white kids were needed for the war. The poor kids and kids of color were not enough anymore. I was a senior in college when the lottery occurred. Wisconsin was an “18 state.” (18 to 20-year-old kids were allowed to legally drink 3.2 beer) so our college had a bar in the student union that served 3.2 beer. When the lottery happened, we all jammed into Union Bar to see who got what numbers in the lottery. The lottery numbers were by date of birth. My brother and my cousin got horribly low numbers, but the war ended before they were old enough to be drafted. If you stayed in school you were OK but the minute you got out, depending on your birthday, you were going to war. Either you were number 364 and had nothing to worry about or you were number 19 and in trouble. Therefore many of those demonstrations that were occurring at other campuses were more about the war than about social justice.

Vietnam was the war for the my generation and totally affected everybody. People were planning: friends were trying to gain a lot of weight so they’d be disqualified; others were not eating at all so they’d be too thin; some were plotting to go to Canada; lots of lives were on hold and at risk. A little earlier when I was a sophomore, a guy came back to campus who had been a former student at Lawrence, and he had dropped out, been drafted, and was sent to Vietnam. He was older than most of us by five years. He was in a couple of my art classes. Another woman, Jane, who was also in my art classes, would attack him for going to the war. Why did you go? You shouldn’t have gone. She wasn’t at risk. She was from an extremely wealthy family, and had she been a guy and at risk, her family would have figured out a way for her not to go. This guy wasn’t from that kind of family, and when he dropped out of school and was going to get drafted, his family didn’t find him an alternative. He was left in the lurch and had to go. He didn’t start the war. I thought it was strange that some of my privileged classmates couldn’t sort that out. You needed to be attacking the presidents and the senators and some of your dad’s friends, the CEOs of some major companies. They were the ones making the war happen, not the 18 and 20 and 22 year olds that were forced to go and fight and have their lives messed up forever or lose their lives.

We didn’t understand about PTSD although I knew a little because World War II had affected my dad pretty badly. The opposition to the Vietnam War was more than the draft and the impact of having friends and family go to fight in the war. We, most of the students, felt that Vietnam was a war that the U.S. shouldn’t be in. We, the U.S., were doing the wrong thing.

A lot of changes occurred for women students over the time we were at college. The hours of the girls’ dorm were changed; the 10 o’clock curfew was done away with. Girls no longer had to wear dresses all the time—dresses or skirts had been required even in the winter. (If it was below -20 degrees we had been allowed to wear pants under our dresses.) Now we could wear pants any time without dresses over them. Boys were positively affected as well. They had to wear coats and ties to Sunday meals, and girls had to wear heels. Boys and girls both had to dress up for classes. No jeans. The next year all that went away (fall of 1969). No more dress codes. By the time I graduated in 1972, there were even co-ed dorms. There had been a silly rule that when a boy came to visit, you had to keep your door propped open the size of a trashcan. They had these round metal trash cans that were 16 inches in diameter in every dorm room but everybody was running out and buying trashcans that were six inches wide instead. We were bending all those silly rules.

It was ironic that when I was a senior, the incoming freshmen women didn’t understand that just three years earlier they would have had to put on fancy clothes to go to a meal on Sunday. It was amazing that as young, often silly adults, we already had this sense of history and societal change. The social changes paralleled the political changes that were going on. The women’s movement played a large part in the changes that were made.

So it was my senior year, the last trimester. My girlfriends all told me to take this Early 20th Century Music History class, and that it would be simple and fun with not too much homework. I started the class, and my musical challenge was that I couldn’t tell by listening who we were studying: when played by an orchestra, Beethoven or the Rolling Stones, it was all the same to me. I was like, Oh my God, this will lower my grade average, and what if I want to attend graduate school in a few years? On a long weekend we went on a geology field trip. We were isolated from the rest of the world. When we were in the car, the radio was on and you could hear the news, but much of the time we were cut off. So we were driving home and we heard about Kent State. People had been killed. A huge deal. We were shocked. I arrived back at campus and the next day the administration announced that you could take any class you wanted on a pass-fail basis. The rule had previously been that you had to switch to a pass-fail grade within the first two weeks of a trimester. But I hadn’t realized in time that Bartok, Beethoven, and the Rolling Stones all sounded alike to me and that I shouldn’t be taking this music history class. So despite the horror of Kent State, half-way through the trimester I got to switch to pass-fail. (I was really mad, however, that I hadn’t taken something simple like another math class. But it worked out.)

Flashback to the spring of 1970. I was a sophomore geology major. We took many geology field trips on weekends, especially on long holiday weekends. We’d go someplace and look at rock layers and drive around Lake Ontario, etc. On one field trip we went to an area where they had been blasting, and there were all these blasting caps lying on the ground. The first thing I asked was Are they safe? The tour leader said yes. I think we threw rocks at them just to see, and they didn’t explode.

I thought they were pretty and kind of cool. They were copper things, maybe a half inch or 3/8 inch in diameter, and about three inches long, and they had this piece of colorful braided rope coming out. I recall yellow and red. When there was dynamiting, you’d light the fuse, which is the rope, and it would make the dynamite blow up. Dynamite is dangerous, and we didn’t see any on this trip. but we did see those blasting caps. So I picked up a handful and put them in my pocket. They were intriguing to me on many levels. I thought I might make an art piece out of them.

We returned to school and I kept the blasting caps in my room. I was heading to Germany for a fall school program so I packed my foot locker with things to leave in the basement of the dormitory. I put the blasting caps in there, along with some books and winter clothes, and stored them. I went off to Germany for six months and came home. While I was home in January of 1971, there was a big anarchist explosion in Madison. Since the Lawrence administration was afraid of the students, any time anything would go wrong in Madison and people would get hurt or killed, Lawrence would panic and change things. Just after the Madison explosion, somebody made a threat to our little ROTC program. I heard that the FBI was there looking around Appleton.

I suddenly started to think about those blasting caps in the basement of Ormsby Hall. I went up there in February for an event, telling my parents I needed to go back for a visit because I missed everybody. They bought me a plane ticket. I stayed at Ormsby Hall with my girlfriends who were in school that trimester. I said, Oh, I gotta go down to the luggage room and look in my trunk and retrieve things. So the next morning I went down there early by myself and found the blasting caps, and I put the caps into a paper bag, packed everything back up into the trunk, and went upstairs. I said, I’m going for a walk.

You have to understand that going for a walk in Appleton, Wisconsin in February, it is likely to be cold, although that day I don’t think it was as extreme cold, like -40 degrees, which happened every year. It was probably only -10 or -20: practically mild. I put on my parka and stuffed the bag with the blasting caps into my pocket. I always wore my hiking boots then; it was kind of trendy. I got all bundled up. I went outside and dug around in the snow, found a little rock, and added it to my pocket with the paper bag. My campus is right along the Fox River, which was heavily polluted, so we didn’t hang out by the river much, but the campus is several blocks long, and at each block there’s a bridge across the river. I walked out into the middle of one of the bridges; it was cold and windy and snowing. I got the paper bag out, put the rock in, and crumpled it all up. I decided to use a paper bag instead of plastic because I wanted the caps to erode and go away. I threw it into the river and watched it sink into the water, which for some reason wasn’t frozen. I went back and had some tea with my friends. I told no one.

Years went by and a song came out about Billy Joe throwing something off the Tallahatchie Bridge. I had a different interpretation of that song than anyone else had. Every time I heard that song I got a little nervous and looked around to see if anybody was watching me. More recently I’ve heard of blasting caps blowing up spontaneously and causing damage to people or things. I think, Oh my God, what was I doing with them? I really liked them and during college I was enamored with being a revolutionary. I think we all were. There was some magic in that dream. I had really wanted to make a piece of art with them or to use them. I’ll never know if they were truly dangerous.

I got my first real job as a National Park Service ranger. The feds do an investigation into your background, and I never would have gotten the job if I’d been busted with the blasting caps. It wasn’t illegal to have them; they weren’t a controlled thing. Anybody could buy dynamite at that time; there were no regulations. They are definitely bomb-making materials and that step was not for me. I realized that I wanted to read about revolutionaries but not be one.

***

From 1973 to 1977 women’s issues became much more apparent to me. I was a federal employee in the National Park Service (NPS), where you’re not allowed to be an activist about anything and barely allowed to vote (the latter of which I say partly in jest but not really). It was obvious in my short career as a very young adult, that there was a long ways to go to achieving parity for women. Some of the first black female rangers were my roommates during our various training programs. Even today, the NPS is very much a “Good Old Boys” club and male-dominated. Many of the few female rangers of that era were treated badly by some of the men they worked with or for. Many of the women in administrative jobs were really making the parks run well but getting no credit and being paid at a lower wage level than men with the same jobs. One of my male fellow rangers told me that he was giving an incompetent male a good annual review because he had a family to support. Conversely, he was giving a very competent female ranger he supervised a bad review because she was too assertive and really didn’t need a job. She just needed to get married.

The NPS is much more militaristic than I had realized from the outside. The military aspects partially come from the U.S. Cavalry running the parks until the National Park Service was set up 50 years after the first national park. I learned a lot about the military by working for the NPS. One odd thing was that there were all-black Cavalry groups that were major caretakers of some of the parks before the NPS existed. The role and importance of those early black soldier caretakers are only now being recognized and celebrated in the 2000s. Today the NPS has new programs to attract both more diverse visitors and employees. Women of any color are being treated somewhat better today.

When I think back on it, I would say that in my high school and certainly my college years, I was the most conscious of the civil rights movement and the war in Vietnam. After I went to work, I became more conscious of women’s rights and inequities. Flash forward: for 35 years, I have lived in a small remote Colorado mountain resort town and worked in construction. Our town was very lily white when we moved here. Our Hispanic population has increased a lot and we have to face and deal with discrimination and racial issues now. In the resort era of this town, women have played a major role in leadership, especially in government/elected positions. Today, I often wear a dress over my jeans (but by choice). I am used to being a female working in a “male” job—after 40 years.

I really wish I had those blasting caps – I would put them in one of my mixed media groutless mosaic art pieces.  The blasting caps were both very visually interesting and would convey an implied message – like blow up the dams on rivers – which the government is actually doing more and more – it is how you remove dams and restore habitat and bring back fish like salmon.

 

Carneys, Cons, and Gangsters: Coney Island 1970-1971, by Marty Bernstein

27 Oct

Coney Island.PostcardOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Marty Bernstein worked in the New York state court system as a civil servant. He was like a round peg in a square hole—a left-wing court officer and clerk. Two years after retiring in 2007, he worked part time at a non-profit for the developmentally disabled. In 2013 he completely retired and now spends vacations in a cooperative community in upstate New York called Spring Glen Meadows, the home of burned-out sixties radicals. He has two adult children and has been married to the same woman for 38 wonderful years. Her name is Patricia Ruggiero Bernstein. He says it has been a great Jewish-Italian combination.

 

I worked at Coney Coney Island.Dragons CaveIsland for two years. It was a seedy place at that time. There were seasonal workers…..I think the Mob was heavily involved. The first year, 1970, I helped runConey Island.Blacula two amusement rides. I would take fares and push buttons to get the ride started. Dragon’s Cave was mainly run by “Sporty.” He was a cheap guy. He would change the outside display but keep the inside ride exactly the same. For example, he had a mannequin of Blacula and would call people to the ride, under the pretext that Blacula was inside. The ride consisted of some cheesy monsters, some of them sinister-looking clowns, who would jump out at you. It wasn’t up to code; there were exposed wires running across the ceiling.

Magic Carpet Coney Island

 

The Magic Carpet was the second ride. It consisted of little cars that ran on tracks past fun mirrors and ended with the car breaking down and the participants shooting down a slide. In front of the ride was a fat female mannequin, who laughed hysterically to draw people in.

 

The second year, in the summer of 1971, two friends and I started our own business there. It was a refreshment stand; we called it the “watermelon stand.” We paid for private sanitation for our stand. We would supply the stand from vendors, many of Coney Island.Watermelon-popsicleswhom were reputed to be part of the Mob. We’d buy watermelon from one company. The ice guy would bring cut pieces of ice with tongs. We got our candy apples from a man who had a store under the boardwalk that was described as a “little rat hole.” One day my mom was visiting our stand when the candy-apple man came by to sell me some apples. I had decided not to buy from him anymore because he was price-gouging us. When I told him this, he yelled, “If you don’t buy my fucking candy apples, I will burn down your stand!” It scared me so I kept on buying from him.

There were many other concession stands. Our stand didn’t make much money during the week, but we looked forward to weekends and especially holiday weekends, when masses of people would descend on the park. We would buy an entire watermelon for$1.50 . It would then be cut into about 20 semi-circle slices that would sell for30 cents each. Cotton candy cost us ½ cent to make but it cost the buyer $1.00; this was our biggest profit-maker. Popcorn was also profitable.

Once I had to go to the bathroom so I asked someone to take over the stand for me. When I returned I saw him giving someone the incorrect chanConey Island.wonderwheel-spookaramage. It turns out he had consistently been doing this. I gave him hell. Another time a health inspector came by and cited me for uncleanliness. I got a ticket for $35. I had heard that these inspectors accepted bribes so I held out some money. He waved it away. “You’re a nice Jewish boy,” he said. “Put your money away.”

We were excited when buses brought people in because it meant a lot of extra money. But the buses brought in mainly African-Americans, who spent tons of money on rides and games. They slept overnight on the buses, which was sad since there were beach resorts along the Eastern Seaboard that would cost them as much as they were spending at the concessions. (Coney Island, by the 1960’s no longer had overnight accommodations.)

The carneys coaxed people to come in and win a prize. They were often offensive to the unaware public. They would bark, “Imby, come on over here.” (“Imby” stood for imbecile.) The games mainly cheated the people who were playing. For example, one game
involved throwing a basketbalConey Island.Shooting galleryl into a hoop for a prize. The hoop was very small and the backboard tilted towards the crowd. The only way to get the ball into the basket was to throw a net shot. All this for a stuffed animal that probably cost 25 cents.

Another game involved throwing a ball at an Inuit doll wearing a parka made out of animal hair and a hood surrounded by hair. It looked easy but what people didn’t realize was that the dolls were surrounded mainly by air behind their puffed-out hair so it was very hard to knock them over. It took a direct hit. Still another game required throwing a dime onto a “Lucky Strike” square, but what the players didn’t know was that the surface was slippery.

The Balloon Water Race Game provided little gorillas with balloons attached to holes in them. You had to pop the balloon with a squirt gun. The vendor was able to choose who would win by attaching a thinner balloon that would pop first.

In one game the carney had to guess the age or weight of the participant. If he guessed wrong, the player would receive a prize. However, it cost $1 to play and the prize was only a ten-cent plaster statue. In effect, the carney was selling a ten-cent prize for a dollar.

We were paid mainly in singles—about $5 an hour. I’d go home and count the singles, and then we’d divide the “profit” up. I’d be so tired after standing all day that I’d fall asleep in the middle of counting. The next morning I’d wake up and my bed would be covered with singles. One day one of my two partners accused me of hiding money in my underwear. When I went home that day I found singles behind my bed.

One holiday weekend a group of kids sneaked in the back, grabbed a watermelon, and ran away with it. I couldn’t go after them because I was alone in the stand. But I wanted to scare them so I grabbed the long knife that I used to slice the watermelon and waved it in the air.

Coney Island.fortune teller
Next to the refreshment stand was a shack with a tarot card reader who would tell your fortune. (It was illegal to use the words “fortune-teller.”) She was a Roma, called a gypsy at that time. I liked her, but I found out that her method of making money was by seating her patrons on a slanted couch. If she was lucky, a man’s wallet would fall out of his back pocket and she would keep it.

I kept in touch with one of my partners. This summer his son married Maura Roosevelt, the great granddaughter of Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt. Pat and I attended their wedding in New Hampshire.

I’ll always remember this summer job. Despite the craziness, I loved the atmosphere and the carney subculture.

Wearing Whites: My Time in the Military by Roger

12 Aug

Roger lives in the San Diego area, has two children and seven grandchildren, and frequently travels with his family. He spends his summers at a lake in northwestern Montana.

 

In 1966 when I was a junior at college in Billings, Montana, I was drafted because my grades had dropped below the threshold. I believed anyway that serving my country was my duty and that I would be proud to do it. I feared going off to Vietnam but was willing to do so if needed.

I was inducted at Butte, Montana and did my basic training at Ft. Lewis, Washington, where ours was only the second group to go through basic there since World War II. Coal-fired boilers heated the barracks. We had to keep the windows open as a precaution because of the meningitis outbreak at Fort Ord in San Francisco. Doctors thought that open windows would help prevent an outbreak at Ft. Lewis.

After basic, I was sent to Fort McPherson, 3rd Army Headquarters, in Atlanta. I was assigned to the hospital laboratory school for training as a lab technician. Back at Ft. Lewis I had had the requisite testing in basic training and received an extremely high score on the code translation test. I had been exposed to Morse Code in Boy Scouts but never got my merit badge because I hadn’t proved competent in it. So when I took the requisite battery of tests in basic, I just filled in random answers on the multiple choice test. When they called us in to discuss the tests, I was told I got one of the highest scores they’d ever seen in code translation. They  wanted to send me to the communication school in Ft. Huachuca, but I told them I didn’t want to do communication and would prefer to “wear whites,” meaning to be assigned to a medical unit, hopefully in the U.S.

To get to Atlanta we took a Delta jet through Chicago. It was my first travel on a jet plane. We landed at O’Hare Airport in Chicago and I was overwhelmed at the immensity of it. In Atlanta we waited at the airport for someone to pick us up. Announcements were made over poor loud speakers in a southern drawl; we couldn’t understand any of it.

The Ft. McPherson base (Ft. Mac) itself was luxurious compared to Ft. Lewis. There were 600 acres; more than half of the base consisted of a golf course. It was a place where old soldiers were headquartered shortly before they retired. There was a laboratory school. In retrospect I often wondered if there weren’t connections for most of us to get into this particular school because the really big lab school was in Ft. Sam Houston in Texas with several hundred students. We, on the other hand, had only 21 or so students.

Once two friends, Keith and Bob, and I went to meet Keith’s new girlfriend at a Southern Baptist Church. We were told we would arrive after the service, but it turned out that the service hadn’t yet begun so we reluctantly sat through it. We found ourselves sitting in the front row.

At the end of the service the preacher said, “Those of you who have seen the light of Jesus and accepted him as your savior, please rise.” We three just sat there. The pastor repeated this twice, his voice rising in pitch each time. We were embarrassed but didn’t succumb. On the way out of the church, the minister greeted everyone. As he shook my hand, I said, “I think it’s strange that this is Atlanta, Georgia. Why are there no black people in this church?” Whereupon he pulled on my hand, yanking my arm, and guided me firmly out the door without responding to my question.

There was only one black student at the lab school. Joe was a lifeguard from Los Angeles before being drafted. I’d never had occasion to be friends with a black man before, having grown up in Kalispell, Montana. We’d go out to classy places in Atlanta like the Top of the Mart, where we had no problems being served.

I had married my wife on leave at Christmas time, and we rented an apartment. At a party at my place, Joe was standing by the pool when some of my friends shoved him in, all in fun. The day after the pool incident, I was contacted by my C.O. He was from Lubbock, Texas. “Don’t you know where you are?” he asked me.

“I know very well where I am,” I replied, mimicking his tone.

“Well, obviously you don’t. And you’re going to have to learn!” It turned out that a white sergeant in the same apartment complex had complained about Joe. Later after we were intimidated into moving out, we found out that the pool had been closed for three days to be drained and “cleansed.”

A friend of mine had put a deposit on another unit in the same complex. He was asked if he knew me and my wife. “Yes,” he replied, “and I have a lot more friends [implying black friends] than they do.”

“How do you want your deposit back?” the manager asked him.

Our next apartment was in the middle of a black neighborhood. A twenty-foot barbed wire fence “protected” it. However, the managers did tell me there was no problem if I had black visitors. Six months later a law was passed prohibiting landlords from discriminating against military personnel.

I had a best friend from college in Montana—he’d been best man in absentia at my wedding because he was serving in Vietnam at the time. He wanted to go into politics someday. K.C. [not his real name] felt that serving in the military was important to his political aspirations, (although he would have willingly volunteered anyway). In order to be accepted he had to go through Montana Senator Mike Mansfield, then Senate Majority Leader and a former marine, who pulled strings for him because he didn’t meet the height requirement. He went from Camp Pendleton in California to Vietnam, where he was serving his tour.

It was the end of my lab training and we were sitting in Atlanta waiting to be assigned and watching the national news on TV. The news always reported the number of fatalities and told stories about some of the men. Although his name wasn’t mentioned, I got chills down my spine and said, “K.C. Is dead.” He hadn’t been required to do any more patrols because his remaining tour of service was only three days. However, because he wanted to spend the remaining time with his men, he volunteered to go out on a final patrol with them. He took point [led the patrol], stepped on a landmine, and was killed. My wife and I established a scholarship at our alma mater in his honor. I still think about this incident with great sadness.

One week later I got orders to ship out. It was all hush-hush. We had no idea where we were headed. We loaded our supplies at the train tracks. After flying for three days in a C130 transit plane, touching down in Kentucky, San Francisco, Honolulu, Wake Island, Guam, and flying over Vietnam, we landed at Korat Air Force Base in Thailand.

I was stationed in a field hospital. They called it a mobile lab, but it didn’t really move. It was in the middle of nowhere and I hated it. It served as support for the air base for daily bombing raids on Vietnam and was 80 kilometers from Cambodia. There were illegal flights over Cambodia and Laos against the will of those countries’ governments, in order to reach Vietnam.

While there, I learned that doctors are not what you think. I had always considered them intelligent, but there was one in particular that opened my eyes. Ours was considered a “hardship tour of duty,” which meant, among other things, that no relatives or spouses were allowed there. One black sergeant violated the rule and kept his diabetic wife there. At the time of the incident I was on call. A doctor from Beverly Hills—a draftee—was on duty. The sergeant’s wife came into the clinic, needing insulin. Dr. H refused to see her. I pleaded with him to no avail. After talking to her for a while, I went off to sleep. In the morning I went into the lab, which also served as a morgue, and found her lying on a slab. I was sickened and furious. That rich SOB! I will never forget that incident.

Dr. H would order all the lab tests he could think of, regardless of need and even though he knew we couldn’t carry out many of them due to our limited facilities. But he would make it an immediate order [called STAT] and then ignore the results.

In one area of Thailand, soldiers were collecting mosquitoes for a malaria study. A soldier from the study came into the hospital, feeling sick. Malaria showed up in his lab test. Dr. H didn’t know what to do, and the kid died. The pathologist, a captain and our boss, had the authority to bring charges. But Dr. H had more time in and therefore outranked our boss. Also, our boss had acquired his medical degree through the army; i.e., he wasn’t wealthy. Therefore he feared retaliation and backed down. Charges were never brought.

I didn’t experience much danger in Thailand. Once when I was at the enlisted men’s club, the “Thai Cong” blew up our ammo depot, which scared the hell out of us. The whole building shook.

Once three MIGs were intercepted as they headed towards the base. A red alert was declared; the base was blacked out, except for the lighted red cross on the hospital roof. Our C.O. insisted that that light be turned off also. It took a long time to figure out how to do this. Meanwhile, we sat in the dark in the hospital over a flask of scotch.

Another incident was at the grand opening of Veena’s Restaurant. Veena was the wife of the former hospital C.O., who died leaving her his military insurance, enabling her to start the restaurant on Freedom Highway, a road built by the U.S. headed towards Cambodia. Veena was especially fond of us hospital personnel and treated us like royalty, so 90% of the hospital personnel along with most of the base command were present at the opening of her restaurant. I was approached by a friend from CID [military intelligence] and ordered to inform the general that we needed to evacuate immediately because the CID had found three mortars in the surrounding area directly aimed at the restaurant and it was unknown if there were more.

As to casualties, in order to cope with them, I had to gradually learn to distance myself from the horror that was the reality of my job. I remember one pilot that crashed at the end of the runway and nothing was left of him but a mass of charcoal; nothing human-looking remained of his body at all.

When I arrived in Oakland in 1968 at the end of my tour of duty, we were required to wear our uniforms to fly home on stand-by. Our commander had warned us to ignore any demonstrators. It was a rainy day. As we were driven by bus to a plane bound for San Diego, we saw demonstrators with their anti-war signs. It was painful, the lack of understanding for the effort I had just made in serving my country.

Last year, along with another Vietnam-era vet and a World War II vet, I had occasion to visit the World War II museum in New Orleans. It was a moving experience. It had taken 46 years for me to hear the two words, “Welcome home.”

 

Sweltering in the Classroom, by Maria

13 Jul

Maria is currently involved with the Alternatives to Violence Project, which works within state prisons, at Homeboy Industries, and in the community to encourage people to transform their lives in a more purposeful and peaceful way.

Mark Keppel High School in Alhambra is located about 20 yards from the San Bernardino freeway (the ‘10’ as it’s called today).  There were no  high brick ‘n mortar walls back in the 1970s; only a chain link fence separated the school property from the freeway itself.

I was a teacher in the science and mathematics department at the time. My classroom, room number 153, was the closest one to the freeway. Because our school had no air conditioning, windows were kept wide open despite the noise of the freeway to allow for the hoped-for breezes, which occasionally drifted in and reduced room temperatures. In addition, a significant grade on the roadway at this point meant that large trucks must shift gears to gain power. Through the noise, the stifling heat (100 degree temperature at times), and the heavy smog which caused their eyes to burn, students suffered in the summertime and found it difficult to learn.

The head of the department, whose room was down the hallway from mine, testified that she suffered severe hearing loss from the incessant loud noise.

Finally a courageous teacher put forward an idea which seemed to have some ‘promise’ for resolution of this unbearable learning environment. Thus began “Project Student,” with  active support from parents, teachers, administrators, and the entire community, as well of course as from the students themselves. There were fundraisers, letter writing campaigns, and visits to Sacramento to directly address the state legislature by students, staff, and parents.

Project Student was a long and arduous campaign, involving the entire community in which the school was located.  And, in the end, it did produce the desired result. Sacramento finally listened. Yet the installation of air conditioning was not to come from this. The irony is that our victory was gained not in consideration of the heat and air-quality but rather the noise factor. From then on for a number of years, schools which were located adjacent to freeways were granted state funding to install air conditioning.  The high school I attended as a student many years earlier, John Muir High School in Pasadena, located adjacent to the Foothill freeway (210), was granted air conditioning soon after this ruling was made.

But it would be many years before schools in the state were required to be air-conditioned because of heat, not just noise.

Three Options, Only Two Viable, by Marshall Hyman

22 Jan

Marshall HymanMarshall Hyman is a retired teacher, living in Southern California, where he was born and raised 69 years ago. His family moved to Los Angeles in 1942 from Brooklyn, NY. He attended local public schools and graduated from U.C.L.A. He’s married and lives in South Pasadena.

In 1965 I was a recent college graduate. Everything I did at this time was influenced by the draft. I knew  wouldn’t go to Vietnam. I had three options, as I saw it. Only two were viable.

  • Get drafted.
  • Enter the Peace Corps.
  • Leave the country for Canada.

Although I wasn’t politically aware, I did know I opposed this war and that the war had nothing to do with my security or anyone else’s.

My mom was a liberal and my dad was completely apolitical. My dad had trouble holding a job. Among other positions, he worked as a movie theater manager, on an assembly line making TVs, for a printing company, in department stores and liquor stores.  In 1956 in junior high school my social studies teacher gave us a poll. If we could vote, would we vote for Stevenson or Eisenhower?  The vote was 34 to 3 for Stevenson. Most of the kids were Jewish West L.A. kids. I was one of the three that voted for Eisenhower. I was just following what my dad did.

Although I was also Jewish, religion never took hold with me, but I attended a religious school because I was a  compliant kid—and besides, it was fun socially. I was pissed that I couldn’t play Little League Baseball, though, because I had to attend school on Saturdays.

My best high school teacher was an obvious leftie, and in college I admired the leftist professors. They are the teachers that most influenced me.

In college at UCLA I was aware of the Freedom Marches of 1964-’65.  One of my professors discussed them in class. I don’t think it ever occurred to me to go down South myself, but I did sympathize with the cause.

In the summer of 1965 I traveled in Europe. This was the start of the major escalation in Vietnam by President Johnson. my student deferment was about to end. While in Europe I read an article in the International Herald Tribune that the U.S. had ordered thousands of helmets from a helmet factory. By now we had over 500,000 men in Vietnam. The Westwood draft board couldn’t reach its quota—too many rich kids, and their lawyers working to keep them out of the army.

All my friends talked incessantly about the draft. My two closest friends were 4F. I was 1A. I applied to the Peace Corps and was accepted. I was issued a deferment (not an exemption). For three months I was given Spanish language training at the University of Arizona in Tucson.  I loved it. It was very intense. We had classes for four to six hours a day and I did well.

Marshall Hyman0007

Then I was sent to Venezuela. I spent two years there. I had assumed that I’d be assigned to some squalid jungle, but in Caracas I was near what I considered a “South Miami Beach.” I worked in a little park in a barrio surrounded by a rich neighborhood. The park offered recreation for the poor kids. (Most of the poor families lived in the hills, where poor people tended to live in South America.) I told the Peace Corps that I wasn’t really needed down in that rich neighborhood, so  I was transferred to a hillside barrio. There I worked with liberal theologians and priests, mostly Belgian and Dutch,  and got introduced to early liberation theologists who loved Elvis.  I was given the assignment of teaching P.E. and English. Next I was transferred to an urban area to work with an Internado—institution that housed orphans or wards of the state. Again, I was teaching P.E. and English. It was run by a Croatian priest—a disagreeable man whom we called “the beast.” I didn’t find out that he was a pedophile until later.

Venezuela requested from the State Department volunteers for agriculture, technology, and recreation. I ended up working at a YMCA.

 Marshall Hyman0005

I received room and board with a family when I first got to Venezuela, then I got school food or ate at restaurants. For a while I had a room with no facilities. I quickly learned Spanish. There was a guerilla movement, mainly in Colombia, which is adjacent to Venezuela, so we had to be careful in certain areas. I only heard about it, never saw any danger.

In 1958 the dictatorship had been overthrown. People were proud of their free elections. They had their first president, a liberal democrat. However, oligarchs still ran the country even though it was a functioning democracy.

There was a major student strike in Caracas that brought the city to a standstill. The military shut down the campus during the strike. I believe they were protesting student repression. Also, the government did almost nothing for poor people; it  mostly built roads and fought rebels. Venezuela, like other poor countries, was a single commodity nation. However, in Venezuela, that commodity was oil—so Venezuela was probably the wealthiest country in South America. It had large middle and wealthy classes.

Marshall Hyman0006

When I returned home in July of 1968, Los Angeles had changed drastically. In Venezuela I’d been learning about the student movement, urban rebellion, and the counter-cultural scene from some of the new people coming and going from the Peace Corps. Now I felt connected to the counter-culture, and I became an urban hippy: sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.

I had to report to the induction center in downtown L.A.  But the week before my induction, I was offered a job with the Los Angeles United School District, which was looking for more Spanish-speaking teachers in response to the Blowouts in East Los Angeles schools. I was hired and awarded a life-time teaching certificate, even though I’d never taken a single education class. During the interview, I was asked, “What kind of certificate do you want? Secondary or elementary?“ I chose elementary and ended up teaching fourth grade. I was a beneficiary of a U.S. government policy called “channeling,” in which certain people were granted deferments due to the need for professionals in certain areas—not just in education but also in medicine, community development, and science.

In the spring of 1970 there was the big teachers’ strike to create a union. I knew nothing about teacher politics at the time. After the strike created the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), I became more politically engaged. By the mid-1970s I was chapter chair (shop steward) and on the House of Representatives of UTLA. I also started listening to KPFK (listener-sponsored radio) and going to anti-war rallies. In 1972 I registered for the Peace and Freedom Party and went to Venice [in Los Angeles] meetings. I lived in West Los Angeles at the time. But basically I remained a counter-cultural guy, anti-materialist. A hippy.

At work they were instituting the “open classroom” and other experiments. The first year they implemented the New Math and New Language, we used a textbook written by Noam Chomsky. It was all transitional grammar, intuitive—a completely different way to look at language. I loved it. I think it lasted a year or two before teacher and parent resistance got rid of it. Just like “new math,” it didn’t matter that the program was a more effective way of teaching, it was unable to overcome the “this is how I learned this” attitude of parents and the “this is how I’ve always taught it” attitude of teachers.

As I look back on those years, I realize how formative they were.  Something was going to happen to me during those charged times and I feel fortunate in reflecting that most of what I experienced was positive.  As the founders of the Peace Corps understood, I was able to bring back to my own community many of the altruistic principles that I learned about and experienced during my training and overseas service.  It feels like the road I ended up on in my life began in 1966.  Almost 50 years later, though the world has changed greatly, most of what I believe and how I try to act remains the same.  Though the big societal changes I wanted to see happen didn’t occur, I feel I was able to help many individual students during my teaching career and one never knows when a seed is planted, just how it’s going to grow.   Keep hope alive.