FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. - In the end, it was the GIs who pulled it all together, who gave dignity and unity and burning purpose to the passionate but scatterbrained counter-USO show put on here over the weekend by Jane Fonda.
This is a GI town. The streets are full of young men wearing motorcycle jackets, bell bottoms, beads, funky hats and outrageous shirts, but betrayed by their short haircuts.
Saturday afternoon they hung around the Haymarket Square GI Coffeehouse waiting to buy $2.50 tickets for the anti-war show that has had much publicity by getting barred from Fort Bragg.
Around the corner and all the way down Bragg Blvd. were some of the reasons why the Coffeehouse was established: the topless go-go bars, the pawn shops, the sleazy jewelry store whose proprietors stand outside on the sidewalk and try to collar the wide-eyed and slow-footed, the skinflicks (at the King Theater "101 Acts of Love") and the heroin pushers, whose gift to Fort Bragg and to the nice middle-class, straight all-American boys is a nightmare addiction problem and the horrendous plague that accompanies it.
The thing that came through again and again during the hectic weekend was that these are not only elite soldiers of proud paratrooper units but that they are small-town kids, some of them barely able to raise a mustache, brought up in the langorous innocence that only Americans believe they can afford to preserve well past the teens. But the shock of sudden contact with the Army, the war and the world has hit many of them hard. Here's what some said:
"When I enlisted I was really strack (gung-ho). I pressed my field jacket, did spit shines, everything. I thought this was going to be my life. That was seven months ago. I feel I'm about 100 years old now."
"Yeah, we're Vietnam returnees, 173d Airborne Brigade. Yeah, we're privates. Only reason a lot of them put up with this is they don't know their rights. I'd say 90 per cent of the returnees feel this way. Man, we are mad. You know 45 per cent of our outfit is in the stockade right now?"
"I got a buddy who had both his legs blown off a year, and a half ago. In Cambodia. You get it? A year and a half ago."
"Vietnam is a very good radicalizer. I was superstraight until I came into the service. Spent four years in the Marine Corps. I enlisted." The kid shakes his head. "Man, if I had it to do over, I would have gone to Canada."
"The GI movement has really sprung up this past year. It's no one base thing." (There are now 26 coffeehouses and 75 underground GI newspapers. The Haymarlset is the third Fayetteville coffeehouse: The first two burned down.)
A GI who works at the Coffeehouse says: "We won't let any known-pusher9even in the door. Anytime we see someone we don't know go into the can, someone follows him in to make sure he doesn't plant some dope or smack or anything. We plead with the guys not to carry any kind of dope in here. The brass would nail us in a minute."
So when the actors came to Fayetteville to present an alternative to the Bob Hope show - which even the Pentagon had to admit was panned by the GIs - the young soldiers swarmed to the Coffeehouse seeking, if nothing else, a relief from the ugliness to which they are exposed. The rest of the town appeared hardly aware of the event, aside from a bit of head shaking at the long-haired entourage.
The stars arrived exhausted. Miss Fonda and Donald Sutherland (of "M A S H") flew in Saturday from New York, where they had been up most of the night rehearsing. Elliott Gould didn't make it at all; he has been near physical collapse, from overwork. Peter Boyle, the bald hard hat of 'Joe," flew with them - as did Gary Goodrow and Alen Myerson of The Committee, plus a group making a film of the making of the show and press people.
From the first there had been trouble ever where to do the show. Fort Bragg had barred it summarily, as it has barred Miss Fonda from its premises for life. A municipal auditorium rejected it, fearing the kind of damage rock groups have inflicted there recently and objecting to what Miss Fonda stands for: the GI movement.
On the very eve of the show a federal court injunction forced the public auditorium to open its doors, but there was still a matter of $100,000 liability insurance - $1,000 cash down and ticket takers, bodyguards and other expenses. So the show was moved to the Haymarket, seating 450.
As curtain time approached Saturday evening, the Army had little more to say.
Lt. Gen. John J. Tolson, base commander and a chief architect of the Army's new liberal look, was out playing golf. Information officer Maj. Jimmie Wilson explained that the script had been sent to the general and he had found it "not so much anti-war as poorly done and he felt he couldn't allow it. He didn't want to be put in the position of sponsoring it."
However, Wilson emphasized, the Army has made no efforts to stop the show in town, had not contacted local officials in any way, and had no intention of preventing Army personnel from going to see it.
"There won't be any bunch of spooks down there taking names," said Wilson. "I'm going to see it myself."
If the Army was keeping its cool, it was by no means at ease. A tour of the base uncovered the fact that some 50 Jeeps and trucks had been removed from the 503d Military Police unit's motor pool and placed on alert behind the barracks. The stockade was blocked off, with MPs manning access points. A report circulated that "half" of the Old Airborne had been sent out on field maneuvers, although they just came back from the field two days ago. Actually, a third of Bragg's 55,000 soldiers are always on field duty, in rotation. It is true that more than the usual number of GIs seemed to be on weekend duty.
The show opened with Swamp Dogg, a rock group that was seriously bedeviled by sound problems. Then folksinger Barbara Dane talked and sang - in a vibrant alto voice not great but haunted by the ghost of Bessie Smith.
Comedian Dick Gregory came on for a solo spot. He had just rushed in from Texas. He talked about Army spies who might even be at the Coffeehouse ("look out for spit-shine sandals"), about how we would feel if Russia invaded the United States to protect its troops in Cuba, about race: "Well, it's almost summer . . . the riot season. Last year we didn't show, and the whole country looked around: 'Where are they? Where are they?"
He got a standing ovation for his final remarks. "Your being here means more to me than my being here means to you, because I got eight little children."
The last act was a series of blackouts, dominated by Goodrow, the superbly skilled Boyle, a veteran of Chicago's Second City group, and somewhat to his own surprise Sutherland, who had done little live stage work. It went like this:
Mrs. Nixon, in flowered hat, tells the-President that dissidents are storming the White House demanding an end to the war.
"You'd better call the 82d Airborne," he replies.
"But you don't understand, Richard. This IS the 82d Airborne."
The cheer that followed was more than a cheer. It was a roar, a visceral reflex that burst from 45O throats in the seame instant.
The war was presented as a sport event ("Nixon would have liked to be here at this great game today to throw out the first grenade") and a magic act again (Sutherland's hobby, and he is good at it). Mr. Nixon was shown getting image advice from his TV coach to brighten up his presentation with the gnong-gnong gesture, the wa-wa necktie, the rubber chicken and other vaudeville paraphernalia.
The finale depicted a group singing the national anthem, becoming incensed at Sutherland as a nonstanding, nonsinger, and attacking him, stomping him into a frazzled corpse with staring blue eyes, then regrouping in time to finish the song.
Camp News, vol. 2, no. 2