Tag Archives: Vietnam War

David Miller Draft Card Burner

David Miller Draft Card Burner


David Miller was not the first person to burn his draft card in protest of US involvement in the Vietnam War, but his case became the most publicized.


As more and more people protested the war, various ways of demonstrating that protest began. When burning a draft card was first being done, it was not illegal to do so.


David Miller

David Miller Draft Card Burner
Eugene Keyes Draft Card Burner

For example, Eugene Keyes burned his draft card on Christmas Eve 1963. He used to flame to light a peace candle.  The same day, Selective Service mailed Keyes a notice to report for his physical examination. ( NYT article)


On May 12, 1964 twelve student publicly burned their draft cards in New York City.


On May 5, 1965, forty men burned their draft cards at the University of California, Berkeley and a coffin was marched to the Berkeley Draft Board.


On August 31, 1965, President Johnson signed a law making the burning of draft cards a federal offense subject to a five-year prison sentence and $1000 fine. [The constitutionality of the federal law was upheld by the US Supreme Court in US v. O’Brien (May 27, 1968)]


On October 15, 1965, David Miller, a Catholic pacifist,  publicly burned his draft card. Three days later, the FBI arrested him. In its November 5 issue, Time magazine described the action of Miller and other draft card burners as “a post-adolescent craze.”


Miller responded to that description from the Onondaga County Penitentiary. [note the term Vietniks]


David Miller Draft Card Burner
Nov. 26, 1965, Vol. 86, No. 22

 


Union Square burnings
David Miller Draft Card Burner
Photo by Neil Haworth, courtesy of War Resisters League
Draft-card burners in 1965 at the Union Square Pavilion, from left, Tom Cornell, Marc Edelman, Roy Lisker, David McReynolds and Jim Wilson. Dutch-born clergyman and activist A.J. Muste is at right in hat and topcoat.

Miller’s arrest did not stop the draft card burning. For example, on November 6, 1965 in Union Square, NYC, Thomas Cornell (teacher) Marc Edelman (cabinetmaker), Roy Lisker (novelist and teacher), and James Watson (on staff of Catholic Worker Pacifist Movement) burned their draft cards. (2015 Villager article)


On December 21, the four were indicted.


David Miller Draft Card Burner

David Miller


On February 10, 1966 a jury convicted David Miller of burning his draft card, A judge sentenced him to three years in prison.


As an example of how divisive the war in general and draft card burning became, on March 31, 1966, high school boys punched and kicked seven anti-Vietnam demonstrators on the steps of the South Boston District Court House after four of the protesters had burned their Selective Service cards. With shouts of “Kill them, shoot them,” about 50 to75 high school boys charged the steps and knocked the demonstrators to the ground as a crowd of 200 watched. David O’Brien, 19, was one of the card burners. On July 1, O’Brien was sentenced to a Federal Youth Correctional Center for an indefinite term.


David Miller Draft Card Burner

Judicial process


On October 13, 1966, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld Miller’s conviction. It held that Congress had the right to enact a law against destroying a draft card so long as it did not infringe on a constitutional right.


The NY Civil Liberties Union challenged the constitutionality of law prohibiting draft card burning on December 12, 1966. The appeal charged that the law was an unconstitutional abridgment of the freedom of expression guaranteed by the First Amendment and its purpose is to suppress dissent.


The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held unconstitutional the amendment to the Selective Service Act that forbade the burning of draft cards on April 10, 1967.


On May 27, 1968, in United States v. O’Brien in a 7 – 1 opinion, the Supreme Court upheld the 1965 law that made it a crime to burn or otherwise destroy or mutilate a draft card. Chief Justice Warren, writing the majority opinion, rejected the lower court’s contention that draft card burning was “symbolic speech” and that Congress was forbidden by the First Amendment’s free-speech guarantees to outlaw it. (Oyez article)


David Miller Draft Card Burner

David Miller Draft Card Burner


Miller later wrote I Didn’t Know God Made Honky-Tonk Communists.  Here is a link to an excerpt from the Reclaiming Quarterly site. 


David Miller Draft Card Burner
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1968 Vietnam War Turning Point

1968 Vietnam War Turning Point


1960s Potpourri 

The 1960s:  sexual revolution, LSD, civil rights, black nationalism, feminism, political unrest, assassinations, the Great Society, and Vietnam come to mind with a magical mystery tour soundtrack played by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin,and Jimi Hendrix.


1968

And if one had to pick one year of that tumultuous decade that was “more” 1960s than any other, 1968 would be a prime candidate.


And if Vietnam was the decade’s salient feature, 1968 was a year that many Americans decided that the war was a waste of life and limb.


January 26, 1968
Light at the end of the tunnel (again)

On January 26, 1968 in Time Magazine, General Westmoreland said, “the Communists seem to have run temporarily out of steam.” The government had convinced us that the number of enemy killed, not the gaining and holding of territory, determined success. Such a policy had led to generals inflating the number of enemy killed even including civilians killed as the by-product of battles.


Three days later, the nation that heralded and commemorated George Washington’s Christmas night crossing of the Delaware River and sneak attack on the Hessian troops barracked in Trenton, was angered when the North Vietnamese and Vietcong launched the surprise Tet Offensive.


The US and South Vietnamese forces defeated the attacks which did not spark the popular uprising the North had  hoped, but back home in the USA those confident military reports of a weakened enemy became highly questionable.


The Battle of Hue during the Tet Offensive typified this turning point. While the American and South Vietnamese forces defeated the Communist forces,  the Pyrrhic victory cost the Allied victors 668 dead and 3,707 wounded . (NYT book review of  HUE 1968,  A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam by Mark Bowden)


On February 27, 1968, well-respected CBS News anchor  Walter Cronkite editorialized that “...it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out [of the war] then will to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.”


On March 31, 1968, President Johnson announced that he would not run for a second term. (NYT retrospective article) (full text of LBJ’s announcement)


1968 Vietnam War Turning Point


December 31, 1968:  the bloodiest year of the war came to an end. 536,000 American servicemen were stationed in Vietnam, an increase of over 50,000 from 1967.


Estimates from Headquarters U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam indicated that US and Vietnamese forces had killed 181,150 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese during 1968.


However, Allied losses were also up: 27,915 South Vietnamese, 14,584 Americans (a 56 percent increase over 1967), and 979 South Koreans, Australians, New Zealanders, and Thais were reported killed during 1968.


Since January 1961, more than 31,000 U.S. servicemen had been killed in Vietnam and over 200,000 U.S. personnel had been wounded.


The war that year had cost $77 billion (1968) dollars–$542 billion today!


In 2017, American troops strength in Afghanistan was approximately 11,000 and 11 Americans had died there that same year. We had spent approximately $5.7 billion.


1968 Vietnam War Turning Point
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Cryptologic Hero James T Davis

Cryptologic Hero James T Davis


James T Davis, Tom to his friends, was the first American battlefield fatality in Vietnam. He was killed on December 22, 1961. He was 25 years old.


Cryptologic Hero James T Davis
Cryptologist James T Davis in the field

In 1961, the word Vietnam in 1961 meant nothing to most Americans. Only government officials involved in the deployment of American forces, the families of those forces, and  the very few media reporters assigned to the story could find it on a map.


Davis was in the 3rd Radio Research Unit. It used electronics to pinpoint the enemy’s location. The Vietnamese terrain made that job difficult and cryptologists had to get in close.

Cryptologic Hero James T Davis
Davis with fellow Vietnamese soldiers

Traveling in country, a landmine struck the truck Davis was in.  Davis and the other Vietnamese soldiers with him fought the following attack, but all died. (for a fuller explanation of Davis’s job See The Story of a Cryptologic Hero for a fuller explanation of Davis’s job and his death)


Cryptologic Hero James T Davis
Following his death, the base was renamed in his honor

 


In 2009, Billy Petross, a friend of Tom wrote: I first met James Davis when we were in school at Tennessee Tech. During the short time that I had the honor of knowing James we became very close friends. James was an avid fisherman and we spent many hours together on the Dale Hollow lake near his home in Livingston. He was a quite and unassuming person. I met James’ mother at their home in Livingston. She was a wonderful person. I recall that once she fixed a steak dinner for us after one of our fishing trips. I was aware that James dropped out of college and joined the army because I recall trying to persuade him to stay in college. The last time I saw James was once after he joined the army he came back to the Tech campus while on leave. I never saw him after that. The next time I heard anything about James was an article in the Orange County Register in California about a James Davis from Livingston, TN who was the first soldier killed in action in Vietnam. He was a good friend. Billy Pettross  June 3, 2009 


Other comments about James T Davis from The Wall site)

Cryptologic Hero James T Davis

Cryptologic Hero James T Davis
Grave site of Davis

James T Davis’s name appears on Panel 1E, Row 4 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.


Cryptologic Hero James T Davis


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