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Supporting Materials for Sir! No Sir!
Ft. Hamilton Amends The First Amendment
Things are simply not the way they used to be in the 26th Army Band. The members of the “fighting 26th” have had enough of the specious rhetoric pouring forth from Ft. Hamilton complex headquarters. The details of what may prove to be the Army’s most deleterious fiasco must now be made public! The implications of this controversy transcend the realm of the band and Ft. Hamilton, and ultimately touch the lives of all American GI’s.
For many months, many members of the 26th Army Band have been actively protesting the U.S. involvement in Indochina. These actions have been done totally within the most stringent military guidelines regarding dissent. Recently, officials at Ft. Hamilton have become less tolerant of such legal actions.
On July 8 of this year, CW3 Patrick E. Flores, the present commanding officer of the 26th Army Band, appeared before his unit to enunciate a series of radical and immediate changes in the band’s duty status. Duty hours were extended, fatigues replaced class A’s as the duty uniform, command reveille was instituted, periodic Saturday training was added, instrumental lessons were eliminated from the training schedule, and civilian performing commitments were to be spurned in favor of commitments which were hitherto ajudged [sic] by CW3 Flores as being unnecessary and non-productive.
Mr. Flores went on to relate the justification for these changes: they were based on four antiwar actions by several band members, including an antiwar petition which appeared in the New York Times, and a protest march by several band members at a July Fourth parade in Staten Island in which the band performed. “You are responsible for the actions of your dependents,” stated Mr. Flores. The commander advised his men to tighten (their) belts and accept this thing. By doing these things, he said, the band would eventually return to its former status.
Eyebrows were raised in consternation several days later when Major General Walter Higgins, Commanding General of Ft. Hamilton, received a letter from thirty-six members of the band demanding a redress of grievances. It appeared that not all the band were going to accept these changes blindly. (A complaint was concurrently filed with the Inspector General, Ft. Hamilton).
Response from the Hamilton brass was neither long in coming nor short on confuwion [sic]. On July 13th, Col. Thomas Merrick addressed the band. Col. Merrick floundered through a stupefying attempt at rationalizing the situation -- The entire band performs police call instead of the previous few because it is the only fair thing to do -- He concluded his remarks by magnanimously admitting that individuals of the band have a perfect right to participate in legal peace activities. He went on to state that he personally deplores such action.
Later that day, the band was treated to a brief, but formal dissertation by Lt. Col. Wood, deputy post commander of Ft. Wadsworth, in the unit rehearsal hall. As at the previous meeting with Col. Merrick, the discussion terminated when after asking whether his audience intended to accept his and Col. Merrick’s replies as satisfactory, the entire unit stared incredulously at him in silence.
In conversation with some bandsmen, CW Flores euphemistically termed these more arduous conditions “additional training” would contribute to the success of the band’s mission.
Not all members of the band had participated in these activities, yet mass punishment was implemented with uncompromising thoroughness, The entire unit was harassed for minute infractions, punitive reassignments were threatened, additional work details came about, abusive language came into vogue when officers spoke to enlisted men, and Article 15 convictions rose dramatically.
Obviously dazed by the reaction of these GIs, the Fort Hamilton command again overreacted. On July 21, Sp/4 David Cortright, the band’s Drum Major, and also a leading figure in the New York antiwar movement, was ordered out of the band on seven days notice. He was to report to the already overstrength 62 AG Band at Fort Bliss, Texas. Upon Cortright’s arrival, he was not allowed to sign into the band but instead was shuffled off into an artillery unit. He was later reassigned as a chaplains assistant. Finally he was transferred into the band. A week passed and the authority for his reassignment was bluntly amended to read, VOCG (Vocal Order of the Commanding General).
Immediately after receiving his orders, Cortright filed a complaint to the Ft. Dix J.A.G. office, which has jurisdiction over Fort Hamilton, under the provisions of Article 138 of the UCMJ. This was no sooner submitted when the Sp/4s Paul Dix and Thomas Bankston received Vietnam orders. Simultaneously 4 bandsmen were ordered out; three to Korea, two more to Vietnam, one to Germany, and one to Ft. Lee, Va. On two weeks notice, making the total to this date of ten GIs punitively [sic] reassigned.
Before processing out of the band, Cortright was able to obtain a court order from the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, which requires the Army to provide him free telephone service to his lawyer, and transportation to New York whenever the court requires his presence.
Some members of the band have collectively filed an Article 138 complaint, and they are consulting with attorneys in New York prior to filing a class action suit in Federal Court.
Eleven Congressmen have requested that an immediate inquiry be made into this situation. One has even asked Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird for a full explanation. In response to both Congressional pressure and Cortright’s 138 complaint, an investigator was dispatched from the Pentagon in mid-August. He has been gathering information from the Ft. Hamilton hierarchy and Mr. Flores, in what is called, An Exhaustive Inquiry. However, only three bandsmen have been asked to testify, among those who petitioned Major General Higgins for redress of grievances. There is little hope that anything but a regulation O.D. whitewash will result from this type of incomplete investigation.
Meanwhile, Sp/4 Cortright was not overwhelmed with surprise when the Army found his Article 138 complaint to be without substantial basis. Such a paltry excuse for justice, inadmissable [sic] in a civilian court, is encountered only too frequently in the new reaction Army.
To the members of the 26th Army and the validity of the old age adage attributed to Clemenceau, Military justice is to justice as military music is to music.
XPress, no. 1