We are moving to a smaller house and I’m deciding what not to bring. A drawer in a file cabinet contains leaflets and newspapers from the Vietnam War era. These are destined for a library and I’m taking a last look.
Under A there are copies of Aboveground from Fort Carson, A Four-Year Bummer from Chanute Air Force Base, All Hands Abandon Ship from the Newport Navy Base, and The Ally, published by peaceniks in Berkeley for distribution to military personnel.
The earliest of these “GI papers” were leaflets, mimeographed or photocopied. Here’s the simplest in my file:
A Four Year Bummer was produced by photocopying two sheets of 11 x17 paper and folding them in half to make an 8-pager. There’s a reminder under the banner: “This is your ‘personal property’ it cannot be legally taken from you for any reason.” AFB was circulated at Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois, where thousands of airmen were trained in the 60s and early 70s. A piece by “AFB’s Roving Reporter” contained some real nitty-gritty news. Blacks in the 3370th Student Squadron used to “frequent the airman’s club on Friday nights. Knowing this, their commander placed all the Blacks he could on ‘C Shift’ so they were restricted to the squadron area...” There’s an ad for the Red Herring Coffee House in Urbana, and one for Dimensions, a “psychedelic discotheque” in Pekin.
All Hands Abandon Ship, “written by and for sailors at the Newport Navy Base,” was also photocopied on 11 x 17 paper and folded to make an 8-pager. The front page of the August 1970 issue features a Ron Cobb cartoon and a Frank Cieciorka fist. There’s a plaintive “Letter from a Navy Wife” and a warning about pollution of Narragansett Bay. Also, a heavy piece called “Right on to the Brothers Who Fight the Real Enemy.” It begins, “How does it feel, Lt. Comdr. McGourney? Somebody in your crew must not dig the USN. Think of it, a whole tug, the valiant Lusieno, put out of operation for three days by somebody with a chipping hammer. The people do have the power, you see.
“A man with a chipping hammer can really mess up all those delicate electronic components. And that poor commutator drum. None of it really works too well with big holes in it… And how about you, Cmdr. Foss of the USS Cromwell? Are your left feet (sic) getting wet and cold? After all, it must be a little uncomfortable with your left shoes having been given the float test. But really, holding liberty for 48 hours is a bit harsh for a little practical joke, don’t you think?”
All Hands… contained ads for the Potemkin Bookstore in Newport, R.I., and a military counseling service called the Legal In Service Project in Cambridge, Mass.
Aboveground was edited by soldiers from Fort Carson and published (photocopied) in Colorado Springs. A piece signed ‘Gringo’ begins, “I spent a tour in Vietnam as an infantryman. I was wounded five times. One of my feelings about my tour is that it is not human or moral to go into a country belonging to other people and hunt down men and kill them because they want their country united. The people of Vietnam are not fighting for the Communists or against them. They are only trying to make their country one again.”
The fourth paper on my A-list, the Ally, is a tabloid printed at Waller Press in Berkeley that defines itself as “a newspaper for servicemen.” The front page of the November 1969 issue declares in large type “Lifers dig war… It makes them rich.” This is a slander and an absurdity — the term “lifers” refers to the sergeants and other non-commissioned officers who made up the working-class of the Army.
The ensuing story states that “William Wooldridge, the former sergeant major of the army, and Major General Carl C. Turner, former provost marshal of the Army, and other lifers and brass have been robbing the EM [Enlisted Men] and covering it up for years. They got kickbacks on everything they purchased for the EM clubs they ran…” An accurate headline would have been “Crooks Dig War.”
A lifer is a prisoner with no possibility of parole. “Lifer” is a word with sad overtones that civil servants have long used to describe their intention to stay on the job for however many years it takes to earn a pension. During the US war in Vietnam there was an inevitable tension between the NCOs who had made the Army their career and the drafted civilians who resented having their lives disrupted and endangered. But the war didn’t make the lifers rich, and they died at a higher rate than the draftees.