This picture was taken on August 12, 1972 on the porch of the old house, the house you grew up in. Those are your parents standing behind me. What I am doing is burning my draft card on my 35th birthday. It was a cowardly and silly gesture but the reason I burned it on this day was because, legally, a person was required to carry the draft card until the age of 35. It was silly because the card was useless anyhow. When I was 22 years old I was required to take the physical for the army and I flunked it because of a heart murmur I did not know about and thus I was classified as "4F", unsuitable for military service. This may be the only 4F card ever burned.
They do not know just how unsuitable I was. My opposition to the Vietnam war began in 1963 when JFK was president and the CIA and American "advisers" were supporting a Catholic government in that Buddhist country. Through the Johnson years as the war escalated there came to be more people to agree with me that we should just get out! Then came the perfectly awful year of 1968 with the assassinations and riots and worse of all - Nixon and Agnew were elected with a "secret plan to end the war". I signed petitions and went to anti-war rallies, marches and demonstrations. I always walked out or disassociated myself from any demonstration which turned violent. The most infuriating thing to me was the irresponsible actions of the people who were on my side. I did not want to tear anything down or support the Vietcong. I still just wanted America to get out!
To the best of my knowledge, my picture never appeared in the paper or on television. You might be interested to know that I had a strategy to avoid that from happening. When I marched in a demonstration I always wore a suit and tie and looked my best. The camera-men always flocked toward the hippiest or sloppiest appearing persons avoiding me altogether. One moment stands out in my mind. We were marching in downtown Salt Lake City and handing out leaflets. This little old lady took one of the leaflets, wadded it up and threw it toward me, looked me right in the eye and said "communist!". I do not remember what my reaction was but the event illustrates just how far apart people can be when they each think that they are doing what is best for their country.
By the time of the Kent State disaster, most college campuses were bastions of opposition to the war. I, with a handful of other professors was supporting the student anti-war movement at the University of Utah. Those of us who were not tenured took a special risk. Sure enough, the tenure vote went against me and we left Salt Lake City in August 1971 after Diane finished her PhD. After a year in Austin, we took jobs in this area. I taught at Tuskegee for a year and then I was unemployed and this is when we moved into the old house and this picture was taken. Nixon was on the verge of reelection having no trouble defeating an opponent who simply wanted to get the US out of Vietnam. Agnew was calling me a nagging nabob of negativism. I always loved to take Mr. Agnew's insults personally. I was later to have a name for him - "convicted felon". Meanwhile Nixon's people were breaking into offices of the head of the Democratic party and doing the many other things we were later to hear about under the heading of "Watergate".
Well, you know how it turned out about two years after Diane took my picture on the front porch that day. Nixon resigned and Ford took over. Henry Kissinger finally worked out the ransom of the hostages and all the right words had been invented such as "Vietnamization" to make it appear that America was not just getting out of Vietnam. My cynicism reached new lows when Mr. Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The person who really got us out of Vietnam was the first American grunt who fragged his commanding officer in order to avoid going into combat. Of course a case could be made that it was the Vietcong who got us out. They won, after all.
I was home by myself watching the TV news in 1974 in the old house when the US got out of Vietnam. They showed the pictures of people running for their lives, clinging to the helicopters at the US embassy in Saigon as the Vietcong approached. As a side issue to the main story, it was reported that two airplane loads of orphans were being flown out of Saigon to the US. One of the planes went down shortly after takeoff and all onboard were lost. I cried. I sat by myself in the old house and I let it all go. I do not feel any less of a man to admit this. We were out of Vietnam and everything I am telling you and much more all came rushing back. A few years later we visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. I placed a copy of a United Nations petition at the foot of the monument. The petition expressed world-wide opposition to American presence in Southeast Asia. It was my personal copy and I had carried it in my pocket for about ten years. We watched the people at the monument searching for and finding the names of their loved ones on the wall and crying. So did I, again.
I am sorry if this little chronicle sounds self serving. It is intended to be an outline of the way I remembered it and related to it all. I have heard plenty of other versions. This is mine, dammit. I am glad that you wanted the picture and that it inspired me to sit down and write this.
Christmas 1995, Opelika, Al