Library - Reading Room

Supporting Materials for Sir! No Sir!

Billy Dean Smith Goes On Trial

Heavy mortar rounds crash into the hills in the distance reverberating in the quiet courtroom in Building 2117 at Fort Ord, California

Rookie training companies march nearby singing lustily the songs encouraged by Smokey-the-Bear-hatted drill sergeants-until a bailiff goes out to tell them to knock it off. The judge is disturbed.

A fat men's platoon perspires through jogging trips in a row of barracks nearby, sagging stomachs jouncing over newly issued web belts.

'Today's Army” - the slogan says - “Wants to join You"

In the courtroom, Private Billy Dean Smith, a black anti war enlisted man, its before seven army officers who will decide his fate in an Army he did not want to join, nor to have join him. The same authorities who have picked his jury accuse him of the “fragging” of two white officers while in Viet Nam.

Who is Private Billy Smith? What evidence has the military been able to produce to justify his confinement in a 5' by 9' solitary confinement cell for 23 hours a day during the last 16 months? Why did the military ask for Billy's execution at the opening of the trial and now that the Supreme Court of the United States has denied them that, why do they ask that he be confined in a federal military prison for the rest of his natural life?

Bill is 23, tenth in a family of twelve children. Raised in Watts, he was drafted into the Army in 1969. He was opposed to the war, but his parents talked him out of resisting induction because of their feelings that a black draft resister would never be able to find a decent job. Billy was sent to Vietnam in October of 1970 and the more he saw of the war, the more he spoke out against it. He declared the war to be unjust and racially motivated, and stated his hatred for all who conducted the butchery of the Vietnamese people. Because of his outspoken stance, Billy Dean was being processed for a “212" discharge for unfitness and unsuitability. His Commanding Officer, Capt. Rigby, stated that Billy would never be a good soldier because of his ''lack of enthusiasm about closing with the enemy.”

On March 15, 1971 at 12:45 AM, a grenade exploded in an officers' barracks in Bien Hoa-killing two officers and wounding a third. Billy's C.O., Capt. Rigby, and 1st Sgt. Willis decided almost immediately that they had been the intended victims and that Billy was the guilty party. They ordered Billy Smith arrested for two counts of murder and two of attempted murder. Despite the fact that no evidence existed to support their accusations against Billy, no attempt to look for other suspects was ever carried out. The army had chosen its victim, that was enough.

After 16 months of preparing their case, the army has been able to produce a grenade pin they claim to have found on Billy. When tested this pin In no way matched the remains of the grenade used in the fragging. They have produced as evidence a “suspicious" pair of black leather gloves, army issue, but have in no way tried to connect them to anything. They have produced a witness who testified to hearing Billy say, months before the incident, that he hated the war, the army, and his C.O., and that he would get even. Statements from hundreds of Viet Nam veterans have shown that Billy was clearly one of the majority of enlisted men who held these feelings. And finally they produced a witness, a former EM in Billy's battalion in Vies Nam, who testified that he saw a black man running across a street a minute or two after the explosion. On cross-examination he went on to say that he would certainly have recognized the man if he had in tact been Billy Dean Smith. At this point the army tried to impeach its own witness.

This hardly seems to he sufficient evidence to convict a man let alone send him to prison for the rest of his life, but within the curious system of military justice, which denied Billy Smith a jury of his peers, which has no provisions for bail, which has already kept him in solitary confinement for 16 months, Billy's chances of a fair trial and an acquittal are slim. As Billy Smith has said, ''I want the whole world to realize the state of my conditions. It is essential that the whole world be aware of the Army's attempt to frame and hang your brother. I know that when my vindication comes, it shall be through the power of massive awareness of social justice and not by means of military injustice.”

The trial goes on. Each morning Private Billy Dean Smith is taken from his cell and driven by armed convoy to his military courtroom. If Billy is ever to walk away from that room, that cell, that uniform, and that unjust system, a free man, we must all rally in his support.

About Face! The U.S. Servicemen's Fund Newsletter, vol. 2, no. 6

 

© 2005 Displaced Films. All Rights Reserved