Critical Responses to Sir! No Sir!

War Resister Oliver Hirsch; Was Among 'Nine for Peace'

Patricia Sullivan, The Washington Post

Oliver V. Hirsch, 60, a noncommissioned officer in the Air Force who became one of the "Nine for Peace" resisters during the Vietnam War, died Jan. 15 of multiple myeloma at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York.

In 1968, Mr. Hirsch was a 22-year-old enlistee from Bethesda, stationed at Almaden Air Force Station in California, where he was a radar instructor and held the rank of sergeant. He joined eight other military men, representing the four branches of the services, who publicly refused to go to Vietnam and chained themselves to ministers at a church in Northern California.

Their arrests for desertion were a media spectacle, with police cutting their chains and removing them from a Communion service. The incident also served as one of the early indications that opposition to the war came not just from campuses but also from soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who were serving in the ranks.

Mr. Hirsch, who later became an artist, songwriter and museum director, had been in the Air Force about 18 months in several stateside posts and was facing an expected deployment to Vietnam. Dismayed by the war, he attempted to get a medical discharge. But after a short time in the psychiatric ward at the Presidio military base hospital in San Francisco, he was told he was being returned to active duty. Mr. Hirsch slipped out of the ward, and a friend threw his shoes to him, he said in William Short and Willa Seidenberg's book, "A Matter of Conscience: GI Resistance During the Vietnam War" (1992).

"In a minute I was off the base in my pajamas -- this was San Francisco in 1968 and nobody gave me a second look. I went directly to the War Resisters League in Haight-Ashbury; they farmed me out to a hippie commune where I could take time to figure out what . . . I was going to do. After a few weeks, a friend came by to tell me there were eight AWOL GIs who had taken sanctuary in a church in Haight-Ashbury and that they were going to make as big a stink as they could."

Mr. Hirsch arrived at the church and became the last of the Nine for Peace. Within days, amid much media attention, they were arrested. Mr. Hirsch was sent to the stockade at Hamilton Air Force Base, but instead of a court martial, he was given a bad-conduct release. He was the first of the nine to be released.

"Within hours, I went from facing years in prison . . . to standing on the side of the highway in civilian clothes -- free as a man can be in this country," he said.

Mr. Hirsch then led the establishment of GI Help, a service to aid soldiers resisting deployment to Vietnam. The others in the Nine for Peace were tried for desertion and received general discharges, with varying amounts of detention time. After the war ended, Mr. Hirsch worked in the lumber mills of the Pacific Northwest and the coal mines of West Virginia.

He became exhibitions director for the Raices Latin Music Museum in New York, a professor in exhibition design at New York University and owner of Hirsch & Associates Fine Arts Services Inc. in New York.

Born in Versailles, France, to a French mother and expatriate American father, Mr. Hirsch was raised in Bethesda and graduated from Walter Johnson High School in 1964. He told Short and Seidenberg that he enlisted in the Air Force in 1966 to avoid the draft.

Mr. Hirsch also appeared in David Zeiger's documentary film "Sir! No Sir! The Suppressed Story of the GI Movement to End the War In Vietnam" last year, and he said he was "proud and unrepentant" about his decisions from that era. He remained politically active, demonstrating in antiwar protests before the Iraq war.

His marriage to Joan Hirsch ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife, Marcia Gomide of New York; two daughters from his first marriage, Jennifer Hirsch and Annie Hirsch, both of New York; two brothers; and two grandchildren.


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