I passed my draft physical in 1966 and was told I would be drafted in 21 days. I decided to go into the Air Force, seemed safer then just being drafted, the trade off was 4 years of active military service. I had to go DEP (delayed enlistment program) because of the waiting list of people trying to beat the draft and go Air Force.
I finally got the call and on December 6, 1966 I was sworn in to the active Air Force and was on my way to San Antonio for basic training. My understanding of racism and discrimination came almost immediately after reaching Lackland AFB. My “TA” wanted to know if there were any “Jew Jubes” in his midst. I was never so proud to announce my heritage.
One of the questions I was asked, on a printed form, if I would consider being in the Air Police (AP). I answered, no. Basic training was winding down and we were given our orders of where to report after training, most of us were going to Tech Schools for more extensive training, I couldn’t believe it when I looked at my written orders and saw I was assigned to Air Police Tech School training at Lackland.
I moved from one side of base to the other and was assigned to my new dorm with the other trainees. I was very upset with my assignment and went through the chain of command to try to change what had been done. I was basically laughed at and told to just do as I am told and be a good airman and not cause trouble. I was not satisfied with that result and finally figured a way of getting out of the Air Police. With the help of a doctor, I was able to get new orders and was transferred to Beale, AFB in California, and given the assignment as a still photographer, on the job training status (OJT). I was very happy with that news and went on leave back home for about a week during my transfer from Texas to California.
Beale AFB is just outside Marysville, CA and from my folks place in CT the best way of going there is flying to SF and take a bus the rest of the way. I flew into SF and had called some cousins who live in the Bay Area. I was going to a taxi to meet with one of my cousins, who was a professor at SF State. He suggested he would pick me up at the airport and he would show me around campus and I would have dinner with family, spend the night, and given a ride to the bus station the next day.
In the 60’s when you flew “military standby” (about half the price), you had to have written orders and wear your class “A” uniform. When my cousin picked me up from the airport, I was therefore wearing my uniform, we went directly to SF State, he had to teach a class and I went to the Student Union to wait for him. Being totally naïve, I had no idea of the situation of college students, especially in the Bay Area, and service personal. Just a few weeks before my arrival there had been violent demonstrations, on campus, against military recruiters and ROTC programs. My being on that campus, in 1967, in full dress uniform, was not a pleasant experience or one I would ever forget. So, here I am sitting in the Student Union, checking out the good looking women, and doing some friendly flirting, when several students approached me to find out “what the hell was I doing there”. I was yelled at, cussed at, threatened, and basically told to get the hell off campus. I was totally confused, to me I wasn’t a political person, and Vietnam, in my mind, had nothing to do with me. Finally campus security arrived and I explained my situation and I was brought to a “safe security” office until my cousin’s class was over. I was advised, next time don’t wear military clothes when visiting. This was the first time in my life I realized, I was part of the Vietnam War, even though I was an insignificant airman that was going to be tucked away in Northern CA.
Beale AFB, CA is not exactly the garden spot of the west coast. Marysville and Yuba City are twin cities that had a combined population under 25,000 in 1967. I reported to my Squadron and was given my dorm assignment. The living quarters were not bad, similar to dorm living on a college campus. My roommates were OK, one black, one Catholic, and me, a Jew, the KKK would have loved to burn a cross at our door, they could get all 3 of us with just one cross. We all had different assignments, all connected with the base photo lab.
Learning what to do at the photo lab was interesting, however being the lowest ranking person there, I did get much of the lousy and rotten jobs to do. I took it in stride and did my best to get along with everyone. I had many interesting things keeping my interests, there was a reason my nickname was (Sgt) Bilko but I won’t get into that now. I bought a car, found a girlfriend, and traveled off base on the weekends, usually to SF. I had learned quickly, from my SF State incident, not to wear a uniform when off base, blue jeans and tee shirts blended into the environment better. I didn’t want to stick out, however the military short haircut was easy to spot for us serviceman.
It was about June of 1967 when I was in SF on a weekend. I was with a couple of buddies from base and we were about a block away from the Selective Service Headquarters, there was some commotion going on. We got closer to see what was going on and suddenly I was on the ground, grabbing my head, and covering up. A SF Policeman was standing over me with a nightstick, threatening to hit me again, and yelling he was going to beat the crap out of all us draft resisters. That really pissed me off, although he was partially correct, I was a draft dodger, I went into the AF to dodge the draft, but I was still a serviceman in the USAF. I got to my feet and my buddies rushed me out of there, and back to the base we went. The lesson I learned from this was, that when I would watch the news on TV and see protestors complaining about police brutality, I thought they were full of it. Now I realized that police brutality really exists. I started to watch the news with a different view point. I also became friends with one particular fellow who was from Seattle and was quite outspoken about the war. We used to discuss many subjects, but he was really focused on the “injustice” of the US involvement in Vietnam. He talked about the economics of war and who benefited from it and those countries that we considered allies would help themselves economically no matter who they dealt with. These conversations started to get me to question of how much I was in favor of the US policies. Finally after several months, after what I observed while in the service, I came to the realization I couldn’t support the US involvement in Vietnam. I now believed in “talk for peace” and a pullout of our troops. I had to find out what I could do to remove myself from the AF. I was almost certain that I was not going to Vietnam, other then a voluntary TDY (temporary duty), and that was not going to happen. That was good for me being safe but I was still part of the “war effort” even though I was in a soft assignment in CA. I needed out of the service, completely.
I went to my Squadron Commander and gave him my letter of resignation, he practically laughed me out of his office, he told me “You can’t quit, if we let everyone out who was against the war, he might run short of troops”. Exactly, that is what I want, the US out of Vietnam. I tried to come up with an angle to leave the service, but I did not want to break the law. If I refused work assignments, I could be in trouble for malingering, I had to continue to do my photo work. I wasn’t about to go AWOL or become a deserter, that could be misinterpreted of what I was trying to say and do.
On April 3, 1968, I was reading the SF Chronicle, at the base photo lab, when I saw this story about a soldier that was on a “hunger strike” and was going to be discharged because of his actions. Bingo, that would be perfect for me, a non-violent, peaceful demonstration, that would give me a chance to state my purpose, and I could continue my work at the photo lab so I wouldn’t get in trouble for that. I handed my “meal card” to the NCO in charge at my duty station and told him what I was doing, he handed the card back to me and said I needed to give it to our Squadron Commander and gave me permission to go to his office. I immediately went to him and handed him my “meal card”, he accepted it, I tried to tell him what I was doing but I could tell he was not listening to me. The second thing I thought was, if no one knows you’re on a “hunger strike”, your purpose just goes unknown. I need to get the word out, so I called the local newspaper in Marysville. They asked me a couple of questions and then hung up. In about 10 minutes there was a reporter on the phone asking questions of the NCOIC who turned the phone over to me. The local paper was checking on my story to see if it was real. This seemed to be big news in this small community, they wanted to come and interview me on the base, I told them I would find out what needed to be done to have that happen. They asked me what other news sources have been notified and had I made up a press release or talked to the “base newspaper”. That started me thinking of what I needed to do, I called the base paper immediately. I know many of the people there because being a base photographer included shooting their photos, too. They thought it was an “April Fools joke”, a few days late. They wouldn’t take me seriously until the NCOIC got on the phone to verify what I was doing. After I hung up with them several of the people at the photo lab started asking me questions about what I was doing and why. I was asked if I was a Communist, I was quoted about better dead then Red, I was called Jew bastard and one NCO threatened to beat me. Suddenly the APs were there, I was handcuffed and brought to the Squadron Headquarters, where not only my Squadron Commander was there, so was the base Commander and 2 officers from the Judge Advocates office. The questioning began.
That interrogation lasted several hours, the first thing they wanted to know was how many others were participating in the “hunger strike” and who else had I contacted outside the base, lawyers, news media, parents, friends, other anti-war people, etc. I tried to tell them my actions was not with any group or organization and I didn’t belong to any outside groups, they didn’t believe me. They told me I had broken UCMJ (united code of military justice) by not going through proper “chain of command” and any statements I make, without going through the “information office”, would result in additional charges carrying a punishment of 3 years for each statement made. I was already facing one charge from my initial phone call to the Marysville paper. I was asked about how I was going to carry off this “hunger strike” and who on base had assisted me. That’s when I decided it was my turn to take a quick shot of the brass. I told them that the only help I had, so far, was from my Squadron Commander who tool my “meal card” and put it in his desk, top drawer. The Base Commander was sitting at that desk, he opened the drawer, and there sitting on the top of some papers was my “meal card”, what a lovely shade of red was coming from the Squadron Commander. I was dragged into an outside office by the AP and I heard lots of yelling coming from the office next door. That would be a lasting memory that kept my spirits high during the next few weeks of misery that would be inflected on me.
About 6:00 PM is was handcuffed and brought to my dorm, my roommates had been moved to other quarters, I was handcuffed to the bed and an AP was stationed in my room. He decided when I could go to the bathroom and which hand was handcuffed, so I could write. I wanted to keep a journal of what was happening but this just seemed to piss off the APs even worse. I was punched, spat upon, threatened, and one time made to put a pistol barrel in my mouth, while the AP said he was going to kill him a “short haired hippie”. This was all done before dawn the next day. I was terrified, I was thinking, what the hell did I do, I started to question myself, if I was going to be mentally tough enough to take it, I really didn’t know. The questioning continued the next day and at lunch time I was handcuffed and brought to the mess hall and paraded around by the APs, when they told people what was going on, food was thrown at me and the name calling and threats were horrible. I was finally brought back to my dorm. I was trying to lie on my bunk when I heard yelling in the hallway. One of the worst events in the history of the US just happened and it would eventually save my life.
Dr. Martin Luther King was just shot and killed in Memphis. The news stabbed me, when I was a teenager living in TN I worked on several civil rights marches and had met Dr. King at TN A& I (now TN State Univ). He was a special person in my life, his teachings reflected what my parents had taught me about judge the person and not the skin color or religion. I was in tears of the news of his murder. I wanted to see the news and find out more about what was happening. I was not allowed to go to the day room, were the TV was on. I had to stay handcuffed to my bed.
The USAF is scared not to give you your religious rights. It was announced that there would be a special service, at the base chapel, for Dr. King, that night. I requested that I go, and made it clear, no matter what I was charged with, I had the right of religion. They honored it, and I was escorted by a black AP to the base chapel. When I arrived, the chapel was crowded, I was the only white person there. I certainly drew attention with the handcuffs and AP escort, people seemed hostile to my presence and I was once again wondering if I had made the right decision to being there. Suddenly my roommate ran up to me and put his arms around me and told the crowd he was my friend and my being there was out of respect. I sat next to him, the AP took off the handcuffs and sat on the other side of me. After the service many of the people came to me and asked why I was there and why was I handcuffed. I had made the local paper that day, so many of them knew the story, I had a chance to explain what was going on with the threats, beatings, etc. I was told that “as long as a brother is around, I would be safe”, my black brothers probably saved my life. I felt a special relationship had been made that day that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
Many other negative things happened to me in the next couple of weeks, I wasn’t completely out of harms way. I was finally discharged (Undesirable) on April 23, 1968 (my Dad’s birthday). I spent the next several years working on several programs to help end the Vietnam War and many social reform issues. I received amnesty from President Carter in the 70’s and my discharge was upgraded to Honorable.
I would like the chance to someday sit down with a writer, and go into details of my “military experience”. Thank you for your time.
Jeffrey Goldin AF11799216 (I think that’s it)
Testimony submitted May 18 2008