Sample text for Home to war : a history of the Vietnam veterans' movement / Gerald Nicosia.

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Counter From Chapter One: Coming Up with a Politics: Vietnam Veterans Against the War

1. Six Vets and a Banner

He was twenty-three years old and had not yet taken his pen name of Jan Barry. He was moderately tall, gangly rather than muscular, and with his long nose and lank dark hair looked something like a pensive Henry David Thoreau. He was, in short, nobody out of the ordinary in that crowd of 50,000 antiwar protestors marching through New York City on April 7, 1967. Since he wore a suit and tie and tan raincoat, there was no way to identify him as a Vietnam veteran, except by inference, since he was marching along with a small, ragtag bunch of guys -- none of them in uniform -- who carried an impromptu painted banner that read vietnam veterans against the war! The irony was that at that point there was no such organization -- just a hastily improvised slogan that a few guys chose to identify themselves with. But within two months there would be such an organization -- Vietnam Veterans Against the War, known more popularly as VVAW -- and Jan Barry would be its founder. The organization would put Richard Nixon into a panic, provoke FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover into breaking the law in order to destroy it, precipitate the last major conspiracy trial of the era, and bring to prominence at least one leader of national stature, John Kerry, who would eventually become the junior United States senator from Massachusetts.( 1.Interviews: JBC, 1,2,3; MS. Documents: FBI files on VVAW, 1968-1977, received through Freedom of Information Act) And the man who had founded it -- far from becoming a household name -- would be forgotten.

His real name was Jan Barry Crumb, and he had been born and raised in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. He had been to Vietnam in 1963 in the U.S. Army's 18th Aviation Company, at a time when the United States was not even supposed to have a military presence in Indochina other than "advisors." Upon his return, he enrolled in West Point. But he was deeply troubled about what he had seen in Vietnam -- especially what he perceived as the utter callousness and disdain of the American military toward the human needs of the Vietnamese people. He resigned from the academy in November 1964, feeling completely alone, unable to believe that anyone else felt as he did. To finish out his enlistment he was sent back into the Army, to an installation in Alabama. In spring 1965, the civil rights movement was in full bloom as Martin Luther King Jr. led 50,000 protesters from Montgomery to Selma, and it opened Crumb's eyes a bit further to the injustice in America. That same spring, 22,000 American troops were dispatched to Santo Domingo to save the Dominican Republic from "Communism." Meanwhile, the war in Vietnam took a quantum leap when the Marines landed in Da Nang in March. Jan Crumb did not yet know there was an American peace movement, but when he got out of the military, he went in search of what he called "some other way."

It took him two years to find that other way. He lived in New Jersey for a while, then moved to Manhattan and began working for a newspaper. He left the paper for a job at the New York Public Library, where his coworkers were mostly university students. One day, in March 1967, he heard some of them talking about a big peace demonstration that was scheduled to take place on April 7 outside the United Nations. The day of the demo, he met with a group of friends, planning to attend it in their company. It was a momentous day in his life for more than one reason -- he would meet his future wife, Paula, in that group.

Jan Crumb was not the only Vietnam veteran in attendance at what was being called the Fifth Avenue Peace Parade. Prior to the event, a group of less than a dozen vets had gone to the Peace Parade Committee's office to announce that they would like to be featured prominently in the march. When asked their affiliation, they had answered simply that they were "Vietnam veterans against the war." Some worker in the office who had a good sense for publicity immediately made them up a banner with their phrase in bold letters, as if it were a title. (2. Interviews: JBC, 1; BR, 1.)

The demonstration was starting off in Central Park, and when Crumb arrived there, he heard someone say, "Vietnam veterans to the front." So Crumb said goodbye to his friends and walked toward a large contingent of older veterans wearing blue overseas caps that read veterans for peace.

At the head of that group was a handful of guys his own age, six of whom were in the lead with the long vietnam veterans against the war! banner. Behind these Vietnam vets was a scattering of their wives and children.

Crumb did not know any of the Vietnam vets, but he took his place among them, at the very front of the parade. In those days, a lot of people in the country were still furious about antiwar protesters, and Crumb worried that there might be snipers lying in wait for them along the route -- or at the very least, counterdemonstrators. Sure enough, as the parade moved along, groups of construction workers began to hurl construction materials at the marchers. They did not throw anything at the veterans, however. He was relieved, but also intrigued by the immunity their military service had apparently earned them.

When the marchers reached the United Nations, the group of Vietnam veterans disbanded. Curious about who their leader was, Crumb inquired among some of the older Veterans for Peace, who led him to a VFP meeting. There, Crumb learned that there was no group called Vietnam Veterans Against the War; that in fact the marchers who carried the banner had hoped that it would draw other Vietnam vets to join them -- which, except for the arrival of Crumb and possibly a couple of others, had not happened.

By this time, however, Jan Crumb was convinced that there were a sizable number of Vietnam veterans against the war, and that they should exist as a real organization. He took it upon himself to make that organization a reality.

Crumb began tracking down some of the Vietnam veterans who had marched in the April 7 Peace Parade, or who had come forward later to express their interest, and by Memorial Day he had gathered a group of about ten men. This small group went to Washington for a Memorial Day peace demonstration that had been organized by Veterans for Peace. Two days later, on June 1, 1967, six of those Vietnam veterans met in Crumb's New York apartment at 208 E. 7th Street on the Lower East Side. It was the same day the Six Day War in Israel began.

The meeting took place in Crumb's kitchen, and from the start there was dissension. One vet was Jewish, another had studied Arabic, and a fierce debate began about the merits of each side's cause in the Mideast conflict. Crumb was quick to perceive that they could not, and should not try to, agree on anything except the one issue that had brought them together -- the need to end the war in Vietnam.

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Vietnam Veterans Against the War History, Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975 Protest movements United States, Veterans United States Political activity History 20th century