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July 22, 1971 - Image 5

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1971-07-22

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...Learning to live as a prisoner

ness, which had a bullet hole and was
smeared with dried blood. He planned to
take it back to the States so he could show
it to anyone who asked why he was
against the war.
SHORTLY AFTER, Bill was given a six-
day rest and recuperation trip to Hawaii,
where he met more anti-war people, in-
cluding several girls from the States he
lived with while he was there.
When he returned to Vietnam, he found
out his best friend had been killed. Again
the death shocked him and cast further
doubt in his mind about the cause he was
fighting for.
' Several weeks later, Bill's company
was setting up plastic explosive mines
when some of the substance suddenly ex-
ploded. Bill was thrown about 10 yards
by the blast and suffered a slight brain
concussion and loss of about one-half his
hearing. To Bill, this presented the oppor-
j tunity to escape the combat role he now
"Possibly that explosion we had -everal
weeks ago is a blessing in disguise," Bill
said in his first letter in three months.
"Due to the trouble with my ears, I now
have a 'code J' profile. To paraphrase the
# Army, that means no work around loud
or habitual noises-to include the firing of
weapons. That means no more field duty
for me as long as I am over here.
"I AM SURE HAPPY about that. This
mess over here certainly isn't worth dying
for .
"How are things going on the home-
front? Or should I rephrase that to read
the 'battlefields at home?' as that's what
it seems in reading the papers. I fear
things may be worse at home than we
realize because the news is so biased
and censored around here. I will have to,
however, worry about one war at a time."
As a result of the accident, Bill was able
to obtain a 30-day pass to visit home dur-
ing the summer. He went to ree Dan and
they drove out to the rock festival a' Goose
Lake, near Jackson, Michigan. It was
there that Dan first discovered the varie-
ties of drugs that his brother had been
taking: Speed, LSD, mescaline and other
Bill had a reaction to one of the drugs he
took while he was at Goose Lake which
caused sores to form in his mouh. The
"straight" doctor who examined him
thought he had some sort of jungle rot
and helped delay Bill's return to the Army
while the sores healed.
AT THAT TIME, Bill was seriously con-
sidering deserting the Army. Eventually
he decided to return figuring that he would
not be in combat, which would give him
the opportunity to explore legal ways to
get himself out.
He had considered going to Canada, but
rejected that idea because he said he
wanted to be able to stay in America to
help the country change.
In addition, Bill liked the idea of being
in the Saigon area where there are a com-
paratively large number of anti-war sol-
4 diers, and where the grass is cheap and

He returned to his outfit near the de-
militarized zone around the end of Sep-
tember and was given a pass to report to
his new unit in Long Binh where he was to
work as a clerk in the Saigon Support
GENERALLY, throughout Vietnam, the
morale of the American troops is so low
that minor pass violations are overlooked.
So Bill spent a few days partying in Saigon
and bought some grass and heroin.
Three days later, he decided to report.
When he reached the gates of his new
post, a Military Policeman checked his
pass and found it to be expired. He
searched Bill-finding the illegal drugs.
Bill began writing home in November,
but never mentioned his arrest or the
charges pending against him. Instead he
spoke of the low morale and his desires
to desert.
But again, he decided against desert-
ing, not being willing to risk the possibility
of going to jail. "This goddamn system is
so rotten and beginning to crumble so
badly, that I may desert this Army and
join another-a People's Liberation Front
in Amerika," he wrote.
BILL WROTE AGAIN Dec. 5. "We had
a little excitement the other night," he
begins. Someone threw a fragmentation
grenade right out in front of the First
Pig's (First sergeant) window.
"Needless to say this caused super
paranoia to strike the hearts of all the
pigs . . . The concept of fragging is new.
It is unfortunate, but is the product of the
Army, the new awareness of the troops,
and the futility of being imprisoned half-
way across the world."
Later, in the same letter, Bill first men-
tions his arrest-almost as an aside. "I
kind of expect a $250 fine and a reduction
in rank . . . or if they really get chicken-
shit they could try to give me some time
in the stockade and a discharge. I really
doubt the latter because of my prior mili-
tary record," he said.

Surprisingly, however, no one in his unit
knew of the arrest because the MP report
had not yet been sent to his company. "I
am expecting the axe any day now," he
TWO WEEKS LATER the charges
reached his unit." They found out I am a
head," he wrote the following day. "Now,
instead of being treated with the respect of
a non-commissioned officer, t h e y are
showing their true pig selves and all of
a sudden, I am an A-1 shithead . . .
For the first time, Bill explained the
exact circumstances of his arrest-includ-
ing allegations that the MP physically
threatened him after he found the drugs.
But Bill still wasn't scared. "I have had
three years in the Army with no problems
at all," he said. "It seems to me that even
in their pig minds this should hold some
He was recommended for a general
court martial, which often results in the
offender being shipped back to the States
to serve a sentence at Leavenworth Fed-
eral Prison.
BUT A PROVISION in the Army regu-
lations says that if a career soldier (Bill's
status) is brought before a general court
martial, he has an opportunity to resign,
in some cases, and accept a dishonorable
Bill consulted an Army lawyer on this
point and was told that he might be eligi-
ble instead to receive a General Discharge
Under Honorable Conditions, in view of
his prior record.
That discharge "after a short time can
be changed to an honorable discharge,"
Bill wrote, " so I should be home a free
man-out of the Army by the middle of
Again, several weeks passed and Dan
heard nothing more from his brother. He
became concerned and began looking for a
way to find out what had happened to his
brother, and to help him get a fair trial,
if possible.
DAN ATTENDED the Winter Soldiers
Conference in Detroit and consulted with
several members of the Vietnam Veter-
ans Against the War.
Finally, on Jan. 30, Dan sent a letter
to Henry Aronson, a member of the Na-
tional Lawyers Guild in Saigon, who had
been active in the organization's Military
Law Project. The letter explained Bill's
situation and asked what might be done.
"Despite my brother's optimism," the
letter concluded, "I am concerned things
might not go as expected and they might
rip him off . . . My finances are extreme-
ly limited, yet knowing the attitude of our
fascist military, so may my brother's fu-
Dan also sent copies of this letter to
Sens. Philip Hart (D-Mich.) and Charles
Percy (R-Ill.). Hart replied 10 days later
and said he was making an immediate in-
quiry into Bill's case. Percy wrote back
five weeks later and offered his sympathy
-but nothing more.
EARLY IN APRIL, Hart sent Dan a
cablegram he had received from the Sai-
gon Support Command. It explained the
charges against Bill and offered a terse
denial that he had been either threatened
or mistreated
On April 30, Bill sent a letter to Dan.
"Sorry it's been such a long time but you

have one bitter, hate-filled little brother,"
it began.
"As of April 21 I have been here in the
infamous LBJ (Long Binh Jail) starting
the ONE YEAR sentence these people
have given me (I would use a little strong-
er language but for censorship). I really
got screwed.
"They gave me a General Court Martial
-same as Calley-for .47 grain heroin and
90.2 grain marijuana. This is really a fan-
tastic sentence for the offense. For ex-
ample, one man here was convicted for
63 grains heroin and got four months. That
is a rather extreme example, but all in
all, I have found no one with a compar-
able sentence .. .
"I REALLY GOT in the wrong com-
pany. Lt. Col. Echols, my battalion com-
mander, told me, 'You've been in the Army
over three years, you've been an NCO
(non-commissioned officer) almost two
years. You should have known better. I
realize your past record, and this is why
I am pressing this. If you had been a
screw-up the entire time you'd been in
the Army, I'd have to let you out on a
discharge. But you weren't and I'm going
to make an example of you . . . I am
going to put you in jail for as long as I
possibly can.' And he did!
"He wasn't kidding about letting the
screw-off out. One man by the name of
Michael Johnson was apprehended with
heroin three different times while I was
awaiting my court martial. He was dis-
charged. Military justice is to justice as
military music is to music.
"Here I was in the Army for over three
years, no disciplinary action ever on my
record, a handful of their paper medals
(including the Silver Star) and they gave
me a fucking year, bust to E-1, total for-
feiture of all pay and a bad conduct dis-
charge ...I am now ready to, if necessary,
take to the hills ..."
Bill also explained that he had not writ-
ten because he had been "strung out" on
heroin, which had made him rather apa-
thetic and lazy.
Two weeks later, Bill got a letter from
his father, a letter that in his words
"really picked me up."
"DEAR SON," it read, "I received your
letter and the news. Let me preface my
remarks by saying I am still proud of you
but I am ashamed of the country and the
military and ashamed of the uniform I
wore proudly for five years. May I say
as you signed your letter 'sgt. never
again,' I sign mine First Lt. never
again . . .
"You say you couldn't come home again.
I am not sure why you say this. If you are
worried about shaming us in the eyes of
the church, forget. Any church that has a
problem with me because of you is not a
church I want to be in. Your mother and
I have one question. Where can we be
that you feel you can come?-We will be
there! . . .
"I am not sure what I can do, but I'm
going to try. I feel it is imperative to do
more than I have been doing. I wish I
could take your place ..."
BILL IS STILL in Long Binh Jail, wait-
ing to be shipped to Leavenworth.
"This place is a definite bummer," he
says, "and I'll be damned glad to flee
this fucking hole. Within the next month
I should be gone. They had a Leaven-
worth shipment go out this morning, but
quite obviously, I didn't make this one.
I'm really not all that anxious to get to
the big house except for the fact that
the sooner I get there, the sooner I can
get clemency and get out ...
"Just how in the hell do we fight human
nature? I believe in myself and in the
people, but I am by no means an anarch-
ist. There has to be government, but it
has to be a government of, by and for
the people .. .
"I realize there has to be a change, and
a radical one. There are over 40,000 GIs
lying dead because of the greedy fat cats
in the Washingtons, Saigons and Mos-
cows of the world, and God only knows

how many yellow brothers who were
fighting for their freedom. It's enough to
make one shed bitter tears and God I did
it too many times .'."
Tomorrow: American GIs and
the heroin problem
© 1971 The Michigan Daily

Thursday, July 22, 1971 THE MICHIGAN DAILY Pacie Five

Thursday, July 22, 1911



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