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Fred Halstead

Antiwar GIs Speak

Interviews with Fort Jackson GIs United Against the War

(July 1969)

From International Socialist Review, Vol.30 No.4 (Whole No.193), July-August 1969, pp.1-47.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

When charges were dropped against the last three of the Fort Jackson Eight, I happened to be at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, doing a story on the attempt by Private Joe Miles to pass out the Bill of Rights on base. I drove the hundred or so miles to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and got there in time to greet Privates Andrew Pulley, Jose Rudder and Joe Cole on their first evening off base after sixty-one days in the stockade.

I got an interview with them that night, May 22, and the following night I interviewed Tommie Woodfin, another of the Fort Jackson Eight. The next weekend I got the interview with Joe Miles which is the third interview printed here. These three interviews tell the story of how GIs United Against the War in Vietnam got started.

I had known Joe Miles before he was drafted into the Army in 1968. He was an activist in the antiwar movement and the movement among black students in Washington, D.C. and he was a member of the Young Socialist Alliance. Joe Cole was also a YSA member before being drafted, but I didn’t happen to know him then. When Miles received his induction notice he wrote the authorities about his political and antiwar views and his intention to continue to exercise his rights as a citizen to express these views after induction. They drafted him anyway and ever since he has been doing just what he said he would do: obeying orders and regulations and at the same time using every legal opportunity to express his views and organize support for them.

In early January, 1969, Miles was sent to Fort Jackson where he was assigned to B Company, 14th Battalion, 4th Brigade to attend the supply school. He spent only six weeks at Fort Jackson before the brass gave him three hours to clear base and sent him to Fort Bragg. In these few weeks, together with other GIs he met at Jackson, Miles organized GIs United Against the War in Vietnam. It was a meeting of this group, which took place after Miles had left Jackson, that resulted in the now famous case of the Fort Jackson Eight.

The bare outlines of the case are as follows: On March 20, 1969, a large spontaneous antiwar meeting was held outside the barracks of B-14-4. Within a few days, nine GIs who had been active in GIs United were picked up and confined – some in the stockade and some under barracks arrest – under charges stemming from the meeting. The charges included disrespect, holding an illegal demonstration and disobeying an order.

A vigorous publicity and legal defense campaign was launched by the GI Civil Liberties Defense Committee. In the course of this defense one of the nine, John Huffman, was revealed by the Army to be an informer. Under pressure of the publicity and top-notch legal defense work by a team of lawyers including Leonard B. Boudin, the Army finally dropped these charges against all eight of the defendants. The legal ramifications of the case are still very much alive since suits have been filed, both at Fort Jackson and Fort Bragg, to stop the Army from interfering with the civil liberties of GIs.

The Fort Jackson Eight were: Private Edilberto Chapparro, 17, of New York City; Private Dominick Buddie, 17, of New York City; Private First Class Curtis E. Mays, 23, of Kansas City; Private Delmar Thomas, 22, of Cleveland; Private Tommie Woodfin, 20, of Brooklyn; Private Andrew Pulley, 18, of Cleveland; Private Joseph Cole, 24, of Atlanta; and Private Jose Rudder, 20, of Washington, D.C.

Three have been given undesirable discharges from the Army: Chapparro, Thomas and Pulley. Woodfin, Cole and Rudder are now being processed for administrative discharges. A fight is also planned against the undesirable discharges.

Miles was not one of the Fort Jackson Eight since he had already been transferred to Fort Bragg. He is not being processed for discharge and has so far spent no time in the stockade, though he has been harassed almost continuously by transfers, restrictions, and threats of court martial on trumped-up charges.

When I met him last month at Fort Bragg it was after hours and he had changed into his civilian clothes. He was sporting a large “Viva Che” button on his shirt and making telephone calls to newspapers (collect, and the charges were accepted) to announce the latest developments in the struggle by GIs at Fort Bragg to exercise their rights to speak out against the war. His latest problem is that the Army has put him on a one-man levy to one of the most remote posts in its far-flung empire – a station two hundred miles north of Fairbanks, Alaska, above the Arctic Circle.

June 18, 1969

Andrew Pulley, José Rudder and Joe Cole

Halstead: Who brought you the news that you were going out of the stockade?

Rudder: Michael brought it to us [Attorney Michael Smith]. Everybody was very happy, jumping up and down singing.

Halstead: What did the guards say?

Pulley: They thought it was splendid.

Rudder: Most of the guards we had were very sympathetic and they were very happy. They congratulated us.

Halstead: And how about the other prisoners?

Rudder: A cheer went up in the cell block. We’d done our thing to the Army and everybody got very happy.

Halstead: So tonight you got off the base for the first time in over two months and had a nice steak dinner and a few beers and now tell us how it began that you started to exercise your rights to speak out against the war and so on.

Pulley: It started when Joe Miles suggested to some of us in the barracks at B-14-4 [B Company, 14th Battalion, 4th Brigade] that we listen to some Malcolm X tapes. It started as all black and Puerto Rican just listening to the tapes and talking about it afterward. The first night about fifteen GIs came. The second night it built up to thirty-five. We saw the momentum growing and the enthusiasm among the black GIs in the building to the tapes. Because Malcolm X laid his rap so clear and so plain that anyone could understand it, whether he was a racist or whether he was an Uncle Tom, he could dig what the man was talking about.

And listening to the Malcolm X tapes we took it this way: that not only were the black people oppressed but so were the Puerto Ricans, so were the poor whites, so were the Indians. We realized that the working class, period, was being oppressed and exploited by the ruling class. As GIs we were being oppressed and exploited more so than any other group of people in the country because we are asked to risk our lives for something we don’t believe in. And by realizing this we suggested that the meetings would be open to any person who dug what we dug.

We explained to the white GIs that if they wanted to come they had to accept black power, the demolishing of racism. They had to believe in equality and self-determination for all people, including black people, Puerto Ricans and the other minority peoples in the country. And the majority of all the people in the barracks, they agreed. It was not complicated to get over, you know. The younger generation is capable of seeing things that the older generation seldom sees. The first meeting that white GIs attended we had over eighty GIs. It was right outside the barracks.

Rudder: That day the first sergeant passed on the news that no more than eight people would be allowed to gather in the barracks together because of “URI season” [Upper Respiratory Infection]. This was actually an Army tactic to put a stop to the meetings. And despite the cold, it was the middle of January, eighty GIs showed up outside.

Halstead: What did you talk about at that meeting?

Rudder: Well, since this was the first meeting where white GIs were in attendance, we made it clear to the white GIs that in order to become active in this new GI struggle they would have to understand and accept our position as blacks and Puerto Ricans: that our commitment was to our people and our second commitment was, of course, to the struggle. But like we were first committed to instilling pride and integrity amongst the ranks of our brothers, and at the same time we were committing ourselves to the antiwar struggle and that as white GIs they would have to understand and accept this as white men, and they did.

Pulley: You see this threw the brass for a loop because they tried to isolate us. At first they passed all kinds of rumors and got white lifers [career officers] to pick fights with us, and one officer even told whites in his company to be prepared to be armed because there was some “black power Mau Mau” getting ready to attack them. But this first outside meeting knocked that out. We were all against the war, you know.

Halstead: Were you at the first meeting when whites attended Joe?

Cole: I was there. The meetings were tremendously impressive. There was profound respect. Although most of the people in the meetings, either white or black, had had no organizational experience, no one spoke out of turn. When anybody had anything to say, it was germane, to the point and profound. Even when there were disagreements, it was always “brother this” and “brother that.”

For example, since I was Permanent Party [attached to the base itself, not a trainee] and there’s a post regulation that prohibits Permanent Party from associating with trainees, and I had on a Permanent Party patch and insignia on my hat, when some sergeants from my company came by the meeting, some of the guys took my hat off and crowded around me so the sergeants wouldn’t see me. The automatic response of those guys at that meeting was just fantastic for me to see. Everything was just perfect. It was an experience I’ll always remember. And all the other meetings were just like that.

Halstead: What happened at the next meeting?

Rudder: At that point we were launching a “Support Rudy Bell” drive – Brother Bell from Fort Hood, one of the “Fort Hood 43,” was facing court martial. [1] We circulated a petition supporting him. At that meeting, also, the first inklings of a postwide petition drive were born. And at subsequent meetings this idea gained momentum and finally was launched into our very famous petition drive on post, where we petitioned the commanding general at Fort Jackson, Jimmy Hollingsworth – better known as the “Zap Zap” General [2] – to provide facilities for an open discussion on the legal and moral questions relating to the war in Vietnam.

Halstead: How did you get this petition around?

Pulley: We distributed it among the GIs who attended the meeting and other GIs who were interested in it. We not orily got signatures at the company but also at the school – the supply school – that we were attending.

Cole: What we did was organize truth squads to go out and spread the petitions around. The main vehicle was people like Jose and Pulley going around and talking to people. Others caught on to their example and started going around circulating petitions also. We circulated petitions in the mess halls, just anyplace GIs were, and the word got around all over the post. It kept leapfrogging and in two days’ time we had over two hundred signatures. After that, though, it got pretty hard because the whole company was restricted when the brass caught on.

Pulley: You know they’d have inspection to see whether your dress greens came to the second shoestring on your shoe. They invented all kinds of excuses to keep us restricted. Once we had a mandatory basketball game during off-duty hours to prevent us from circulating the petition.

One mistake we made: There were a lot of copies of the petition out that we had no way of getting back when we were restricted. We had forgot to put an address on the copies’ so guys could just send them in through the mail.

The brass knew when we planned to turn in the petitions, of course, because we notified the press, the radio stations and all, and of course they’d have known anyway, through Huffman [an Army spy who attended the meetings until he was exposed later]. The thing is we wanted as much publicity as possible because it was no secret what we were doing, exercising our rights as citizens.

Rudder: The most common reaction of GIs was they would sign. Huffman even testified later that two out of three of those approached signed. The problem with those who wouldn’t sign was mostly intimidation. They were afraid they’d get in trouble, go to jail, or something. We explained that the right to petition was a constitutional right.

Pulley: A good eighty or ninety percent were antiwar. But there were some afraid. And one GI who signed was given a direct order to remove his name, which he did. The order was given by his commanding officer.

Rudder: That was the night we got arrested the first time. We were arrested by the MPs, taken to 12th Battalion Headquarters, lined up against the wall, had our ID cards taken and our petitions snatched out of our hands. MPs were all over the place. They didn’t charge us, though, just released us in the custody of our company commander.

Pulley: But we made affidavits about all these acts of interference with our rights. The first reaction by the brass to our petitioning was harassment. Like extensive KP. Jose and me were on KP almost steadily. This is something like a fifteen-hour-a-day job. And it’s tough to take day after day. And this continued up until the time we got arrested the last time.

I had this experience with one sergeant. I asked him if he wanted to read or sign the petition. He got all upset and hysterical and told me to get away from him as if I was some type of disease. I asked him why he wouldn’t even read it. He began to curse and call me names.

I told him he wouldn’t like people saying things like that about his mother. And he told me if I didn’t get away from around his troops he was going to hit me in the head with his M-14 weapon. So I told him I didn’t think he meant what he said, you know, because I’m within my rights under the Constitution. He finally got frustrated and marched his troops away.

He came back with his company commander, a captain. The captain took me in his office and told me to give him my petitions so he could burn them. And he told me that if he ever heard of me getting petitions signed in his company area he would “put my boot up your ass.” Those were his exact words. So I made up an affidavit about that too, and it was filed with the court suit.

Halstead: What was the reaction of the GIs to your taking harassment for petitioning? Did they think you were crazy for taking it, or did they admire you for it, or what?

Rudder: They thought it was about time somebody stood up.

Pulley: Well, you see, although we were being harassed, we fought back, constantly. This constant petitioning, and the constant meetings that we had – this was also a way of fighting back. They felt harassed themselves because they could not understand it, they could not fight it politically because they didn’t know nothing about politics.

Cole: One of the things that developed particularly in Company B-14. You couldn’t go into the company area without seeing the black power salute. This caught on around the post.

I remember when I used to drive around post on my job I’d see clusters of black GIs giving the fist to colonels and so forth. Their immediate response was to stop their car, get out and bring the GIs to attention and all that, but when they turned around the salute would continue.

The next big move on the brass’ part was to transfer Miles.

Rudder: On February 14 the first class in B-14-4 graduated from the supply school. Less than one hour after the class graduated Joe Miles was given three hours to get his stuff together and he was evicted from Fort Jackson and sent to Fort Bragg. This turned out to be a bad error by the brass because the movement started up at Fort Bragg.

We had some poor meetings right after Miles left, because it hurt us. Five or six guys were coming, that’s all, for the first few meetings after Miles was gone. Then after that, bang! Fifty guys showed up and then it was smooth sailing. Those fifty guys didn’t just come by themselves. Pulley and I had to do a lot of work. We went to each room and rapped and jived.

Halstead: What did you say?

Rudder: “Come out to the meeting. This meeting is yours, this organization belongs to us. This is our last chance to strike back at the brass for not only harassing us, but for killing us. It’s our life. Even though we’re in the Army and the Army’s taken our hair away, tried to dehumanize us in every way they can possibly think of doing, we’re going to show them that they can’t do it, can’t get away with it.”

Our policy statement, statement of aims which we distributed around then, helped a great deal in remobilizing GIs United.

Pulley: During the depressing days right after Miles left, the rap that I would mostly give to encourage the GIs, especially the brothers, to come to the meeting, was the fact that for so long we had been sitting down, you know, and just waiting on gradualism, waiting on the thing to cure itself rather than getting out and doing it ourselves. They understood it.

I would relate our parents to the struggle, that they were mostly Uncle Toms, didn’t do nothing, and that what they did was not persistent; that the times were changing now; that we’re the ones left to do it, because if we don’t capitalism and the Army and all the other enemies that we have will definitely destroy us, you know. People dug it and began to come back. But Miles’ transfer and our plan to present the petitions came about the same time, and for a while it was hard.

Cole: What we had planned to do after we’d notified the press and everyone, when we were going to present the petitions, was to fan out on post and have one hundred or one hundred and fifty GIs come to post headquarters. These were people we had contacted who’d agreed to do this. Then out of that we’d have a delegation march up to the headquarters and present the petition. The regulation on post says it you want to request a meeting that’s who you address your request to, the post commander, so we were just following regulations, being very legal.

But of course we couldn’t do that because B-14-4 was restricted and couldn’t get out to get the word to others all around the post. As soon as we announced we’d present the petition, the stuff hit the fan. MPs on post were mobilized. There were trucks with weapons stationed around the brigade area. Anyone coming into B-14-4 area was stopped and harassed. All guards were ordered to be on the lookout for anyone with petitions. Gates to the post were crawling with guards and those entering were questioned.

So, we decided to do it another time. But the next Monday, March 3, B-14-4 was again on restriction and it was announced at formation that it would be on restriction all week.

Halstead: What was the result of this on the GIs around the base?

Cole: They began to see that the Army not only was going about perpetrating a bad war but it wouldn’t even allow them to talk about it and it couldn’t talk about it, itself – wouldn’t allow talk about it.

Pulley: Couldn’t explain it.

Cole: Right. Couldn’t explain it.

Halstead: With all this extra KP and restriction and so on, how could you talk to GIs?

Pulley: Well, one thing, every week there was a new class coming into the school we attended and into the company. And Jose and myself, and the rest of the GIs United, would get to them before the brass and give them the real truth about the war and the Army – the history of the war and so on. And they dug it. We recruited many GIs that way, including squad leaders, class leaders, the gung-ho types, you know, they were even involved in the meetings.

Halstead: How did you get the petition presented?

Cole: We decided we’d just have a delegation of two people who were not in B-14-4 and who weren’t under restriction that night. That was Steve Dash and myself.

March 3, Steve and I went up to post headquarters to present the petition about eight o’clock at night. There were alot of people there, plainclothesmen, top brass, newspapermen, and so on. The commanding general was there, but we weren’t allowed to present the petition. They read off a statement refusing to acknowledge it and gave us a direct order to go back to our barracks. We had to obey that order. We saluted and left.

In the meantime, of course, we had gotten lawyers and were ready to file suit against the harassment.

Pulley: The first thing you sign when entering the service is a pledge to protect the United States Constitution. And what better way can you protect the Constitution than by utilizing it? This is what we were doing. This is what we continued to do.

Halstead: What was the effect of this refusal on the GIs?

Cole: They thought they’d been robbed. And support for us mushroomed. We kept having meetings.

Halstead: All right. So you carried on these meetings, and the suit was filed and they hadn’t accepted the petition. Then what happened?

Rudder: What really set the brass off was that the Huntley-Brink ley TV News show sent a whole crew, complete with cameras, lights and reporters, the whole bit, to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, to interview GIs United Against the War in Vietnam. And this was on national television. It was the first time the whole country learned about GIs United, and the whole world, for that matter. Guys here on base got mail from their parents asking what was going on. It really got around and that must have worried the brass. It wasn’t but about four or five days later that we had our March 20 meeting where they swooped down upon us.

Halstead: What happened on March 20?

Rudder: Well, we were wrestling on the grass outside the barracks in the evening. It was a beautiful evening weatherwise and guys were hanging out the windows. I was in good spirits and I said, “This is a good time to rap to people.” So we started rapping. At first it was just a game, nobody thought it would develop into anything serious. We just started rapping about the war, about the Army, in a funny kind of way, cracking a few little jokes. But guys were listening and I began to get serious and Pulley got serious. And before we knew it we had a full-scale GIs United meeting going on except that this time there were maybe two hundred guys standing around, looking out the windows, coming in from the surrounding area.

Some officers and sergeants came by and told Pulley to tuck in his shirt and me to get a haircut and things like that, but no orders were given to disperse. The meeting just wound up eventually and we went back to the barracks. But that night some of us were put on restriction and the next day, four of us were put in the stockade, charged with having an “illegal demonstration,” disrespect and breach of the peace.

Halstead: What had you said at the meeting?

Pulley: 1 said the war in Vietnam and the Korean war were the result of capitalism and imperialism, that as long as we live under a capitalist system we must have imperialism and that we were going to have wars like Vietnam and Korea. And that the only way to be safe, is to get rid of it. People dug it.

Rudder: My rap was basically about the war. I remember saying about the life insurance GIs get if they are killed, $10,000 to a relative. I’d say, “Do you think $10,000 is what you’re worth?” And they’d shout “No!” And I’d say: “Do you think your wives and girl friends think that’s what you’re worth?” And they’d shout “No!”

Cole: I talked about Woodfin. He hadjust been acquitted in his court martial for circulating the petition. It was on a technicality, but it was a clear indication that the GIs had the right to petition. Actually this discussion we were having that night, there was something in the air. It was peaceful and no regulations were broken, but it was the GIs in the whole area challenging the situation.

Pulley: You don’t even have to break a regulation. All you have to do is utilize the Constitution. Like people say, if the truth were told in the Army for a certain time, the system would be destroyed because it’s actually just based on lies and hypocrisy.

Halstead: In the latest issue of Life magazine there’s an article on dissent in the armed forces, and one part is an interview with a Marine general who claims dissent can’t be allowed because it would interfere with military discipline and cause unnecessary deaths on the battlefield. What about that?

Cole: For one thing you can’t convince somebody to defend anything, to fight, to kill, to accept the possibility that he might be killed, unless he knows what he is fighting for. Guys would pack an M-16 and go out in the paddy in good discipline if there were a reason for them to do it. But there’s not. It doesn’t make any sense. Their enemy is not the Vietnamese peasant. Their enemy is those who send them out there. The colonel or general sits back in his goddamned bunker, his officer’s bunker, and doesn’t even let the enlisted man come into his bunker during a mortar attack when it’s the enlisted man who built that bunker.

Rudder: I want to speak from experience there.

Halstead: Have you been to Vietnam, in combat?

Rudder: Yes. In combat. In my experience the majority of GIs in Vietnam don’t like the war. They don’t know what they are fighting for. In previous wars in history they did – my father is a veteran of World War II, a lieutenant in the Marine Corps, and fought the same type of warfare that I did, jungle warfare in the Pacific. I used to ask him what it was like when he was pinned down. He said as a commander, first he was thinking about how to get his men positioned to strike back at the enemy, or how he as an individual soldier could strike back at the enemy. But in Vietnam that feeling isn’t shared by anybody except maybe a few lifers.

My feeling, and guys I talked to over there, our feeling was: What are we doing here to begin with? Why are we pinned down? Why are they shooting at us? Why are we here shooting at them? Why are we fighting this war? And you can’t come up with any answers. So the consequence is that the reason you fight is to simply stay alive.

Another thing, the terrific amount of commitment the VC had had a great impact upon my mind. One time two of my buddies and I went out on a small foray – the other two guys were both killed later – we came in contact with a small group of VC We engaged them and beat them pretty bad, using M-16s and hand grenades. Two of them got away and we followed them. They were wounded and we followed them for almost two miles and we came across parts of hands and parts of legs. You see the M-16 round travels end over end and when it makes contact it tears. So actually we had torn them to bits. We finally came across two corpses.

They could have surrendered, but they had crawled two miles to get away to fight us again. All of us were very quiet. Nobody said anything. It showed how senseless our fight was.

Halstead: OK. So the rest of your story is from inside the stockade.

Rudder: Yes. Except that when they were taking me away, a friend of mine in the barracks had a Dylan album and he had a song on, “The Times They Are A’Changing.” As I was packing and being walked away, that song was playing. The significance was lost, I guess, on the people who were taking me away but it wasn’t lost on the other guys, and it wasn’t lost on me.

Halstead: What was your feeling when you first went in. What did you think was going to happen?

Rudder: I was hoping I would get out within 30 days. Then again I had this horrible feeling I’d stay in for at least a year. I’ll never forget, Cole and I were in the same cell together for five weeks, just him and I. I’m glad too. I gave him hell, but I’m glad we were together. I had a lot of nightmare problems.

Halstead: When did you start getting nightmares?

Rudder: Since I was in Vietnam. It first started in Vietnam.

Anyway we were in the cell together. We were in what is known as Administrative Segregation, that is in cells all day long, not allowed outside our cells except for an hour a day for exercise – basketball. We complained about it to our lawyer, Michael Smith, who in turn complained to the correction officer at the stockade and he then ordered that prisoners in maximum custody be allowed outside the cell for two hours on weekdays and all afternoon Saturday and Sundays.

It was quite an improvement. It was great. The other prisoners attributed the sudden change in exercise time to us and they felt we had a lot of power. And in a way this was true, we did have a lot power even though we were in jail because of the brilliant defense campaign that was being conducted on the outside. The brass was scared of us, but at the same time everybody inside the stockade benefited from it. The guys would tell us, “This is a whole new type of cell block now that you’re here.” “I wish I had a lawyer like you’ve got coming to see you every day,” and things like that.

Halstead: Did you hear about the actions taking place outside, the publicity this was getting, and so on?

Pulley: Right. Mike, the lawyer, used to come in almost every day to tell us what was happening. It really helped. He’d bring cigarettes, candy, books. Sometimes he’d spend as much as four hours interviewing us.

Halstead: What books did he bring?

Pulley: The books he brought were just great: Soul on Ice, Malcolm X Speaks, Che Guevara Speaks, Deutscher’s trilogy on Trotsky, Man’s Fate by Andre Malraux, Hell is a Very Small Place, Souls of Black Folk, Army Life in a Black Regiment – about a black regiment in the Civil War. It just so happened to be the South Carolina Volunteers. The Last Year of Malcolm X, Evolution of a Revolutionary, Nat Turner by Aptheker and many more.

Rudder: And then we wrote too. We wrote to people who wrote to us. I wrote to friends of mine. And this is one of the most significant things that happened in the stockade, we got letters from GIs overseas, you see, the first group of people in GIs United, many of them shipped out all over the world, to Vietnam, Thailand, Germany, Panama. It was sad that they were leaving us, we were comrades, but we all said this would internationalize the struggle. But we didn’t know for sure. And sure enough, in the stockade we got our first letters from Vietnam, from some of the black founders of GIs United.

Halstead: Did you get visitors?

Rudder: Yes. Mostly the lawyer, Mike and his wife, Helen who was on the defense committee and others from the defense committee also. My parents came once too. And my girlfriend goes to school here in Columbia, and she came too. I told her not to at first, but she came anyway on her own later on.

That’s something else that improved. We met visitors in a hallway, there was no privacy. There’s a rule, only one initial embrace. But when I first went up there to see Linda, I hadn’t seen her in a long time, and I gave her a big kiss. It shocked the guards, we blew their minds for several reasons. But they didn’t stop us. I think it’s because they knew we had lawyers on the job and we’d make a complaint.

So what happened was after we started kissing and nobody stopped us, everybody else started kissing their girlfriend or their wife. It was a real beautiful thing, everyone showing their affections for one another. It was a new atmosphere.

Halstead: What about the guards? What was the attitude of the guards?

Rudder: Well, first of all, there are two types of prisoners down there – not only the AS [Administrative Segregation], but there are people there under disciplinary subjugation. These people are placed in a four-by-eight room, yellow room, with a 175-watt bulb. On all day long. Not only does it hurt the man, but it makes the yellow room real bright.

And these were really great guys. They really were politically together. We could talk to them through the bars. We could have political discussions; not only political discussions, but about whether God existed, and so on. Violent discussions – all daylong. Philosophy, science, medicine, politics, economics, the whole bit. And these people were supposed to be the most dangerous people in the whole stockade. But they weren’t – well, they were to the Army. But not to us. The guards – I must say we were pretty lucky in terms of guards. When we first got there there were a couple who were really bad. They’d purposely spoil the food on you. But most of the guards were OK. Some were Vietnam veterans and we got along with them real well.

Halstead: When did you first find out about Huffman, the spy?

Rudder: Mike Smith came into the stockade and told us, “Huffman’s an agent.” Just like that. Wow! We had to be shocked.

Pulley: I had to be shocked all right. But I never dug him. When I heard the news, the hatred built up. But we really didn’t have to worry about that.

Cole: We were always aboveboard legally. We realized very quickly that if we didn’t operate that way it would be a quick trip to the stockade for no good cause. So we had gotten our heads together and decided that our best bet was not to operate underground but to let as many people know about us as possible.

We knew there were a lot of agents around anyway so we decided we wouldn’t fall for the normal GI escape of using drugs and so forth. Huffman was always trying to convince us to use LSD and so forth. We told him it was illegal.

Halstead: Was he using it?

Cole: Definitely.

Halstead: And he was trying to get you to use it?

Cole: Yes. He also tried to get us to cold cop a barracks sergeant. That is, hit him in the head with a boot when he was asleep. We told him that was illegal too. At that point we had questions about Huffman because he didn’t seem to understand what GIs United was all about. We weren’t after any individual sergeant or anything like that. We weren’t after any products of the system. We were after the system, after the war that was killing us and killing Vietnamese. So we had our doubts about Huffman, but it was still a shock when he turned out to be a spy.

Halstead: What happened next?

Cole: They started putting pressure on us to take Chapter 10, that is sign to accept an undesirable discharge in lieu of trial. They said within ten minutes they’d have us out of the stockade and within a day and a half, out of the Army. They had some real masterminds in snakery, in viperishness, including one Army lawyer who was appointed a defense counsel – some of them were OK, but not this one – who would come and tell us we were going to do long terms. And they’d say the only way we could avoid five or nine years in prison was to sign the Chapter 10. It was real strong pressure. We decided it was up to the individual to make this choice and Chapparro took it, because he had personal problems and had to get home. But these kinds of undesirable discharges, under this pressure, ought to be fought in court.

Halstead: What did you think this meant?

Pulley: We thought it was a good sign in our defense. If they were so anxious to get us out, offering us discharges day after day, which they don’t normally do, they must be feeling the pressure. This one lieutenant would come by and talk about the good times we could be having back on the block, in only a few days, if we’d just sign. I thought about that.

Halstead: That’s a natural thought.

Pulley: Right. Cole was strong though. He kept drumming to us about Malcolm X serving time and Eldridge Cleaver serving time. But the thought was still there, and eventually I did sign a Chapter 10. That was just before they dropped the charges.

Halstead: Why do you think they dropped the charges?

Rudder: Well, in the hearing to decide on whether to court martial us or not, our lawyers just demolished them. It was brilliant. And the world was watching. They couldn’t move without looking bad.

Pulley: The key for revealing to the audience how innocent we were was that their own prosecuting witnesses were confused, kept contradicting themselves: one guy saying the order to disperse was given, another saying it wasn’t. And Huffman, the pig, was the main witness and he had to admit we did everything above-board.

Cole: Nobody can say enough about Mike, who came every day, and all the other attorneys. When I first saw Boudin, I thought I was looking at a movie. And the solidarity we received – like messages from the Harvard Strike Committee, the San Francisco State Black Student Union, and all that. It was all that that meant a hell of a lot.

And those students that came out in Columbia for the habeas corpus hearing. You know, the Army told us when we were taken into town for that, “If anyone tries to mob you or assassinate you, we’ll protect you.” But when we got there, we had a demonstration on our behalf, opposing the racist war in Vietnam, by South Carolina University students. It was beyond words.

Halstead: Let’s wind up with this one point. Where does the movement stand now? And what will happen with you guys discharged?

Pulley: The seed has already been planted. The tree will continue to grow, whether there’s a “ringleader” or not. They can’t stamp out a thought.

Rudder: GIs United was an answer to the call of history. When people are oppressed, they’re going to rise up against that oppression. We were only a reaction to the system, rather than an initiating factor. And it’s already caught on at posts elsewhere in the country, including Bragg, where Brother Miles is rapping along. In the stockade we received letters from Vietnam, from guys who’d been in GIs United here, asking for literature. Our release from the Army will strengthen the movement.

Halstead: What was the reaction from GIs you’ve seen since you got out of the stockade?

Cole: The reaction, even from lifers, was that we had a right to speak out against the war and that the Army had no right to put us in jail. And down to the next level of ordinary GIs those guys say not only do we have the right to do what we did, but what we did was right, and they want to do it too.

Pulley: I was talking to a GI today, and he was curious, so I ran it ‘down to him. He said: “Damnit, this is what the Constitution’s all about, this is what America was founded on. This is why people came over from England because they were denied their freedom, they were denied to speak, denied freedom of religion.” He was angry. And he congratulated us for the job that had been done.

Tommie Woodfin

Q: When did you join the Army?

A: On November 12, 1968 in New York. I was inducted at Whitehall Street.

Q: How old are you?

A: I was twenty last Saturday.

Q: Were you drafted or did you volunteer?

A: I volunteered.

Q: Why?

A Well, to explain that I’d really have to go back to a year or so before I came into the Army. I was active with the movements toward liberating our people who are oppressed in America, the black movements in Harlem. I was active in many of these movements. I always felt that a revolution was going to come down, that it was just a matter of time, and I wanted to be prepared for it. I knew, in the revolution, who I’d be fighting and that they would be prepared. So I thought about the Army. I thought that if I could come in here I could learn everything this man had to teach.

Q: That’s interesting. I remember SNCC, which started with a pacifist attitude and did move to self-defense, but nevertheless still maintained an attitude toward the military of “Hell no, we won’t go.” Many of them completely rejected any possibility of working with black GIs, calling them “black mercenaries.”

A Yes this is true. But I and the young black militants I was associated with felt differently about this. On this we looked to Robert Williams. [3] He said the American Army was the most perfectionist army in the world and this is how we saw it, a place to learn things that would benefit the revolution the most. We weren’t reluctant to join the military. The movements I was with were not publicized, but they were large in number on the blocks and were composed mostly of younger brothers such as myself. And from experience – like the Harlem riots – we saw that we were no challenge for this man. We knew we had to educate ourselves more. We knew we had to really prepare.

Q: Were there others besides you who did that?

A Definitely. Many. And we thought we’d find other people in the military who thought along similar lines. I think we succeeded.

Q: Where were you sent for basic?

A: Fort Jackson. I’ve been here ever since.

Q: Were you in on the first meetings hereof GIs United?

A Right. The meetings at first were black brothers. We saw eye to eye on most everything. The brass’ reaction was to try to stomp it out before it got started. They said this was a black power Mau Mau group organizing and they tried to throw fear into the whites to get us. This was when we were listening to the tapes of Malcolm and discussing them.

We knew we had to do something about the Army harassment plan. Like brother Joe Miles said: Every GI catches hell. When you’re black you catch even more hell. And we organized the move toward getting more support. You see the brothers that were active in the meetings then were always discussing what we would do when we got out, not what we could do now while we were in the military. We rapped about the riots and what we did in them and so forth and how they were snuffed out and how we were no challenge to the man. And then we rapped about how this was good being in the military. It’s really important for what we can learn here. But then we thought we could do things right inside.

And to answer the brass’ attempt to snuff our meetings out, we more or less liberalized our meetings by asking whites to attend. We hadn’t really kept them out before, they just hadn’t come. We broadened it, to get some broader ideas, you know. We explained to the whites that we weren’t organizing a movement against them, we were organizing GIs, that we all were GIs and we were all against the war.

Q: Had you ever heard Malcolm X speak in Harlem?

A: Yes. I was always down on 7th Avenue and 125th Street just to listen to Brother Malcolm. I listened to him rap at the Audubon Ballroom too. It was something us black people really loved.

Q: At the meetings on base, did you take part, did you speak?

A: I spoke at most all the meetings I attended. I related my ideas to them, that I was fed up, and they would say they were fed up too, and we’d see what we could do about it. I circulated the petition. In doing so signatures were coming in like mad. Seemed like nobody I talked to among the ordinary GIs were against what the petition said, at least in the building where I was. If they didn’t sign it was because they were scared of what the outcome might be if they did sign. In my company I got so many signatures that the next morning I was called in by the company commander and he showed me a copy of the petition, and asked me did I have one, and I said yes and that was all. Then later he told me I would be court martialed for petitioning. I was court martialed on March 18.

Q: What happened there?

A: I was acquitted. Really due to the genius of Mr. Howard Moore, my attorney, they couldn’t prove that I had been made aware of the Fort Jackson regulation against distributing a leaflet. They refused to try the case on the basis of a petition. They just wouldn’t rule on that.

Q: What was the reaction of other GIs when you were acquitted?

A: They thought it was great. They didn’t make a big distinction on the technicalities involved. I tried to explain to them that petitioning was one of our constitutional rights and after my acquittal nobody was brought before court martial for petitioning. When they found out I’d been acquitted, a big cheer went up in the 14th Battalion, and also in the 16th Battalion, they told me.

Q: Well General Hollingsworth in this article in the Columbia paper says there are only eight or so troublemakers out of 23,000 at Fort Jackson.

A: There are only eight or so who have been victimized for this particular activity.

Q: How many of the men at Fort Jackson are against the war?

A: Fort Jackson is a training center and GIs are coming and going all the time and it’s hard to tell. But mostly every GI I talked to does oppose the war. But most of them are not really politically educated about the war. This was the whole purpose of GIs United – to educate about the war in Vietnam and why it is wrong. This is what they saw and what they tried to snuff out, because we were educating people about the war in Vietnam.

At one time the 4th Brigade commander gave an orientation talk to every incoming NCO and officer, explained to them about a bunch of “anti-imperialists” called “GIs United Against the War in Vietnam.” He was sharp enough to use the term “anti-imperialist,” which is what we were. And Hollingsworth, the general, gave an orientation to all the incoming NCOs and officers on the post about “those Communists, GIs United Against the War.” And he said it was a very small thing, like he said to the press. But then he said some unusual things. He said, “You people handling basic training, you’re going to be troubled by this, and it’s up to you to snuff it out.”

Q: How did you learn about this?

A: Some black NCOs who were there told us.

Q: How did you choose the name GIs United Against the War in Vietnam?

A: We wanted a name that just told what the group was. We had to have “GIs” and “United,” because it was blacks, whites, American Indians, Puerto Ricans and we were against the war in Vietnam, so after some discussion at the meeting, that name was chosen.

And using the name GIs United, we hope the name would be influential to other military posts, that just hearing the name they’d know what it was about.

Q: OK, so after the March 20 meeting they arrested nine guys and you were put on barracks arrest?

A: Right. I was confined to my room and couldn’t leave it without a guard. But people in the barracks would come up to my room and rap to me and I would get over the thoughts. When the brass found out about this, they restricted everyone else from coming to my room. I was restricted to the room under those conditions for thirty-nine days. A guard went with me to the latrine. Then after the charges against me were dropped – before they were dropped against the last three – I was taken off arrest and just restricted to post.

Q: Then what did you do?

A: I continued the promotion of GIs United. Jackson is a post where people come and go so by the time I was released there weren’t many left from the original GIs United. It was like starting all over again. So I went over to the basic training area and whatnot and I started talking. Then I drew up a petition to ask the post commander to fly the flag at half-staff on May 19, in honor of Malcolm X – his birthday. I got response on this petition. Almost everyone I talked to was signing. Very few were reluctant to sign. Before they stopped me I gathered one hundred and twenty signatures, in less that one day in a mess hall.

Q: Were these signatures all from blacks?

A: No. I would say the majority of those who signed the petition were non-black, including many whites. But they were all young GIs and WACS [Women’s Army Corps].

Q: How do you account for this?

A: I don’t know exactly. I think every American, at least every young one, feels something for Malcolm X. And I made this point in the petition too. I put in there, “Malcolm X, whom the American people loved and honored.”

Anyway I went to the mess hall. I was getting favorable responses from almost everyone. People were approaching me, lining up to sign even before they knew what it was, because they had heard about me, and about GIs United. They had gathered around and were waiting in line to sign the petition. Then officers who saw this came up and I handed them the petition and asked them to sign it. They read it and handed it back to me. They didn’t sign and they didn’t stop me then. But as I was leaving the mess hall one of the officers told me to come with him. He took me to the orderly room of my company. In about ten minutes, someone yelled “atten-chun!” and coming through the door was the battalion commander, full-speed-ahead, toward me.

I snapped to attention and he said, “Private Woodfin, do you know who I am?” I said, “Yes sir, you’re the battalion commander, sir.” And he said, “Private Woodfin, when you’re in my mess hall you’re on military hours and you won’t get any signatures on any petition on military hours.” So I had to do my thing after five o’clock.

I learned from the clerks in the companythat right after that the post commander, General Hollingsworth, called the company and wanted the lowdown on what I was doing and the brigade commander also called and they had called the JAG [Judge Advocate General, the legal branch of the Army] officers to see about me. Then my two JAG attorneys came and I told them what had happened and we all laughed about it. But after that nobody said anything to me about it.

Q: What else did you do?

A: Well, Malcolm’s birthday passed and that petitioning was over. So then, new troops were coming into the company and I thought it was the obligation of GIs United to orient them about what had happened here at Fort Jackson. So another fellow GI United and myself went up to the barracks and distributed the Short Times, a GI newspaper, to the new troops. We got favorable response and rapped a lot. After about an hour a field sergeant came up and snatched the papers out of my hand. I told him to give them back because it was my personal property. I told him, “Anybody takes some of your personal belongings they are a criminal, and you know how you deal with criminals.” He gave them back. He was really humiliated right in front of the troops. He left.

Q: Have these new troops heard of GIs United, in the papers and so on?

A: Yes, they’ve heard of it. If they haven’t seen it in the papers, they’ve been told about it by their company commander. The majority I have talked to heard about it in that way. But the truth was all distorted. They were told GIs United is Communist and they should refrain from getting involved with this left-wing, Communist stuff. But once I explain it to them, they understand and they don’t go for that propaganda.

Q: What is you status at the present time?

A: I’m pending a hearing for discharge. They want to get rid of me. I could receive either an honorable, a general or an undesirable discharge. I think from what I’ve learned about the Army it will be the latter. But that will be taken to court.

Q: Well that will be six of the Fort Jackson Eight discharged out of the Army, and the others probably transferred. What will happen to the movement?

A: The movement will definitely still go on. For example, when GIs United first started, we told people they would be sent all over, to other bases and overseas, and that they would have to carry the word. And we pointed out to them that they had the leadership ability to organize another GIs United wherever they went. This is what some of them have done. We’ve received letters from brother GIs United in other bases, and even from Vietnam. I also received a letter from a Marine in North Carolina who said he’d read about GIs United and that Marines there had organized and things were looking good for a newspaper and maybe a coffee house.

A couple of the original GIs United from here at Fort Jackson are now in Vietnam and they have written to us and told us they are organizing a GIs United there. For doing this, they said, they have received harassment, but they say they won’t stop. One of them said that for giving the salute, the fist salute, he was put on guard duty. But they say they won’t stop.

Q: What are you going to do when you’re discharged?

A: I’ll go back to New York. I’m going to get back in the revolutionary movement there. I really wish the Army would let me stay here. I feel I could do greater work on the inside than on the outside. But they’re going to throw me out. I guess I can’t complain, except to sue for an honorable discharge, because I never broke any regulations in the Army.

Q: Have you been reading about the upsurge of activity in the high schools?

A: Right. Just before I came in I was active in the IS 271 thing. [4] When the doors were opened that morning for the school kids, right up under the policemen, I was there to help open that door. And then later, after we were arrested down here, we got letters from those students at IS 271. From students from the ages of ten to the teens. These are the letters that keep us going, that let us know people’ believe in us and in what we’re doing. And when we were in confinement these were the letters, from these young students, that we cherished the most. They made the walls of confinement bearable. I hope to talk at 271 when I get back to New York. We published some of their letters in Short Times.

Q: A lot of the high school students face the draft. And they might be interested to hear your experiences.

A: This is what I hope to do, orient them as to what the Army is really all about. I wouldn’t tell them to join the Army. But in the event they do get taken into the military, I hope they will be a GIs United Against the War in Vietnam.

Q: You say you’re going to go back and join the revolution. In your opinion what is a revolution?

A: Well since I’ve been in the military and since I’ve been in confinement I’ve done a lot of reading. So now my scope is more or less broadened. At first I had thought it would be just a black revolution. But now I’ve done a lot of thinking and reading and had some experiences and I think that way it would be snuffed out. For one thing, in the black revolution, black people might unite. But there are oppressed white people too and it would be bad if they felt that getting rid of the white capitalist control was going to mean snuffing out all the white people together. We’ve got to get some of the whites broken off from the other whites, the capitalists. And here in this struggle in the Army we saw that happen, with the GIs. So it can happen.

I think I would alter my thoughts toward a socialist view, a socialist revolution in America, not only among black people, but among all oppressed people here in America. This is the revolution that is going to make it.

Joe Miles

Q: When did you get to Fort Jackson?

A: I got down to Fort Jackson the first week in January or so [1969]. I was very much impressed with the level of consciousness of the GIs in the company, B-14-4, I was assigned to, and especially class one, the class in supply school that I was in during my AIT [Advanced Individual Training] there.

It was the first time I had ever seen a bunch of GIs together who were really thinking. That’s the biggest thing you could say: They were thinking. They were thinking about the war, about society, about, “Why in the hell am I in the Army?” It wasn’t a thing where guys were just passively accepting the Army and saying, “I’ve got my two or three years to do and I’m going to just do my time and act right so the man won’t mess with me, and then get ‘out.” That wasn’t the case. There were guys bitching and moaning all over. Not just about small things like shining boots, but “luck the Army,” “fuck the war,” “fuck the draft,” this type of thing.

Among the brothers was something that really impressed me too. In general the brothers had a very well-developed level of black consciousness. When they greeted you with the power salute and said, “How you doing brother?” they really meant it. They understood to a degree, that we’re brothers, we’re black, we’ve got something in common. Maybe we can get together and do something else.

One indication of that is the impact that Pulley had on guys in the company. He got there before I did, and automatically, because Pulley was such a tremendous black revolutionary, he was branded – quoting the company commander at the time – “this black power punk.” And Pulley comes in with his Afro and not taking any stuff off of anybody, especially the lifers. “Wow,” people thought. “There’s a brother right there standing up for black nationalism,” and he was respected. This was before anything ever got started.

So that’s the way it was there. The GIs were just sort of bubbling. And all this time, before the first meeting, I’d been talking about the war and about black nationalism and giving out copies of The Militant and things like that and drawing a group of guys around. I thought maybe we should do that first. And these guys, I’d rap them a little bit harder and say, “Well we ought to do something about the war,” and get together and talk about how we could go about it.

Other little things were developing which translated this consciousness into everyday life: Pulley would just insist on his dignity. And I wouldn’t cut my hair or my mustache. The lieutenant would make the mistake of trying to put me down in front of a formation. But I’d just put him down.

He’d say, “Cut your mustache.” I’d say, “I’m authorized to have a mustache, sir,” and, “My hair is regulation two inches.” It was, too, just barely, but it looked longer. Then he’d yell, “I give you a direct order to cut your mustache, do you understand me?” And I’d say, “I hear you, sir.” And he’d argue, “Do you understand me?” And I’d say, “I hear what you say, sir.” All this in front of the troops and he’d make himself look foolish. He’d give me a direct order to trim my mustache and I’d trim it – one hair. Everybody watching. It wasn’t only me. It was Davis and Pulley too.

Davis was a fiery guy. He was seventeen. I gave him Evolution of a Revolutionary. And boy when he got into Malcolm, nobody could talk to him. “Don’t talk to me, lifer,” he’d say. And when he would talk to the guys he was really tremendous. So this whole tone was developing prior to the meetings.

Well, we got together one night and I said, “Let’s listen to some Malcolm X tapes.” The reaction was, “Yeah, man, wow!” People had heard of Malcolm, knew of him, knew something of his ideas. So the first night we listened and it was beautiful.

People were really listening. Malcolm was getting into everybody’s mind and doing all kinds of things to them. And people would listen to Malcolm, not only listen but understand, I mean really basically understand what he had to say. And they’d say, “Yeah, we got to do something.”

Things that were coming out of the first meeting were like, “We’ve got to get civilian help.” “We got to organize.” “We got to get all the brothers together.” And these were guys with no political or organizational experience before. This was the level it started out with. It was phenomenal. And not only that, the whole tremendous sense of pride and unity and blackness. It was like Malcolm had been made for this kind of audience and we were ready for him. It was like walking around during one of the rebellions, just saying, “Oh my, I’m so glad I’m black.” Walking around and just, “Wow, I’m black, man!” Really something. That whole emotional thing was something that I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.

Q: Were these guys all black?

A: All black but Jose, he is Puerto Rican. So right at our first meeting, the first thing that came out was, “We’ve got to have another meeting.” It wasn’t whether we’d have another meeting, but when we’d have one. We had a meeting every day, Monday through Thursday.

Friday guys could take off for the weekend. And for two or three weeks like that. “Not have another meeting, that’s silly, got to have a meeting every day.”

So it was Malcolm’s ideas that were the basis of forming GIs United, you know, his ideas so far as waging a political struggle, one of unity, an uncompromising program, one of sustained struggle. All these things that he put forward, we said, “That’s something we can apply to our struggle.” The idea of having a common denominator, a common oppressor, the idea of getting together and educating ourselves, of teaching ourselves to become leaders, of educating ourselves about the war, talking about it among ourselves so we could talk about it to other people. All these things were coming out from guys without any initiative on my part. I’d just sit back and we’d listen to Malcolm X. And they’d come out with some of the most beautiful things you’d ever want to hear regarding the war, the black struggle, things like that.

So we had another meeting and thirty to forty guys came. This was even better. The first night was just guys from my floor. The second night was guys from all over the barracks. They heard about it and just popped in to listen to Malcolm X. So we listened all over and this time the talk was even better by the guys.

Q: What tapes were they?

A: Grass Roots and Ballots or Bullets. At this time though, coupled with this whole tremendous sense of nationalism, of blackness, was this thing of “whitey motherfuckers,” really jumping down on what white society had done to us for all these years. At a later meeting we discussed this whole thing out, including our relationship to the white GIs.

Q: Pulley told me that it was a pretty conscious decision on the part of the group, that is that the lifers and the brass had started to attack them as racists and had started to spread rumors among the whites and had even threatened to arm some of the whites at one point. It was in the course of discussing this, he said, that they decided to emphasize the war issue and make an attempt to bring whites in.

A: Yes. It was a very conscious decision on the part of the blacks. It was a question of understanding that we have a dual role, black and GI. And purely on that, on the black guys understanding that and having that just little bit higher level of consciousness and political awareness, we were able to get through that phase. If it wasn’t for that it would have been isolated, and it would have been busted up, it could have ended in a lot of victimizations or something like that.

Q: How long did this discussion take?

A: Basically just one discussion. But first, we had the meeting that second night. And the mood was like, “I’m a man, I can be myself.” That was what came out. That’s what you’d say, when you came from a meeting again where we all began to feel our blackness, to re-discover ourselves, to begin to get political. And that’s the whole key. That was the key to the awakening of all these black GIs and the birth of GIs United. It was that political feeling, that we were able, really able, to fight them back. Not only fight them back but help ourselves and maybe even win. You know the guys were beginning to think like that, like, “How are we going to buck them? How are we going to do it? How are we going to help ourselves? How are we going to protect ourselves?” – things like this. Not just blow off steam, but how we’re going to really do it.

And this was because of Malcolm too. Like he explained the need for unity and organization. Before the meetings got started there was a high level of consciousness, sure, but any actions against the situation were spontaneous, short-lived, and an individual thing. There was a qualitative change in guys’ consciousness, outlook and even attitude, once the meetings got started. Here and there someone would think about doing something before. But once the meetings got started it was, “Man, they’ll never be able to stop us. The whole world is going to hear about us. We can do anything.” A real qualitative change, just confidence, just guys becoming confident, from all being together and finding out, “Damn, we feel the same way!” And we’d think about the way other guys felt and we’d realize they must feel the same way too. “We really can do something!”

So guys were running around there in brotherhood. The brotherhood there, you could cut it, cut it in the air. We’d hug each other, greet each other, spend ten minutes shaking each others’ hands. Guys would grab the PA [Public Address] system and announce, “All you brothers on the third floor, black and proud, let me hear you.” And guys would come yelling down the steps, “black and proud.”

Q: And what did the officers think about that?

A: They didn’t know what to make of it. I started giving out reading material: Malcolm X Speaks, The Case for a Black Party, and The Militant. People were reading The Militant. They loved it. That’s even true at Fort Bragg. So we had that type of development too. And the thinking didn’t stop at the meetings. It got to a point in the second week where all the brothers would sit together at lunch. You’d pull some tables together, then, fifteen guys would sit together and start rapping. Just ignoring everybody else. This big black caucus, right there at lunch time. They were afraid to do anything about it. They’d give us a ten minute break in class and a bunch of brothers would get together and start talking. It wasn’t a thing where guys would say, “Oh, good meeting,” and go to sleep. It was “good meeting” and the wheels would still continue to turn.

It was a flip-flop in the whole mood of that whole company. Politics was introduced and everybody was talking politics. They’d discuss it on their own, in their own little discussions, asking themselves even tactical questions. The thing was swelling, spreading, it was for real. It was a real movement. It wasn’t artificial. The whole GIs United was an outgrowth of the nationalist consciousness and antiwar feeling among the black GIs and other GIs.

And that’s why it’s going to continue to grow and continue to function no matter what they do to us, because they’ll never stop the way guys feel. They can’t give an idea an Article 15. [5] They can’t put thoughts in jail.

And I think that’s something the brass doesn’t understand. They just really don’t understand it. They think, “Well, we can harass them, we can give them an Article 15, we can put them in jail and that will be the end of it.” But they’re dead wrong. They just don’t understand. They think they’re so high up. They think they’ve got everything on their side so much, they think, “Why, we’ll always be in power.” They have this total illusion. They don’t know that people really have feelings and when they find something to belive in they’ll sacrifice for it, and fight for it.

Q: OK, so what happened after the second meeting?

A: Well then came the thing with this lieutenant. He had us after formation, the whole company, talking about, “Well B-14-4, you guys are no good. We’re going to train you twenty-three hours out of the day and the twenty-forth you’ll shine your boots. We’ll train you seven days a week, time off only for church on Sunday and we’ll make you go.” This type of thing. So two guys were pulled out of the formation and taken into the supply room for so-called smiling. “You smiled at me. You get out and go into the supply room.” So we’re all standing there and a guy, a white guy, faints. Jamros. I moved over to help him, he might have been hurt. He had really fainted, he wasn’t faking. The lieutenant tells everybody to stand back at attention and I said, “Well sir, he should be helped, he needs medical attention.”

So he says, “You get back over in that formation, boy!” I say, “Boy! I’m no boy sir.” He said: “Are you disobeying my order? Are you trying to be smart?” And I said, “No sir.” And he said, “Well you get out of that formation too and go to the supply room.” So as I walked behind him toward the building, he was between me and the company, I threw the salute, the clenched fist. All these brothers standing there at attention threw that salute back. All he could say was “dismissed.” He was really flustered.

They put me on an extra detail for stepping out of formation to help the guy that fainted. That night was the first time we started getting through to some whites, because white guys were pissed off. It was a good thing that guy was white.

Guys would say, “You mean they put you on detail because you stepped out to help that guy and then called you boy?” Brothers were furious that night, but even white guys were pissed off. They’d tell me, “You did right.” And Jamros came up and said, “If you need a witness or anything let me know.”

So the third meeting was that night and they called a special formation for the exact time the meeting was scheduled. I was on detail. But when I got off, they had the meeting anyway, late. It was about fifty black guys and just as it was over, the CQ, a sergeant, came in. The fifty guys were there and someone was just putting on a record for some music. And as the sergeant walks in somebody yells out, “Get that white mother ...” Well, the sergeant just started smiling, asking, “Is everything OK?” He just smiled his way right out of the room. We weren’t going to do a thing to him, but he was shook up.

So that was Thursday and we set the next meeting for Monday.

That Saturday Pulley and I went to IG [Inspector General] to lodge a complaint. I made a complaint about the “boy” incident and he complained about lifers trying to provoke him into a fight so they could court martial him. They really hassled him a lot. One of them told him once, “Maybe if someone put a gun to your head you’d change your ideas.” Pulley used to throw out such beautiful raps to these lifers, he’d blow their minds. To them he was just this eighteen-year-old black power punk.

We went to the IG, and we saw this lieutenant colonel, which was very unusual, that high a rank. In essense he just told us to go to hell. He said, “You got a chip on your shoulder, and you’re wrong.” And he got on Pulley, told him, “You need an education, you don’t know how the country runs. You don’t know what it’s all about.” So we left. That whole experience was a tremendous lesson for the guys. We discussed it at the next meeting: Going up the chain of command, we’d never get anywhere, that’s just ridiculous, that’s a sham. They tried to make us the criminal and the lieutenant the victim. Malcolm’s old thing was as true as it ever was.

That weekend was when all the fights broke out. A sort of crisis came along. There must have been a dozen fist fights around the company. Brothers were going around and every dude they considered a racist was wasted. They just went to work on them. A brother would come up to one and say, “So you’re a racist, eh?” and pow, just start right in. I was away for Saturday night and Sunday, and when I got back there was a problem. That’s when the Army made the charges against several black guys who had been in the meetings, charges for assault and so on. Actually the guys they charged hadn’t done anything. But there was a general situation around there of fights happening.

Then guys started discussing it. “We’re all going to end up in jail if this keeps up,” and, “What are we going to do about our relations with the whites?” We had to have a serious discussion about all this at the next meeting. It was by far the best meeting we had had. Sixty guys showed up. We didn’t play Malcolm. We talked. And I made some notes beforehand on what I would say. It was still a tremendous emotional thing. That whole thing, the blackness against whites hadn’t died down, the peak hadn’t been met.

At this meeting we said, “Well look. We’ve got to sit down and discuss what our tasks are, what faces us and what we’ve got to do.”’So I’d say, “We’ve got to plot a course like Malcolm said, that makes us appear intelligent instead of unintelligent. Look, what threat is an everyday white GI to us? What can an individual white person do to us that’s a threat to us? How will some of the things that have been going on help toward us organizing and reaching out to the other brothers? How will it help us to organize against the war?”

And sort of explaining, “Look, this is a young generation, and it’s different. There’s a bunch of John Browns running around too.” And explaining the fact that this white GI is just as much a victim of the system as we are and this is a guy that could be our ally. “Look, we can use him, man.” I pointed out that one brother might get a court martial and for what? Because a lousy stinking non-com got pushed. But what good is that? What good is the guy in jail to us? He’s just where the man wants us, out of action.

And the fact that this white guy is a victim of the system like we are and he’s just as much opposed to the war as we are and he can be our ally. They can’t bust down so hard on us if we’ve got allies. The guys saw it. I just outright told them that’s what we can do and that’s what we should do and they said, “Yeah, you’re right.”

Also I took that opportunity to explain that the racism that was a threat to us came from the brass and the lifers, they’re the ones that send us to Nam, give us Article 15s and court martials, extra KP and all that, not some white private; not only that, but the facts of just where racism came from, that it was a result of the capitalist system, that it was an economic thing; that it was the rationalization for slavery of Africans when the capitalist system was extending itself to the new world. And we brought it up to the present day society where racism is used to divide us, to make us fight each other; that our struggle shouldn’t bring us into conflict with the white masses, but with the establishment; that our fight for self-determination will have to be against the brass, the capitalists, the establishment, rather than against the individual white guy. “Like this individual white racist is not going to give up his life or go through any great pain to maintain his racism. He’s just not. But we will, to gain our freedom. Oh, there will be some, but we can handle that. But most of the GIs who are white have got more against the brass than they got against us.” That’s what we explained.

These straight GIs, ordinary black GIs, picked it up, they understood it and at that meeting too, we laid down the basis for our organization: against the war, for black self-determination, and like that, what came out in the position paper of GIs United.

At that meeting the decision was consciously made to set up an organization and set up a program. At that point the organization was black led and black run – and it still is at Jackson – but it was decided to include white GIs if they agreed with the program, if they agreed with our right to black power, black self-determination, and understood our struggle, and were against the war and for freedom of ipeech.

Then we outlined the general program and perspectives and one was to end the war and for immediate withdrawal. We decided organizing around the war was the way to get most guys involved, we could get maximum support from the civilian world, and overcome this racist thing they were trying to use against us. It was all a very conscious decision on our part. One of the points of the program was black dignity and black self-determination. Our purpose, was to train and educate brothers, right down the line, and the purpose of the group was to come together for political action and also for political education. We very clearly laid this out at our meeting.

Tuesday night we had another meeting, about fifty or sixty guys. We talked about drugs then too, about not using drugs, about plants and spies. The guys understood and they spoke against using drugs in the meeting. Nobody spoke in favor of it.

We started circulating the petition asking for a meeting on base. Our first thing was to use the petition to try to build a postwide organization. The guys understood from the very beginning the importance and significance of unity and what it meant in terms of their own self-protection, that the best defense we had was one hell-of-an offense. We knew that they could deal with one or two or three GIs, or maybe a company of GIs, but it would be hard for them to fight a whole postwide movement that had outside civilian support and publicity. The first Militant article that came out about us. We went crazy. Guys were jumping up and down in the mess hall. Guys would say, “The world is going to know about us.” They were excited. They knew what it meant in terms of defense, of protection.

One mistake – well it was more a weakness than a mistake, because it was hard to change – was having most of our strength in B-14-4. We understood this was a weakness from the beginning but there wasn’t much we could do about it because we were trainees. We didn’t have time to get around post. Other people who were trainees, it was hard for them to come over to our brigade and hard for us to get to them. Also they started putting us on restriction and stuff like that. We tried to alleviate that by sending teams over into other brigades, but it was hard to get away. But two-thirds of B-14-4 was GIs United.

That Monday meeting was very important. It was a long one. We discussed the same things again and in detail at subsequent meetings. That was democracy, man. We got together to discuss in detail what we were going to do, how we were going to do it and why we’re going to do it, and why we’re going to do it a certain way. Everybody participated in the discussion, and we’d have a disagreement here and there, and we’d discuss it down, and settle it, and discuss in detail.

When you’d come out of a meeting a guy who wasn’t there would ask, “Why do you want an organization?” Every guy to a man could tell him. A guy would say, “Why a petition?” and every guy to a man could tell him: “Because we can use the rules against them, it’s a way to build an organization, it’s a way to put the brass on the spot.” Any man could tell you that.

So that was the type of meetings that we had. All these questions were raised: Why an organization? Why a petition? Why a position paper? How to defend ourselves. Why not to take dope. We’d discuss these things, at great length really, because most guys hadn’t had any experience organizing. We spent two or three weeks doing this. It was very good we did too. When these guys go to other bases, they are doing their thing. And after they shipped me out, and cracked down some, Andrew and Jose built GIs United right back up again, because there was an understanding on everybody’s part just what had to be done.

Q: OK. Now tell me about when you were transferred.

A: The day we graduated from the supply school at lunchtime the sergeant came to me and told me I had three hours to dear post. So while I was packing we talked and tried to stall and figure out what could be done. The sergeant was watching. We blew his mind. My locker was one solid wall of literature and guys were coming in and talking. It was a warm thing. When I was leaving some guy got the mike on the PA system and yelled out, “We’re going to carry on.”

So they took me to town, to the bus depot, bought me a ticket for Fort Bragg, and that was the last of Jackson for me. The weekend after I left, though – I came back on a pass – we had a Malcolm X memorial meeting at the UFO [a coffee house] in Columbia. One example of guys’ understanding the need to spread out, organize and things is that in a few short weeks we had got the petition going, spread GIs United postwide in a sense. We had guys in basic training, guys in AIT, some guys in Permanent Party, we held the press conference, held the Malcolm X memorial meeting, and a GI teach-in. The UFO thing was good. We couldn’t get the tapes we wanted of Malcolm X so I spoke about Malcolm, Curtis spoke, Andrew spoke, Jose spoke. That session we should have got on tape. It was one of the best sessions. But all of this was an example of how guys understood what had to be done, and not only understood it but carried it out, which is just as important.

Q: What happened at Bragg?

A: I went to my company and spent the first couple of weeks just feeling my way. The general situation at Bragg was different from Jackson. There are a lot of Vietnam vets where I was at Bragg; that’s good; a lot of Permanent Party; that’s good; guys been in for a while; that’s good. Unlike the trainees, these guys get a little more money, some of them have a car and can get around easier. Some of them know people in town. They get off every night after work. In general they’ve got more freedom of movement than trainees. And they’ve been through the mill.

All that was very important. At Bragg, the brass are not able to restrict us and mess with us the way they did at Jackson. We’re not trainees, and they’d never get away with it. The whole place would just blow up if they tried to do something like that. In some ways though it wasn’t as good. Down at Jackson there were a lot of brothers. Up at Bragg, I ran into a bunch of Toms. It blew my mind. I tried to play a tape of Malcolm X one night. It just didn’t work out. So – back to the drawing board.

One thing that was very good for me then was that I spent a week in a replacement company talking to Vietnam vets. That’s all I did. It was very good because how you rap to a Vietnam vet and a guy who’s been in the service a while is different from how you rap to a guy who’s been in eight weeks. It was an educational experience for me. It enabled me to work a lot better. You see, at Jackson, only a few of the trainees had been to Nam, including Jose and Mays, but most were just out of basic.

Then I wrote up a petition in support of the Fort Jackson guys. I didn’t know what response it would get. But the response was good. In a week, just in my company, a hundred signatures. This was from white and black. The all-black thing never materialized in Bragg the way it did in Jackson.

I think this is due mostly to the fact of so many guys being veterans of Vietnam. Having been in battle situations where you depend on another guy regardless of color tends to break down a lot of the racism in some ways and reinforces it also in different ways. But it was very easy for guys at Bragg to understand being brothers in struggle. This is a real struggle, against the brass and the war, and they’d accept anyone who’d fight with them. They just sort of apply that battlefield experience into the political battle.

At Bragg you get these white southerners, active right along with the black power guys. It’s that war. It’s just radicalizing all kinds. These guys come around radicalized by the war, by their own experiences in Vietnam. Some of them have the most reactionary type of backgrounds. But they go to Vietnam and that experience starts them thinking and it leads to other things.

Like after we got a group going at Bragg we did play Malcolm X tapes, to a black-white group and it had some of the same effect on the white guys as on the blacks. There was a lot of discussion, a lot of dialogue. The white guys now are interested in learning about black nationalism. They want to know what it is. Malcolm opened their eyes to the fact that it wasn’t “get whitey.” There’s something else there. They want to know, to read. There’s no paternalism at all involved, especially with the southern guys. It doesn’t work that way. They want to know what’s happening.

Things that happened better in Bragg were: It spread out to five or six other companies. Someone would come up and say there’s a guy in this other company that wants to sign the petition and I’d go over there and he’d have ten guys that wanted to sign, or a group that wanted to meet. It spread out. We were able to do this because we had the freedom to do it.

I got transferred to an MP company. But just before that, we had a meeting in the service club and formed a GIs United. Up until then I was the only link between everybody else. But the brass was one day too late in transfering me, because after that meeting it was off the ground.

Q: So you had to go to this MP company across the base where you are isolated, but after hours you can still get back once in a while?

A: Yes. I’ve been at the meetings. But I’m not able to be there to rap during the day.

We had three or four meetings in the service club before we got kicked out. Then we went out to the patio. Then they kicked us out of there. Then we went outside. We’ve been holding regular meetings ever since April when we had our first one. More or less the same thing is happening as at Jackson with guys feeling that they can do something.

We’ve got a tremendous cross section of guys here at Bragg. From every background. We’ve got some who aren’t radical too, just against the war and for GI rights. Having all these veterans is a real milestone. Not only does it carry moral authority for a guy who’s been there to speak out against it, but that whole experience of physically being there is a radicalizing experience for many.

Q: What was the reaction of the guys to your attempt to pass out copies of the Bill of Rights?

A: That’s still going on. This time about thirty guys signed the request for permission to pass it out, and I didn’t sign it. I didn’t have anything to do with it. Jack Riley, a Vietnam vet who is white and from Mississippi, showed up out of the blue Thursday to turn in the request to the PMO [Provost Martial’s Office]. They nipped.

GIs United at Bragg has been going a little more than a month now and our meetings are still growing. Not only that, but there’s always new guys coming to every meeting from all over the post. The main bulk is in the 12th Support Brigade, but there are also guys from the 82nd Airborne, from the Special Forces – the green berets – yes, even them. And other companies and outfits too.

It’s just amazing how widespread the antiwar sentiment is and how much sympathy there is for the antiwar movement. Here among the most gung-ho dudes there are, supposed to be America’s diehards, the 82nd Airborne. And to walk through one of their barracks is like walking through some college dormitory as far as opposition to the war is concerned.

Q: What about the green berets?

A: Some of them come to our meetings. In spite of all their training.

Q: So there’s a request to pass out the Bill of Rights, signed by some 82nd Airborne guys as well as others. You’ve also got the suit asking for a meeting on base?

A: Yes. There’s a lot of things. You see here at Bragg, the first meetings started off on a higher level organizationally. We had the position paper from Jackson and we knew about petitioning and those things. So for the first two weeks we talked about organizing. Much different from how it started at Jackson where it became an emotional thing and where the long political discussions preceded the organizing. Here, it’s organization first and now we’re just getting into the long political discussions, Malcolm tapes and that. We’re really busy. There’s the Bill of Rights thing, the petition campaign, plans for going to the antiwar conference, for summer action, now there’s my defense also, trying to stop my transfer to Alaska, north of the Arctic Circle.

Q: Yes, what about that?

A: That’s made a lot of people angry and of course they got a good laugh out of it, because the Army isn’t being very subtle. Even if they send me – the lawyers say there’s a fifty-fifty chance – there’ll be a good cadre of GIs United here.


1. During the Democratic Party Convention in Chicago in August, 1968, units at Fort Hood Texas were put on alert to be sent to Chicago as ‘riot control’ troops. Several hundred black GIs at Fort Hood gathered to protest being sent on this duty and 43 of them, including Rudy Bell, veteran of a year of combat in Vietnam were court martialed.

2. An article in the London Sunday Times of June 5, 1966, entitled The General goes Zapping Charlie Cong, described General Hollingsworth personally killing Vietnamese from his helicopter when he was commander of the ‘Big Red I’ Division in Vietnam.

3. Robert F. Williams, a black ex-Marine who advocated armed self-defense as chairman of the NAACP branch in Monroe, North Carolina. He went into exile in 1961 to avoid arrest on a trumped-up kidnapping charge. He went first to Cuba, then to China.

4. Intermediate School 271, a junior high school in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville district of Brooklyn which was the center of a community control struggle in 1968.

5. Company punishment, the most common form of administrative punishment, not as severe as a court martial.

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Last updated: 21.9.2008