Saturday, March 08, 2008

Winter Soldier Redux

Escaping Ice in Detroit
Alex Primm

Alex, who testified at the VVAW Winter Soldier Investigation in 1971, shares his thoughts with us as he and his wife Cathy prepare to depart for IVAW's Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan, to be held in Silver Springs, Maryland, March 13th thru 16th, 2008, at the George Meany College of Labor campus.

I can't quite recall how I ended up in my friend's old Mustang driving to Detroit all night one winter without a heater. I mainly remember the drive. Everything else deeply lodged back in dreamland... charged up veterans, Jane Fonda being beautiful and aloof, an angry mass meeting, the cold... all mostly a fog... though fragments now emerge.

Or maybe it wasn't all night because I remember staying at someone's apartment in Valparaiso. John went to college there. He too must have been drafted after graduating.

He was infantry. Me, an Army correspondent. We weren't kids. We knew we had seen some serious craziness. Nothing like what our fathers did.

This is all ancient history, 1971. Were you even alive then? Did Iraq exist then? The CIA?

Sure. Bad stuff was out there. That's why we were on the road with a can of Sterno.

No, no, no... We weren't drinking it... we hadn't sunk that low... we had the little can set in the console between the two bucket seats and kept the blue flame alive. More cornfields than billboards in those days. The tiny fire made it easy to light cigarettes. We were nervous. Might have even been drinking beers as we cruised through the Midwestern night. Crazy and uptight.

x x x

Where we would end up? Reassuringly our goal was Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge in downtown Detroit. Back then HoJos was near the pinnacle of respectability. Comfort and good taste reigned as it advertised something like 28 flavors of ice cream. No one was interested. We were revolutionaries.

The lobby was filled mostly with longhaired scruffy guys wearing cast-off pieces of uniform. Lots of milling around, waiting for the local radicals to find us a flop... or a party. This was the Vietnam Veterans Against the War's first national action, funded largely by Fonda, Graham Nash and others that we learned about later. John and I went, maybe after demonstrating in St. Louis. This was different... no marches... no angry or turgid speakers... no one trying to twist their ideology around your neck.

The actual Winter Soldier Investigation, Numero Uno, took place back in a small ballroom. You went in, registered, showed your paperwork, told your stories from Vietnam and someone would ask questions to make sure you got it right, that it wasn't fake. Some of it was filmed, all of it must have been recorded, transcribed then parts published by Beacon Press later.

x x x

I didn't have much to say as the former editor of the Army's newspaper for the First Logistics Command, a division-sized unit that ran resupply for the Army all over South Vietnam. The Army didn't lie much, we just left out stuff, especially any mention of American casualties or KIAs.

I forget what John testified to. It's probably in the book. When we got back we held a Veterans' Inquiry into the War in St. Louis, spring of '71.

People listened... a few... more and more over time... we had to say what we had seen. We about filled an auditorium at a Lutheran seminary.

We had to talk... we had seen so much waste and craziness.

Luckily we hadn't tried to take over the GM Building in downtown Detroit when WSI was finally over. Some wanted to do that. There was enough anger they almost got their way.

We ended up going by the Detroit Institute of Arts, a sane, peaceful place.

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