Dickinson College, Fall 2023

Category: 1960s Page 1 of 3

Standing Up, By Sitting In


Alice Littlefield

For modern Americans it is unthinkable to live in a society where racial segregation was the norm. However, for Alice Littlefield (nee Russ) segregation was her reality growing up in the Jim Crow South, “School was always separated, church was always separated” she explained, “But for the most part everybody sort of lived in peace. This was the way things were and [there were things] you didn’t do, like… didn’t even think about doing”.[1] Her reality changed in the fall of 1959 when she entered her freshman year at the newly integrated Women’s College of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The university had integrated in September 1956 following the 1954 Supreme Court Case—Brown vs. Board of Education and subsequent faculty resolution discussions at the college. Brown v. Board of Education ruled that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional; following this decision the Faculty Council of the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina had internal conversations about the possibility of integration at the institution. In December of 1955, the council agreed to desegregate—thanks due in part to the advocacy of philosophy professor Dr. Warren Ashby.

News release on Faculty Council statement of desegregation


As the sociopolitical tides were turning in favor of racial equality, so too was the pushback. The transition from an all-white campus to a more diverse population proved to be tense. As H.W. Brands states in his book American Dreams: The United States Since 1945, “The most contentious issues in American life continued to center on race.”[2] At the heart of the issue, according to Littlefield was American culture. Specifically, that the pushback against integration was rooted in the misguided belief that preserving American culture partially depended on the systemic disenfranchisement of African Americans in the United States.

Foundationally, the United States as a settler-colonial state began with an economy which revolved around the exploitation of enslaved African labor through the mechanism of chattel slavery. Thus, the shifting societal position of descendants of these enslaved Africans challenged the backbone of America’s foundation and its monetary success. The anxieties associated with the possible sociopolitical ascension of Black Americans through legal means manifested themselves through different avenues at the Woman’s College. Particularly through the rhetoric of Littlefield’s professors and classmates as well as discriminatory housing policies. In her interview, Littlefield spoke about how professors implied or explicitly said that black people would not be able to succeed academically because of their race. “That was one of the history professors, he announced that no black person could pass his classes”; continuing she told me that her academic advisor, Dr. Anderson confided in her saying, “…they knew the…teachers were prejudiced. But they [the faculty] could not do anything about it.”[3] The numerous instances of discrimination on campus contributed to Alice Littlefield’s decision to become involved with the Civil Rights Movement.

Fortunately, the Woman’s College was located at a hotspot of civil rights advocacy. In the spring semester of Littlefield’s freshman year, the famous Woolworth’s sit-ins occurred. In February of 1960, four black students from North Carolina A&T sat down at the lunch counter at Woolworth’s. This protest was significant because it was a nonviolent protest that displayed the nonsensical segregation policy within the store, which allowed African Americans to be patrons but not sit down in the store. In the following weeks after the initial Woolworth’s sit-ins many more popped up in North Carolina, and more broadly in the South. Brands briefly mentions these sit-ins, writing that “…the movement accomplished its immediate purpose: to bring the spotlight of national publicity upon the Jim Crow system.”[4]

In Littlefield’s case, participating in the sit-ins was a matter of self-preservation. Although she had never personally faced any mortal danger in relation to her racial identity, the emotional toll of constant derision, social isolation, and the institutional complacency in her continued subjugation was detrimental. For example, Littlefield confided that she had developed a stutter during her college career due to the mistreatment she faced from her professors.[5]  Further, she emphasized the importance of paving the way for future generations to feel comfortable participating more broadly in American life as Black Americans.

When Alice Littlefield was entering university, she remembers being told that her attendance was not wanted, but rather required because of the change in federal policy positions in favor of integration.  According to a local newspaper article from 1956, the acting chancellor of the Woman’s College, “admitted black students were admitted solely due to a Supreme Court ruling”, and that “the students were deserving of fair treatment”.[6] Littlefield’s activism was focused on establishing equal protection under the law for all people. This legal change came a year after her graduation from the Woman’s College with the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This law prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin in public accommodations and federal programs.[7] When Littlefield looks back on her time as a young activist, she acknowledges how dangerous her advocacy was for that period, “Usually when they [opponents of civil rights] take retribution it’s against the whole group, the whole town. We were a threat to everybody.”[8]

The contributions of Alice Littlefield, and people like her are immeasurable. Her actions—participating in sit-ins, forfeiting a typical college experience, helping integrate her university—all had an impact on the subsequent experience of all Americans. As a protestor, Alice Littlefield laid the groundwork for future generations on how to advocate for the change you want to see. Her advocacy helped to change national attitudes surrounding the societal place of African Americans, not just as laborers, but as students, and as people. Alice Littlefield’s actions made it possible for students like me to attend a university like Dickinson College. For that I am forever grateful.

[1] Alice Littlefield, Interview, December 1, 2023.

[2] Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945, (New York: Penguin Press, 2010), 108-109.

[3] Littlefield, FaceTime Interview.

[4] Brands, 109.

[5] Littlefield, FaceTime Interview.

[6] “Negro girls were ‘not sought’ for college, Dr. Pierson says”

[7] “Legal Highlight: The Civil Rights Act of 1964”, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed December 10, 2023. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/oasam/civil-rights-center/statutes/civil-rights-act-of-1964#:~:text=In%201964%2C%20Congress%20passed%20Public,hiring%2C%20promoting%2C%20and%20firing.

[8] Littlefield, FaceTime Interview.

Interview subject:

Alice Littlefield, is a retired Child Protective Services (CPS) employee in Washington, D.C. She attended her undergraduate institution, The Woman’s College of North Carolina Greensboro, from 1959-1963 and participated in countless civil rights protests, including sit-ins during her attendance as a student.


Q: I have never done a professional interview before. Have you ever been professionally interviewed?

A: No, but you know I’m a social worker and interviewing is one of our tools of the trade.


 My name is Amina West. I am currently a junior at Dickinson college—an American Studies major, possible Russian double major. I don’t know yet. I am interviewing my grandmother Alice Faye Russ Littlefield.

Q: So, Grandma, can you tell me a little bit about your childhood, what was it like growing up in the Jim Crow South?

A: It was… [laughs] it was okay. I wasn’t used to anything else really. I always lived in the South. When I was very young, we lived in a place called Newport News, Virginia. Which is the South. [I] don’t remember much of that. We moved to North Carolina when I was in about the fourth grade. There was no black ghetto or black neighborhood, you lived wherever you could find housing, for the most part. You couldn’t do things like–I’m trying to think about this… People didn’t bother you usually.

Q: So, would you say it was almost self-segregated or are you saying in the interactions black people had with white people…[mutters]; How would you describe it?

A: Well in some places you were separated. School was always separated, church was always separated. But if you had to do other things, like for example, my grandparents worked on a farm so sometimes black and white neighbors did work. Like tobacco…there were women’s and men’s jobs, and everybody would participate in them. The movies, when we went to the movies the black people sat in the balcony, uh the hospital. There was one floor, I don’t care what you had, all the black people were on one floor in the hospital. But stores, you could go into stores. Didn’t go to restaurants and food places where you ate in.

Q: Could you [get] takeout?

A: Well, you know nobody was really “taking out” [laughs].

Q: Oh y’all didn’t have take out yet?

A: [laughs] Eating out wasn’t a big thing then. Uh yeah.

Q: Would you say that you faced any racial terror? I remember when we visited great-grandma Glovenia’s house there was a KKK billboard. Did you ever feel afraid for your mortal safety?

A: No. We laughed at that sign, by the way. We did interact with white kids sometimes. And as I said, there was no one black neighborhood, they were sort of scattered around wherever you could live. And we lived in a neighborhood where we had to walk through white neighborhoods to get to the black school. And you know we’d fight and throw rocks, nothing serious. You know, it was sort of proforma, we gotta do this [laughs].

 Oh, ok [laughs]

A: [continuing] Call names, I won’t repeat any of that stuff some of it was vulgar.

 [laughs] STOP! [jokingly]

A: [laughs] It was true though. And parents didn’t approve of it, they would get you. But for the most part everybody sort of lived in peace. This was sort of the way things were and [there were] things you didn’t do, like you didn’t even think about doing…so…

Q: So it was like…because you hadn’t experienced anything else it wasn’t out of the ordinary. Sort of like me having the internet, I’ve never lived in a world without the internet.

A: Correct.

Q: Okay. Why did you choose Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina Greensboro?

A: I didn’t.

Q: Why did you want to go to college?

A: I’ve always been curious and done things and explored and I’ve read a lot. I knew that in order to get ahead and do things you needed to get a college education. Uh, I was real good in school, by the way…uh…I had all of the—we used to get awards—I’d get the award for everything in my class.

Q: The kids hated you? Were you the type of kid to say, “Teacher there was homework?”, was that you?

A: You know, all of us were… we didn’t have that many outlets. People were very proud of making good grades in school. And now you know you think you have a class full of dummies? We would have just one.


A: People were attentive and uh, you asked me about my childhood earlier?


A: Activities were centered around the school and around the church. So, you were really good—anybody that could be good was good.

Q: Why did you choose the Woman’s College?

A: I didn’t.

Q: What do you mean?

A: [laughs] I applied to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and they sent my letter to the Woman’s College of North Carolina, which was located in Greensboro. What I didn’t know was that…at that time the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill did not…was not admitting women. They started admitting women at the same time that I started at the Woman’s College. They didn’t allow women to live on campus, if you lived in Chapel Hill or you could be a day student you could go. If you weren’t you didn’t.

Q: Is it because they didn’t have coed dorms yet?

A: I don’t know why. You know it is one of the oldest state-funded universities in the United States?

 No, I didn’t know that.

A: It was just a male school I suppose.

Q: Interesting. Why did you want to go to that kind of school? A state school instead of a historically black institution? What was your rationale?

A: You know, I really didn’t have one and nobody discouraged me at home because they didn’t think I would get in. And they got really upset that I did. The school tried to talk me out of it because they thought there would be repercussions from the white community. But the only repercussions\ was that the bank gave the valedictorian and salutatorian at each high school a four-year scholarship and they refused to give me mine [scholarship]. But my parents said it was fine don’t worry about that, worry about getting in.

Q: Why did you choose biology as a major? What were you hoping to do with that?

A: I thought I wanted to be a doctor, I also liked science. I told you I was very curious, and I was in to everything. So, I chose biology.

Q: What years did you attend Woman’s College?

A: All four years. I went from 1959-1963.

Q: You entered the Woman’s College during a time of transition, four years prior the first black students were admitted and then a year after you graduated the school became coed. Could you feel the societal changes at the time you were attending school?

A: Yes. It was sort of rocky. I was, I had gone to a different part of the state and customs and cultures were a little different. In the class I was in, we originally had five black students and one dropped out almost immediately; so, there were four. I didn’t know the town students but there were approximately 20 black students on campus. I was the only black person majoring in science, so I was rarely in class with another black person. That was interesting.

Q: Was that a culture shock? Going from an all-black school to then being in an all white environment?

A: It wasn’t necessarily a culture shock. But initially it was nobody to study with, nobody to ask for help. It was just different.

Q: Did you feel like people were standoffish?

A: I had sort of a double whammy. Not only was a going to a desegregated school and among the black students I was the only one from a rural area. There was the “You’re country”, [I] didn’t have the same culture as them…Well let me tell you how it worked. We were segregated in the dorm, all of us—each class was in a dorm. I was in the dorm with the four [black] freshman when I went but our dorms were divided up. There were 16 rooms in a block we, the four of us, got all 16 rooms nobody else was there. It was that way because it was divided by bathrooms. They [the administration] didn’t want us to use the same bathrooms [as the white students]. The funny thing is that people were used to having one or two people in a room, we only used two of the rooms.

Q: So they were all squished together like sardines?

A: Yes, there were three or four of them in a room and they were annoyed. They had to get their parents’ permission to move in. At first, we got two Jewish girls and then we got one “good God-fearing Presbyterian” girl—and I’m saying it like that because she kept reminding us that she was a God-fearing Presbyterian—and it’s like “So what?”, leave us alone [laughs]. We got friendly with her before the year was over. But things happened in the dorm, for example one time they were harassing us and decided we needed to stand up to sing Dixie. And we were like, “Okay we’ll stand up and sing Dixie if you stand and sing the Negro national anthem”. And since they weren’t going to stand up we didn’t have to sing Dixie or the Negro national anthem—which was good because I didn’t know it. But for the most part they just ignored us. But sometimes they would ask, “Are you the one that…” and it’s like “One who?”. Like, “Are you the one who’s in my Spanish class?” and somebody would say, “Well there’s a lot of people in your Spanish class”.

 I was looking at your yearbook pictures and none of y’all [the black students] look alike.

A: I know.

At all. You’re just all black.

A: Nobody looked alike nobody talked alike and that was it. We got together. In class the teachers—the professors in science were [sighs] I don’t know how to put it… They were just racist in the science department.

Q:  Did they evoke Darwinism or phrenology or something like that?

A: That was one of the history professors, he announced that no black person could pass any of his classes. In senior year we had to take a class called “coordinating” which drew all of your courses together, they exempted the black history majors from “coordinating” because he taught it. My advisor told me, my advisor was upset at me because I wasn’t making good grades. She was confused because I scored really high on the placement test and they [administration] were glad that you didn’t take French because you scored in advanced placement and that would get rid of what they thought about the black students not being able to do whatever. I also got into the higher science classes because my school had labs and many black high schools didn’t. That was another reason I was the only one in my classes. Dr. Anderson [her advisor] told me that they knew the science teachers, mostly the chemistry professors, were prejudiced. But they couldn’t do anything about it.

Q: Why? They were tenured?

A: Yes. They were bitter. My advisor told me “Women are discriminated against too”. They were all women, except for two in the biology department. One of them [the men] was Jewish, they didn’t like the Jews either. So she [Dr. Anderson] said not to include him in any of my issues and I didn’t [chuckles]. She said they should be working for Shell Oil or EXON—it was EXO then. Because that’s the kind of knowledge they had, they were really good. But those people do not hire women. That was it, so they were bitter. I’d get into trouble…I hate to say “get into trouble” … how do I want to put this? I knew that I was right sometimes but it was denied. Like the physiology teacher would say things like, “Hey everybody come over here, look at this mess Ms. Russ has made” in dissections. She was also the person, when she would call roll—I wouldn’t answer by the way—and someone else would answer for me because she would mark me absent and I didn’t care. I took a chemistry course called “Qualitative Analysis”, that’s where you had to separate the elements from different solutions. The instructor told me my work had ammonia in it, for example, and I knew it didn’t. She tested my solution and said “It’s ammonia. You should have known that”. I knew it wasn’t true, if it had ammonia in it because I heated my solution and when you heat a solution with ammonia it boils off.

Q: Did you feel like your professors purposefully tanked your assignments to reaffirm their own biases about black people?

A: They didn’t want anybody black to pass these classes. And you know, Woman’s College is in the same town with North Carolina A&T which is the historically black college there. I would tell my friends who were students there about my experiences and they wouldn’t believe me until one summer one of the biology teachers taught a class there and he was terrible to them.  See, I’ve been telling to tell you.

Q: Were there no institutional ramifications that could have been done to these professors or was it just the administration that wouldn’t do anything?

A: You know I didn’t complain really because I didn’t know who to complain to. And even if I knew I wouldn’t have done it anyway, I cried a lot by the way. One time I remember I was sitting on the steps crying because I had pushed a glass tube through my hand—I still have the scar—and one of the lab assistants, believe it or not they ha black lab assistants from A&T came out and said to me, “Don’t get upset. All the black students that came through here before you that were biology majors who’ve transferred out of here”, and that was my senior year; and he continued saying, “You have stayed”. Outside of the science department I did anthropology and sociology and those were good.

Q: Did you do any extracurriculars?

A: Not really, oh you know what I did? I volunteered outside a lot with the American Friends Service Committee and that was good I made a lot of friends there.

Q: I know you mentioned A&T, did you meet any students from there or Bennet College? Did you go to their social events or functions?

A: You know really there weren’t any. We had curfews if you believe it or not. We would go over to A&T and sometimes we would go over to Bennet but we were in a bind because they didn’t necessarily like us because we were at a “white” school.

Q: Did they think you looked down on their institution? Why do you think there was that disconnect?

A: I don’t know. We’d go over anyway. We’d go over on weekends, [A&T] was across town. We didn’t go to Bennet much because we thought it was basically a prison. The girls had to go off campus in groups.

Q: Why? Was that for their own security because they were black and women or was it just school policy?

A: They had a gorgeous campus, and they couldn’t sit out on campus, they still had to wear white gloves, very traditional. They’d sneak out though. They were interesting that’s where we went when we wanted to do something. Once one of the other black girls who came into the room she was annoyed because they had been planning the dance and one of the white girls said, “Make sure to invite one of the boys from A&T so you have someone to dance with”, and that didn’t go over to well with Elizabeth. We thought that was a scream.

Q: How was the dining hall? Describe your experience at the cafeteria.

A: Believe it or not I worked at the cafeteria. It wasn’t very nice. The food was very good by the way, we had white tablecloths and everything. I heard the year before we came, they even had waiters. There were four dining halls and at the school there was something called the “Honor Policy” you were on your honor to eat at only one dining hall. The food was great.

Q: Were the bathrooms in the academic buildings open to everyone?

A: I don’t remember there being any bathrooms in the academic buildings. But in general, the bathrooms were horrible [laughs]. When I think of it now, I laugh because we didn’t have individual shower stalls.

 That’s interesting, that’s what they do in prisons.

A: I know. But that was in the freshman dorms. When we were upperclassmen, we had suites. The suites were for the [house] presidents, they would be graduate students who were responsible for the dorms. Those suites had individual bathrooms. We got suites, that made the white girls angry too.

 That is so funny. If you think about it, it is such backwards logic they literally made the conditions worse for the white students just so they didn’t have to interact with y’all. You got the better treatment than the white students in that sense.

A: Uh-huh. But then they sort of got wise and kicked us out of [the suits] and we lived in the rooms like everybody else. It was nice while it lasted, the rooms were bigger too. We thought it was a scream, let me tell you. We also had maids in the dorms.

Q: They were all black?

A: They didn’t like us either. They thought we were looking down on them. We took care of that though when we discovered one lady who was really nasty when we first started couldn’t read. We taught her how to read and she liked us. I also went to Chapel Hill to take courses and I always made A’s down there. The dorm I stayed in there actually had a dining hall in the dorm. They gave you a menu and you told them what you wanted for breakfast, and they made it and the waiter brought it to you. The first day I was down there I started downstairs, and the black staff was lined up along the stairs. I asked what was going on and one of them said, “The house mother said no n***** was going to eat in her dining hall”.

Q: Did anything happen to the waitstaff?

A: No, nothing happened. I thought that was real interesting. The whole thing was…interesting. I’ll put it that way. But I was never afraid there either.

Yeah, when I was reading up on internal documents amongst the faculty and staff, I found a document that said the Woman’s College was integrating because they had to legally. The chancellor went on to say that he would treat black students equally to their white counterparts in adherence to Brown v. Board of Education but that it ultimately wasn’t his choice to desegregate.

A: Guess what? He told us that. We had these meetings we had to go to—all campus meetings. When we were freshmen, he said to the student body, “Look, the negroes are here, and you have to be nice to them”.

[laughs] That’s so funny.

A: Well, you know if you’re one of those negroes sitting in the audience, it’s like “Oh my god”.

Q: So, the attitude of the school body was that they had to accept you all?

A: Well, I remember, one night we heard a car backfiring and all of a sudden, the housemother comes down all worried telling us that it was just a car backfiring.

Q: Was your house mother black? Did she think it was gunfire? That they were threatening the dorm?

A: No. I don’t know what she thought, she never told us what. She was a northerner. That was freshman year. All of the other years, same dorm. The housemother was horrible. She didn’t like us. She kept us with us. We didn’t get into trouble. She was suspicious of everybody, did room checks. She’d come and check to see if we were in our rooms. People would break curfew and they wouldn’t come back home. They would get us because people would leave the doors open so their friends could come back in.

Q: You would get in trouble for being “complicit”?

A: Yeah, because you had to sign out. But common sense says if you aren’t going to sign back in don’t sign out.

Q: Do you remember the names of the residence halls that you stayed in?

A: Yes, freshman year it was Toit Hall. I went back. I have been back. I’ve only been back twice. I went back once when Katie [my aunt] was looking for schools and it had been recommended as her safe school and I went back for my fifty year reunion. For upper class years it was North Spencer. They searched the dorms for everybody, because North Spencer and South Spencer were connected so they would search both sides of the building.

Q: Were the house mothers compensated monetarily?

A: The grown-ups got paid, I don’t know about the house presidents, they tended to be seniors.

Q: The family lore is that you were a part of the Civil Rights Movement. Were you ever arrested? Can you tell me about your experience as a young person fighting for civil rights in North Carolina and why you decided to do that.

A: [sighs] Why did I decide to do it? The answer to your first question is yes.

Q: Do you have a copy of your mugshot picture?

A: No, they didn’t get me a copy of any mugshot picture.

Q: Did they take your mugshot?

A: Yes, and fingerprints. That has caused me problems later by the way. Because I have an arrest record. The sit-ins occurred in Greensboro, but I wasn’t there when they occurred. 1963 is when things really got to a boil and I participated. I was arrested several times.

Q: What did they arrest you for?

A: [laughs] Anything. Loitering, blocking passages, we discovered that three people was a crowd. We discovered that in the dorms. We would joke around saying, “Look y’all one of us has got to leave because there are three people in here and we don’t want to get arrested”. [laughs]

Q: That is so funny. Were you a part of CORE or any other organized civil rights group?

A: I didn’t quite “join” CORE, nobody was joining but it was CORE there [in Greensboro]. I did a lot of things. Believe it or not I was in jail one time and the big beefy sheriff asked for the girl from Woman’s College, you got bailed out. I was wondering who bailed me out. I found out later that one of the anthropology professors paid my bail many times. I went to “jail” jail actually once, but there were so many of us they were just housing us in city facilities. Once I was incarcerated with a group of girls from Bennet College and A&T. And the Bennet girls were discriminating against the girls from A&T. They were upset because I was chummy with the girls from A&T, and it was like we’re all in here fighting for civil rights…

 [interjects] and y’all are cliquey!

A: Yeah. Well you know Bennet, high class etcetera. And that time all of us got out at jail at night and they hauled me off to Bennet College. Their president was very nice, Dr. Player, she was a neat lady. [Dr. Player] says to me, “Look it’s going to cause trouble if you stay here overnight. I will call one of my friends from Woman’s College”. That is when I met Dr. Ashby because I spent the night at his house and went to class the next day just like anybody else that stayed out all night. I also got “campussed” because of the sit-ins and campus meant you could only go to class.

Q: Campussed was basically like being grounded?

A: Yes. You couldn’t leave campus, you couldn’t participate in any school activities. You weren’t supposed to have any visitors. [laughs] My friends, other sit-in people would come and bring in stuff. Talk to me out the window. I didn’t get to walk at graduation because I was involved [with civil rights activism].

Q: What do you mean?

A: I had to go to summer school.

Q: Why?

A: It was all screwed up.

Q: Was it an academic reason? Did you break the school’s code or something?

A: Believe it or not it was academic. I missed so much school because I kept getting arrested. But anyways, like I said that was interesting. By that time, the head of the biology department was a white man that I had sort of gotten used to. He asked if I still wanted to go to med school. I told him I didn’t. He told me that if I still wanted to go to medical school that he could get me in. But I didn’t want to go. I was traumatized. School was so bad. I had begun to stutter. Most of the times it was just me [in a class]. When I went back to my 50th reunion they asked me to do sort of what I’m doing now with you. How was your experience here? How did you feel? The works. When I talked about it some of the people told me that I was aloof and that they didn’t want to bother me.

Q: What is aloof? Standoffish?

A: Yes. I didn’t bother them [white students]. It was a different situation for everybody. At that reunion we were catching up and I asked some white girls who I had become friendly with what happened to a girl named Lilly who was in the class above me. Lilly apparently got put out of school because she introduced one of her white friends to a black boy.

Q: She got kicked out of school for that?

A: Mmhhm

Q: How did they find out about it?

A: You know teenagers don’t keep anything secret. Anyway, Lilly just disappeared and nobody knew where she was. But you know I did make some friends, Sally, Gwen, Dae, Donna. We [Class of 1963] have had many family reunions in Washington, DC. It’s been recent, until Covid we were meeting.  The last one we did was in Bethesda, and it was funny because we were the integrated group. People would come up to us and say that they knew we were in some sort of group and ask “what is this”. We would explain it was just college friends catching up. The only reason I went back to that 50th reunion was because when we were still a Woman’s College, we had a tradition called the Daisy chain. When somebody dies your daisy gets dropped into the pond. It is sort of a little religious thing. This was in spring. People would pick daisies and weave them into a chain. Anyway, when you die your daisy gets dropped in the pond so I suppose you can float on off to wherever. I went to the reunion to drop Gwen’s daisy. Since Gwen was my roommate, I figured I would drop her daisy. You know traditions, you have to have some traditions.

Q: Were you a part of the Desegregate Tate St. movement?

A: That was the street that was down by the college, it was happening at the same time as the sit-ins. I was up at the sit-ins.

Q: It was simultaneous?

A: [Tate Street] It was just a little business thing on the corner, right at the edge of campus. People would protest there, it was a scream. The Klan would be down there picketing too. You get a fat old white man and his little boy, and it’s like hahaha who is he?  Who is scared of them?

Q: Did they have guns?

A: No. They’d do things like at Chapel Hill they were hosing people. Those hoses were strong enough to rip the skin right off. They hosed people in Greensboro too. Yeah, because I got wet one time.

Q: What was the worst thing that happened while protesting?

A: Nothing really. It was sort of like now. People used to consider it a badge, how many times they’d been arrested. I will tell you, these three nice middle-class black ladies would come up to us and tell us to go home and if we didn’t they would say nasty things to you. But guess what? College students never have any money, so after the lunch counters were integrated, the students couldn’t afford to eat. Guess who was sitting at the lunch counters? The nice little ladies. Now that I’ve grown up, I realize why I was having problems with people back home when trying to go to a “white” college. I understand why we were a threat to the old ladies. Usually when they take retribution it’s against the whole group, the whole town. We were a threat to everybody. We were a threat to the other black classes at school by the way. My class was because we didn’t take any mess. I’ll never forget once we were meeting with the Chancellor because we demanded to meet with him. So we sat in front of him, all four of us [laughs], we were the senior class by then. We were the last of the originals. They were talking about how complacent they all were and the chancellor almost swallowed his pipe! [laughs] when they said that! We just smiled at him because we were a little more subtle on campus. We didn’t just raise hell when we had to take care of business, we took care of it.

Okay [laughs] grandma!

A: And that was it. We had repercussions we would just go out and raise hell if they don’t follow through. Which is why I think a lot of this marching now is over, we’ve passed the time of marching. We need to move on to something else?

Q: What do you think people should do now?

A: [Sigh] Well you can’t just march and go home. You have to follow through you have to follow up. Even then we couldn’t boycott because we didn’t own anything, but now people make excuses for not exerting pressure where they could. I’ll put it that way. They keep participating, and it’s like I’m not participating in my own destruction. Are you crazy? I can do without those shoes. Or I can do without eating at such and such a place, but we don’t do it.

A: To me being black you’re in a bind because there is that racism from the outside but you also have prejudice from the inside because we fight that color line and that “pulling the ladder up” too. So it’s not always comfortable and people aren’t as overtly racist as they used to be but it’s hard to get away from—when things are a part of your culture—you don’t realize some of those things are racist. Some black people think that all black people are poor and they have to “prove themselves”. Or that being black is speaking dialect or acting like hoodlums. All I can think is, “You all should have met my grandma”.


A: Or met my mother. My family in general doesn’t go for that stuff.

 Yeah. We’re strong willed.

A: People think if you don’t speak dialect you’re not “genuine”. In my house dialect could get you killed. It’s the culture. I think that the young black people now keep talking about black culture. There isn’t a black culture, there are many black cultures. If they just take time and look around them. It depends on where you’re from and except for the discrimination parts and the things you have to endure because of discrimination, your culture looks just like whatever group you’re present in. We have the same accents, we eat the same foods, we do the same things.

Q: Yeah. Black people are not a monolith. Okay, well thank you so much for the interview.

A: You’re welcome.


Brands H. W. 2010. American Dreams: The United States Since 1945. New York: Penguin Press.

“Negro girls were ‘not sought’ for college, Dr. Pierson says”. September 11, 1956. University Archives Subject Files Civil Rights Greensboro. Greensboro: Greensboro Daily News. Accessed November 30, 2023. https://gateway.uncg.edu/islandora/object/ua%3A284659

“Resolution concerning the Negro students of the Woman’s College”. March 13, 1965. University Archives Subject Files Civil Rights Greensboro. Accessed November 29, 2023. https://gateway.uncg.edu/islandora/object/ua%3A284670

 U.S. Department of Labor. “Legal Highlight.” Accessed December 10, 2023. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/oasam/civil-rights-center/statutes/civil-rights-act-of-1964#:~:text=In%201964%2C%20Congress%20passed%20Public,hiring%2C%20promoting%2C%20and%20firing.

Wilkinson, Albert. “News release on Faculty Council statement of desegregation”. December 15, 1955. University of North Carolina Greensboro. Accessed November 29, 2023. https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/news-release-on-faculty-council-statement-of-desegregation-albert-a-wilkinson/rgF6MrRaGljz4g?hl=en

University of North Carolina Greensboro, Pine Needles. Greensboro, North Carolina: 1961. University of North Carolina Greensboro Archives. https://lib.digitalnc.org/record/27838?ln=en#?xywh=-305%2C-510%2C6079%2C5386&cv=254 . Accessed November 30, 2023.

University of North Carolina Greensboro, Pine Needles. Greensboro, North Carolina: 1963. University of North Carolina Greensboro Archives. https://gateway.uncg.edu/islandora/object/ua%3A283694 . Accessed November 30, 2023.

“Women’s College faculty votes for desegregation”. December 15, 1955. University Archives Subject Files Civil Rights Greensboro. Greensboro: Greensboro Daily News. Accessed November 30, 2023. https://gateway.uncg.edu/islandora/object/ua:284663

Vietnam Through A Veteran’s Eyes

Vietnam Through A Veteran’s Eyes

Sam Schmidt, History 118

One November morning in 1968, twenty-five-year-old Jerry Begley disembarked from a military aircraft at Travis Air Force Base in California. He and a cohort of other young veterans were thanking their lucky stars for returning home from Vietnam in one piece. Buses whisked the tired troops to San Francisco International Airport for their flights home. None of them anticipated that they would soon be intercepted by the city’s many antiwar protesters. “We were there at three o’clock in the morning”, Begley recalls incredulously, “and there were lots of protesters”.[1] The bus driver promised to drop the veterans as close to the door as possible as the protesters began to approach the buses. As their bus neared the entrance, Begley remembers, “The protesters…[were] throwing stuff against the buses…[then] we got off. I didn’t get hit with anything. Some guys got hit with eggs. We got inside and from that point on, then everything was okay”.[2]

Whatever Begley and the other Vietnam veterans expected of their return, surely it was not bitterness from their own countrymen. Begley had guarded convoys, patrolled the streets of Saigon, and defended the American Embassy during the Tet Offensive of 1968. He had involuntarily weathered twelve months of harsh and dangerous Army life at the nexus of one of the most controversial foreign-policy engagements in American history. In his book American Dreams: The United States Since 1945, H.W. Brands says that Vietnam “seared itself onto the American mind”.[3] Brands’ own coverage of the Vietnam War is appropriately detailed and complex. However, it does not fully encapsulate the experience of Vietnam veterans like Begley, who fought and returned home only to often find themselves relegated to the fringes of both collective memory and any discussion of the war.

Click above for background on Vietnam and Begley’s thoughts on the conflict before his service.

Begley in Vietnam, 1967 or 1968.

Begley was drafted into the Army in 1966 and arrived in Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, in late 1967, where he worked as an MP (military policeman). Cycles of routine security patrols soon devolved into the war’s turning point: the 1968 Tet Offensive, wherein a supposedly handicapped Viet Cong coordinated elaborate attacks across South Vietnam. Begley and other MPs witnessed Viet Cong sappers bomb the US Embassy; Brands calls this event the “handwriting on the…wall” for the war’s future.[4] Begley says he realized then that the war was a “losing affair”, despite assurances otherwise from the military brass.[5] Brands similarly contends that many U.S. generals acted unfazed by the offensive.[6] However, this posturing was belied by changes in policy on the ground. Before the offensive, Begley was instructed, “We were told to respect the Vietnamese…and only return fire. We couldn’t shoot first. After [Tet], it was different. All of that went away”.[7] Brands effectively corroborates this situation, recalling Marine Philip Caputo’s encounters with frightened Vietnamese confronted with forceful American suspicion.[8] Already-wary American troops had to treat the people they were supposed to defend as foes. The war had taken a turn, and not for the better. However, Begley was out by November 1968. He had been fighting the Vietnam War a world away; he returned to a country fighting itself over the deteriorating situation there. He had not chosen Vietnam service, but he now found himself representing the divisive war, for better or worse.

The airport reception was the only antiwar protest Begley ever witnessed. San Francisco specifically was a hotbed of pacifist activism at the time, which Brands connects to the growing 1960s counterculture movement.[9] Condemnation of the war varied from complex accusations of imperialism to simple moral outrage. Verified accounts of the directly anti-soldier protests Begley saw are uncommon. However, Begley remembers an officer warning his bus cohort to ignore the insults and projectiles, knowing that any reaction would play into the protesters’ hands.[10] Evidently, this was a repeat experience for the officers. However, the situation for returning veterans varied significantly, and it remains a source of debate.

Accounts of veteran-protester interactions like Begley’s form a complex tapestry. The sociologist Jerry Lembcke asserts that the infamous stories of protesters spitting on returning veterans were likely fictitious.[11]Brands doesn’t really weigh in on these events, only offering vague accounts of Vietnam veterans participating in a diverse march on the Pentagon.[12] Begley never protested the war, and he was not sympathetic of the protesters: “I thought they were totally wrong, because they’re protesting the soldiers that were there under orders. We didn’t make the decision to go there”.[13] Jerry’s return to conservative rural Iowa was much warmer, and most veterans likely didn’t experience what he had in San Francisco.[14] But it was still not the welcome many had hoped for. 53 percent of surveyed Vietnam veterans called the often-lukewarm reaction to their return a “big letdown”; 79 percent agreed that people “just didn’t understand” what they had endured.[15]Jubilant parades welcoming returning WWII veterans still loomed large in the national memory; many Vietnam veterans glumly wondered where that sentiment had gone.

Antiwar protest in San Francisco, 1967. (Harvey Richards Media Archive)

The country debated Vietnam until its end, but evidently, many veterans simply felt shut out of that discourse. Brands never really covers their postwar experience. Of course, he cannot document everything, but he gives significant attention to WWII veterans and their role in the growing postwar economy, from the demobilization to the GI Bill to the baby boom.[16] Although he assures the reader that people simply wanted to move on from WWII, one wonders if that sentiment is really more applicable to Vietnam.[17] WWII had vindicated America’s economy, military might, and national spirit. The ever-decaying effort to prop up South Vietnam was fostering little more than doubt about all three. But whatever the case, life moved on back home.

Begley finished another year of service in Chicago before returning to Springville, Iowa, in 1969. He settled into a job and started a family. He didn’t discuss his service much afterwards. “Military service was respected” there, Begley remembers.[18] However, he also recalls, “For a long time you would hear the occasional comment about drugged-up Vietnam vets”.[19] Begley says he never saw hard drug use in Vietnam, although he concedes that his fellow MPs, as enforcers, would be less likely to partake.[20] Nonetheless, drugs were very present in Vietnam, and fed a common stereotype of the troops as demoralized, lazy junkies. Brands somewhat feeds this narrative of chronic addiction among the troops, citing a 1971 report alleging that one-sixth of the Vietnam force was addicted to heroin.[21] Epidemiologist Lee Robins disputed this assertion, also noting that Vietnam veterans rarely resumed drug use once home.[22] These comments, probably coming from Iowan conservatives who likely supported the war, reflect the social complexities of the time. The rising tide of drug alarmism was adopted by Nixon in 1971 in the “War on Drugs”, and many citizens flinched to see drugs proliferate in the proud U.S. Army. Desertions, heroin, crumbling resolve? What had become of the Vietnam war effort?

The unpopular and unsuccessful war did not last much longer. In 1973, the U.S. withdrew its last troops from South Vietnam; by 1975, the North Vietnamese communists overran the country and negated nearly two decades of American effort. Begley’s second daughter was a toddler by then. Besides the home loan, his service was fading into the background. Indeed, he recalls little reaction to the war’s end. He was happy to see long-imprisoned American POWs freed, but otherwise he recalls thinking, “The war’s over now…put it behind us, I guess”.[23]

Evacuation of the US Embassy in Saigon, 1975. Begley helped to defend this building during the Tet Offensive in 1968. (PBS)

Many Americans certainly wanted to put Vietnam behind them. Lembcke calls the loss a “tough pill to swallow”, particularly given the lingering triumphalism of WWII.[24] Jerry reflects, “It was definitely a waste of 58,000 American lives. Definitely a waste of tons of material…and a bunch of money. To prove nothing”.[25] If the war proved anything, it was that the U.S. was not an omnipotent power. As Brands puts it, Vietnam unveiled the lesson that “When in doubt, America must not [fight]”, a stark reversal of the hyper-vigilant anticommunism of the early Cold War.[26] The country is still yet to fight another war on Vietnam’s scale.

Scale defined the Vietnam War. The commitment of 2.6 million soldiers, 58,000 lives, and some one trillion 2023 dollars was precisely what made the loss so harsh.[27] Brands’ book covers grand figures and broad trends in American history like these, and for good reason. However, the individual stories of the war are equally valuable. They have often been defined by political strife, memories of addiction and desertion, or just the defeatist pity of an ugly loss. As with all wars, though, life went on. Begley himself worked, raised two daughters, traveled the world, and enjoys a comfortable retirement today. His service did not define him, but neither is it invisible. However unpleasantly forgettable Vietnam proved to be, it was an experience that personally impacted millions of Americans. Brands is right to argue that Vietnam “seared itself on the American mind”.[28] It divided and challenged the country in more ways than historians can expect to document, stirring both the unfamiliar fidgeting of loss and the militant fires of protest. Americans both immortalized the war and tucked it away. Begley balances these instincts. “The war probably shouldn’t be remembered,” he reflects. “The people that lost their lives, like the Vietnam War tribute wall, that’s very appropriate. The only memory I would cherish would be the wall”.[29] And neither can the living be forgotten.

Begley (far left) and other veterans revisit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 2023. It commemorates 58,276 soldiers who gave their lives in Vietnam. Currently, it is estimated that over 500 Vietnam veterans die every day. [30] (Russell Hons Photography)

[1] Video Interview with Jerry Begley, Carlisle, PA, and Stalker Lake, MN, November 27, 2023.

[2] Ibid.

[3] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York, Penguin Books, 2010), 175.

[4] Ibid., 155.

[5] Brands, 175.

[6] Brands, 157.

[7] Video Interview with Jerry Begley, Carlisle, PA, and Stalker Lake, MN, December 4, 2023.

[8] Brands, 143-145.

[9] Ibid., 147.

[10] Video Interview with Jerry Begley, Carlisle, PA, November 27, 2023.

[11] Jerry Lembcke, “The Myth of the Spitting Antiwar Protester,” The New York Times, October 13, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/13/opinion/myth-spitting-vietnam-protester.html. [Google]

[12] Brands, 154.

[13] Video Interview with Jerry Begley, Carlisle, PA, November 27, 2023.

[14] Email Interview with Jerry Begley, December 4, 2023.

[15] Loch Johnson. “Political Alienation Among Vietnam Veterans,” The Western Political Quarterly 29, 3 (September 1976): 398-409, https://doi.org/10.2307/447512. [JSTOR]

[16] Brands, 13, 17, 27, 69, 78.

[17] Ibid., 22.

[18] Email Interview with Jerry Begley, Carlisle, PA, December 4, 2023.

[19] Video Interview with Jerry Begley, Carlisle, PA, November 27, 2023.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Brands, 170.

[22] Lee N. Robins et al., “How Permanent Was Vietnam Drug Addiction?,” American Journal of Public Health 62, 12 (December 1974): 38-43, 10.2105/ajph.64.12_suppl.38. [PubMed Central]

[23] Video Interview with Jerry Begley, Carlisle, PA, November 27, 2023.

[24] Lembcke, 2017.

[25] Video Interview with Jerry Begley, Carlisle, PA, November 27, 2023.

[26] Brands, 175.

[27] “The War’s Costs”, Digital History, 2021, https://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtid=2&psid=3468.

[28] Brands, 175.

[29] Video Interview with Jerry Begley, Carlisle, PA, November 27, 2023.

[30] Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan, “The Unclaimed Soldier: A Final Salute for the Growing Number of Veterans Who Have No One to Bury Them,” The Washington Post, November 11, 2021. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/11/11/unclaimed-soldier/ (accessed December 1, 2023). [Google]

[31] Video Interview with Jerry Begley, Carlisle, PA, November 27, 2023.

Appendix I: Additional Photos

Begley took this photo of an MP security convoy in Saigon, 1967 or 1968.

Marines resting after a Tet Offensive battle, one of some 120 that occurred across the country in late winter 1968. (Associated Press)

Begley and his wife Diane, before and after his tour of duty, October 1967 and 1968.

Celebratory parade in Seattle for returning troops, 1969. Such pictures of returning troops are rare, and none exist of the protests Begley encountered. (HistoryLink)

Begley in 2023 returning from an Honor Flight. These trips to Washington, D.C. are provided free of cost to veterans. Jerry described the celebratory welcome as “something I’ve never experienced before”.[31] (Russell Hons Photography)

Appendix II: Initial Interview and Transcript

“The vain struggle…seared itself on the American mind” (H.W. Brands, “American Dreams”, 175)

Interview subject: Jerry L. Begley, age 80, former U.S. military policeman, served at American Embassy in Saigon, South Vietnam from 1967-1968 before returning to the U.S. and reentering civilian life in his home state of Iowa.

Zoom Interview with Jerry L. Begley from Carlisle, PA and Stalker Lake, MN, November 27, 2023.

Q: What were your feelings on the Cold War in general before your service?

A: I agreed with the [containment doctrine] in my own evidently, perhaps naïve way sometimes, but yeah, I thought it was the right thing to do, because we didn’t want Soviet aggression in all those countries. So I thought that was okay.

Q: What were your feelings on military service before and during your being drafted?

A: I wouldn’t have decided to [volunteer]. But when I entered military service, it was still okay. It was a Midwestern thing to do. There was no protests going on of the war – in Iowa, anyway. Okay, so yeah, we’ll go do this. It was the thing to do.

Q: How did your views of the war evolve during your service?

A: Initially, I thought, this is what we gotta do, I’m in the army, I’ll do what I’m told to do. But I was there during the Tet Offensive on January 31st, 1968, at that time, what I would call a disconnected NVA and Viet Cong army overran military installations, they bombed the embassy [in Saigon]. And from that point on, I thought, if they can still do this in 1968, we’re never going to defeat them. That turned a lot of people against the war, and us also, because if they continue to do so, this is going to be a losing affair…it was definitely a waste of 58,000 American lives. Definitely a waste of tons of material…and a bunch of money. To prove nothing.

Q: What was your experience with commonly narrated tropes about Vietnam veterans: drugs, desertion, violence, et cetera? Did you experience this?

A: There wasn’t much drug use within the MPs because if you got caught, you were out the door to [an] infantry unit or whatever…but there was drug use amongst troops…There were desertions in Vietnam amongst troops. As a matter of fact, our military police unit would conduct raids at times on a refugee area just outside of Saigon where deserters were known to stay. So we’d go in there and search that and yes, we’d find some deserters. I didn’t really feel [any emotion either way about that]…it was just a job. A couple I remember in particular were just plain afraid of the war. They weren’t mad or anything. They were just afraid…they were young guys – they were just afraid.

Q: What were the reactions to your service when you came home?

A: I flew into Travis Air Force Base in California to get processed out and then we went from there in buses to the San Francisco International Airport. There were protesters outside the Travis Air Force Base, protesting us and throwing stuff against the buses and stuff. We got to San Francisco International, and we were there at three o’clock in the morning. And there were lots of protesters there…so we got off [the bus]. I didn’t get hit with anything. Some guys got hit with eggs. We got inside and from that point on, then everything was okay. So after that, I came back to Iowa. There was no protesting in Iowa. Every once in a while you’d hear some comments about some drugged-up Vietnam vets, but there wasn’t any protesting.

Q: What did you think of the protests?

A: No I thought they were totally wrong. Because they’re protesting the soldiers that were there under orders. We didn’t make the decision to go there…the politicians made those decisions. And that was the general feeling. Why do they want to protest us? And you’d hear terms like “baby killers” and all that, and that may well have happened, but they were protesting our involvement in the war.

Q: How did you feel about the conclusion of the war after you had come home?

A: As part of the peace accord…they got to bring all the POWs home…I thought, that’s wonderful…[Otherwise] the war’s over now. They’re home safe. But uh, put it behindd behind us, I guess.

Q: How did you feel about how Vietnam should be remembered?

A: The war probably shouldn’t be remembered. The people that lost their lives, like the Vietnam War tribute wall that’s now up to them, that’s very appropriate. Everything else…yeah. The only memory I would cherish would be the wall.

Further Research:

Boyle, Brenda M. “Naturalizing War: The Stories We Tell about the Vietnam War” In Looking Back on the Vietnam War: Twenty-first-Century Perspectives, 175-192. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2016. [JSTOR]

Michael Clark. “Remembering Vietnam,” Cultural Critique 3, no. 1 (Spring 1986): 46-78. https://doi.org/10.2307/1354165. [JSTOR]

  1. Drummond Ayres Jr, “Army Is Shaken by Crisis In Morale and Discipline,” The New York Times, September 5, 1971. https://www.nytimes.com/1971/09/05/archives/army-is-shaken-by-crisis-in-morale-and-discipline-army-is-shaken-by.html (accessed November 15, 2023). [New York Times Archive]

David Flores. “Memories of War: Sources of Vietnam Veteran Pro- and Antiwar Political Attitudes,” Sociological Forum 29, no. 1 (March 2014): 98-119. https://www.jstor.org/stable/43653934. [JSTOR]

Eric T. Jean, Jr. “The Myth of the Troubled and Scorned Vietnam Veteran,” Journal of American Studies 26, no. 1 (April 1992), 59-74. https://www.jstor.org/stable/27555590. [Article, Waidner-Spahr Library]

Loch Johnson. “Political Alienation Among Vietnam Veterans,” The Western Political Quarterly 29, no. 3 (September 1976): 398-409. https://doi.org/10.2307/447512. [JSTOR]

Jerry Lembcke, “The Myth of the Spitting Antiwar Protester,” The New York Times, October 13, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/13/opinion/myth-spitting-vietnam-protester.html (accessed November 15, 2023). [Google]

Discussion –Combatants


STUDENT COMMENT:  This week’s reading in American YAWP covered racial, social, and political tensions, the strain of the Vietnam War abroad and at domestically, the crisis of 1968, and the rise of Richard Nixon. The 1960’s, particularly 1968, is noted as one of the most tragic years in American history and it is not hard to see why. The Tet offensive occurred, which was a series of surprise attacks in Vietnam on the U.S. and South Korean forces, which led to the highest casualty toll of Americans in the Vietnam war. Not only that, but Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated, and through all of this, the support for the Vietnam war continued to dwindle with protests sparking up all across the country leading to the fear that “civil society was unraveling.” (YAWP, 28) Richard Nixon “played on these fears” when he ran for president, also promising that he would end the war, but not win it. (YAWP, 28) Needless, to say, 1968 was a tumultuous year.

STUDENT COMMENT:  The oral history projects of Braxton, Huber, and Nolan tell the story of U.S. troops deployed in Vietnam. These three stories help illustrate the danger of the Vietnam war for combat troops as well as some of their reluctance to be stationed there.

Black Panthers

Black Panthers

New York Times, May 14th 1971.

STUDENT COMMENT: In 2015 Christina Braxton wrote about Dennis Braxton, a black veteran who did not receive appreciation after his return from Vietnam, “When he returned to California in 1971, he describes the area as “hippie-land.” Peaceful protests were now extremely common but movements like the Black Panther Party also rose in popularity. One of the first things Braxton did when released from the Navy was to join the Black Panthers”(Braxton, 2015). This goes to show that while Braxton was fighting for the nation there was a public reform, the amount of change that occurred must have been bizarre to him. Braxton did not hesitate to join the Black Panthers, a political group for African Americans, as the civil rights movement was one of key movements going on at the time.


Dane Huber, Lawrence Galiano in Vietnam, November 1, 2017, http://blogs.dickinson.edu/hist-118pinsker/2017/11/01/vietnam-war-3/.

Lawrence Galiano

STUDENT COMMENT:  Huber’s interview with Lawrence Galiano reveals the ways in which the U.S. was unprepared for the war and how the effect of it led to the loss of lives of soldiers and even the vilification that the soldiers received after coming home. The YAWP chapter explains in depth the response of the war on the Johnson presidency and the country’s response to the war, it notably leaves how the soldiers fared under these conditions and their experiences when they came back home. After the war, he was criticized and even asked to take off his uniform on a plane to protect himself. Before the war, Sergeant Galiano was drafted into the war leaving behind his girlfriend and his dream of going to architectural school to fight for his country. This was a decision that was made for him. The whole experience from being drafted to his arrival in Vietnam was littered with inadequate leadership and lack of preparation. Firstly, he was taken to Fort Dix, where he had to sleep in the parking lot because there were no beds. Upon arriving in Vietnam, the soldiers were given little training and their practice with m14 was rendered useless when they were asked to use the m16s. This change seemed more futile when he realized that the communist forces used AK47s, a far more superior weapon that he claims, “didn’t jam [and] you could hold it under water and it would fire.” Additionally, they were wholly unprepared for the war because as thy never had the numbers and military officials did not have insight to provide resources. The YAWP narrates how networks like CBS displayed the violence enacted on the Vietnamese at the hands of the U.S. and this fueled the protest across the country. While the protest against the war is justified, and the violence against the Vietnamese by soldiers like Lt. Calley were truly horrifying, some of the soldiers were just victims of circumstance. The individual stories of Dennis Braxton, who as a black man was belittled and conflicted about the war or Galiano who was blamed for something he could not control, show there is no single narrative in a war. It holds different stakes for all involved.

STUDENT COMMENT:  The story that really struck me was the life of Sargent Lawrence Galiano in the Vietnam War. Galiano was drafted in 1966, and was first dropped off in Pleiku, Vietnam with little training or mental preparation. He states, when he was dropped out of the helicopter, “everything was under fire”. I can’t sit here and begin to imagine how horrifying that is, not knowing if you are going to make it out, especially when you are fighting in a war you did not voluntarily sign up for. I also want to point out the aftermath of the war, because I think the mental effects of soldiers are overlooked. Galiano talks about how he struggled mentally after coming home, probably a form of ptsd/depression. My grandfather was also in Vietnam, and he experiences this to this day. In addition to this, the treatment of Vietnam soldiers is something I had really never heard about. Today, our troops are highly respected, whereas back then the veterans were treated horribly because of instances like the “US troops [raping] and/or [massacring] hundreds of civilians in the village of My Lai” (YAWP Chapter 28). I find it really heartbreaking that the American people shamed the Vietnam veterans because their service was not by choice, and not all soldiers participated in these horrifying activities like the instance of My Lai.

Intelligence Operative

STUDENT COMMENT:  There are many interesting yet forgotten stories about the soldiers in the Vietnam War. Aside from Dennis Braxton, Jimmy Bracken had the role of gathering social intelligence in Southern Vietnam. He took on ASA missions which he was not even permitted to speak about till long after the end of the war. When reflecting on the war Bracken stated he “didn’t really have that much of an impact”(Nolan, 2018). In the outcome his role may not have been very influential but “As the war deteriorated, the Johnson administration escalated American involvement by deploying hundreds of thousands of troops to prevent the communist takeover of the south. Stalemates, body counts, hazy war aims, and the draft catalyzed an antiwar movement and triggered protests throughout the United States and Europe” (YAWP 28, II). South Vietnam, where Bracken operated the most, was the center of global attention at the time. His role in the war had an effect on foreign policy throughout the world, even if he did not feel it did. The action of the US to have troops in Southern Vietnam outraged the US public. Regardless of the outcome of the war it is tragic that these two veterans did not get to experience the appreciation other veterans received in other wars.

Chasing the American Dream

Chasing the American Dream
by David Ndreca


[NOTE:  Both the subject and the interviewer switch languages as per convenience, therefore, the transcript has been translated and appropriated.]

“Immigrants dreamed the same dreams that immigrants always have–of opportunity in America for themselves and their children” Brands writes in his American Dreams.[1]

In this short piece, I will introduce the story of Marcello Cardillo, an Italian immigrant who came to the United States in 1966 to chase the American Dream. The focus of my story is the description of Cardillo’s journey, which demonstrates the hardships and sacrifices an immigrant had to go through to get to the land of the free and opportunities. Not only will I describe his journey, but also the nature of his success and his consequent ability to help others, who, just like him, dreamed of America. This piece follows the spirit of Brands’ statement, supplementing it and giving it a more sensitive perspective.

In the late 1930’s, Marcello Cardillo’s father, Peppe Cardillo—a U.S. born citizen—was taken back to Italy by his parents and, he was never allowed to come to the U.S. again. In 1940 he was drafted to Africa.[2]Specifically, he was drafted in the Italian Eastern Africa (Africa Orientale Italiana), a complex of territories made up of ancient Italian colonial possessions of Somalia, the Eritrean Colony and the Ethiopian Empire.[3]During the war, Peppe lost a leg and was sent back to Italy. Unable to provide for his family, Peppe sent his young kids to work in the fields but it was not enough to feed a family of seven, with a sick mother and a disabled father.[4]Many Italians who emigrated to the United States during the 20s and 30s eventually returned to Italy, “a rarely noted fact that reveals a fundamental ambivalence about being in the United States.”[5]Known as “soujourners” or “economic opportunists” these immigrants came to the U.S. to make money and return home to buy land and open businesses.[6]

At the age of 16, Marcello Cardillo applied, along with his other two male siblings, for a U.S. visa, but it was denied since their uncle was an outspoken communist. Overtaken by desperation, Marcello, the youngest of them all, undertook a journey to Northern Italy, hoping to make it to Switzerland. In Milan, the young Cardillo had to spend the night under a bridge waiting for the seven o’clock bus to Zurich. He said “It was the end of September but I wasn’t cold, I didn’t feel it. I had six starving people at home and the simple idea that I could provide them with a piece of bread kept me going.”[7]

In Switzerland Cardillo was sheltered by farmers and was allowed to sleep in a barn. His hosts found him a job and also forced him to go to night school. “They told me that if I wanted to work, I had to go to school so I could do something better, perhaps find a job in the city.”Soon, Cardillo moved into a little apartment in Zurich, which was “expensive, but it was worth it” he said, “I could make double of what I made working in the farm, and I could send my family twice as much.”[8]

Two years had gone by, and it was time to go see his family. Cardillo had now purchased a car, a Fiat 600 Vignale Spyder, a car he could only afford without much sacrifice. “I was poor, I gave most of my money to my family, but I had saved a lot and now I could pass as middle-class kid, but I was nowhere close to being like [them].”[9]

While visiting his family at the age of 18, Cardillo got arrested for intentionally avoiding the draft. “The communists of the village had reported me, who else?” he stated, “poverty led people into committing evil actions against each other” he continued. Because of his family’s many connections, Cardillo was granted 24 hours to spend with his parents before he could be taken by the authorities and escorted to a military base. However, Cardillo decided to flee and with the help of his neighbor, a marshal of the Carabinieri (Italian police), he was escorted in the marshal’s car trunk to a train station in Rome. “You must cross the Lugano border tomorrow at 9:15, my brother’s shift starts exactly at 9. I will call him, tell him I sent you. He will help you cross the border” the marshal told Cardillo. Once arrived at his apartment in Zurich, Cardillo no longer felt safe and he knew it wouldn’t have been long before the police would find him. Cardillo shared his concerns with his family in New York, and his aunt promised that she’d help him leave Europe.

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 abolished the Quota Acts which were based on national origins and opened the borders to people with skills needed in a developing American economy.[10]It’s 1966, just a year after the passing of the new immigration law. Cardillo’s aunt sought the help of Congresswoman Edna F. Kelly who, according to Cardillo, “called the U.S. consul in Zurich and arranged a work visa” for him (There is no evidence of such correspondence nor is Mr. Cardillo aware of the relationship between his aunt and the Representative Kelly).

Representative Edna Kelly was a Democrat from New York and had different roles in American politics; most importantly, she was known for her contributions to foreign affairs and women’s rights. Kelly served as the Chair of the Subcommittee on Europe and later as the third ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.[11]Many Representatives, including Kelly, favored immigration reform. The House Immigration Committee took the issue of race and racial discrimination as legitimate grounds for supporting a new reform.[12]Most Congressman in support of the immigration reform “represented eastern European interests, either in their ethnically mixed regions, or in their own or biographies.”[13]

“The plane took off and I thought about that good-hearted woman (referring to Rep. Edna Kelly). I wouldn’t be on this plane without her, and without my aunt.” At the age of 20 Cardillo arrived to the United States and was not expecting what he saw. “It was dark and rainy but I couldn’t take my eyes off the high ceilings of the airport” he said. “I was asked my passport by a very tall officer. He asked me many questions to which I didn’t know how to answer, of course, but I do remember very well his big mustache.”[14]The American Dream turned to be a bit bittersweet: the demand for laborers was very high but Italian immigrants had socialist approaches to work organizations and were organized into mutual-aid societies. Italian Socialists provided leadership and protection to garment workers, barbers, and construction workers. The Italian Socialists also built a bridge between Italians and labor organizations such as the Knights of Labor or the Bricklayer’s, Mason’s and Plasterer’s International Union of America of which Cardillo was a part of.[15]

Once settled at his aunt’s house, Cardillo quickly started working as a construction laborer with his uncle but was unsatisfied with the attitude of his superiors. “Our bosses would give us the worst positions, the risky ones and many times they withheld a portion of our salaries to pay for the tools but in reality those filthy bastards were putting that money into their pockets” Cardillo stated.[16]In fact, immigrant workers took, and arguably still take, jobs with higher health and safety risks than native-born laborers. This phenomenon occurs because of the immigrants’ levels of education, language abilities, and different perceptions of job risks. Many immigrants obtained their work authorization directly through their employer and were tied to the company for an extended period of time. Undoubtedly, this leads to a system prone to exploitation but because of the aforementioned factors—particularly those immigrants whom immigration status depended on their employer—laborers did not seek for alternative employment or working rights out of fear of the consequences for them and their families.[17]

At 23 years-old Cardillo had just gotten married and wanted his family to live comfortably and still had parents and siblings to feed back in Italy.  He said “I needed to do something, I was an angry young man that needed opportunities and not a [slave-like operated employment].” With the help of family and friends, Cardillo opened an Italian deli in downtown Brooklyn. There, he employed his wife Adele while he continued to work as a construction laborer. In two-year time, Marcello and Adele Cardillo saved enough money to buy a house in Yonkers, New York.[18]Italians were known for the many entrepreneurs and workers engaged in the manufacturing, construction and food businesses. Italians did not assimilate in America, but they created a cultural pluralism that allowed them to keep their Italian traditions and values while becoming good Americans.[19]

In 1983, Cardillo decided to sell his Italian deli and invest the earnings into a construction business. “It was a Sunday, I remember it because we had just returned from mass at St. John’s church. We sat down outside the fig tree and I [consulted] Adele whether or not we should sell our deli. She did not hesitate and supported my idea without any questions” Cardillo said. Within a few weeks Marcello opens his construction business called M & C, S & D Mason Contractors, Inc. and hires five laborers. It was a hard beginning working as subcontractors in Westchester County, NY, there was a lot of competition, and Cardillo’s English was very limited.  However, only a few years later, Cardillo became one of the most renowned construction businessmen in the county. His projects quickly increased and were comprised from 50 to even 100 condominiums. “I did 50 condominiums for Jack Nicklaus. I know [him] very well, we don’t hangout anymore but I knew him very well” Cardillo proudly said. This business not only allowed him to chase his American Dream, but to help his employess do so as well. He made sure his they were protected by a union and partnered with the Bricklayer’s, Mason’s and Plasterer’s International Union of America, the oldest and still operating trade union in the United States. After 30 years in business, the union awarded him with a plaque of excellence in craftsmanship.[20]

After many years in business, Cardillo started supporting both politicians and people in need. He donated to humanitarian organizations and sponsored campaigns. He held beneficiary events and distributed food to the poor. “After 50 years working with immigrants, [Hispanics], people of color, with everybody, [I can say] for me, working people are all the same. America is the number one [compared to any other country] in the world. I am Italian but America is the number one for me. When you’re born in another country and you come to the United States you got to suffer a lot” Cardillo concluded.[21] 

[1]H. W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2011), 384.

[2]Interview with Mr. Cardillo, March 17, 2018.

[3]Giuseppe Morandini, Enrico Cerulli, and Ugo Leone, “AFRICA ORIENTALE ITALIANA in “Enciclopedia Italiana”,” Treccani, , accessed April 28, 2018, http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/africa-orientale-italiana_res-13a6efa4-87e5-11dc-8e9d-0016357eee51_(Enciclopedia-Italiana)/.

[4]I Interview with Mr. Cardillo, March 28, 2018.

[5]Stephen S. Hall, “ITALIAN-AMERICANS COMING INTO THEIR OWN,” The New York Times, May 15, 1983, , accessed April 28, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/1983/05/15/magazine/italian-americans-coming-into-their-own.html?pagewanted=all.


[7]Interview with Mr. Cardillo, April 24, 2018.

[8]Interview with Mr. Cardillo, April 4, 2018.

[9]Interview with Mr. Cardillo, March 17, 2018.

[10][10]H. W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2011), 371.

[11]“Kelly, Edna Flannery,” US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives, Accessed April 28, 2018.http://history.house.gov/People/Detail/16168.

[12]http://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=2&sid=e9f5d25d-9e01-4437-887e-4dac1b08ff44%40sessionmgr101page 58

[13]Ibid page 64

[14]Interview with Mr. Cardillo, April 24, 2018.

[15]Wang Xinyang, Economic opportunity, artisan leadership, and immigrant workers: Italian and Chiense immigrant workers in New York City, 18090-1980, (Labor History, 1996) 492-493.

[16]Interview with Mr. Cardillo, March 17, 2018.

[17]http://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=c33255e9-d7cc-420f-8aee-a4cec4dca146%40sessionmgr104page 142-143

[18]Interview with Mr. Cardillo, April 24, 2018.

[19]Mary Brown, Italians of the South Villages, report, ed. Rafaele Fierro (New York City, NY: Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation , 2007), 80, October 15, 2015, accessed April 28, 2018, gvshp.org/blog/2015/10/08/italians-of-the-south-village/

[20]Interview with Mr. Cardillo, April 4, 2018.

[21]I Interview with Mr. Cardillo, March 17, 2018.



–Video recording, Yonkers, NY March 17, 2018.

–Inteview, Yonkers, NY March 28, 2018.

–Phone Interview, April 4, 2018.

–Phone Interview, April 24, 2018.

Selected Transcript

– Video recording

[NOTE: Both the subject and the interviewer switch languages as per convenience, therefore, the use of certain terminology has been appropriated.]


Q. I know your father was a U.S. citizen. What happened to him?
A. My father was born in this country and then my grandpa [took him] back to Italy when he was 12 years-old. He never came back in this country because in 1930 [there was a draft to Africa]. In Africa, he lost his leg and never came back in this country.

Q. Where were you born? When did you come to the United States?
A. I was born in Italy, in the province of Rome, I left [the country] when I was sixteen years-old and went living in Switzerland. In Switzerland I used to go to school. During the day at work and at night I used to go to school. Then in 1966, I came to the United States to find my [wife]. I was 23 years-old when I met my wife, we got married and after a little while, in a year, we bought a house.

Q. How were you able to sustain your family and buy a house?
A. I used to work all over the place to make money. After three years, I bought my first store, an [Italian] deli. During the day, I would work at the construction site and at night at the deli.

[Translated from Italian]

Q. Were there any obstacles that hindered your business?
A. At the time, everything was managed by the mafia but I was never, I mean … How can I say it … A man from the mafia came to collect the “protection fee” but I told him I didn’t make enough money to pay for the protection.


Q. What happened afterwards?
A. After that, I closed the store and opened my [construction] business. I stayed in [the construction] business 33 years. I started with three foremen and ended up with 80, 90, 60. [All] union people, everyone used to be a [union man] and I was glad to be a union man and still am a union man, up to today.

[Translated from Italian]

Q. How big were your projects?
A. All the projects consisted of 50, 100, 80 condominiums depending on the various projects, but they were all new.

Q. I know you’ve worked for famous people.
A. Yes, I did 50 condominiums for Jack Nicklaus. I know [him] very well, we don’t hangout anymore but I knew him very well, we ate together… Then I know many political figures such as Nita Lowey (D-NY 17thDistrict), (former state) Senator Spano. I know many of these judges, they’re my friends because the have respected me as a [working] immigrant and I respect them for who they are.


Q. How did you engage with the community?
A. When I was 26, I started joining [various Italian clubs]. At first, [I joined the] Columbus League, named after Cristoforo Colombo, after that, I joined the Italian-American Organization. After two years, they made me the President of C.I.A.O. A lot of people did not like it because I was an immigrant, I don’t speak very well English. [Afterwards] I started [sponsoring] politicians, I started helping them, helping people and this is my story. After 50 years working with immigrants, any kind of people. I worked with immigrants, Spanish, people of color, with everybody. For me, working people are all the same. For me, America is the number one [compared to any other country]. I am Italian but America is the number one for me.When you’re born in another country and you come to the United States you got to suffer a lot.

[Translated from Italian]

Q. A bizarre question but would you go back to Italy?
A. No. Because I’m planted here and I no longer like the Italian [socio-political] environment. However, Italy is still Italy, it’s beautiful! When you spend your whole life abroad, it’s hard to get used to the Italian environment again.



Best Kept Secrets of the Vietnam War: the Untold Story of the Significance of Social Intelligence

By Catie Nolan

Bracken in Nhu Trang in 1966. Courtesy of Jimmy Bracken

Upon returning home from Vietnam in 1969, if you had asked Jimmy Bracken what he did in the Vietnam War, he would have told you that he was “assigned to the Army Signal Corps” [1].  But this was a lie, and Bracken swore to keep it a secret for 25 years following his deployment. In an oral history interview, Bracken reveals his role as a social intelligence gatherer for the Army Security Agency (ASA) in South Vietnam between 1966 and 1969.  Bracken reflects on his experience in Vietnam and claims that he “didn’t really have that much of an impact” [2]. Bracken’s disposition is one not represented in H. W. Brands’ American Dreams.  By primarily focusing on military combat in Vietnam, Brands fails to recognize the role of the ASA in detecting Vietcong communications.  Undercover designations intended to mask soldiers’ identities and NSA policy laws hinder public knowledge on these veterans’ impact on the Vietnam War.  Due to the secrecy and high classification of an operation, its role, and its agents, ASA missions and units were unknown and until recently, have been kept secrets from the public.  The absence of historical documentation to support Jimmy Bracken’s reflection of his role within the social intelligence force of the ASA highlights the NSA’s obstruction of the ASA’s history in Vietnam.  The NSA’s ability to legally obstruct documents by deeming them as classified prevented historians from producing accurate representations of the history of social intelligence in the Vietnam War.

Bracken’s undercover role within the ASA was to gather Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) via radio and provide tactical information to military forces to best execute attacks using the location of VC units.  In Vietnam, the ASA utilized Airborne Radio Direction Finding (ARDF) equipment, “to identify, triangulate and analyze enemy radio communications” [3]. According to William LeGro, the author of Vietnam from Cease-Fire to Capitulation, these ARDF units were the “single most valuable intelligence resource available to American and Allied forces during the war in Vietnam” [4].  ASA units served under a military unit and were codenamed to protect the unit’s true mission; many ASA units had codenames as Radio Research Units [5].  Upon receiving his draft notice in 1965, Bracken registered within the Army Security Agency (ASA), a subordinate group of the National Security Agency (NSA).  Bracken spent a year learning Vietnamese at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, California. This time in Monterey intended to prepare him to translate encrypted Vietnamese messages intercepted via radio that following year.  After landing in Saigon with the 237th Radio Research Group in 1966, Bracken traveled to Nhu Trang with a Morse-code translator and radio repair guide. Bracken recalls that “Not many other people were doing what I was doing” as he reflects on his duty in Vietnam [6].

The difficulty in his job was not only translating a language he had learned in the span of one year, but also finding Vietcong and North Vietnamese radio broadcasts.  Bracken typically remained in the same location, either “in a tent or the back of his pick-up truck, and listen[ed] to the radios,” spending hours a day searching for signals [7].  Bracken recalls his experience in intercepting radio transmissions: “I heard a lot of static… and every now and then, you’d pick up a voice transmission. Most of the time it was just reaching numbers, which was the way they coded their messages” [8].  Bracken usually heard a series of four-digit groupings. Each group would translate into one letter or number (i.e. “1235 = a”) [9]. Most of these messages translated into numbers and were coordinates that the Vietcong was sending to artillery. Bracken would make a tape of the transmissions, then send the tape to one of the larger military bases in Nha Trang or Phu Bai, or to NSA at Fort Meade.  There, cryptologists would “listen to the tapes, transcribe the encrypted messages, and then go back over them” [10]. When Bracken would intercept coordinate communications, he recalls that “sometimes I’d look at those coordinates to make sure it wasn’t where I was sitting, so I didn’t have to worry about ducking” [11]. While James L. Gilbert’s The Most Secret War provides historical analysis on the impact of Radio Research Units, the contents of these transcripts are not available for public view.

Soldier using Ground-based Radio Direction-Finding. Courtesy of US Army (https://www.army.mil/article/125717/3rd_rru_arrives_in_vietnam_may_13_1961)

Enacted in 1959, Public Law 86-36 authorized the protection of names employed by the NSA, as well as classification of the functions of the NSA.  This law also established the National Security Agency “as the principal agency of the Government responsible for signals intelligence activities” and enabled the Agency “to function without the disclosure of information which would endanger the accomplishment of its functions” [12].  The NSA was permitted to withhold any information that could inhibit the Agency’s goal of obtaining social intelligence or achieving a goal involving national security. The Agency prohibited employees from discussing any matter pertaining to their role, mission, or any classified detail involving the NSA. Throughout the Vietnam Conflict, “ASA would designate all of its units as ‘Radio Research’ to shield its presence” [13].  Bracken recalls that his undercover designation was to “the Army Signal Corps,” a military signal gathering effort [14]. Bracken did not actually work for the military, but this cover allowed the NSA to protect its presence in Vietnam. Knowledge of the NSA’s involvement in Vietnam was not available to the public until the 2000s when the National Security Agency released documentation describing social intelligence involvement in Vietnam.  In a declassified report by the NSA released in December of 2007, senior historian Robert Hanyok researched highlights how a “cryptologic communitywide history” began in 1967 but abruptly stopped in 1971, the same year the NSA deployed ASA units in Vietnam [15].  An attempt to record “the Army Security Agency’s official history never got beyond a draft stage” [16]. According to Hanyok, “it seemed the SIGINT [signals intelligence] community simply was uninterested in any thoughtful reflection on its effort during the conflict” [17].  While halting this effort to record history raised suspicions, the NSA was legally entitled to discontinue historical recordings.  Enacted in 1967, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) “provides that any person has the right to request access to federal agency records or information,” with the exceptions for “law enforcement and national security records” [18].

In 1964, the amendment of Title III to Public law 88-290 allowed the Secretary of NSA to employ any person and grant them temporary and limited access to classified cryptologic information.  “During any period of war declared by the Congress, or during any period when the Secretary determines that a national disaster exists, or in exceptional cases” the Secretary “may authorize the employment of any person in … the Agency, and may grant to any such person access to classified information, on a temporary basis, pending the completion of the full field investigation and the clearance for access to classified information required by this subsection” [19].  This law allowed NSA to hire “any” civilian and authorized the deployment of NSA employees to Vietnam and control their ability to discuss their role and the information involved [20]. In addition to its ability to recruit employees and grant them access to national classified information, this law marks a significant increase in the power of the NSA and creates a loophole in which troops can be deployed without a congressional declaration of war. The implementation of laws similar to these allowed the NSA to obstruct public access to the NSA’s plans of national security and intelligence, in addition to the recognition of those involved.  The NSA’s motive to inhibit public knowledge of and access to a number of historical documents concerning ASA forces is unclear, their obstruction inhibits historians’ understanding of the significance of social intelligence in Vietnam.

 Historian H. W. Brands omits the involvement of American social intelligence in the Vietnam War.  In response to President Ngo Dinh Diem and US officials in Saigon request for US assistance, John B. Willems of the Department of the Army proposed the establishment of programs “to provide training to the South Vietnamese and at the same time establish US intercept operations in the country in February of 1961 [21].  President Johnson approved the deployment of “secret operations against the Viet Cong” [22]. On May 13th, 1961, the 3d Radio Research Unit’s “entry marked the first time an entire Army unit had deployed to South Vietnam” [23].  This unit was the 400th United States Army Security Agency Operations Unit, “with a cover designation as the 3d Radio Research Unit” [24].  These Army Security Agency personnel were among the earliest U.S. military personnel in Vietnam.  Brands claims that “American troops in Vietnam had functioned chiefly as advisers” until March of 1965 (Brands 140).  Realistically, it only was until May of 1961 that “only individual advisors had been assigned” [26]. Prior to the escalation of the Vietnam conflict and buildup of US forces in 1965, “ASA direct support units began entering Vietnam as part of the Army’s approved force structure” in 1961 [27].  The ASA command was intended to function as a “strictly tactical support role” [28]. Their arrival in Vietnam demonstrated that they would need to quickly reinvent “what they thought they knew about SIGINT” to fit the environment. It was this “extremely hot and humid climate” that Bracken described that would require the implementation of trucks to transport Direction Finding radio equipment and their teams [29].  US SIGINT found itself constantly challenged to “improve its methods and systems” in order to combat the VC [30]. Brands recognizes the US’ difficulty in “the land, the jungle, [and] the sun” of Vietnam environment, but does not address how SIGINT played a significant role within US combat forces “to demonstrate America’s steadfastness” [31].

In addition to misrepresenting US presence in Vietnam before 1965, Brands fails to address the significance of social intelligence in his recounting of the war.  Brands discusses how the Vietnam War was largely fought via combat on the ground and in the air. The absence of recognition for social intelligence forces causes veterans of the ASA to feel their duty was insignificant. Dave Sandelin, an ASA veteran in the Vietnam War, “whose job was to find the enemy through their radio transmissions,” would likely agree with Bracken’s feeling that he did not feel like he did much for the war effort [32, 33].  Bracken’s stated that ASA veterans “could not declare his role or discuss the details of our involvement in Vietnam for 25 years” [34]. Sandelin declared that “There were a lot of people that made great contributions to the U.S. military that never got any recognition” [35].  A cause of these sentiments are the laws like Public law 88-290 and 86-36 that impeded the discussion or release of any information pertinent to these veterans or their involvement in Vietnam (until recently). This lack of public knowledge likely contributes to why the ASA and its veterans received little recognition for its role in Vietnam.  The ASA’s deployment of its first Radio Research Unit in 1961 demonstrates larger US involvement that described in American Dreams, likely because this operation could not be discussed until 25 years after the conclusion of the war.  By this time, much of history of the Vietnam War has already been deciphered by what was already know.

The ASA’s absence from Vietnam War history demonstrates how the supporting factors that contribute to an event can be left out of historical narratives.  The classification of secrets during and following the Vietnam War obstructed historians’ inclusion of social intelligence and its significance within events of the Vietnam War.  Jimmy Bracken’s reflection on his role within the social intelligence force provides insight on the lack of historical documentation of the ASA and its narratives. While social intelligence does not demonstrate as direct an impact as combat forces, combat forces depend on this essential information to efficiently execute military attacks and defense.  Social intelligence forces like the ASA tend to receive less recognition than combat forces in historical recountings due to US policy on the intelligence operations’ classifications, which impeded public knowledge on the existence of these programs and their effects until almost 30 years after the conflict resided.


[1] Phone Interview with Jimmy Bracken, April 25, 2018.

[2] Phone Interview with Jimmy Bracken, April 2, 2018.

[3] Captain Kevin Sandell, “‘Spooks and Spies’ — Local ASA vets tell stories of combat, intel collection,” U.S. Army, last modified November 13, 2017. https://www.army.mil/article/196814/spooks_and_spies_local_asa_vets_tell_stories_of_combat_intel_collection.

[4] Sandell, “‘Spooks and Spies,'” U.S. Army.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Phone Interview with Jimmy Bracken, April 25, 2018.

[7] Phone Interview with Jimmy Bracken, April 2, 2018.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Phone Interview with Jimmy Bracken, April 25, 2018.

[11] Ibid.

[12] “Legal Basis for NSA and Cryptologic Activities,” in Part 1 of U.S. Intelligence Agencies and Activities: Hearings Before the Select Committee on Intelligence, U.S. House of Representatives, Ninety-fourth Congress, First Session, vol. 4, U.S. Intelligence Agencies and Activities: Intelligence Costs and Fiscal Procedures (D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1975), 374, https://books.google.com/books?id=9hh3VshHZ4oC&pg=PA371&lpg=PA371&dq=%E2%80%9Cto+function+without+the+disclosure+of+information+which+would+endanger+the+accomplishment+of+its+functions%E2%80%9D+%5BU.S.+Intelligence+Agencies+and+Activities:+Intelligence+costs+and+fiscal%5D&source=bl&ots=XJH709uNdb&sig=NrnssjAxrWqkixU8q_R5wGRWYXU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjtsunDh-PaAhVuT98KHawnDcYQ6AEIKTAA#v=onepage&q=to%20function%20without&f=false.

[13] James L. Gilbert, The Most Secret War: Army Signals Intelligence in Vietnam (Fort Belvoir, VA: Military History Office, US Army Intelligence and Security Command, 2003), 6, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uiug.30112064013359;view=1up;seq=1.

[14] Phone Interview with Jimmy Bracken, April 25, 2018.

[15] Robert J. Hanyok, Spartans in Darkness: American SIGINT and the Indochina War, 1945-1975, The NSA Period: 1952 – Present (2002), 7:455, https://fas.org/irp/nsa/spartans/aftermath.pdf.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., 456.

[18] U. S. Department of State, “The Freedom of Information Act,” U.S. Department of State Freedom of Information Act, https://foia.state.gov/Learn/FOIA.aspx.

[19] “Public Law 88-290: Title III – Personnel Security Procedures in National Security Agency,” in Public Law (United States Government Publishing Office, 1964), 169, http://uscode.house.gov/statutes/pl/88/290.pdf.

[20] Ibid., 169.

[21] Gilbert, The Most Secret War, 4.

[22] History.com Staff. “Vietnam War Timeline.” History.com. https://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war-timeline.

[23] Gilbert, The Most Secret War, 7.

[24] Ibid.

[25] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 140.

[26] Gilbert, The Most, 7.

[27] Ibid., 32.

[28] Robert J. Hanyok, Spartans in Darkness: American SIGINT and the Indochina War, 1945-1975, The Burden’s First Fanfare: American SIGINT Arrives in Republic of Vietnam, 1961 – 64 (2002), 7:125, https://fas.org/irp/nsa/spartans/chapter4.pdf.

[29] Phone Interview with Jimmy Bracken, April 2, 2018.

[30] Robert J. Hanyok, Spartans in Darkness: American SIGINT and the Indochina War, 1945-1975, Xerve’s Arrows: SIGINT Support to the Air War, 1964-1972 (2002), 7:234, https://fas.org/irp/nsa/spartans/chapter6.pdf.

[31] Brands, 145, 139.

[32] Joe Habina. “Intelligence group played key role in military effort.” The Charlotte Observer, November 8, 2014. http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/community/city-news/ article9228452.html.

[33] Phone Interview with Jimmy Bracken, April 2, 2018.

[34] Inid.

[35] Habina



Facing the Draft Lottery During the Vietnam War

By Noah Frank

Congressman Alexander Pirnie (R-NY) draws the first number of the Vietnam draft lottery. Courtesy Selective Service

On the night of December 1, 1969, hundreds of thousands of young men across the country anxiously held their breath. For the first time in over twenty-seven years, a national draft lottery was being held.[1] Congressman Alexander Pirnie, ranking Republican of the House Armed Services Committee, drew the first number. “September 14th… September 14th is 001.” Pirnie had selected one of 366 capsules from a large bowl. Each capsule contained a day of the year (including leap years), and was pulled at random and given a corresponding number. [2] Those with birthdays corresponding with low numbers were faced with the imminent prospect of being drafted into the army and sent overseas to fight in Vietnam. For Joel Frank, the specter of the draft loomed large. “I was very worried. I did not want to be drafted.” [3] Though Joel didn’t face the immediate possibility of being drafted that night in December 1969, it was a distinct possibility on the horizon that couldn’t be ignored.

During the era of the Vietnam War, roughly 26.8 million men between the ages of 18 and 26 were eligible for the draft lottery. Of these, around 8.7 million eventually wound up serving overseas in Vietnam. [4] Prior to the implementation of the lottery system, the draft had operated under the principle that the oldest eligible men were drafted first. [5] President Nixon hoped that the draft lottery would reduce anti-war sentiment on college campuses around the country, by making those with higher lottery numbers feel less immediately threatened and creating a sense of “randomized fairness.” A key feature of the draft lottery was that each age group was only at risk for a single year. [6] Despite Nixon’s hopes, many resented the draft and saw it as unfair. [7] A key feature of the draft lottery was that each age group was only at risk for a single year. [8] Men eligible for the draft would have their lottery number called the year before they turned 20. Those with lower numbers would be ordered to report for physical exams as part of pre-screening. Those fit for service were given the classification 1-A. [9] Even with these measures attempting to create an image of “fairness” associated with the draft, there were still 570,000 draft offenders and 563,000 less-than-honorable discharges from the military during the Vietnam War Era. [10]

An example of the capsules containing dates throughout the calendar year that would be drawn at random and paired with a draft lottery number. Courtesy Selective Service

Historian Michael S. Foley notes that young men confronting the possibility of being drafted essentially faced the three choices of fighting in a war many of them considered futile and immoral, going to jail, or finding a way avoid both the war and jail. These decisions arguably inspired cynicism and weakened American’s faith in their government. [11] While historian H.W Brands in his book American Dreams: The United States Since 1945, makes much of how many young men protested the war, sometimes violently, most young men facing the draft lottery confronted their fate in ways far less dramatic. [12] Depending on their socio-economic status, young men facing the draft lottery had a variety of options. As Natalie M. Rosinsky writes in her book The Draft Lottery that “men studying to be ministers, priests or rabbis could be exempted from service.” [13] Men could also join the National Guard to substitute their military service, an avenue future presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both took. Some men tried, usually without success, to qualify as conscientious objectors and avoid service altogether. [14] The draft lottery also faced criticisms from those who said it favored the middle and upper classes, by offering deferments for those seeking college degrees. Men from working class families often could not afford college, and so this possibility was closed off to them. [15] Young men who managed to stay in college were able to delay their risk of being drafted through most of the years of the draft lottery. [16] For many men from working-class families, the draft lottery must have hardly seemed random.

Joel Frank, however, grew up in a middle-class family in Brooklyn, New York City. [17] Asked whether people he knew were concerned about being drafted, Joel recalls that “most of my friends were concerned. Living in a middle-class neighborhood. Most [sic] guys I knew where [sic] going to college and expecting to get student deferments.” [18] Joel also decided to enroll in college. On his college experience, Joel stated “I was commuting to college, but eventually I dropped out. When I was 19 I moved to upstate New York and enrolled in Ulster County Community College to renew my student deferment, but I soon dropped out there as well. Schools were slow to inform the government that students had dropped out in order to prolong their deferments, and I re-enrolled in the fall when I was 20, though I would drop out again not long after I got another deferment.” [19] Joel’s draft lottery occurred mid-year in 1971, and he recalls his draft number being 187, though he initially thought it might be 179. [20] The ceiling number for Joel’s lottery group was 95. [21] Joel remembered that his high lottery number for that year “made it less likely for me to be drafted.” [22] An article from 1971 appearing in the New York Times would seem to confirm Joel’s memory. The article declared that men born in 1952 (like Joel, who were 19 that year, and facing the lottery for next year’s draft) were safe from the draft, and that those with low numbers would only be drafted in the event of a national emergency. [23] In June 1971, the rate of induction for draftees had slowed to a trickle. [24] Though Joel may not have realized it immediately, he was essentially safe from the draft lottery from this point forward.

Joel’s story with the draft lottery, and the story of countless other men from the period who faced the draft, seem to contradict Brands’ narrative in his book American Dreams. In discussing how young people viewed the war, Brands spends several pages focusing on the SDS movement and its violent off-shoot known as the Weathermen. Brands writes “The Weathermen and similar groups espoused violence in America as a way to end the violence in Vietnam, and members bombed college ROTC buildings, draft board headquarters, army induction facilities, and research laboratories conducting defense-related work.” [25] Brands also makes a tacit acknowledgement that most protest of the war was peaceful, but still misses the larger picture. [26] In focusing his narrative on dramatic storytelling, Brands arguable misses out on the less dramatic, yet no less compelling story of the vast majority of young men facing the draft lottery. Most men did not burn their draft cards or sympathize with the views of groups like the Weathermen. The majority of young men seem to have been ambivalent or opposed to the war, but to primarily be focused on simply finding a way to stay out of it. Joel Frank’s story reflects this more common narrative, which Brands neglects in his discussion of the period.

[1] Abney, Wes. 2009. “Live from Washington, It’s Lottery Night 1969!” HistoryNet, November 25, 2009. http://www.historynet.com/live-from-dc-its-lottery-night-1969.htm

[2] Ibid.

[3] Interview with Joel Frank via email, December 7, 2017.

[4] Maxwell, Donald W. “Young Americans and the Draft.” Courtesy of JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/25162083.pdf

[5] Abney, Wes. 2009. “Live from Washington, It’s Lottery Night 1969!” HistoryNet, November 25, 2009. http://www.historynet.com/live-from-dc-its-lottery-night-1969.htm

[6] Card, David, and Thomas Lemieux. “Going to College to Avoid the Draft: The Unintended Legacy of the Vietnam War.” Courtesy of JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/2677740.pdf

[7] Abney, Wes. 2009. “Live from Washington, It’s Lottery Night 1969!” HistoryNet, November 25, 2009. http://www.historynet.com/live-from-dc-its-lottery-night-1969.htm

[8] Card, David, and Thomas Lemieux. “Going to College to Avoid the Draft: The Unintended Legacy of the Vietnam War.” Courtesy of JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/2677740.pdf

[9] Abney, Wes. 2009. “Live from Washington, It’s Lottery Night 1969!” HistoryNet, November 25, 2009. http://www.historynet.com/live-from-dc-its-lottery-night-1969.htm

[10] Maxwell, Donald W. “Young Americans and the Draft.” Courtesy of JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/25162083.pdf
[11] Ibid.

[12] H.W Brands. American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 152-155, 170.

[13] Rosinsky, Natalie M. 2009. The Draft Lottery. Minneapolis: Compass Point Books. Google Books. 10.

[14] Ibid. 10-11

[15] Ibid. 13

[16] Card, David, and Thomas Lemieux. “Going to College to Avoid the Draft: The Unintended Legacy of the Vietnam War.” Courtesy of JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/2677740.pdf

[17] Interview with Joel Frank via phone, November 12, 2017.

[18] Interview with Joel Frank via email, December 7, 2017.

[19] Interview with Joel Frank via phone, November 12, 2017.

[20] Interview with Joel Frank via email, December 7, 2017.

[21] Selective Service. “Vietnam Lotteries.” https://www.sss.gov/About/History-And-Records/lotter1

[22] Interview with Joel Frank via phone, November 12, 2017.

[23] Rosenbaum, David E. “Men With Numbers Over 125 Safe From Draft in 1971.” The New York Times. October 6, 1971. http://www.nytimes.com/1971/10/06/archives/men-with-numbers-over-125-safe-from-draft-in-1971.html?_r=0

[24] Card, David, and Thomas Lemieux. “Going to College to Avoid the Draft: The Unintended Legacy of the Vietnam War.” Courtesy of JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/2677740.pdf

[25] H.W Brands. American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 154.

[26] Ibid. 154.

NOTE: This transcript is reconstructed from detailed notes taking during a phone conversation with the interview subject on November 12, 2017.

Joel Frank is the father of the author, and was a some-time college student of prime drafting age from Brooklyn, NY in the years immediately after the height of the war in 1968 with the Tet Offensive.  

Q.  What do you remember of the Tet Offensive? Were you surprised?

A. It was on the news a lot. Every night there would be news from Vietnam on the TV. At the time of the Tet Offensive (January 1968) I was a sophomore in high school, but I would turn 18 in June of 1970. I was certainly worried, but I primarily remember domestic events that were happening around the same time as the Tet Offensive, particularly around the issue of civil rights with riots of the previous two years in Newark and Detroit. I went to an all-boys high school, and all the talk of the issues of the day filtered down to us. We even pulled off our own small protest, walking out of class to demand that we be allowed to wear blue jeans, which we felt was a big deal at the time. My older sister was more involved in issues of civil rights at the time, but it was something I became concerned about and the issue gradually gained traction at my school.

Q. Were you concerned about the prospect of being drafted?

A. Not when I was a sophomore in high school, though I was against the war. I was definitely not worried in 1970 when I turned 18, because even though I didn’t have the best grades in high school I managed to get into York College and get a student deferment. If it weren’t for that though, I most likely would have been drafted that year. 1968 and 1969 had seen some of the largest number of draftees into the war. The draft worked on a lottery system, and I had a high number, possibly 179, which made it less likely for me to be drafted. They would use a bingo-type machine to choose draft numbers. I was commuting from home to college, but eventually I dropped out. When I was 19 I moved to upstate New York and enrolled in Ulster County Community College to renew my student deferment, but I soon dropped out there as well. Schools were slow to inform the government that students had dropped out in order to prolong their deferments, and I re-enrolled in the fall when I was 20, though I would drop out again not long after I got another deferment. The draft was polarizing the country, with half the country thinking those who tried to avoid the draft were cowards and the other half thinking they were standing up for their rights. Some people were burning their draft cards and heading across the border to Canada.

Q. What was your opinion of LBJ before the war? How did it change?

A. LBJ became president in 1963 after JFK was killed, and I didn’t know much about him [LBJ] then. I was very young at that time, but I remember I was very sad when JFK died. My family had visited Washington, D.C in the summer of 1963, I remember keeping a postcard with JFK on it. This was also around the time I first became aware of politics. I remember that the death of Kennedy had an intense effect. At first, LBJ focused on civil rights, which I hadn’t been fully aware of [as a child] but supported once I became more aware in high school in 1966. My sister’s involvement with civil rights issues also had an effect on me. As I got older and became more worried about being drafted, I started not to like LBJ so much. The war was always in the news, and there were a lot of bad feelings surrounding it in 1967-68. I remember they announced in 1971 that men born in 1952 wouldn’t be drafted that year, which was a temporary relief due to the high draft number I received. After LBJ announced he wouldn’t run for reelection I supported Humphrey as I had never liked Nixon. I thought Nixon was vague and remembered watching JFK debate Nixon on TV and not liking him even then. By 1968 though, my opinion of LBJ was greatly diminished.

Q. H.W Brands, in his book American Dreams, describes how the assassinations of MLK, JFK, and RFK happening in such a short span of time, along with the Vietnam War, lead to a decline in American liberalism which helped elect Nixon. Do you agree?

A. I find that slightly odd. There was certainly great anger, especially after the deaths of MLK and RFK. I suppose it’s somewhat true, there were riots, and many people were scared. It seemed that a slow end to white dominance in society was occurring, and whites were polarized with some seeing no issue, while others were viciously opposed to their loss of influence. There was pushback which helped elect Nixon. There were also racial equality marches in D.C in the 70’s.

Q. What was your reaction to the 1968 DNC Convention protests in Chicago? Did you sympathize with them?

A. They were terrible, the police were very violent. The polarization the country was experiencing surrounding the war came to a head. There was fierce anger, which only grew in the wake of the assassinations. Different groups at the time had different agendas, the police were provoking the protesters into acts of violence and beating them up, and anti-government sentiment was growing with resistance to the war. There were also rumors that Nixon viewed himself as a king, that he wanted White House staff to have fancy uniforms and a “palace guard.” That was a general time of upheaval, and I also remember the black athletes in the Olympics of ’68 who held their fists up, similar to the NFL protests today. I also remember Kent State a few years later, where the anger over the war again came to a head with the shooting of several students protesting the war. Some people in the country viewed the protestors in Chicago and elsewhere as traitors, and others agreed with them that the war was wrong.

Q. How did you react when Nixon won the 1968 election?

A. I was not happy. I was about 16 at the time. There were so many crazy things happening at the time, with riots, and the events in Chicago, that the election felt like just another thing. Many people were disturbed by all that was happening, and people rallied around protests related to the war and civil rights. There were also conspiracy theories floating around. People were worried that the FBI was spying on them, that they kept files on people and tapped their phones. There were also infiltrators in movements like the Black Power movement in which Malcolm X had been a prominent figure. He had been assassinated himself only a few years earlier.

Q. Do you remember Nixon’s phased ending of the war through “Vietnamization,” and the invasion of Cambodia? How did you react at the time?

A. Nixon had been waging a secret war in Cambodia. I remember during high school in June of 1970 things were all “helter skelter” just like in the then recent Beatles song. Many different things were visible in the media, from issues relating to civil rights to rumors of soldiers “fragging” [killing] incompetent or poorly trained officers to avoid getting killed pointlessly themselves.

Q. Were you relieved when the war ended?

A. Yes. I had been living with a fear of the possibility of my going to war. There were mixed feelings in the country generally, with people talking about whether or not the U.S had been defeated. For most, losing the war had a negative effect on their self-image of the country. Not long after the war, President Ford granted a mass pardon to those who had burned their draft cards and fled to Canada.

Q. How did you feel when South Vietnam fell a view years later? Did you sense a “Vietnam Syndrome?”

A. A little. I remember there were “boat people,” thousands of South Vietnamese refugees trying to get out of the country before it fell under communist control. There was some debate at the time over letting them into the U.S, but ultimately there was a fear that U.S-Vietnam babies (babies with a GI father and a Vietnamese mother), who were ostracized in their society, would be killed once the North took over, so many were let into the U.S. In general I was simply glad the war was over. It seemed that it had been a huge waste, with many Americans and Vietnamese dying for no reason. Nixon had campaigned on ending the war, which he eventually did, but half of all U.S soldiers to die in the war died under Nixon’s administration. Petty politics seemed to needlessly cost lives.

NOTE: This transcript is from an email interview conducted on December 7, 2017.

Q. What do you remember about registering for the draft when you turned eighteen?
A. I remember feeling very worried. I did not want to be drafted. For me this occurred in mid-1970.
I had spent the previous 5 years (1965-1970) “watching the war” on the nightly news broadcasts.

Q. What do you remember of how the draft lottery system worked? How much of the draft lottery
system did you personally experience?
A. I was in the third Vietnam war lottery. I was thankful for a relatively high number (187). This
occurred mid-year 1971 when I was 19.
Q. Do you remember ever appearing before a draft board?
A. I do not really remember, I may have to go when I turned 18to appear but did have to send in
documents occasionally.
Q. Were many people you knew at the time worried about being drafted? Were there a significant
number who were “draft-resistors,” or were most people simply trying to go about their daily life
while avoiding the draft?
A. Most of my friends were concerned. Living in a middle-class neighborhood. Most guys I knew
where going to college and expecting to get student deferments.

Q. What was the process for getting a student deferment?
A. College or University registrar had to send information about full time enrolment.

Q. Was getting a deferment a significant reason you went to college?
A. ABSOLUTLEY. I enrolled and dropped out of college 3 times when I was 18, 19 and 20 years
old. I would wait for my daft board to be notified that I was a full-time student, then drop out. It
seemed schools did not notify when I dropped out. So each fall I made sure I was registered.

Q. Did your draft-eligibility, or potential eligibility, strongly affect your views of the war?
A. Yes. I had an anti- Vietnam War sentiment and draft just helped to personalize that feeling.

Newark Race Riots in 1967

The Newark Race Riots of 1967

By Nick Reese

“Local and state officials dreaded the approach of each ‘long, hot summer,’ as the rioting seasno became know. Riots broke out in dozens of cities in 1966 and in more than a hundred in 1967. Riots in Newark and Detroit in the latter year provided a grim counterpart to the summer of love in San Francisco” (H.W. Brands, H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States since 1945, page. 149).

Thomas Schettig was a 22 year old, newly wed husband and a father of two when he decided to join the Newark fire department in 1964. His decision to enroll as a volunteer firefighter came from his immense admiration for his father-in-law, Arthur Phillip Devlin, or known around the station as “Doc”. Doc was the fire department’s volunteer orthopedic surgeon who took young Schettig under his wing while they served together. The two volunteers paired up at the same station which was the company that was in charge of Newark’s inner city.[1] Schettig explained how the 1967 summer calls were routinely fires in the same communities.[2] “Doc and I were responding to a fire. The fires were in the predominantly black neighborhoods where they [the residents] were setting their own houses and buildings on fire.”[3] The tensions between the races had escalated to the point where firefighters were unsure of their safe return, not just from fires but also from the violence due to civil unrest. While historian H.W. Brands briefly describes the importance of the 1960’s riots role in race relations and civil rights in his book American Dreams: The United States since 1945,the actions that unfolded from these events influenced the civil rights and race relations.

A picture of John Smith, the murdered cabdriver

The beginning of the riots had started on July 12th when the Newark police had taken in a young black cabdriver by the name of John Smith into custody. [4] This was not an uncommon event, white police officers taking young black men into custody but with the recent deaths of the young black men Lester Long, Bernard Rich and Walter Mathis who all died in custody had the city on edge. [5] Newark was about to implode, it seemed the slightest misstep would do just that. The police have been repeatedly accused of abusing their power, especially on young African American men, when reports came out that John Smith was not only beaten but killed by the police, there was no fixing this problem. [6] Schettig remembers the fear of having to go out during these couple first days, “They had to respond because they were firemen and it did not matter where the fire was in the city of Newark, they had to go regardless.” [7] The situation escalated further when there was not a formal autopsy of John Smith’s body which brought bricks, bottles and molotov cocktails to the police precinct responsible for the man’s death.[8] All hell had broken out, the death of the young black cabdriver, John Smith, had finally ignited the Newark riot that seemed inevitable. The next  upcoming days would change the city of Newark forever.

A large crowd protesting the death of John Smith

The current Mayor of Newark at the time, Hugh Addonizio, wanted to control the situation by publicly saying that the previous night had been an isolated insistent. [9] Though this did not seem to fix the problem, but only made everything worse. For the second straight night, a large crowd gathered to protest the same precinct, this lead to rioting and then the looting began. [10]. Around midnight on the second night, the looting had spread to Newark’s major commercial district in the ghetto. Mayor Addonizio gave police permission to use firearms to defend themselves.[11] The use of weapons by the police was matched by the civilians rioting with cheap guns and homemade weapons like molotov cocktails, zip guns, knifes, and creating fires.

During the 1950’s and the mid-1960’s “pipe guns’ or more for
pipe guns or more formally known as “zip guns” became popular in New York and New Jersey organized crime.[12] The use of these homemade guns were useful during the riots because of the simplicity of firing and

The pieces needed to create a zip gun

its large blast radius. [13]. Schettig recalls these homemade weapons and their sheer power, “They made a gun out of two pieces of pipe. I actually fired one of them. You take two pieces of pipe, six to eight inches long, and then you get a second piece of pipe that is one size bigger than the first. The smaller pipe holds the 12 gauge shotgun shell. You would insert the shotgun shell into the small pipe and then on the bigger pipe, its threaded, you put a cap on the end and then put a screw through [the cap] and thats your firing pin. When you yank the two together it discharges a round, and I fired one [of these pipe guns] into a wall in the basement of the of the rescue squad building. I had the pipe up against the wall and i banged it. That damn thing about an 18 inch circular pattern of the shotgun shell. For about two dollars you could make a weapon, they used these [guns] during the riots.[14]


This “Urban warfare” as Brands describes it, had needed the national guard to bring peace to the city. The warfare that is briefly discussed in American Dreams: The United States since 1945, but it does not give enough justice to the sheer chaos that the city experienced. Schettig recalls, “One of the only nights I was there for the riots was when we [the firefighter squad] were being shot at while trying to put out a fire.”[15]  Brands brings more clarity to why rioters were shooting at Schettig, “Snipers, presumably black, targeted the mostly white emergency and police personnel,” which Brands explains how “[this was] provoking the police and their national guard reinforcements, also predominantly white, to fire almost indiscriminately on looters, suspected looters, and anyone who looked suspicious.”[16] The violence had allowed for police and the national guard to open fire on anyone that they saw fit, which put Schettig and Doc in even more danger. The fires and violence at this point had become too big to contain.

The cover of LIFE magazine depicting the violence of the Newark Riot

“While the people were shooting at us, we hid under the firetruck. The shot wasn’t aimed at me, but the shots were in our direction. Once the shooting stopped, we got the hell out of there because all of us in the squadron had a family. I was just a couple years older than you with two kids and a wife at home. I never told your grandmother about this because I needed to support my family and I really looked up to your great grandfather.”[17]. Like many other white residents in Newark, Schettig left after the race riots of 1967 because he did not feel like his family was safe to grow up there. The importance of Newark in the early and mid 19th century was immense. Newark acted as a commerce and manufacturing outlet that was close to New York City as well as had major harbors and an airport.[18] The “white-flight” had decimated the city and its previous importance, the significance of the 1967 riot had crippled Newark’s economy and caused the crime and corruption to increase dramatically.[19] Relocation of many white residents out of the hearts of many American cities resulted in what happened to Newark. The economic implications were obvious but the divide between America’s races became deeper. The race riot showed the clear division between white Americans and black Americans.

H.W. Brands’s description of the Newark riot gives an explanation on how the racial tensions became worse but he does not express the pain that it caused so many families, black and white. The fear created in Newark, Watts, and Detroit changed the cities as well as the people in them. The riots were so powerful in changing race relations are seen today. It took the destruction of cities to see how the divides were in America. Schettig still shivers at the thought of those nights, “One of the nights of the riots, Doc had a fireman die in his arms.” Schettig paused and signed. “He bled to death trying to save someone out of a burning building.” [20]

“I couldn’t. I just could not and would not tell my wife. If she knew how much danger I was in that night and how much danger her father was, I do not think she would ever forgive either of us.” [21]





















Interview Subject

Thomas Schettig, age 72, retired small business owner who graduated from Saint Francis University and Penn State University and is a retired Newark volunteer firefighter during the 1967 race riot.


-Audio Recording, Carlisle, PA, April 1, 2017

Selected Transcript 

Q. When you were a volunteer firefighter with Doc. [Great Grandfather] what were some of the incidents you remember about the race riots in 1967? When did the things seem to go wrong that started these riots?

A. I was there for the riots as a matter of fact. That was when they had the tanks coming up from the National Guard on Springfield Avenue.

Q. Why did they bring the tanks into Newark?

A. It was because the people [citizens of Newark] were rioting. The rioting started because of the raised tensions of between the Black and White communities. At this time most of Newark had become black and the start of the riots on a hot summer night in 1967, many people were sitting around drinking and one thing led to another and people began to riot. I know one of the nights your great grandfather had a fireman die in his arms.

Q. What happened [With great grandfather]?

A. He [firefighter] was climbing up a ladder to stop a fire from one of the riots but while in the process, he was shot in the back by an unknown assailant. He [firefigher] bled to death in about two minutes in Doc’s arms.

Q. In Newark, were these riots the result of the city being segregated? Were the riots in the predominantly black neighborhoods or were they in the predominantly white neighborhoods?

A. They [African Americans citizens of Newark] rioted and burned down basically burned down their own homes and buildings. Many of their homes in these neighborhoods were government own homes. These homes were called scudder homes which they [residents of the homes] burned them down in an act of protest. They would rip all of the copper piping out of the houses before they burned them down because they could sell it for scraps .

Q. Were the riots the white communities vs. the black communities? Why were there not more riots in the white communities of Newark?

A. There was not a lot of violence in the white communities, especially in one area called the North Ward. Black people were afraid to go there [North Ward] because of a guy by the name of Anthony Imperiale, who was one of the local councilmen, and he didn’t take any crap from anybody. One day his mother was molested and mugged by an African American man and I don’t if they killed him or if they found him and beat the man to death. So after that, African Americans were afraid to go to the North Ward. I can still see him [Councilman Imperiale] driving around in his old black car with the flags on it and nobody messed around in the North Ward that was black, nobody.

Q. What was the view towards African Americans before and during the riots?

A. The view towards African Americans during this time were the impression that they [African Americans] were uneducated, childish, and liked to drink. This is the stuff that they do not teach you in school, this was not right how they were perceived but this was just the stigma of the time period because this would be, from what I understand, politically incorrect. This is how we were taught to perceive them back then.

I’ll tell you another story that a policeman told me, they [African American residents] were rioting on sunset avenue, they were looting a tv store. And the one cop had a Thompson submachine gun, with gun, and they were shooting people. The guy [assailant] reached and stole a tv set and the cop said “that was a big guy and I ran after him into a building” and he [the police officer] said “I was not more than two seconds behind him and I jumped into that doorway and I open fired. By the time I stopped firing, there was nobody in the hallway.” I heard the story from that cop.

And then, during this time period, African Americans could not afford guns so they made a gun out of two pieces of pipe. I actually fired one of them. You take two pieces of pipe, six to eight inches long, and then you get a second piece of pipe that is one size bigger than the first. The smaller pipe holds the 12 gauge shotgun shell. You would insert the shotgun shell into the small pipe and then on the bigger pipe, its threaded, you put a cap on the end and then put a screw through [the cap] and thats your firing pin. When you yank the two together it discharges a round, and I fired one [of these pipe guns] into a wall in the basement of the of the rescue squad building. I had the pipe up against the wall and i banged it. That damn thing about an 18 inch circular pattern of the shotgun shell. For about two dollars you could make a weapon, they used these [guns]  during the riots.

Q. Can you tell me more about the riots from your experience?

A. One of the only nights I was there for the riots was when we [the firefighter squad] were being shot at while trying to put out a fire. While the people were shooting at us, we hid under the firetruck. The shot wasn’t aimed at me, but the shots were in our direction. Once the shooting stopped, we got the hell out of there because all of us in the squadron had a family. I was just a couple years older than you with two kids and a wife at home. I never told your grandmother about this because I needed to support my family and I really looked up to your great grandfather [my grandmother’s father].

Q. During the night of that particular riot, what was the call that you and Doc were responding to?

A. Doc and I were responding to  a fire. The fire was in one of the predominantly black neighborhoods where they [the residents] were setting their own houses and buildings on fire.

Q. Did the fire station have to respond even if they knew that the fire was because of the rioting?

A. They had to respond because they were firemen and it did not matter where the fire was in the city of Newark, they had to go regardless.


-Audio Recording, Carlisle, PA, April 25, 2017

Selected Transcript

[Q] Can you tell me about the emotions you were feeling during those for days in July 1967.

[A] I was terrified for my family because the night I went out people were shooting in our direction. I wasn’t sure If I would make it home. One of the nights of the riots, your great grandfather had a fireman die in his arms. He bled to death trying to save someone out of a burning building.

[Q] Can you tell me more about why you didn’t tell your wife about your involvement in the riot?

[A] I couldn’t. I just could not and would not tell my wife. If she knew how much danger I was in that night and how much danger her father was, I do not think she would ever forgive either of us.



[1]- Interview with Thomas Schettig (first recorded phone conversation), April 1, 2017.

[2]- Interview with Thomas Schettig (first recorded phone conversation), April 1, 2017.

[3] – Interview with Thomas Schettig (first recorded phone conversation), April 1, 2017.

[4] – Herman, Max Arthur. 2013. Summer of Rage : An Oral History of the 1967 Newark and Detroit Riots. New York: Peter Lang AG, 2013. eBook Academic Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed April 28, 2017).

[5] – Herman, Max Arthur. 2013. Summer of Rage : An Oral History of the 1967 Newark and Detroit Riots. New York: Peter Lang AG, 2013. eBook Academic Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed April 28, 2017).

[6] – Herman, Max Arthur. 2013. Summer of Rage : An Oral History of the 1967 Newark and Detroit Riots. New York: Peter Lang AG, 2013. eBook Academic Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed April 28, 2017).

[7] – Interview with Thomas Schettig (first recorded phone conversation), April 1, 2017.

[8]- Herman, Max Arthur. 2013. Summer of Rage : An Oral History of the 1967 Newark and Detroit Riots. New York: Peter Lang AG, 2013. eBook Academic Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed April 28, 2017).

[9]- “Newark Riot (1967) | The Black Past: Remembered And Reclaimed”. 2017. Blackpast.Org. Accessed May 1 2017. http://www.blackpast.org/aah/newark-riot-1967.

[10] – “Newark Riot (1967) | The Black Past: Remembered And Reclaimed”. 2017. Blackpast.Org. Accessed May 1 2017. http://www.blackpast.org/aah/newark-riot-1967.

[11] – [8 -11]”Newark Riot (1967) | The Black Past: Remembered And Reclaimed”. 2017. Blackpast.Org. Accessed May 1 2017. http://www.blackpast.org/aah/newark-riot-1967.

[12]- Goldstein, Joseph. 1364. “The Very Brief Revival Of The Homemade Zip Gun”. City Room. Accessed April 28 2017. https://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/02/the-very-brief-revival-of-the-homemade-zip-gun/?smid=tw-nytmetro.

[13] – Carter, Gregg Lee. ABC-CLIO. 2nd ed. Vol. 3. Cremona , CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2012.

[14] – Interview with Thomas Schettig (first recorded phone conversation), April 1, 2017.

[15] – Interview with Thomas Schettig (first recorded phone conversation), April 1, 2017.

[16] – H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 149 – 150.

[17] – Interview with Thomas Schettig (first recorded phone conversation), April 1, 2017.

[18] – NOAH, ADAMS. “Profile: Newark, New Jersey, upgrades its trolleys.” All Things Considered (NPR) (n.d.): Newspaper Source Plus, EBSCOhost (accessed April 28, 2017).

[19]- NOAH, ADAMS. “Profile: Newark, New Jersey, upgrades its trolleys.” All Things Considered (NPR) (n.d.): Newspaper Source Plus, EBSCOhost (accessed May 29, 2017).

[20] – Interview with Thomas Schettig (second recorded phone conversation), April 25, 2017.

[Fig. 1] – 2017. Img.Timeinc.Net. Accessed May 1 2017. http://img.timeinc.net/time/magazine/archi

[Fig 2] – 2017. S-Media-Cache-Ak0.Pinimg.Com. Accessed May 1 2017. https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/04/eb/9f/04eb9fab6ebdd089ad031f81fe5b8e8b.jpg.

[Fig 3] – 2017. 2.Bp.Blogspot.Com. Accessed May 1 2017. http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-DonwzxyZFC0/U2URsITGS8I/AAAAAAAADWI/9RkZFZ-SuSA/s1600/41372349-SS_Americas_Most_Destructive_Riots_Newark_1967.jpg.

[Fig4] – 2017. Whowhatwhy.Org. Accessed May 1 2017. http://whowhatwhy.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/123-26.png.

The Rochester Riot Through a Rural Lens

By Troy Thornton

On the hot summer day that the Rochester riot erupted, Daniel Thornton was a young boy of 11. By 1964 he was beginning to help out at his father’s car lot in the city. [1] When not at the car lot, the Thornton family lived less than 20 minutes outside of Rochester in Greece, New York, a rural community. Although historian H.W. Brands glosses over the race riots of the early 1960’s in his book American Dreams, these events played an influential role in the civil rights movement.

A map showing the location of the riot in the Seventh Ward

During his time at the inner city car lot prior to the riot Dan remained blind to the rising racial tensions in Rochester, sometimes hearing customers “use those phrases periodically” and “address things in that manner.” [2] His ignorance can not simply be attributed to youthfulness, as his lack of understanding was shared by the larger white population in Rochester. [3]

A block party thrown by the Mothers Improvement Association in the Seventh Ward turned sour late at night on July 24, 1964 when a small altercation broke out on the corner of Joseph Avenue and Nassau Street. Police arrived to break it up but the residents involved turned and started fighting the police. This was not a random loss of temper however, as there had been many instances of police brutality prior to the riot. [4] With many residents already outside for the block party, and police reinforcements with dogs arriving, this small scale fight quickly blossomed into a large scale revolt. The source of the crowd in other riots such as Watts where “unemployment was rampant” was largely unemployed youth. [5] This was not the case in Rochester where the rate of unemployment was only 3%. [6]

Overnight the riot grew rapidly, drawing thousands into the Seventh Ward. As crowds grew, the violence did as well, resulting in large scale looting of shops in the neighborhood. This was not wonton destruction, but a revolt on economic oppression. Although the Civil Rights Act passed earlier that year made discrimination illegal, blacks faced a “race tax.” Important stores such as grocery and clothing stores in predominantly minority neighborhoods were charging markedly higher prices for items and allowing credit traps. [7] Thornton’s recollection of the looting again reflects the ignorance of the majority, as he and his peers wondered why “the places they burned, looted, and destroyed were their peers.” [8] Similar to the Watts riot, looted stores were mostly white-owned, a manifestation of the sentiment that residents did not feel the stores were part of their community. [9]

A street in Rochester on the third day of the riot

On the second day of the riot, Saturday, Thornton went into the city with his father to the areas experiencing violence after the looting. They were checking up on people they knew to make sure they were okay and had what they needed. [10] While standing in front of one house and again walking around with some friends, Dan was involved in “a confrontation where they stoned us.” [11] This event helps explain why Thornton remembers the riot mostly as a time of violence. As a result of all the looting and violence, emergency procedures took effect: a curfew was instated and liquor stores were closed as a means to decrease the supply of enhancers of aggression. [12] These preventative measures seemed ineffective when nightfall hit and the rioting spread to the Third Ward. That night the Rochester riot claimed it’s first victim, a white man run over by a car.

While the rioting spread, Thornton was home in Greece. Everyone was going from home to home, talking about the days events, and the big question was “why”. A common phrase that rang through the night was “its not going to happen here, we won’t let it happen here,” which was emphasized in this rural community where hunting was a popular hobby. [13] Thornton remembers “they just wanted order restored, it wasn’t like they exhibited lots of concern about why it started. “ [14] As a group in the majority the rural area had nothing to gain per se from the riot. Their main focus was on restoring peace and balance, the status quo. This again highlights ignorance on what the real conditions were for blacks in Rochester.

Police attempt to apprehend a group on the woman’s porch

As tumultuous as Saturday was, Sunday, July 26, proved to be even more so. In the afternoon a helicopter crashed down into a house in the Third Ward, leading to three more lives lost to the riot. These deaths necessitated action, and the tradition of a National Guard response to race riots started in Rochester, with the first use of troops in a northern city since the civil war. Thornton was in the city again that Sunday and shocked to see national guardsmen at every street corner. [15] The overwhelming attitude of his community was of awe and surprise that it had escalated to this level, though they were happy that something was being done to bring order to things and stop the violence. With the arrival of the National Guard, the riot came to an end leaving nearly 1,000 people arrested. [16]

The riot laid grounds for progress in several areas, highlighting numerous problems. One group that sought to help the situation was the SCLC and Martin Luther King Jr. The solution to many of the causal issues as proposed by King was voting rights. [17] He used the momentum from the Rochester riot to carry into the march in Selma and other protests, culminating in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. [18] One hundred years after Frederick Douglass said “slavery is not abolished until the black man has the ballot,” this issue is still being interpreted. [19] Indeed, 150 years later today we are still facing problems with voter ID and registration legislation.

Another area impacted by the riot was economics. By acquiring voting rights to community members’ shares in Kodak, the civil rights movement was able to influence one of the largest employers in the Rochester area, resulting in the hiring of 600 minority works and further outreach programs. [20] In the face of all this progress, some things did not change so quickly. Rochester City Manager Porter Homer said they were handling things “as fast as humanly possible,” which mimics “with all due diligence” from the Civil Rights Act, allowing the change to be slow and hindered. [21] One hopeful outcome of the riot was improved relations between police and minority groups, which was realized in the presence of the Community Relations Service, a group whose aim was to improve race relations post-crisis. [22] Another cause of the riot, unhappiness with the public housing situation, was resolved with the Fair Housing act of 1968. The Rochester riot and other similar riots in the 1960’s set the platform for change to be discussed on a national level with the deployment of the National Guard, various civil rights legislature, and new committees and services dedicated to improving the sources of tension in communities.

[1] Interview with Daniel Thornton (phone conversation), April 14, 2016.

[2] Interview with Daniel Thornton (phone conversation), April 14, 2016.

[3] “Riots Negroes Knew Were Due Shock Rochester Whites.” Chicago Daily Defender, July 30, 1964. Accessed May 6, 2016. ProQuest.

[4] Lambert, Robert. “Behind The Rochester Riot: Long History of Police Brutality.”Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), August 1, 1964. ProQuest.

[5] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 148.

[6] “Says Joblessness Was Rochester Riot Cause.” The Chicago Defender, August 1, 1964. Accessed May 6, 2016. ProQuest.

[7]  “Riots Negroes Knew Were Due Shock Rochester Whites.” Chicago Daily Defender, July 30, 1964. Accessed May 6, 2016. ProQuest.

[8] Interview with Daniel Thornton (phone conversation), April 14, 2016.

[9]  Nichols, Casey. “Examining the Anatomy of Urban Uprisings.” Reading, HIST118, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA, March 29, 2016.

[10] Interview with Daniel Thornton (phone conversation), April 14, 2016.

[11] Interview with Daniel Thornton (phone conversation), April 14, 2016.

[12] “Rochester Riot Timeline.” PBS. Accessed May 6, 2016. http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/july64/timeline.html.

[13] Interview with Daniel Thornton (phone conversation), April 14, 2016.

[14] Interview with Daniel Thornton (phone conversation), April 14, 2016.

[15] Interview with Daniel Thornton (phone conversation), April 14, 2016.

[16] “King Plan Tested in 4-Day Rochester Riots.” Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), July 24, 1965. Accessed May 6, 2016. ProQuest.

[17] “King Plan Tested in 4-Day Rochester Riots.” Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), July 24, 1965. Accessed May 6, 2016. ProQuest.

[18] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 127.

[19] Pinsker, Matthew. “Did the End of Civil War Mean the End of Slavery?” Reading, HIST118, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA.

[20] Hagen, Susan. “Documenting a Turbulent Time: A New Online Resource at the University Captures Rochester’s Civil Rights Struggles in the 1960s and 1970s.” Review of Rochester Black Freedom Online Struggle Project, by Laura Warren Hill. Accessed May 6, 2016. https://rochester.edu/pr/Review/V72N1/inreview03.html.

[21] “Lift Curfew In Race Riot-Torn Rochester.” Chicago Daily Defender, July 29, 1964. Accessed May 6, 2016. ProQuest.

[22] Button, James W. Black Violence: Political Impact of the 1960s Riots. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978. Accessed May 6, 2016. JSTOR. 113-114.

Opposition: Objection to the War in Vietnam

By Jack Lodge

1969 Draft Lottery

First Draft Lottery (Courtesy of HistoryNet)

Tom Hay was a freshman at Earlham College when the first United States Army Draft-Lottery broadcast aired across the nation in December of 1969, in order to acquire more troops to combat the ever growing communist threat of the North Vietnamese in South East Asia. Hay remembers the night of the lottery, saying “when the day came to draw the numbers out of the big drum, I can still remember it all the boys of draft age that year gathered into a room, and it was just the boys… I can still see the faces of the people who got numbers of like one, two or three…” [1]

That night only numbers one through one hundred and twenty were chosen for service in Vietnam. Hay’s number was 254. “I had the luxury of just walking away and planning my life without having to worry about being drafted or anything.”[2] Hay recalls thankfully, however as H.W. brands writes in his book American Dreams, “Some Americans had objected to the war in Vietnam from the outset.”[3] Hay was one of those Americans who opposed the war because of his upbringing in the Quaker Community and their tradition of nonviolence.

Had he been drafted Hay would have registered to receive conscientious objector status, which mean he would have to appear in front of a draft board to make his case on why he could could not serve. Hay was confident that because of his Quaker upbringing that “The cards would have been stacked in my favor, coming from southern Chester County, which has so many Quakers… and being a Quaker of course with their tradition of pacifism and not participating in war, I think there was very little chance that I wouldn’t have been granted my conscientious objector status…”[4] During this time many men drafted into service via the lottery system would try to claim conscientious objector status, and the majority succeeded like Hay’s older brother who was granted conscientious objector status and was sent to work in Denver, Colorado as an orderly. Hay describes the process of alternative service as “what you do is you present options and they approve one… I don’t think they sent you somewhere, you offered and said ‘well, I’ll do this,’ and they said well that’s okay or that’s not okay.”[5] However, those who did not go to war faced scrutiny on the homefront.

In the early years of the conflict Hay recalls thatinitially people who were against the war were pretty much looked down upon as being unpatriotic, or “chicken,” or… you know… whatever, just somehow not quite adequate, either in terms of their love of country or their manliness.”[6] This form of disdain and apprehension of citizens who objected to the war in Vietnam was spread throughout the country to the point that draft boards in certain areas of the country would not approve any application for conscientious objector status.[7] In many instances, those applying for conscientious objector status, claiming that Vietnam in particular was an “unjust war.” Judges and draft boards alike were skeptical of this claim and saw it as a cop-out in order for the majority of applicants to avoid service.[8] However, Hay would not have had this problem, coming from an area of the country that had a high population of Quakers and himself being a practicing Quaker. Religion was a large factor or why people who applied for conscientious objector status were approved. In some cases, though an individual had their own moral objections to war, they were not granted conscientious objector status because they had no religious foundation for their opposition.[9]

Not only did some judges and draft boards have disdain for would-be conscientious objectors, but the area in which Hay was going school at the time, Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana “was at that point… a very conservative town. In fact a number of people earned a living at the munitions factory in Richmond and had no patience or tolerance for the ‘hippy-Quakers’ at Earlham.”[10] This was a different environment than what Tom was used to; growing up in southern Chester County, Pennsylvania in a Quaker community, and even Earlham college which had been “entirely supportive of my attitudes and my beliefs.” Hay describes Earlham College as a “community isolated within its’ own community.”[11]

Hay likens the Earlham College community as similar to that of the community in which he grew up being more oriented with the Quaker traditions. As result, the war was heavily protested on his campus in the form of protest marches, or to the more extreme, tearing up draft cards.[12] Though Hay never tore up his draft card, he recalls friends who did: “Certainly I had friends who were a little bit more extreme than me the tore up their draft cards, which was against the law. They did it publicly or on purpose in front of an official and some of them did time in jail, which was brutal, some of them were horribly mistreated by other prisoners because, again, they were considered to be cowards.”[13] Hay goes to recount an experience of a friends husband, saying that “I don’t recall how long his sentence was, at least a year, and he was never the same again when he came out- he was emotionally traumatized- I do not know specifically what happened to him but [I] can imagine [what happened to him] because draft resisters were typically seen as unmanly.”[14]

Mistreatment of this hippy-Quaker counter culture that Hay had associated with at the time was common where he was in Richmond. He and/or his friends would often be called out or shamed in public because they were seen as unpatriotic or lacking in manliness. “It could be a pretty hostile experience,” Hay recalls, “and you would go into stores and they would refuse to serve you, and one time when I was walking back from town some of the Richmond folks sort of walked around me and threatened to beat me up and all the rest of it. You know, one time when I walked down town someone threw a beer can at me and it hit me in the head.”[15]

Despite the scrutiny that Hay endured in Richmond, Indiana, he still did not budge on his stance against the conflict, and war in general. As the war progressed into the early 1970s, opposition became more mainstream so to speak after President Nixon ordered the bombing of Laos and the invasion of Cambodia, two areas in South Vietnam were not only trade routes but were also where the North Vietnamese “had taken refuge from the fighting”[16] When these actions taken by the president became public knowledge, especially the invasion of Cambodia, Hay says “more and more of the country began to turn against [the war], and so then of course it became less difficult to be a protester against the war.”[17] After this information came to light, large scale anti war protests, violent and nonviolent alike became more common, especially in colleges and universities. Hay did not discuss with me his personal experiences with protests at Earlham, other than his aforementioned friends that tore up their draft cards. Across the nation however, protests on university campuses became more common as Brands states: “On hundreds of campuses across the country students boycotted classes and faculty suspended their teaching in favor of discussion…”[18] However, Hay did participate in the anti-war protest march on Washington D.C. in 1971. While where he was he says was a peaceful protest, other protesters in other parts of the city were tear gassed by the police. He says “[when I was] on the bus and headed back to Earlham feeling positive about publicly expressing my belief that the war was wrong.”[19]

The war in Vietnam was possibly one of the most controversial wars in terms of the United State’s motive for intervention in the country’s history up until that point. Objection to this war amongst citizens such as Tom Hay and his peers were on both religious and moral grounds, and they, like so many others did not let their objection to the war stop at more than just words. As more and more came to light about this war, more and more protests against came into the forefront of American culture, and as did the hippy counter culture of nonviolence and moral objection to war.


[1] Telephone interview with Tom Hay, April 4, 2016

[2] [Hay] interview

[3] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 152

[4] [Hay] interview

[5] [Hay] interview

[6] [Hay] interview

[7] [Hay] interview

[8]  Draft Resister Upheld In Objecting to Viet War: Draft Resister Upheld In Rejecting Viet War Adopted by Hundreds Denial of Guarantees,” The Washington Post, Times Herald, December 25, 1969 [ProQuest]

[9] Goldfarb, Ronald L.. 1966. “Three Conscientious Objectors”. American Bar Association Journal 52 (6). American Bar Association: 564–67

[10] [Hay] interview

[11] [Hay] interview

[12] Email interview with Tom Hay, May 2, 2016

[13] [Hay] interview

[14] [Hay] e-mail interview

[15] [Hay] interview

[16]  Brands, 170

[17] [Hay] interview

[18] Brands, 170

[19] [Hay] e-mail interview

A New Campus Culture: The Anti-War Movement and Education Reform at Dickinson College

By Sarah Goldberg

Students protest the Vietnam War outside of Denny on May 6, 1970 (Photo courtesy of Pierce Bounds).

“I’ve never been a radical,” insists former anti-Vietnam War activist Pierce Bounds.[1] In an oral history interview about his years at Dickinson College, Bounds laments the historical treatment of the student anti-war movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s: “There’s been a lot written about veterans coming back and being spat on and I think most of that is urban myth.”[2] Bill Poole, a classmate of Bounds, agrees: “We really played at being hippies and played at being freaks.”[3] Yet the narrative of radical leftist student protest certainly dominates conventional historiography. Popular images of the period depict violent student protest leading to mass destruction of property; film footage features leftist ideologues calling for anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist revolutions.[4] Historian H.W. Brands aligns with this mainstream historical perspective by highlighting the radical organization Students for a Democratic Society as the face of the student anti-war movement. Focusing his analysis on the work of SDS leader Tom Hayden, Brands quotes the organization’s “earnestly provocative” manifesto and links the organization to its most extreme faction, the Weathermen, a group known for their violent tactics of bombing and riots.[5] While Brands focuses on the anti-war movement’s most radical moments, Bounds’ testimony of social change and peaceful activism at Dickinson College seems a world away. Bounds’ unique college experience highlights a movement born not of the radical left, but instead of a generational adolescence that inspired social changes even beyond anti-war activism. Bounds’ memories of student protest culture ultimately complicate Brands’ radical narrative by framing the trajectory of Dickinson’s moderate anti-war movement in the context of a larger generational shift towards new campus norms rather than radical politics.

Bounds’ denunciation of radicalism was rooted in his conservative childhood. While Brands uniformly labels the Baby Boomer generation as solidly liberal, [6] Bounds admits that he supported Nixon in 1960 and even wrote an essay in support of the war in Vietnam during junior high.[7] Bounds’ parents boasted a solid Republican voting record and his comfortable white-collar family had little reason to challenge the status quo. Yet as Bounds was introduced to the working class neighborhoods of Philadelphia, he began to question the political influence of his parents.[8] His growing political consciousness was further fueled by a “wake up call,” when an older peer became one of the first casualties in Vietnam. “The more you knew about [the Vietnam War], the more you realized it was kind of a hopeless policy,” explains Bounds.[9] As the young Bounds witnessed the horrors of Vietnam both in his community and on television, he grew more involved in liberal politics, much to the chagrin of his parents.

Far from dissuading Bounds, the disapproval of his parents merely encouraged his liberal leanings. “All of us baby boomers hit college and we knew we didn’t want to be like our parents,” explains Bounds of the widening generational divide.[10] He and his friends actively sought ways to distinguish themselves politically from their parents. Bounds and his friends liked “irritating our elders” by flaunting a copy of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book. “I never read it. Most people never read it. But we loved to hold that little red book,” Bounds reminisces.[11] Rebellious acts sought to distance the Baby Boomers from what they saw as the Establishment. Judge Edward Guido, a peer of Bounds at Dickinson, recalls the historical context of this division: “Our parents were the World War II generation… and so they didn’t understand how these snot nosed little kids, who had everything handed to them their whole life, couldn’t appreciate [it]. How dare they question authority?”[12] Bounds notes that this resentment could even break families up entirely. While his own parents tacitly accepted his growing liberalism, he recalls that some of his peers were disowned for their involvement in the anti-war movement and other liberal causes.[13] For the Baby Boomers, however, this generational divide was not a burden but rather the primary appeal of liberal politics.

Yet as Bounds left the conservativism of home, he soon found that Dickinson College in 1967 was far from the hotbed of leftist politics described by Brands.[14] Perhaps Berkeley or Ann Arbor were swept up in new liberal attitudes, but changing social norms had yet to reach the sleepy town of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Dickinson clung steadfastly to the rules of the 1940s and 1950s, mandating strict limitations on student independence. “All of the old rules, social rules were still firmly in place,” remembers Bounds, describing how female students had to obey a 10 pm curfew or else risk “big trouble.”[15] Former Dickinson College President Bill Durden recalls similar restrictions: “We couldn’t go upstairs [in a women’s dormitory]; we would have been, you know, arrested or something.”[16] Dickinson’s harsh policies represented the last vestiges of an age of institutional conservativism. As Bounds arrived on campus, so did major social and cultural upheavals.

At first, these new liberal impulses represented only a minority of Dickinson students. Bounds notes that the vast majority of his peers were far removed from the hippie ideal remembered in survey histories. Among “the fringe,” however, anti-war and anti-Establishment sentiment had begun to flourish. Bounds reminisces fondly about the “back of the dining hall culture,” where artists, musicians, hippies and protesters smoked cigarettes and chatted for hours.[17] “We were young kids and we were full of piss and vinegar,” remembers Poole, recalling that he and his friends in the fringe were eager to protest just about anything.[18] During his freshman year, Bounds describes the liberal factions of the school as a secluded minority.

Yet it wasn’t long before the national move towards liberalism infiltrated the campus mainstream. Soon, even bastions of conservative culture like the fraternities and ROTC started to challenge social norms. The sexual revolution arrived at Dickinson shortly after Bounds’ arrival, challenging gender roles and catalyzing protests for co-ed dormitories.[19] Recreational drug use grew more common, as the administration frantically tried to prevent the spread of drug culture: “Marihuana [sic] is part of the student’s environment,” admitted Dickinson’s Drug Education Committee.[20] Bounds also cites an “amazing blossoming of the arts” as inspired students pursued their creative impulses.[21] At Dickinson, the movement towards a more liberal campus was assisted by a wave of younger professors with progressive ideals of education and a relaxed sense of hierarchy. “The professors weren’t necessarily our enemies,” recalls Durden, noting that some even allowed students to call them by their first names.[22] As the college moved gradually toward a more liberal campus environment in late 1960s, almost all students felt empowered to challenge authority in ways that would have seemed impossible just a few years ago.

This new attention to student’s rights culminated in D.E.C.L.A.R.E Day, or Dickinson’s Expression Concerning Learning and Re-Evaluating of Education.[23] On March 5, 1969, the administration announced a moratorium on classes so that students could participate in discussions with faculty. Students hoped to address the conservative academic environment that felt anachronistic among the social and cultural shifts of the late 1960s. “My courses add up to a degree – do they add up to an education?” questioned the front page of The Dickinsonian.[24] In particular, students called for “revision of the school’s grading system, reduction in course distribution requirements, reduction of the course load for freshmen and sophomores, opening of co-educational living units, and a new college government arrangement.”[25] The college began a rapid institutional shift to catch up with the new culture of the campus. “[D.E.C.L.A.R.E. Day] was just to rethink the whole social order of things and out of that came what you’re still living under,” explains Bounds.[26] Kisner-Woodward Hall soon opened as the first co-educational dormitory and academic reform swept through the college. When Mary Frances Watson, the Dean of Women at Dickinson College, spoke to first-year women and their parents during the 1969 orientation program, her speech notes read: “DC is not the conservative little college in Penna. that will ‘take care of my daughter, see that she’s in at 10, never tastes a drink, etc.”[27] The Dickinson of Bounds’ freshman year was gone. The Baby Boomers ensured that even the conservative Dickinson could not go unaffected by the national shift towards generational empowerment.

Ultimately, the anti-war movement at Dickinson followed a similar trajectory as other campus reform efforts. Popular opposition to the Vietnam War moved liberal politics out of the domain of the fringe and into mainstream campus discourse. Inspired by this same generational empowerment to challenge authority, the larger student body soon embraced criticism of the war. By 1970, Bounds remembers that “the majority… were fed up and joined the march.”[28] As a member of ROTC, Durden was as far away from the fringe as you could get. Yet even he recalls “internally questioning, ‘What is this all about?’ This is a war that didn’t seem to be making sense.”[29] These doubts were compounded by a fear of the draft: “More and more people our age were getting shot,” remembers Bounds, “that really came to the forefront of our minds when the lottery system was introduced.”[30] As fear of the draft increased as the war in Vietnam expanded to Laos and Cambodia, opposition to the war grew stronger among all social groups. No longer a subculture of the school, the anti-war movement in 1969 and 1970 was poised to act on this new spirit of youth liberation.

Due to the mainstream nature of the movement, anti-war protest at Dickinson was far removed from the violent scenes described by Brands at other universities. By 1968, Dickinson was merely catching up to the true pioneers in campus culture. “We weren’t the Berkeley types,” stresses Poole, labeling the protest culture at Dickinson “middle class hippie-ism.”[31] For all their successes in pushing forward co-ed dorms, protest culture at Dickinson was nothing like the radicalism of SDS. Citing his Quaker background, Bounds notes that he “never had any stomach for [violence].”[32] The relatively restrained disposition of even Bounds’ liberal subculture highlights the campus’s prevailing moderate nature. At Dickinson’s largest anti-war protest, more than a thousand marched through Carlisle to the War College in May 1970 in reaction to the shootings at Kent State and the invasion of Cambodia.[33] “I remember saying that in a lot of these protest marches, it was really, that was the social way to connect with women back then,” remembers Guido, who chose to march separately from the crowd to demonstrate his serious dedication to the cause.[34] Bounds admits that while he and his fringe took the cause quite seriously, the protests were hardly a gloomy affair.[35] During the strike in the days leading to the march, students voted against shutting the school down and ensured that all students who wished to go to classes could be able to do so. “We were a very polite group of radicals,” jokes Poole, “We wanted our voices heard, but we didn’t want to disrupt anybody else’s life.”[36] After the march on the War College, the anti-war movement gradually faded away as the activist spirit died down over summer vacation.

Bounds’ account of student protest culture at Dickinson offers an interesting counter-narrative to Brands’ tale of radical activism. While Brands relates campus protest to nationalist leftist politics, Bounds’ memories seem to connect the anti-war movement more closely with campus reform protests for coed dorms or a relaxed academic hierarchy. Among Dickinson’s largely moderate student body, opposition to the Vietnam War was inextricable from a larger movement of generational empowerment. Despite its ideological distance from the radical left, Bounds looks back on his student activist days as a formative experience: “Those four or five years were unlike anything since,” Bounds remembers fondly, “It was a great time.”[37]


[1] Video Interview with Pierce Bounds, Carlisle, PA, April 8, 2016.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Interview with William Poole by Christian Miller and Jason Snow, October 24, 2004, Dickinson College Archives and Special Collections, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

[4] Flint, Jerry, “Students Debate New Left Tactics: Seek to Battle Draft and Set Up Radical Organizations,” New York Times (New York, NY), July 3, 1967.

[5] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 153.

[6] Brands, American Dreams, 213.

[7] Video Interview with Pierce Bounds, Carlisle, PA, April 8, 2016.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Interview with Judge Edward Guido by Flint Angelovic and Michael Gogoj, February 22, 2005, Dickinson College Archives and Special Collections, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

[13] Video Interview with Pierce Bounds, Carlisle, PA, April 8, 2016.

[14] H.W. Brands, American Dreams, 153.

[15] Video Interview with Pierce Bounds, Carlisle, PA, April 8, 2016.

[16] Interview with William G. Durden by Michael Gogoj and Jason Snow, December 8, 2004, Dickinson College Archives and Special Collections, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

[17] Video Interview with Pierce Bounds, Carlisle, PA, April 8, 2016.

[18] Interview with William Poole by Christian Miller and Jason Snow, October 24, 2004, Dickinson College Archives and Special Collections, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

[19] Interview with William G. Durden by Michael Gogoj and Jason Snow, December 8, 2004, Dickinson College Archives and Special Collections, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

[20] “Report of Drug Education Committee,” The Dickinsonian (Carlisle, PA), February 7, 1969.

[21] Video Interview with Pierce Bounds, Carlisle, PA, April 8, 2016.

[22] Interview with William G. Durden by Michael Gogoj and Jason Snow, December 8, 2004, Dickinson College Archives and Special Collections, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

[23] “March 5, Declare Day, 1969,” The Dickinsonian, (Carlisle, PA), March 7, 1969.

[24] Ibid.

[25] “Declare Day,” The Dickinsonian (Carlisle, PA), March 13, 1969.

[26] Video Interview with Pierce Bounds, Carlisle, PA, April 8, 2016.

[27] Watson, Mary Frances. “Notes for Orientation Speech,” June 13, 1969, Box 4, Folder 7, President’s Office Series 4, Dickinson College Archives and Special Collections, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

[28] Video Interview with Pierce Bounds, Carlisle, PA, April 8, 2016.

[29] Interview with William G. Durden by Michael Gogoj and Jason Snow, December 8, 2004, Dickinson College Archives and Special Collections, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

[30] Video Interview with Pierce Bounds, Carlisle, PA, April 8, 2016.

[31] Interview with William Poole by Christian Miller and Jason Snow, October 24, 2004, Dickinson College Archives and Special Collections, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

[32] Video Interview with Pierce Bounds, Carlisle, PA, April 8, 2016.

[33] For further reading on student-led protests at Dickinson College in May 1970, check out The Dickinsonia Project’s “The May Crisis: Voices of Protest at Dickinson College in 1970.”

[34] Interview with Judge Edward Guido by Flint Angelovic and Michael Gogoj, February 22, 2005, Dickinson College Archives and Special Collections, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

[35] Video Interview with Pierce Bounds, Carlisle, PA, April 8, 2016.

[36] Interview with William Poole by Christian Miller and Jason Snow, October 24, 2004, Dickinson College Archives and Special Collections, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

[37] Video Interview with Pierce Bounds, Carlisle, PA, April 8, 2016.

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