Thursday, December 10, 2015

From Veterans For Peace In Massachusetts-Stop The Damn Endless Wars-Revelations

From Veterans For Peace In Massachusetts-Stop The Damn Endless Wars-Revelations

What VFP Stands For - 


Revelations-From The Sam Eaton-Ralph Morris Series

From The Pen Of Bart Webber

Ralph Morris had always considered himself a straight-up guy. Straight up when he dealt with customers in his high-precision electrical shop in Troy, New York inherited from his father after he retired before he himself recently retired and turned it over to his youngest son, James, who would bring the operation into the 21st century with the high tech equipment precision electrical work needs nowadays. Straight up when he confronted the trials and tribulations of parenthood and told the kids that due to his political obligations (of which more in a minute) he would be away and perhaps seem somewhat pre-occupied at times he would answer any questions they had about anything as best he could (and the kids in turn when characterizing their father to me, told me that he was hard-working, distant but had been straight up with them although those sentiments said in a wistful, wondering, wishing more manner like there was something missing in the whole exchange and Ralph agreed when I mentioned that feeling to him that I was probably right but that he did the best he could). Straight up after sowing his wild oats along with Sam Eaton, Pete Markin, Frankie Riley and a bunch of other guys from the working class corners who dived into that 1960s counter-cultural moment and hit the roads, for a short time after the stress of eighteen months in the bush in Vietnam. Meaning sleeping with any young woman who would have him in those care-free days when we were all experimenting with new ways to deal with that fretting sexual issue and getting only slightly less confused that when we got all that god-awful and usually wrong information in the streets where most of us, for good or evil learned to separate our Ps and Qs. After which he promised his high school sweetheart, Lara Peters, who had waited for him to settle down to be her forever man. And straight up with what concerns us here his attitude toward his military service in the Army during the height of the Vietnam War where he did his time, did not cause waves while in the service but raised, and is still raising seven kinds of holy hell, once he became totally disillusioned with the war, with the military brass and with the American government (no “our government” his way of saying it not mine) who did nothing but make thoughtless animals out of him and his buddies.             

Giving this “straight up” character business is important here because Ralph several years ago along with Sam Eaton, a non-Vietnam veteran having been exempted from military duty due to being the sole support of his mother and four younger sisters after his ne’er-do-well father died of a massive heart attack in 1965, joined a peace organization, Veterans For Peace (VFP), in order to work with others doing the same kind of work (Ralph as a  full member, Sam an associate member in the way membership works in that organization although both have full right to participate and discuss the aims and projects going forward) once they decided to push hard against the endless wars of the American government (both Ralph and Sam’s way of putting the matter). Without going into great detail Sam and Ralph had met down in Washington, D.C. on May Day 1971 when they with their respective groups (Sam with a radical collective from Cambridge and Ralph with Vietnam Veterans Against the War) attempted to as the slogan went-“shut down the government if it did not shut down the war.” Unfortunately they failed but the several days they spent together in detention in RFK Stadium then being used as the main detention area cemented a life-time friendship, and a life-time commitment to work for peace. (Sam’s impetus the loss of his best corner boy high school friend, Jeff Mullins, in the Central Highlands of Vietnam in 1968 who begged him to tell everybody what was really going on with war if he did not make it back to tell them himself.)        

That brings us to the Ralph straight up part. He and Sam had worked closely with or been member of for several years in the 1970s VVAW and other organizations to promote peace. But as the decade ended and the energy of the 1960s faded and ebbed they like many others went on with their lives, build up their businesses, had their families to consider and generally prospered. Oh sure, when warm bodies were needed for this or that good old cause they were there but until the fall of 2002 their actions were helter-skelter and of an ad hoc nature. Patch work they called it. Of course the hell-broth of the senseless, futile and about six other negative descriptions of that 2003 Iraq war disaster, disaster not so much for the American government (Sam and Ralph’s now familiar term) as for the Iraqi people and others under the cross-fires of the American military juggernaut (my term). So they, having fewer family and work responsibilities were getting the old time anti-war “religion” fires stoked in their brains once again to give one more big push against the machine before they passed on. They started working with VFP in various marches, vigils, civil disobedience actions and whatever other projects the organization was about (more recently the case of getting a presidential pardon and freedom for the heroic Wiki-leaks whistle –blower soldier Chelsea Manning sentenced to a thirty-five year sentence at Fort Leavenworth for telling the truth about American atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan). Did that for a couple of years before they joined. And here is really where that straight up business comes into play. See they both had been around peace organizations enough to know that membership means certain obligation beyond paying dues and reading whatever materials an organization puts out-they did not want to be, had never been mere “paper members” So after that couple of years of working with VFP in about 2008 they joined up, joined up and have been active members ever since.        

Now that would be neither here nor there but Ralph had recently been thinking about stepping up his commitment even further by running for the Executive Committee of his local Mohawk Valley  chapter, the Kenny Johnson Chapter. (Sam as an associate member of his local chapter, the James Jencks Brigade is precluded as a non-veterans from holding such offices the only distinction between the two types of membership.) He ran and won a seat on the committee. But straight up again since he was committed to helping lead the organization locally and perhaps take another step up at some point he decided this year to go to the National Convention in San Diego (the geographic location of that site a definitive draw) and learn more about the overall workings of the organization and those most dedicated to its success.

So Ralph went and immersed himself in the details of what is going on with the organization. More importantly he got to hear the details of how guys (and it is mostly guys reflecting the origins of the organization in 1985 a time when women were not encouraged to go into the service), mostly guys from his Vietnam War generation as the older World War II and Korea vets pass on and the Iraq and Afghan war vets are still finding their “voice” came to join the organization. What amazed him was how many of the stories centered on various objections that his fellow members had developed while in whatever branch of the military they were in. See Ralph had kept his “nose clean” despite his growing disenchantment with the war while serving his eighteen months in country. He had been by no means a gung-ho soldier although he had imbibed all the social and political attitudes of his working class background that he had been exposed to concerning doing service, fighting evil commies and crushing anything that got in the way of the American government. He certainly was not a model soldier either but he went along, got along by getting along. These other guys didn’t.

One story stood out not because it was all that unusual in the organization but because Ralph had never run up against anything like it during his time of service from 1967-1970. Not in basic training AIT, not in Vietnam although he had heard stuff about disaffected soldiers toward the end of his enlistment. This guy, Frank Jefferson, he had met at one of the workshops on military resisters had told Ralph when he asked that he had served a year in an Army stockade for refusing to wear the uniform, refusing to do Army work of any kind. At least voluntarily. The rough details of Frank’s story went like this. He had been drafted in late 1968 and was inducted into the Army in early 1969 having had no particular reason not to go in since while he was vaguely anti-war like most college students he was not a conscientious objector (and still doesn’t since he believes wars of national liberation and the like are just and supportable, especially those who are facing down the barrel of American imperialism, was not interested in going to jail like some guys, some draft resisters, from his generation who refused to be inducted an did not even think about the option of Canada or some such exile. Moreover the ethos of his town, his family, his whole social circle was not one that would have welcomed resistance, would not have been understood as a sincere if different way of looking at the world. Add to that two guys had been killed in Vietnam from his neighborhood and the social pressure to conform was too great to buck even if he had had stronger convictions then. 

Three days, maybe less after Frank was deposited at Fort Jackson in South Carolina in January, 1969 for basic training he knew he had made a great mistake, had had stronger anti-war feelings, maybe better anti-military feelings than he suspected and was heading for a fall. This was a period when draftees, those fewer and fewer men who were allowing themselves to be drafted, were being channeled toward the infantry, the “grunts,” the cannon-fodder (words he learned later but not known as he came in) and that was his fate. He was trained as an 11 Bravo, killer soldier. Eventually he got orders to report to Fort Lewis in Washington for transport to Vietnam. On a short leave before he was requested to report Frank went back to Cambridge where he grew up and checked in with the Quakers which somebody had told him to do if he was going to challenge his fate in any way. The counsellor there advised him to put in a CO application at Fort Devens nearby. He did so, was turned down because as a Catholic objector he did not qualify under the doctrine of that church. (And he still held to his “just war” position mentioned above). He tried to appeal that decision through military then civilian channels with help from a lawyer provided by the Quakers (really their American Friends Service Committee) although that was dicey at best. Then, despite some counsel against such actions Frank had an epiphany, a day of reckoning, a day when he decided that enough was enough and showed up at parade field for the Monday morning report in civilian clothes carrying a “Bring The Troops Home” sign. Pandemonium ensued, he was man-handled by two beefy lifer-sergeants and was thrown in the stockade. Eventually he was tried and sentenced to six month under a special court-martial for disobeying orders which he served. He got out after during that stretch and continued to refuse to wear the uniform or do work. So back to the stockade and re-trial getting another six months, again for disobeying lawful orders. Fortunately that civilian lawyer had brought the CO denial case to the Federal Court in Boston on a writ of habeas corpus and the judge ruled that the Army had acted wrongly in denying the application. A few weeks later he was released. Frank said otherwise he still might forty plus years later be doing yet another six month sentence. So that was his story and there were probably others like that during that turbulent time when the Army was near mutiny.

Ralph said to himself after hearing the Jefferson story, yeah, these are the brethren I can work with, guys like Jefferson really won’t fold under pressure. Yeah, that’s right.           

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