Published: Sunday, February 24, 2008
Witnesses to history share their stories
Although Americans have been bitterly divided about Vietnam for four
decades, everyone seems to agree on at least one thing: It was a time
of national anguish.
The "war at home" reflected more than just the bloody conflict
overseas. Street scuffles raged over issues like capitalism, racism,
paternalism, sexism and homophobia.
This violence was juxtaposed with a festive hippie counterculture
that would soon be co-opted by mainstream society. Almost overnight,
long hair and bell bottoms went from ridicule to ubiquitous fashion
statement. The baby boom had been reborn.
Random snapshots of 1968 provide clues about how ordinary people
coped with extraordinary events. Some Vermonters had already joined
the vanguard of change; others stood unwittingly on the threshold.
Either way, they all had a destiny to fulfill. Their diverse stories
reach back 40 years to offer a quick glimpse of forces that
transformed the country and, in the process, enriched the Green Mountain State:
Jan. 13, 1968 Shortly before the 77-day Siege of Khe Sanh, Marine
Sgt. Jim Lockwood's rifle company was ambushed en route to that
embattled village. "In a six-hour firefight, 22 out of 55 men in the
platoon were killed," recalls the Essex Junction resident, 61. "One
advantage we had was that most of the NVA (North Vietnamese Army)
were stoned. They dipped their joints in opium."
His injuries, from shrapnel, were minor. Dozens of others had to be
In February, Lockwood's squad, stationed at an old French fort in
inaccessible cloud-covered mountains during monsoon season, was
running out of food. "We killed a wild pig one day, like a damn
safari," he says, before remembering a more tragic wild animal
encounter: A member of the battalion was dragged off by a tiger and
In March, Lockwood was flying in a helicopter brought down by enemy
fire, with a heavy loss of life. "That's what 1968 was like," he says.
When his 13-month tour of duty ended in August, he decided to walk
away from what had always been envisioned as a lifelong career in the military.
On Jan. 13, 2008, Lockwood now working as a Federal Court Security
Officer in Burlington after more than 25 years with the Border Patrol
paid homage to the memory of Khe Sanh.
Lockwood attended church with the mother of a Marine from Proctor,
one of the 22 killed in that day, and they visited his grave together.
"We have an obligation never to forget them," he says.
April 15, 1968 With a draft notice just days away, Andy Megrath,
then 20, of Rutland joined the Army for a three-year tour in order to
secure a more skilled position than that of an infantry foot soldier.
Even so, his surveying responsibilities in Vietnam required setting
up perimeters in hostile territory. Beyond that, from Saigon to
Pleiku, he would volunteer for dangerous patrols and, what were
dubbed "hunter-killer" teams.
"We'd ride shotgun in small helicopters at treetop level," explains
Megrath, 59. "Charlie (the Viet Cong) used tracers, so we'd draw fire
and zip out of the way when the big Cobras flew in to finish the job.
We were the hunters; the Cobras were the killers."
Although, more skirmishes than major combat, his battles produced
casualties that he prefers not to discuss. "I don't like talking
about the bad times," acknowledges Megrath, who was discharged from
the military in April 1971 as a decorated Specialist 5 "the
equivalent of today's three-stripe sergeant."
Today, he is president of Chapter One of the Vietnam Veterans of
America and heads the board of Dodge House, a facility for homeless
vets. Megrath, though, has not let go of his anger about civilians
who opposed the war, particularly a certain controversial actress. A
patch on his vest refers to Jane Fonda as an American traitor.
April 23, 1968 Roz Payne of Richmond was in a New York City
filmmakers' collective documenting a protest at Columbia University,
where hundreds of students opposed the school's plan to build a gym
in the nearby black community.
Her cinematic career, begun the year before, involved chronicling
most of the dynamic activities in the late 1960s. As a member of
Newsreel, a team of radicals-with-cameras, she covered almost every
development that gave the era its oomph.
In 2007, Payne released a four-disk DVD box set on the Black Panthers
that that includes three Newsreel films on the subject. She also
maintains the collective's archives.
"Columbia Revolt," a documentary that traces the seven-day takeover,
conveys the raw energy of youngsters denouncing their school's
corporate ties and obliviousness to Harlem neighbors.
During the occupation, the basic necessities were smuggled in via a
bucket lowered to supporters on the street below. The Newsreel folks
observed and participated, as serious dialogue was tempered by
celebration. The Grateful Dead even performed outside.
Payne can be spotted in the footage. "There are shots of me doing the
Limbo, smoking a cigarette and climbing in through the window," she
says. "It was one of the most wonderful times of my life."
Remarkably, one day she noticed her City College professor walking
past the building. "I put my master's thesis in the bucket and handed
it down," Payne explains. "I'm not sure what she thought about that,
but I got my degree."
Payne was not among the 700 Columbia occupiers subsequently arrested;
many of them were beaten by police as the cameras rolled.
Newsreel's "Summer '68" is a pastiche of organizational efforts
leading up to August's Democratic National Convention in Chicago,
where police night sticks were wielded against activists, journalists
and delegates. Payne was there, shooting as she ran from tear gas and
cops in pursuit.
She also accompanied her pals Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin leaders
of the mischievous Yippies (Youth International Party) when they
purchased an Illinois farmer's pig to use in a satirical campaign:
Pigasus for President. "After a few days, the ASPCA (American Society
for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) took it away," Payne says.
Dave Dellinger, a respected proponent of nonviolent disobedience who
moved to Vermont in the 1980s, is seen at several points in the film.
He tells a Boston crowd: "New England will once again be an
inspiration for a second and badly-needed American revolution."
As melee took place throughout the city, he contended: "Chicago is a
Along with Hoffman, Rubin and other fellow organizers, Dellinger and
John Froines who would soon begin teaching chemistry at Goddard
College in Plainfield were charged with conspiracy to incite a riot
in Chicago. Those convictions were eventually overturned.
April 23, 1968 Rick Winston came down with strep throat and
couldn't participate in the Columbia occupation or subsequent strike,
though he was then a junior there. He soon transferred to the
University of California at Berkeley, another campus in turmoil.
"I was rank-and-file," says Winston, 60, now owner of the Savoy
Theater in Montpelier. "Whenever they held a march, I'd march. I had
friends in SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), but I've never
been a joiner."
As unrest spread to colleges across the country, "it was like a
prairie fire," says Winston, who lives in Adamant. "When Robert
Kennedy was killed so soon after Martin Luther King, a friend of mine
said: 'This is the end of America.'"
April 1968 Bill Kinzie of Ferrisburgh was earning $600 a week as
the drummer with a "Top 40-type' band playing a club in Palm Springs,
Calif. "I never dressed the way they did," he says. "After about six
months, I was told: 'We're going to Vegas, and you're not.'"
A year earlier, in Los Angeles, Kinzie was a production assistant for
The Cowsills, a family of pop singers and the premier act on the MGM
While the band that fired him apparently went on to Vegas anonymity,
Kinzie was able to relocate to Vermont in 1969 thanks to his savings
from the Palm Springs gig.
Although now the senior media producer for Lindblad Expeditions, an
international eco-tourism company, at 60 he can count decades of
performing blue-eyed soul, rhythm-and-blues and jazz on his resume.
"We were too late to be beatniks, but we weren't really hippies,"
Kinzie says, describing the musicians of his generation. "We were the
people the hippies wanted to look like."
April 4, 1968 Joe Moore of Burlington had already played sax for
Wilson Pickett, Junior Walker and other major talents when he took a
steady job with Lloyd Simms and the Untouchables, a soul revue that
toured North America. Right after the assassination of Martin Luther
King, the band witnessed riots while performing at clubs or hotels in
Detroit and Asbury Park, N.J.
"I stayed way from the violence and the drugs that were around then
because I didn't want to kill myself," Moore, 59, says. "I wanted to
He also wanted to look like Jimi Hendrix, even though his own hair
had been damaged by processing. So Moore purchased "a huge Afro wig"
and tied a scarf wrapped around his head. "Nobody else realized," he
says. "But it would get so hot at gigs, I'd take the wig off, and
they'd be stunned."
Since moving to Vermont in 1975, Moore has become adept in several
other genres, including jazz, rock and Irish music. His Celtic alter
ego: "I go by Jo' Mo', the Irish Bro'."
April 4, 1968 Tony Whedon, 66, found himself in the whirlwind of
civil rights issues at a key moment. "I was teaching at Morehouse
College, Martin Luther King's alma mater in Atlanta, was very much
engaged in the 'movement' as it spiraled out of control away from
nonviolence," he says.
Now a professor of creative writing and literature at Johnson State
College, Whedon re-examined those experiences in "A Language Dark
Enough," his 2004 book of autobiographical essays. The chapter about
King's death is titled "Liberal White Boy.'
June 6, 1968 Jay Craven of Peacham, a poetry-loving Pennsylvania
peacenik who had been campaigning door-to-door on behalf of Robert
Kennedy's presidential bid, graduated from high school one day after
the assassination. In August, he intended to reach Chicago in time
for the Democratic convention, but his 1954 Renault broke down on the way.
At Boston University that fall, finances dictated that Craven take
ROTC to get a break on tuition. During his first day on campus, an
AWOL soldier took sanctuary in the chapel and students maintained a
"I spoke at a rally about the war and never showed up for ROTC,"
Craven says. "I lost the financial aid but found myself."
His newly minted sense of identity was tested when plainclothes cops,
who were breaking up a protest about General Electric's military
contracts, clubbed him. Craven ran afoul of the law again while
selling charcoal-broiled, all-beef hot dogs with wheat germ, sliced
carrots and green peppers from a cart on school grounds.
"I took the business over when the guy who was doing it got busted
for competing with the university food service," explains Craven, now
a 56-year-old filmmaker. "My logo was a clenched fist holding a hot
dog. Within a week, I was selling 2,000 a day which made up for
losing that ROTC money. After seven or eight weeks, I got busted."
August 1968 Lou Andrews was raising two young daughters and working
to put her husband through college in Wisconsin. He went to Chicago
to protest at the Democratic convention; she remained home with the
girls. "I was laden down with children and a little bit out of it,"
she says of her own political awareness.
Andrews was then still two years away from an epiphany women's
liberation, to be exact at a rural commune in Franklin called
Earthworks. "Suddenly, people were paying attention to me for the
first time in my life," she marvels.
The hardscrabble existence was daunting. "We had 300 acres, but it
was a small house with four couples," explains Andrews, 64, a
Burlington human resources specialist. "The kids all slept in the
same room. We tore out the telephone and washing machine. Diapers
were done by hand. We grew veggies, farmed with horses, slaughtered
our own meat and sold maple syrup."
These chores did not come naturally to people who hailed from cities
and suburbs. "We learned a lot from neighbors willing to converse
with us," Andrews acknowledges. "Others in town were terrified."
August 1968 Along with another friend, in 1967 author Ray Mungo and
poet Verandah Porche co-founded the Liberation News Service in
Washington, D.C. A year later, they launched a legendary Vermont
commune: Packer Corners in Guilford also became known as "Total Loss
Farm," the title of his 1970 Pulitzer Prize-nominated memoir about
the experience. Some of the down payment for their ramshackle abode
with no indoor plumbing came from fellow communard Mary Jezer's bar
Mungo, 62, explains in an e-mail: "At some point we got completely
burned out and longed for a place deep in the woods, where we could
find peace and brotherhood and raise a few vegetables and maybe a
pot plant or two."
The California-based Mungo, who left Packer Corners in 1971, once
wrote that "Vermont is a place of strong white magick, a place
friendly to adventurers of the mind and body."
Porche still lives at Total Loss Farm, the not-quite-utopia where she
landed with a sense of hopelessness after Dr. King was assassinated.
In one of her poems, she describes their communal experiment long ago
as "famous, formless, flaky, together."
The past is never past, of course, and many of those who lived
through 1968 may spend part of 2008 revisiting the disparate joys and
sorrows of a year that still resonates for them.
From Aug. 22 to 24 this summer, Ray Mungo and his fellow communards
are holding a 40th anniversary reunion at Total Loss Farm. "We were a
bunch of idealistic, searching and also tired youths struggling for
peace and equality and an end to the war in Vietnam," he muses.
The same month, Jim Lockwood will travel to Virginia to meet up with
Marine buddies who made it back from Khe Sanh. "Wars are stupid to
begin with, but fantastic for big business," he theorizes. "Even
though the economy booms, I'd still like to think we go for a noble cause."
Steven Spielberg is planning a movie about the raucous trial of the
Chicago 7, starring Sacha Baron Cohen of "Borat" fame as Abbie
Hoffman and Philip Seymour Hoffman as defense attorney William Kunstler.
This project intrigues Maria Garcia, a Goddard student in the early
1970s when attended a party there with comedian Dick Gregory,
Kunstler, and defendants Abbie Hoffman, Dave Dellinger and John
Froines, her chemistry professor.
"Gregory was at Goddard to perform, and to push his candidacy for
president," Garcia writes in an e-mail from Manhattan, where she is a
magazine film critic and novelist. "I mostly remember listening in
rapt attention to every word Dellinger had to say. He was a quietly
charismatic guy ... and we would have listened to him had he been
During a debate about the extreme tactics of the Weather Underground,
Garcia continues, "Kunstler, always a humanist, expressed grief and
then said: 'In a free society, it's always sad when anything has to
Later that decade, he defended a young West German woman whose
underground existence ended at the Vermont border. Kristina Berster
had crossed over illegally from Quebec in July 1978. Kunstler tried
to tackle the immigration issue, at one point telling the court in
Burlington that his own Eastern European grandparents "came over here
on a pickle boat."
His bigger challenge was the FBI's assertion that Berster, allegedly
a terrorist wanted in her homeland, had conspired with U.S. citizens.
The jury rejected that claim and found her guilty only of lying to
During Berster's four-month trial, snipers were positioned on the
roof of the downtown Federal Building and the judge had a 24-hour
bodyguard. After applying for political asylum, in October 1979 she
voluntarily went back to Germany, where the charges of "criminal
association with known terrorists' were dropped.
A mom for peace
"By 1968 everybody was opposed to the war," says Kevin Graffagnino,
executive director of the Vermont Historical Society in Barre.
That partisan perspective may be due to the fact that, while he was
growing up in Montpelier, his single mother had been an early and
lone champion of many seemingly lost causes. Myrtle Lane, who died in
2006, "just burst out of being a 1950s housewife," Graffagnino says.
In an era when public school students had to "march around like
soldiers as part of phys ed," he adds, Lane did not want her two sons
"contributing to the military-industrial complex."
From ban-the-bomb to give-peace-a-chance, she was unafraid to
express her views. Consequently, Lane often became the target of
intolerance, such as when some local boys threw snowballs at her. An
editorial in New Hampshire's conservative Manchester Union-Leader
newspaper praised their actions.
"Most people we knew told her, 'Don't make waves,'" says Graffagnino,
who remembers classmates picking fights with him because of the
family's notoriety. "My mother was years ahead of her time. She
wanted to get America to a better place."