Library - Reading Room

Supporting Materials for Sir! No Sir!

Fact Sheet On GI Dissent

The following is a sampling of specific cases which demonstrate the process of persecution used against men in the United States military who dissent:

One of the first big confrontations between dissenting GI's and the military, since the beginning of the war in Vietnam, took place in 1966 when three Army men at Fort Hood refused to go to Vietnam. They were sentenced to 3 years in prison, but have subsequently become heroes to thousands of Enlisted Men. Last October they were all released and met by cheering crowds. One of the Fort Hood Three, Dennis Mora, wrote from prison in Fort Leavenworth: "It has been 95 days since we were asked to go to a 'non-lethal' Asian murder. I can honestly say that I am 95 times as convinced of the justness and rightness of my decision."

Dr. Howard Levy, an Army doctor jailed for disloyalty and disobedience is now serving his third year in prison. Recently be asked a civilian court to negate his court-martial conviction in an extraordinary appeal that scathingly attacks the military code of justice. The petition Levy filed charges the Army with racism and contends that if the 32-year-old dermatologist from Brooklyn had not been Jewish and had not been involved in off-duty civil rights activities, he would not have been prosecuted. "His appeal could have significant ramifications," said the New York Times (April 20, 1969), since it challenges the integrity of the military courts and questions the constitutionality of substantial portions of the Uniform Code Of Military Justice." (See "Justice and Captain Levy," by Ira Glasser, Columbia Forum, Spring 1969).

PFC George Daniels and Lance Corporal William L. Harvey, black Marines, were court-martialed at Camp Pendelton, California, in the summer of 1967 for talking in opposition to the Vietnam war in a "bull session" and received 10 and 6 years respectively. Black Muslims, they had urged racial separation and called Vietnam a white man's war. Melvin L. Wulf, attorney assigned by the national office of the American Civil Liberties Union to appeal the case, wrote to Major General Lewis J. Fields, Camp Pendelton Commanding Officer, in May, 1968, urging him to reduce the sentences to time already served, if not set the convictions aside altogether. "The central feature of these convictions is that the defendants were convicted not for doing something, but only for saying something," said Wulfin his letter. "Neither the defendants nor any of their fellow Marines whose loyalty, morale and discipline they were charged with impairing, refused to obey any order or, specifically, refused to obey orders to go to Vietnam," he said. Since what they have done are not criminal offenses, contends Wulf, the sentences raise the question of "whether members of the Armed Forces are to be severely punished for speaking among themselves about religious and political subjects which may be unorthodox. They involve not only the First Amendment in general, but in particular, they involve the right of citizens of the United States to discuss and criticize government policy freely without fear that they will consequently be put into prison. The entire history and tradition of our country grows directly from that freedom."

Captain Dale H. Noyd - convicted by a General Court-Martial of refusing to obey an order to train pilots for Vietnam asked the U.S. Court of Appeals on May 21, 1969 to find that he properly claimed conscientious objection to the Vietnam war as an "ethical humanist." A one-year sentence imposed on the former Air Force Academy psychology instructor has row expired and he is back on active duty as a special assistant to the 'wing commander at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, where he was convicted on March 8, 1968.

Second Lt. Henry H. Howe, Jr., was sentenced to 2 years at hard labor (later reduced to one year) because of charges of "conduct unbecoming an officer" and using "contemptuous words against the President." He had carried a sign which read, "Let's Have More Than A Choice Between Petty Ignorant Fascists in 1968," and "End Johnson Fascist Agression in Vietnam."

Pvt. Ken Stolte and PFC Dan Pmick each received sentences of 4 years at hard labor in Leavenworth and dishonorable discharge when they were tried and convicted on May 22, 1968 at Fort Ord, California for distributing anti-war leaflets on base.

At Fort Dix, New Jersey, Regulation 210-27, titled "Installations Unauthorized Publications," signed by Col. R. B. Purrington, AGC, prohibits distribution of printed matter "in bad taste," "prejudicial to good order," "subversive," etc.

When a peace demonstration was scheduled outside the base, all GI's at the Army post were forced to sign an affidavit pledging to obey this regulation before being issued weekend passes. A subsequent regulation demands that all Fort Dix GI's apply for and get permission before taking part in any off-base peace meeting or demonstrations, whether in or out of uniform. Both regulations have been challenged.

An especially vicious form of persecution of anti-war GI's is the use of a non-political charge, real or frame-up, tied to an excessive sentence, and accompanied by denial from the military that the conviction and sentence have anything to do with the man's actions or thoughts on Vietnam. Outstanding in this field is the case of Bruce Peterson, founder and first editor of FATIGUE PRESS, the anti-war GI paper at Fort Hood, Texas, and an active participant in the "Oleo Strut" coffee-house in nearby Killeen, a haven for anti-war GI's. Peterson, who had once done time in Leavenworth for a Fort Knox marijuana conviction, knew when he became an active peace worker that he would be in danger of frame-up. FATIGUE PRESS began in early July, and by early August some anonymous "benefactors" had already planted packets of marijuana in his base wall locker and his car, which he fortunately discovered before the frame-up could be completed. On 23 August 1968 and 7 September 1968 he was arrested by Killeen police on possession charges and "suspicion of possession of marijuana," with $25,000 bail set on the latter. The lint of his trouser pockets was sent away for analysis. Los Angeles attorney Steve Gorman ripped apart the "case", but the court-martial board wasn't bothered by the fact that the marijuana alledged to have been in the pants-pocket lint was supposedly destroyed in the course of the tests that proved it to be marijuana so there was, in fact, no marijuana. The court took 145 minutes to find Peterson quilty and 20 minutes to sentence him to 8 YEARS AT HARD LABOR and dishonorable discharge

Sp/4 Martin Blumsack and other anti-war G1's reserved the post chapel for a prayer meeting on the war. Permission was revoked just before the men gathered on 13 February 1968 and PFC Robert p. Tater and Pvt. Stephen F. Kline, Jr., were arrested for kneeling and praying outside the locked chapel. An officer told Kline, "As your supervisor I order you to stop praying and leave the area."

Trials of 43 black soldiers, who staged a protest demonstration against the shipment of troops from Fort Hood to guard the Democratic National Convention last August, were held in the glare of national publicity. Attorneys, backed by the clear threat that the whole base would blow sky high if heavy sentences were handed out, got 10 of 22 men acquitted at special courts-martial and 3 of I4 at the more serious general courts-martial. Two cases were dropped and sentences were generally light. But, with the heat off on the publicity front, some of the men reported extra-legal harrasament later on.

Eleven prisoners in the Marine, brig at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina wrote in the January 21st edition of THE BOND, the paper of The American Serviceman's Union: "We ... bring to your attention the deplorable living conditIons we as prisoners have 40 people in a 30 x 20 room, the constant harrassnent by the brig personnel. Right now there are two people in each one-man segregation cell -- they are there as punishment for speaking out against conditions that seem more comparable to the Auschwitz concentration camps in the '40s. We think it's about time people should be treated like human beings." Another Lejeune prisoner writes: "...we are treated like animals, stuffed in cells made to hold 15, and there are 30 or 40 in them; made to go out in cold weather in light jackets. The other night we were hosed down and everyone's clothing and beds were soaking wet. Then we were made to go out and work in the cold the very next morning."

While some dissenters have been getting extensive coverage in the media, mass uprisings of a violent nature in the military prisons of our forces in South Vietnam have received little attention in the press. Lt. Col. Joseph Gambardella, Commander of the Marine Corps brig at Danang admitted in an AP dispatch of August 18, 1968 that on 16 August 1968, eight prisoners and a guard had been injured in rioting there. Renewed fighting broke out on 18 August, with 228 Marine prisoners involved. One cell block was burned down in the course of the uprising. The New York Times carried the following dispatch on September 25th, followed by silence:

"SAIGON, South Viet nam, Sept. 24 (UPI) - A dozen Negro prisoners still control one section of the Longbinh stockade, where one man was killed in racial rioting last month.

"No force or threat of force has been used against them," a United States Military spokesman said today. "They are receiving food and water and can rejoin the other prisoners whenever they decide to cooperate."

"In the rioting, which broke out August 30, 65 men, including 5 guards, were injured. Most of the injuried were caused by fighting among prisoners.

"After the riot about 200 Negro prisoners refused to obey any orders and were put in a separate section of the prison. Since then the holdouts have been reduced to 12 and no guards have entered their compound, except to bring rations and water.

"The spokesman said that no disciplinary action had been taken against the 12 men."

Shortly after that a little UPI item in the Chicago Daily News said that 6 of 11 Negro prisoners staging a passive rebellion at Longbinh stockade will be charged with murder or conspiracy to commit murder. Military sources said the charges stem from the death of a white soldier in a racial riot the night of 30 August 1969. And, silence ever since.

On October 12, 1968, in San Francisco, over 7,000 people including about 1,000 soldiers and veterans marched in the first demonstration ever to be organized by GI's themselves against the war. The chief organizer, Reserve Air Force Lt. Hugh Smith, said the purpose of the demonstration was "to get the largest turnout of GI's we possibly could and establish, perhaps for the first time in history, that GI's have rights."

Smith also stated that the demonstration should show GI's that they are not alone in opposing the war. About 200 active-duty GI's led the march, followed by about 100 reservists and 700 veterans. GI's carried signs reading "Free Speech For GI's" and "Bring Them Home Now." At the rally, Army Brig. Gen. Hugh Hester, 73, (retired), said, "It takes as much courage to oppose the power establishment of the United States as it does to face enemy bullets."

But the military didn't take all of this lying down. Everything was done to discourage the marchers from taking part. Military Airlift Command Chief Gen. Estes relayed the following unclassified message from the Pentagon to Air Force

Chief of Staff Gen. McConnell:

"This demonstration should be quashed if possible because of possible severe impact on military discipline throughout the services. There is no AFR (Air Force Regulation) specifically proscribing this type of activity. AFR 35-78 is pointed solely to civil rights demonstrations. Since there are national policy considerations in such an order it should emanate from DOD or at least Air Force level. I recommend this be done at once so that Smith will realize that if he proceeds be subjects himself with certainty to criminal punitive action. In the absence of a regulation or order specifically prohibiting such activity, I believe any criminal prosecution would be tenuous to say the least, particularly in view of the political climate of the day. If the foregoing is unattainable, I reluctantly recommend that we be given authority to proceed with dispatch with the AFR 36-3 action. I realize this would result in a discharge under honorable conditions, but the disposition of Smith is relatively unimportant as compared to the highly undesirable impact on military discipline if armed forces personnel are permitted t demonstrate in uniform against national defense policies with impunity."

A copy of the above telegram was sent to THE AlLY, an anti-war newspaper for GI's by an unknown GI in the Pentagon.

Lt. Smith was removed from his post as a computer data processing supervisor and put in charge of lawn details at Hamilton AFB. Then the Air Force issued him a transfer order to Taiwan. Only a Federal Court injunction issued by Supreme Court William 0. Douglas stopped the Air Force from shipping Smith Out.

In support of the October 12th demonstration, Navy Nurse Lt. Schnall helped drop leaflets about the march from an airplane onto 5 military bases in the area. On the day of the march, Scbnall and, Airman Michael locks demonstrated in uniform. Both were tried, but received mild sentences.

On this same weekend, at the Presidio Stockade, also in San Francisco, a psychologically disturbed young man, under the pressure of intolerable confinement conditions and complete neglect of his needs, followed a suicidal impulse and began running from a work detail. A guard armed with a 12-guage shotgun, in broad daylight, without commanding halt, killed Pvt. Richard Bunch with one shot in the small of his back at a distance of 25 to 30 feet. On October 14, 27 fellow prisoners sat down and sang "America the Beautiful" to call attention to what Senators Goodell and Cranston have called "the outrageous shotgun killing of Pvt. Richard Bunch ...and...deplorable conditions at the stockade." Capt. Lamont, Commanding Officer at the stockade refused to listen to the prisoners' petition and to reason with the man as directed in Army regulation 633-5 because, as he admitted later, his plan of action was that they would be charged with mutiny. They were!

In May of 1969 the GI movement won an important victory when the. Army dropped chares against "The Fort Jackson Eight," a group of anti-war GI's who had spoken out publicly against the war. But the long-term impact of this case is yet to be felt, for these GI's still have pending a civil suit against the Army for violations of their First Amendment rights. If upheld, this lawsuit will give the courts an opportunity to declare that civilians do not lose their Constitutional rights when they enter the military.
Another important victory was won in early December when Terry Klug, a member of "The Fort Dix 38" was found innocent of all charges that he was a "ringleader" in a stockade riot in June. Liberation News Service reported this victory, saying:

"The young GI's did it by standing together. About 150 stockade prisoners took part in the rebellion -- throwing footlockers through barracks windows and setting mattresses aflame. Of the 65 prisoners in Terry's cell block, about 50 must have taken part in the rebellion, and the rest must have witnessed it. Yet the Army was not able to bribe, threaten or intimidate a single GI to testify that he saw Klug participate in the riot. They could get only one man to state that he was certain he heard Klug try to encourage a riot.

The GI witnesses (at the trial) were the center of the joyous tumult as they hugged Terry and each other, squeezed hands and slapped palms. "We beat 'em. We beat 'em." Nobody could believe it. "Not having any evidence never stopped them before," said one of them, stunned. None of them had seriously thought their courage would actually pay off. They were happy and proud."

The list of GI dissenters is by no means complete with those outlined here. This is only a sampling. There are many other GI's who have risked much to speak out about the war and injustice. One last example is SP/5 Curt Stocker, a veteran of Viet Nam and the active-duty editor of a paper called Above Ground. Stocker represented the GI movement at the November 15th Washington demonstration with this statement of where it's at:

'Many GI's who are opposed to the war in Vietnam, perform their assigned duties in ever-present fear of army stockades and federal prisons. Many GI's, opposed to killing, nevertheless go to Vietnam when ordered, in hopes that they will enter into a situation where they might not have to defend their lives by killing another human being. For when an armed enemy is running at you, GI's, with his weapon spitting bullets, it's too late for a change of heart, it's too late for an inspection of your morals then, it's too late for anything, because one of you is going to die. The time for morality, and the time for protest, the time for a change of heart is the minute you are ordered to the Republic of Vietnam. The individual action taken: you should follow a careful assessment of your conscience. This action should in some way prevent you from being placed in a kill-or-be-killed situation. And if you can't dig that, somebody's going to dig you -- a grave. If this sounds radical, please realize that there is nothing more radical than death, especially when your bodies are being used to ensure that often sought after, but seldom attained thing, an honorable peace. If President Nixon had 39,000 tons of honor, it could not help the dead across the river in Arlington. . . They are the silent minority, and they are very silent. . . Dissent is growing in the military. The GI's are the military. They make up the thing that's fighting this war. It's legal dissent, and it's growing every day. In the last year, the growth has been phenomenal. The Administration. . .cannot stop it, because it's entirely legal: there will be no mutiny, there will be no broken laws. There will be an enforced Constituion and this is going to bring the Administration's war machine to a grinding halt. The only thing we can say, Richard Nixon, if you don't bring the GI's home from Vietnam, they're going to come home all by themselves."

Pamphlet, Servicemen's Link to Peace


© 2005 Displaced Films. All Rights Reserved