|Download PDF of this full issue: v46n1.pdf (21 MB)|
Army Reserve Officer Against the Vietnam War
By Gerald E. Mikkelson
My active opposition to the Vietnam war begin in earnest in 1965 when I was a PhD candidate in Slavic Languages and Literature at the University of Wisconsin. Specifically, I wrote letters urging my representatives in Congress to take action preventing President Lyndon Johnson from sending a half million US troops to Vietnam. I received somewhat encouraging replies from Sen. Gaylord Nelson and Rep. Robert Kastenmeier although no one in Congress was speaking openly against the buildup at that time.
I also participated actively, though not as a leader, in opposition to the war at the UW in Madison. This included marching in anti-war parades, participating in demonstrations and teach-ins and distributing anti-war literature on campus. I heard speakers both anti-war and apologists for the war, including Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Senator Ted Kennedy. I attended a gigantic anti-war demonstration at the Washington Monument in our capital with Judy Collins as principal performer.
I did the above while serving in the active US Army Reserve, first as a 2nd Lieutenant and finally as Captain. I wore a beard while traveling in uniform in spring 1967 to Fort Collins, Colorado, to represent my unit in preparing for our annual two-week summer camp scheduled to take place a few months later.
In August 1967 I became an Acting Assistant Professor of Russian at the University of Kansas (Lawrence, read Jayhawks) and without tenure continued my anti-war activities, participating in protests (now with a two year old son on my shoulders). I gave lectures off campus emphasizing the extent of casualties and futility of our losing war when our fatalities were approaching 60,000 and more than a million Vietnamese people.
During the presidential campaign of 1968, after LBJ announced that he would not seek another term as President, I was treasurer of the local chapter of Kansans for Alternatives (later Kansans for McCarthy) going door to door in Lawrence collecting signatures on a petition calling upon the Kansas Democratic Party to seek the nomination of Sen. Eugene McCarthy rather than Vice President Hubert Humphrey who was tainted by his support for his boss, LBJ, in continuing to pursue the ever more elusive goal of victory over the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops.
In Kansas we collected over 40,000 signatures opposing the war that were sent to Topeka prior to the Democratic Presidential Convention in Chicago (read Abby Hoffman, Mayor Richard J.Daley, and the Chicago Seven).
When the Chicago bloodshed ended, Humphrey nominated, and the dust settled, it seemed like all our efforts had been to no avail. However, the judgement of history proved otherwise. Subsequent US government policy makers failed to avoid the same mistakes in Iraq and other places. The war finally ended in 1975 in part because of the anti-war movement.
None of the above suggests for a moment that I was any sort of hero. However, while I did not fight and risk my life among you folks on the ground in Vietnam, I did my part and now that is a source of satisfaction to me in retirement.
Gerald E. Mikkelson was on active duty service during the Vietnam war. Commissioned in August 1959 through ROTC, he fulfilled an eight-year obligation in the US Army Reserve, divided between stints of active reserve and active duty that began in November 1959 with six months at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, including Engineer Officers' Basic Course (boot camp) at Fort Belvoir.