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  Revisiting Vietnam American RadioWorks
     
  Vietnam Scrapbook
     

jerry wager
columbus, ohio, usa

I wasn't concerned about the war at all as a college student in the early 60s, but as the war, and conscription rates grew, and my graduation date (6/65)came nearer, I got worried. I was never very political, growing up in upstate New York during the Eisenhower era. I knew I didn't want to fight a war, especially one I couldn't see the logic of; but mostly I didn't want my life interrupted.

I managed to secure a teaching job which produced deferments - only because the Superintendent of the Board of Education was also the president of the local draft board and he kept writing letters to the state appellate board in my behalf when my local board refused to extend my deferment for teaching.

I really didn't want to keep teaching though, I wanted to travel abroad - on my own terms, of course. Another teacher had been in the Peace Corps, and I soon saw this as a way out of the teaching job and the international travel I sought. Amazingly enough, my local draft board agreed to let me go when the PC accepted me.

I went into PC training a very naive young man, and came out of it a fledgling political radical. As part of our training in the summer of 67,some of the top civil rights leaders talked to us. I did 3 weeks of teacher training at Ben Franklin HS in Philadelphia in the heart of a ghetto that had experienced riots the summer before.

I went to Guyana, SA only to find out that we had helped overthrow a popularly elected government and contributed to the spearation and hatred between the 2 dominent racial groups. I became more politically active, to the point of organizing a debate on Viet Nam between a reprentative of the US embassy and a professor at the Un of Guyana at our school. The US reprentatentive was not a good speaker, nor could he justify the war; as a result he got trashed and the Director of the PC in Guyana got a call from the embassy. I survived this and other incidents in Guyana, but not when I sent my concerns back home.

I wrote a long letter to my homwtwon newspaper, the Watertown Daily Times, about the failings of our foreign policy in Guyana. 2 weeks after my article appeared, my deferment was cancelled. For the rest of my duty, the PC and I fought the Selective Service. Senator Godell, who replaced Bobbie Kennedy got involved, and the case went all the way to the national appeals board who declared me 1-A. I was forced to return home in July 1969, one month before my service would have been up

At my induction physical I refused induction as a conscientious objector. (Very interesting story - but not enough space here to tell it.)Anti-climatically, nothing happened, life went on as usual. I got married that summer and entered graduate school at the University of Cincinnati in the fall.

I learned social planning theory and studied hard for the first time in my life. The months passed, and my wife was pregnant with our first child, when one day in spring at 8 am in the morning 2 FBI agents knocked at the door. They wanted me to go with them, which I refused to do. Both my wife and I were heavily involved in the anti-war movement by this time, specializing in draft counseling. We called a lawyer we knew who counseled me to stay home and wait for their next move. It wasn't until their visit that I began to realize there were really consequences associated with my refusal of induction.

Again the months passed with nothing from the government. We contiued our counseling, and were very successful in helping keep many young men out of service.In the fall I played rugby (a game I learned in Guyana)with a Cincinnati club team. After a particularly humiliating defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Blues, one of the best teams in the midwest, and a traditional beer-filled after game party, I returned home at 4 AM, inebriated, met at the door by my wife Carol who told me I had been indicted that day.

Again, it took a while for the consequences of my actions to register - this time until I sobered up. I was really shook up by this, thinking I guess that our government really didn't play hard ball with its white, middle class, college-educated citizens.

By this time I was working for the US govt as a planner for the newly created Environmental Protection Agency. I was concerned that they would be troubled by the fact that I was under indictment; but my supervisor didn't really care that much. By 1971, the war had become very unpopular, and as long as you didn't make an issue of my beliefs, most peole were inclined to leave me alone.

It took over a year for my case to come to trial - fortunately, lawyers in New York City took the case pro bono for the ACLU. Visiting their offices in a NY skyscraper to prepare was an experience, in that I had my baby daughter with me who had crapped in her clothes while waiting in Central Park for our appointment, so we went into these plush offices in diapers.

Again, a lot of time passed. It wasn't until Sept 1972 that it came to trial. (I rewally can't put in print how I was able to fly to Syracuse NY to pick up my lawyers and drive to the trial location, but it's really ironic.) Although the Quaker boy who's case was heard before mine was found quilty, I was not, because of the litany of procedural screw-ups by my local draft board. I just went home, 7 years of fighting the draft and the government suddenly over. It had been one of the biggest parts of my life for years, and then nothing.

A year later, because of moving my program to Washington, DC, I resigned from EPA and took a job as an environmental program administrator with the Twerritory of Guam. At least Viet Nam seemed to be out of my life - or so I thought.

We lived in a small, uncomfortable concrete house in Dededo - as it turned out - right in the flight path of the bombers headed for Cambodia. For a while they roared over the house night and day, a constant reminder of the war. Fianlly the bombing stopped, but the final scene was yet to play out.

In April 1975, Siagon fell and thousands of Vietnamese refugees flooded Guam. We set up tent villages for them, and I became part of the effort to control environmental health problems, particularly dengue fever. The aerial spraying becuase of this threat caused massive fish kills along the beaches and I found myself fighting the US government once again.

Viet Nam occupied my thoughts, shaped my political beliefs and actions for ten years I changed how I will look at governmental policy for the rest of the life. My disgust with our actions were never directed at soldiers, regardless of how they felt about their service, but the bureaucrats and lobbists who promoted, but never really participated in the war. Today, I'm one more bureaucrat, but I hope I'm different in how I do my work becuase of what the war taught me about the concept of citizenship.
   

 

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