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Supporting Materials for Sir! No Sir!

Vietnam GIs Stage Protest

"To: Richard N. Nixon, Commander in Chief, Armed Forces of the United States.
Sir: So long as American soldiers continue to fight and die in a senseless war that cannot be won, we the undersigned feel that we have very little for which to be thankful. There, we:
1) Intend to fast on Thanksgiving Day from 0100 to 2400 hrs.
2) Respectfully request that our Thanksgiving rations be redistributed among the poor of the United States and Vietnam."

When this letter to the President, with a space for signatures, began circulating among GIs at the 71st Evacuaton Hospital in Pleiku in mid-October, the Army brass reacted with their usual mixture of harassment, threats, and deceit.

C.I.D. conducted a two-week investigation which arrived at the conclusion that arresting GIs for circulating the letter would result in mountains of unfavorable publicity for the Army. Consequently, no arrests were made, although at least one GI was hastily transferred to another post.

But such transfers didn't solve the Army's problem of how to prevent the American public from learning that antiwar sentiment in Vietnam is widespread. The best solution anyone could offer was put forward by Col. Joseph Bellas, commander of the hospital.

According to the Associated Press, Bellas on November 25, two days before Thanksgiving, issued an order which read in part: "Any member of this command may skip any meal he chooses for whatever motives of conscience or appetite he may have. Public advertising of that fact by one or more individuals constitutes demonstrations and will not be tolerated." All in all, a neat trick, fully worthy of a military mind. You have every right to protest, but you have to keep it a secret. "Possible disciplinary action" was threatened against all and sundry.

But the press had already been alerted to the fast, and reporters are notorious for not fearing courts-martial. The New York Times a large number of otherpapers, and TV news reports carried news of the antiwar fast.

Most accounts reported participation in the range of 150 or 200. The Times said that "out of the 141 soldiers of rank below specialist 5 serving with the 71st Medical Detachment... only eight appeared for dinner at the mess hall." The AP quoted an Army nurse, 1Lt Sharon Stanley, as saying: "A lot of these patients here don't believe in the cause for which they were fighting and received their wounds. What I don't like about this war is the fact that people of the United States had no say in starting it. We just sort of sneaked into it and suddenly we had 500,000 men fighting. The Vietnamese people don't care about the war and its outcome, so why should our boys keep losing their lives?"

Colonel Bellas, once the protest was over, retracted his threat and announced that no action would be taken against those who participated. Military Intelligence, however, was still trying to get ahold of the approximately 200 names which had been signed to the original letter.

GI Press Service, vol. 1, no. 13

 

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