Saturday, May 29, 2010

Remembrances: Fugitive Days

One of my daughter Laura's friends has asked to interview me about my experiences as a draft resister in the Vietnam era. Toward that end, I went spent some time this morning searching my archives for any graphics that might contribute to the project. The ones below are all that I have.

The b&w set were taken on my short-lived run to Canada. With my wife accompanying me, I traveled from Ann Arbor, Michigan on into Canada from Minnesota. We traveled in the vintage Mercedes of our friend, Steve Nasisse, later an officer in the Merchant Marine. We drove that old car across the great plains provinces of Canada, over the massive Rocky Mountains, eventually rendezvousing with some people in Vancouver, BC who had fled to Canada before us.

But I had already made up my mind, long before we got to the Pacific coast, that I was not going to allow myself to be run out of my own country, and that I would return to Ann Arbor to fight the draft as a conscientious objector. So the drive into exile turned into a kind of vacation. After spending a day or two with the people in Vancouver, we crossed the border, back into Washington state. My wife and I stayed with my friend and former roommate, Jim Rutherford, who was living in Seattle at the time. Steve went on down the coast to California to visit other friends.

The taller man standing by the car is Steve, who is also pictured driving below. The other shot is of Steve and me on the shores of Lake Superior in northern Minnesota:

While in Seattle, we bought a car--a used Plymouth Valiant--and headed for Athens, Ohio, where my parents were now living. We arrived in Athens just in time for me to accompany my father down to the College Green, where he, along with the rest of the faculty, had been asked to patrol in order to protect the infrastructure from vandalism by demonstrating students during what is known locally as "the Troubles," in the wake of the Kent State shootings:

After visiting with my parents in Athens, and resting up for a spell, my wife and I returned to Ann Arbor. I took a job in a Ford Motor Company plant in nearby Saline, Michigan, while I hasseled with the local draft board in an attempt to become reclassified as a conscientious objecter. We stayed with my wife's parents in Ann Arbor until I got paid by Mr. Ford, at which time we rented the second floor of a frame house on Packard Road, above the offices of a pediatrician. There we stayed until I won my final appeal with the Selective Service System. I am pictured below, chilling out in tie-dye shirt, Frye boots and jeans, on the couch of that furnished pad on Packard Road:

Once I had been reclassified, I had to find myself a job with a charity organization that would qualify as "alternate service," of which I was obligated to do two years. Through a friend living in New York City, I found both a job--at Planned Parenthood-World Population--and a cheap apartment in this building on Greene Avenue, in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn:

And that's what I did on my summer vacation.
Photo credit: The Athens scene above is from the Ohio University Alumni Journal, August 1970 Special Edition
Update: The interview went off, pretty much without a hitch, yesterday afternoon. Around fifty minutes of reminiscing will be boiled down to a three-minute presentation to fulfil the assignment for Kristen's multi-media class. I've been promised a copy of the final product. I imagine that viewing it will be cringe-making--like the first time you hear your own voice on tape: I SOUND LIKE THAT?!?!?X


SINVILLE said...

Wow! What a story. I have never heard of 'draft resister' but I have heard of 'draft dodger' and many times. I noticed (after rereading twice), that you did not use it but I think not participating in that useless war was honorable and It does not make any difference how you resisted the process. God, you looked like a kid and I am sure it is the shocking aspect of old Vietnam era photos and film, they were mostly kids! Oddly, I don't remember thinking about the war. Perhaps because I grew up in Canada, or because tv was limited to two channels, or by the time it ended on April 30, 1975 when Saigon fell (had to google that!), I was 14 and had other concerns. I do remember being totally fascinated with the Watergate scandal but that encompassed a mystery, and was bloodless. I did visit the Vietnam memorial in my twenties, and It is sad to read the book of names, and to see the size of that wall. I would love to read your interview Rodak. Btw, I wish I could give up my glasses but I would accomplish even less than I do now and they were required to look up the bible quote.

Rodak said...

Had I stayed in Canada, I would be referring to myself today as a "draft dodger." But since I decided to return to the U.S. and resist the draft by legal means, I use the other term. I don't feel any superiority over the "draft dodgers"; I just felt that I'd rather not burn any bridges. As I said, I was married. I decided that it was not fair of me to be the cause of my wife having to live in exile, even though she was willing.

SINVILLE said...

I wondered if you still play guitar? I thought you may have put your poetry to music? I noticed you kept scrapbooks, as I did, but mostly in the form of diaries. I decided to burn everything as an adult. I figured, I did not want to remember anything that I was lucky enough to forget. Now, I would put everything on the web anonymously. I think spilling your guts out via the web, is the most useful therapeutic device, since a peanut butter parfaits.

Rodak said...

No. I still have the guitar, but I don't play it any longer. I really have no talent for music. I did write a bunch of songs, back in the day, but none of them is any good.
I've kept journals only sporadically over the years. I still have them all. But, frankly, I don't find them to be very interesting. More interesting are the notes I've taken on readings. But now I tend to use those for blog posts, rather than filling up notebooks with them.