Becoming a radical in Vietnam...
By ALAN LENHOFF
First of two parts
J OURNALISTS are constantly ap-
proached by people who ask them to
write about personal experiences. Many
of these people feel they have been the
victim of great injustice; like the man
who claims he received, a traffic ticket be-
cause of his long hair or the student who
wants to "expose" his corrupt landlord.
Most of the time, a journalist can mere-
ly dismiss these stories. Sometimes, he
rids himself of these people by offering
his sympathy but shrugging his shoulders,
saying the story doesn't fulfill that elusive
requirement called "newsworthiness."
On rare occasions, however, a story of
personal experience of the proper genre
can take on significance far beyond any
news story. Sometimes it can be used to
amplify, clarify and humanize day-to-day
reporting. What follows, I believe, is such
IT IS A STORY of Vietnam and today's
Army and what effect it can have on an
intelligent, sensitive young man. It is the
story of William Davis (his real name)
who currently is in an Army jail in Long
Binh because of a narcotics conviction.
But it is more than the typical cliche
account of a reluctant draftee becoming
alienated from the Army. Bill Davis en-
listed in the Army full of patriotic zeal, in-
tending to make the Army his career. To-
day, he feels nothing but contempt and
bitterness toward that same Army.
"They can't hold me forever, and when
I get out, OFF THE PIG! The revolution
is here," he writes. "The Army has taught
me two things-HATE and HOW TO
KILL! Unfortunately I will have to use
them both." r
What follows is, in every sense, a true
BILL GREW UP in several small Illi-
nois towns. His father was a Baptist minis-
ter, a conservative man who could often
be heard airing typical middle-class pre-
judices, which undoubtedly had a great
effect on Bill.
His father had always looked down upon
materialism and the corruption in the
business world, but he could never find a
way to take a firm stand against it, or
even really understand why he disliked
that lifestyle. This perhaps, was one of
the factors which motivated him to seek
refuge in the ministry at the relatively
late age of 33.
When Bill was 16, the family moved to
the wealthy suburb of Deerfield, Ill., where
his father became the minister of a local
William Davis on his last visit home
church. It was a haughty town of preten-
tious houses, and Bill, perhaps under the
influence of his high school friends, set
out upon a distinctly conservative course,
studying libertarian and conservative
HE BECAME involved in Barry Gold-
water's campaign for the presidency in
1963. A dynamic, bright young man, Bill
worked on campaign advertising in Illi-
nois, and soon was named the advertising
manager of that state.
At the same time, he became a Republi-
can precinct captain, although he was only
16, making him perhaps the youngest pre-
cinct captain in the state.
Bill was proud of his work. It was ex-
citing and he enjoyed its glamour. He met
John Wayne and large corporation execu-
tives through his work. Not only was it a
job, it had become a position of social
Bill began to channel his political ener-
gies into other areas. He became an active
member of the John Birch aociety, and
later, became the only teenage member of
the Young Americans for Freedom nation-
al steering committee.
HE ALSO BEGAN partying and drink-
ing with his friends. Drinking became an
outlet for the young man when he wasn't
playing the old man's political game,
One night, Bill got drunk and had an
automobile accident. His driver's license
was revoked, and, without transportation
or an independent income of his own, he
was forced to spend much of his time at
This was not easy for him. He had
grown accustomed to being free and he
felt trapped. He knew of only one solution:
He would join the Army and defend his
But just being in the Army was not
enough for him. He joined the Green
Berets, and underwent two years of in-
ARMY LIFE suited him well. He was
good, perhaps too good. In general tests
administered to all men at Fort Bragg, he
scored the second highest out of 25,000
men. Officers told him that if he volun-
teered to go to Vietnam he would be as-
sured of a place in West Point when he re-
That appealed to Bill and he volunteered
for Indochina duty. Later, he was to find
out that he had been the victim of a com-
monly used trick to recruit men for com-
bat. But then, all he felt was pride.
Shortly before he was scheduled to leave
for Vietnam, he returned to Illinois to take
his brother Dan out for Christmas dinner.
He had not recently been very close to his
brother, for, in spite of their similar up-
bringings, Dan had developed leftist politi-
cal ideas which built a barrier between the
The differences between the brothers
had never before been as evident as they
were that night when they sat in a bar
As Dan remembers the night, Bill sur-
prised him by wearing his entire Green
Berets uniform,, but that ended up to be
the least significant "surprise" of the eve-
ning for Dan.
"I DON'T KNOW what they really do to
brainwash people in the Army, because I
never asked him. But he told me he
wanted to become a mercenary to South
Africa as soon as he finished up in South
Vietnam, if he couldn't become an of-
ficer," Dan says.
Dan began to speak of black liberation
movements, and revolutionary black peo-
ple such as Eldridge Cleaver. Bill's re-
sponse was a suggestion that "all those
niggers should be killed. We should string
'em up," he said.
This upset Dan greatly, "We're going to
be on the opposite sides of the street
shooting at each other, then," Dan told his
"I suppose so," Bill responded.
SHORTLY AFTER he arrived in Viet-
nam, Bill began writing letters home. He
began writing to Dan also, still feeling
compassion for his older brother with the
unfamiliar political stance.
Bill had become a "Ranger"-a member
of a crack reconnaissance group which
would locate the enemy to help direct al-
lied troop movements and carry out mis-
sions in areas such as North Vietnam
which are off-limits to other ground troops.
"I've been doing pretty well here," Bill
wrote. "We work on six-man teams to
recon and ambush the enemy. War is hell,
but combat is fun. I must be a bloodthirsty
SOB because on one of our missions we
killed four gooks and I had to search
their bodies and take anything vital they
"It didn't bother me a bit as I thought
it would. Even when some of them started
firing on us I wasn't scared. At least untif
it was all over. Then I started shaking like
a leaf. Oh well ..."
ONE WEEK LATER, Bill wrote of his
first experiences with marijuana, and told
his brother how easy it was to obtain grass.
He was embarrassed to smoke grass,
something he had long regarded as "a
liberal thing," and he joked about how his
friends in the John Birch Society might
react if they knew he liked to get stoned.
Nevertheless, he wrote of meeting a
Bircher in his company with whom he
often had long discussions.
"I get a real kick out of being in the
field. I guess its because I'm a gambler
at heart," Bill wrote, "The stakes are
quite high out there-my life against
theirs. You may think its barbaric or
'right-wing,' but to put it in common
language, I'm just doing my thing."
Bill didn't write home again for almost
three months. Finally a letter dated May
15, 1970, reached Dan. It was long, inco-
herent and rambling. But the letter made
one thing clear: Bill was no longer the
same nian he was when he enlisted.
"YOU WON'T BELIEVE the change in
me," it read. "You no longer have the con-
servative, bigoted little brother you once
had . . .
"Pot is cool. Bobby Seale is a savior of
the brothers in our bigoted, white, hate-
filled society. The establishment will and
must undergo radical change . .. Power,
Peace and Panthers are what's happening.
Long hair is cool. Drop out, turn on and
tune in to the new society that is arising
from the ashes of the old."
The letter was signed "Peace and Free-
dom, your new little brother Bill." Dan
later found out that Bill had been tripping
on LSD when he wrote it.
Bill explained at a later date that he had
not written during those three months be-
cause whenever his company wasn't out in
the bush, he and his friends generally did
little besides getting high and discussing
the results of their missions.
In doing this, Bill met many anti-war
soldiers with whom he had long, probing
discussions. They traded many ideas and
gave him his first exposure to radical
HE ALSO MET black GIs who spoke of
their struggle against racism, both at
home and in the Army, and introduced him
to the writings of Eldridge Cleaver, Huey
Newton and others he had been so dis-
dainful of several months ago.
Discussing the intolerance of the lifers,
the racism of the Army, the plight of the
Vietnamese peasants aid hearing anti-
war rock music all helped to change him
Also during that time, one of his friends
died in his arms while they were under an
enemy attack. "We were pinned down i#
the bush," he wrote later. "There was no
reason for us to be there,-because those
people (the Viet Cong) are only fighting
for their freedom. We- are the intruders.
We deserve to be killed."
Bill saved his friend's back-pack har-
Continued on next page
420 Maynard Street, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Edited and managed by students at the
University of Michigan
Editorials printed in The Michigan Daily express the individual
opinions of the author. This must be noted in all reprints.
Thursday, July 22, 1971
NIGHT EDITOR: JONATHAN MILLER.