Home To War: A History Of The Vietnam Veterans' Movement

Home To War: A History Of The Vietnam Veterans' Movement

by Gerald Nicosia


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A Los Angeles Times Best Books of the Year Selection
A San Francisco Chronicle Bestseller

An epic narrative that chronicles the experience of America’s Vietnam veterans.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780609809068
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/19/2002
Pages: 704
Product dimensions: 6.60(w) x 8.76(h) x 1.92(d)

Read an Excerpt

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 beforgotten.

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.

Table of Contents

Prologue 1
Chapter 1
Coming Up with a Politics: Vietnam Veterans Against the War
1. Six Vets and a Banner
2. Tear Gas, Clubs, and Confetti: The Chicago Blues
3. Changing Directions
4. The GI Movement
5. Enter Al Hubbard

Chapter 2
Shared Nightmares: From Operation RAW to the Winter Soldier Investigation
1. On the Road to Valley Forge
2. A Spokesman Emerges: "Lincoln and Kennedy Combined"
3. War Crimes Testimony: Fonda, Lane, and "Brands of Swiss Cheese"
4. Breaking Down in Detroit: "I Didn't Know What Was Going On"
5. The World Begins to Listen

Chapter 3
A Limited Incursion into the Country of Congress: Dewey Canyon III
1. Preparing for the Assault
2. Shut Out at Arlington: The Crazy and the Dead
3. Outlaws on the Mall
4. Democracy in Action: Playing It for the Media
5. The Return of Medals: Forgiving the Living and Making Peace with the Dead
6. Aftershocks 144
7. Nixon Hits Back, and the POW Movement Is Born

Chapter 4
Invisible Wounds: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
1. The Rap Groups: An Intuitive Sort of Trust
2. A Crisis of Identity: Lifton and Shatan "Join the Veterans' Club"
3. Sarah Haley Starts a Revolution in Boston: "When the Patient Reports Atrocities"
4. A Community of Healing Forms: The First National Conference in St. Louis, 1973
5. Turning the Psychiatric Guns Around: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Gets Recognized

Chapter 5
Trampling on the Bill of Rights: The Gainesville Conspiracy
1. Winning Battlesand Losing the War: From Operation Heart of America to Operation Peace on Earth
2. Caught Between the Maoists and the Police: The Winter Soldier Organization
3. The Government Indicts the Veterans' Movement
4. Kovic Confronts the Florida National Guard: A Call to Revolution
5. The Battle of Miami Beach 240
6. One Stressed-Out Agent Provocateur and a Roomful of Macho Vets
7. Peace with Honor; Heroes Dishonored
8. "Innuendo and Supposition," and FBI Agents with Earphones
9. "Is Perjury Part of a Prosecutor's Duty?"
10. Winners with a Broken Back

Chapter 6
Unfinished Business: The War Against the VA
1. John Musgrave and the Walking Dead, USMC
2. The Men Who Got Left Behind 293
3. "Bad Paper" and "A Friend in the White House"
4. Vietnam Veterans Day Without the Veterans, and a VA Chief Too Busy for His Clients
5. Dewey Canyon IV: Defeat in Washington
6. Kovic Meets Unger: The Patients'/Workers' Rights Committee in Long Beach 315
7. The American Veterans Movement
8. Two "Motherfuckers," Two "Godfathers," and the Dream of "A Fair Shake" for Veterans
9. The Second American Veterans' Bonus March
10. A Tutorial in the VA Administrator's Office — Complete with Hammer and Nails
11. Universal and Hypocritical Amnesty

Chapter 7
Too Little Too Late: Operation Outreach
1. Two New Champions Enter the Fray: Max Cleland and Stuart Feldman
2. A New GI Bill over Danishes and Coffee, and Muller and Kovic Part Company
3. Fighting Back: Muller Takes On the Whole Government, and Dave Christian Takes On Jimmy Carter
4. Frank McCarthy Springs a Series of Ambushes, and Another Vietnam Veteran Leader Goes Down

Chapter 8
An Indictment of the System: The Wadsworth Strike
1. The Hostages Are Welcomed Back, and Ronald Reagan Takes Aim at the Vet Centers
2. Jim Hopkins: A Marine Twice Betrayed
3. From Protest to Circus: Meshad and Muller Battle Kovic and Bitzer
4. Tents in Lafayette Park: The Hunger Strike Moves to Washington
5. The Cost of a 10-Second Jeep Ride: "This Protest Isn't Over"

Chapter 9
The Specter of Chemical Warfare: Agent Orange
1. Victor Yannacone Takes On "A Walking Wounded, Sick, and Dying Army" 434
2. "Breaking Balloons": The Filing of the Class Action Lawsuit and the Birth of "The Cause"
3. An Eight-Year-Old Stick of Dynamite Cracks the Government's Armor
4. The VA's Agent Orange Exam and Other Smoke Screens 456
5. The California State Hearings: The Politics of Science and the Manipulation of Certainty
6. The Ranch Hand Study and the Work of Dr. Ton That Tung
7. "Keeping the Door to the Courthouse Open": Yannacone & Associates Win Several Victories
8. The "Smoking Gun" Is Found, and Vietnam Vets Get An Image Upgrade
9. VVA Returns to Take On Agent Orange, Negotiations Falter, and a Plot Takes Root to Unseat Yannacone
10. Yannacone Goes Out, Judge Weinstein Comes In, and the Race to Trial Begins
Chapter 10
Decade of Betrayal: The Vet Centers in the Eighties
1. Horses Get Traded, and the Readjustment Counseling Program Gets Up and Running
2. "A Conflicted Program": Crawford and Meshad Go Head to Head
3. The Push Toward Medical Credentials: Crawford Gets Shot Down, and Art Blank Steps into His Shoes
4. The Vet Centers in Crisis: Body Count, Fleeing Counselors, and a Silent Director
5. Blank Starts Bringing in the Centers, and Meshad and Blank Go to War
6. The Waller Street Vet Center: "They Just Didn't Know How Far We'd Take It"
7. "Promises to Dead Men": The Power to Heal

Chapter 11
The Price of War: Settlement of the Class Action Lawsuit and "One Small Step Toward Resolution"
1. Relentless Persuasion and the Biggest Fizzle — Out in the History of Tort Law
2. Weinstein's Fairness Hearings: "I Believe You're Naive, Your Honor"
3. Everyone Gets Paid, Except for Most of the Veterans
4. Dennis Rhoades Puts On His Blue Jeans, and More Than 100,000 Families Get Help
5. New Studies Incriminate Agent Orange, and the Reagan White House Undertakes Damage Control
6. "The Curses of Witches and Warlocks": The VA Tips the Scales, Then Admiral Zumwalt Cuts the Knot
7. A New Standard for Veterans Is Created . . . by a New War
8. A New Generation of Veterans Learns from the Unfinished Business of the Last One
The Long View of History: An Epilogue


Exclusive Author Essay
I wrote Home to War out of my love and admiration for Vietnam veterans, almost all of whom were acting out of their own conscience in going to the war in Vietnam, just as I was acting out of my conscience in refusing to go. Whether to save a democratic nation, to do right by their parents or church or community, or just because agreeing to serve made them feel at one with their own country, they all went with a heartfelt belief that they were doing the right thing. Often what they encountered in Vietnam in the first few days or weeks changed their mind, made them see that the war was an awful mistake, and a tragedy for both our nations. But the greatness of these people is that they did not give up, despair, or spend the rest of their life in angry cynicism over such betrayal, and the very real loss of human life and sometimes devastating loss to their own body -- like Ron Kovic, who could never feel anything again from his mid-chest down, never walk again, make love, or father children.

These people, the veterans, men and women, turned hurt around in the most noble way I have ever seen it transformed. They made it into their constant companion, not as a burden or an inner voice prophesying doom but as a star of enlightenment, guidance, and perennial compassion, which they could rely upon to never forsake them in the remainder of their life's journey, and which brought them as close to true peace as any guru on a mountaintop. That is a remarkable thing of which I never tire of reminding myself when my own life seems lost and overburdened. And that, truly, is the irreplaceable gift that the veterans gave to me.

I remember Jack McCloskey, that short, feisty fireplug of a man, in the summer of 1995, when his heart was giving out, after a heart attack, a pacemaker, and his refusal to give up Philly cheese steaks, cigarettes, and beer. Like so many Vietnam vets, he had learned to be glad just to get through one day at a time, and he couldn't forsake those precious props that helped him get through and function -- even though he knew they might be shortening his life overall. But mainly he wanted to be able to serve, to keep serving. He asked me who I knew who needed help, and I told him about my friend Jan Kerouac, Jack Kerouac's daughter, who was dying of kidney failure at that time and who couldn't do even the simplest daily chores any more -- like going through the day's mail and messages or shopping for groceries and medicines.

Jack, who didn't have a car, offered to ride the bus up to her house in San Anselmo from San Francisco -- about 25 miles -- once a week to assist her. I was worried about the toll that would take on his own health, but he said, "If I'm not helping people, I don't feel like life is worth living." This man, as a medic in Vietnam, had seen some of the worst horrors imaginable. "Giving to others," he told me, "is what has kept me alive this long."

In Home to War, I hope to pass along the wisdom of such people to new generations. (Gerald Nicosia)

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Home To War: A History Of The Vietnam Veterans' Movement 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
For those of us who came of age during the Vietnam era, this book vividly recalls the heady temper of the times, as well as the manifest ways in which the gruesome everyday reality of the war in Vietnam affected everyone in the society. It is difficult today to try to explain to younger readers how deeply the issue of the war divided the country internally, or how it acted to continually tighten the vise of political differences around the neck of the majority of our citizens. In this sense, it is hard to overestimate the impact the war had on everyone living in the United States during the sixties and early seventies, and the narrative in this book emphasizes just how profound the action of a number of Vietnam veterans was in framing that impact. Unlike those of us ex-servicemen who were already involved in the anti-war movement in our new identity as college undergraduate students, the organized Vietnam veteran movement against the war didn't really gain impetus until the very late sixties, and then only as a result of the frustration the vets experienced regarding the senseless continuation of obvious failed policies even after anyone with an intact brain could see it was leading us nowhere. The veterans only became involved as it became obvious something new had to be injected into the ongoing national debate regarding the progress of the war. Of course, once they did become seriously involved, the whole tenor of the debate changed profoundly. No one could counter the reality they alone had experienced, and the degree of authenticity they brought to the national forefront was undeniable. Still, it took a number of years and ceaseless efforts and endless head-bashes at the hands of police, national guardsmen, and reactionary hardhats to accomplish the final result of ending the war, and even then the war it was executed by the Nixon administration left agonizing doubts regarding the fate of hundreds of POWS and MIAs rumored to have been left behind. Moreover, the national government has never fully addressed the bevy of important related issues raised with such urgency by the Vietnam veterans groups. It took more than a decade to get any concessions regarding the consequences of Agent Orange and the government's responsibility for them, or to get any action at all to improve care even minimally in the warren of rat-holes otherwise referred to as the Veteran's Administration (VA) hospitals. Even today, some thirty years later, the medical care proffered in the VA hospitals is often substandard and inadequate, and in no ways meets the demonstrated needs of the vets. In this sense, it continues, in my opinion, to be a national disgrace. This book represents a brilliant attempt to re-acquaint the reader with the events and personalities of the times, and does a wonderful job in detailing the specifics of the ways ion which the issues rose, of how the strategies and techniques of effectively demonstrating the evidence of what was happening in Vietnam as well as what the social, economic, and political consequences of our involvement were. The author has opened up a virtual can of worms that illustrate how vulnerable and insubstantial the neo-conservative interpretations of the Vietnam war and the events of the sixties are, by offering a plethora of proof that flatly contradicts all these neat, tidy, and sanitized versions depicting our wretched involvement in Vietnam as some trumped-up moral crusade for democracy, with some authors like Michael Lind going so far as to refer to as it being the "necessary war". Unlike that sad solipsistic effort, this is a terrific book, and one I can highly recommend. Enjoy!
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a two tour Vet 11B2P on my first one I found Gerry's book both disturbing and compelling. I joined VVAW, while on my 2nt tour with the !st Avation Brigade, in response to the Flag Draped Coffin Ad in Playboy no explanations needed. The only flault I could find was, a slong as the book is there is more to me told but all in all it's a masterful piece of work well researched and told with no punches pulled. If the stroy appears one sided it only reflects reality, like it or not! The brutal truth can be ugly and Viet Nam was an ugly nasty war especialy for the Viets whos counrty was invaded bombed and poisoned. For the grunts it was little better.