Library - Reading Room
Supporting Materials for Sir! No Sir!
Interview With Vietnam Vet, Why I Joined the Anti-War Movement
Q. How did you get in the army to begin with?
A. I had been in school for two years and quit, intending to save some money and transfer to a different school, when I got drafted I didn't support the war, but I didn't have enough information to really oppose it.
Q You're against the war now. What things that you saw overseas helped to bring that about?
A. Oh, there were a lot of things. First of all there was the attitude of most of the Army to the Vietnamese people themselves. Most of the people in the Army didn't want to have anything to do with them. They totally dehumanized them. They referred to them as "gooks" and things like that-- didn't really consider them people at all. We obviously weren't trying to help them; we couldn't stand them!
When I first went to Vietnam we were in a place about 7 miles from the nearest town. There were never any Viet Cong in the area, yet at night when we were manning our guard posts there were rocks being thrown at the guard posts. The officers would come out and they would fire grenades out at whoever was throwing the rocks, but no one could figure it out.
And it just occurred to me that these people there had to act friendly towards us during the day when we could see them. The only way they could show us was to come up at night and attack us with whatever they had, and all they had was rocks. But they were throwing at us, knowing that they weren't going to hurt us and knowing that they were risking their lives. Just sort of saying, "get out, we don't want you."
Also, I found that while we were over there, risking our lives, working seven days a week, sometimes 20 hours a day, the officers were doing almost nothing and exploiting us in a lot of ways. For instance, they had television and stereo equipment in the Officers' Club, which they took out of the PX. And it was paid for by raising the price of beer in the Enlisted Men's Club.
We were eating C-rations most of the time, dried eggs and stuff like that, while they were having barbeques three or tour times a week with steaks. The town was supposed to be off limits after six o'clock. A couple of officers that I knew had houses that they rented in town, and they kept their whores there, went out whenever they felt like it
Q. Did you see any Black GIs getting knocked down because of race?
A. Well, they didn't say that black guys were being knocked down because they were black, but you could see it. When I first got to Vietnam, in the communications platoon that I was in, there were about 10 black guys and maybe 20 white guys. All the white guys got promoted before any of the black guys did, and some of the black guys were the best guys in the platoon, the guys who really worked hard and did their job. If it wasn't because of race, the reason's a big secret to me!
Q When you were in the army were you ever told anything about why we were fighting over there?
A. Yeah. Before I went to Vietnam. There was a Command Information session in which a lieutenant was telling us why we should go to Vietnam. He was just saying the stuff he was told to say. When I asked him a few questions he started to get really up tight about it. He said, "Well, I don't really know the answers, but I'm sure that there are very good answers for it." And he just dismissed it, refused to listen to any more questions.
Then the NCOs who were at the session heard what was going on and kind of branded me as a “trouble maker.” Up to that point, I'd been assigned as team chief of a radio teem. Well, after that we got shipped to Vietnam. As soon as we got to Vietnam all of a sudden they didn't need me as a radio operator, they needed me to dig ditches and burn out latrines. It wasn't until I was transferred that I was used as a radio operator again.
Q How did you feel about the peace marches and demonstrations that were going on back home?
A. When I was over there a lot of the guys reacted negatively to it. They thought that these people were the people who were against them. After a while, they realized that being in Vietnam was what was endangering their lives, and that these people who were marching against the war were the only people who wanted to get out of Vietnam. A lot of the guys came around to supporting this sort of stuff.
Q. After you got out of the army you said you joined a peace group. How did that happen?
A. Well, the first thing I did when l got back to school was join a veterans organization at school. I talked to some of the guys there about the war. They, well, they just really didn't want to discuss it except to talk over the good times. But the bad things they'd seen, well, they were out now and they were free, they wanted to lust forget about it
So, I started talking to other people at school, people who were faced with the draft. People who didn't really realize what they'd be getting in to. There was a peace organization at school and I joined that and started talking to a lot of people. A lot of times people have come up and accused us of being draft dodgers and of just being afraid. As soon as I fell them I've been to Vietnam, and that it's even convinced me more how ridiculous it is, they'll stop and listen. The idea is that we've got to broaden the way we attack the war. Because if the war in Vietnam antis, there's going to be another one. So it's not just the war.
I think working people are probably the important people in this country. First of all, almost everyone in this country is working people; the people with the money are the minority. And these are the people, who if changes are going to be made, are going to have to demand it.
Vietnam GI, June 1970