RECOLLECTIONS: Nixon's Revenge
By Steve Miller
The loud banging on my front door was startling. It was 3 am. My first thought was someone needed help. I had just returned from spending a week sleeping outdoors in April in Washington, DC and the bed felt good. Operation Dewey Canyon III had concluded and I was back in California.
Operation Dewey Canyon III, 1971.
I had returned from Vietnam in early 1969. Homecoming was unsettling. Everything seemed to be wrong and either I or the world was out of sync. It was hard to define but the rejection and the indifference was real. I still had time to serve on my enlistment. I was given a cushy assignment as I counted the days. But I was continuing to unravel around the edges.
The anti-war activities were raging and they looked a lot different stateside than they did in Vietnam. The more sense they made the more I learned and the more troubled I became. I was not comfortable around the anti-war groups and I don't think they were comfortable around me. I soon met the people I needed to talk to at Cal-State University, San Bernardino, fellow anti-war vets. Since I was still on active duty my time with them was limited. I was motivated now to participate in anti-war protests. I would soon learn how costly that decision would be.
By now it was late 1969. I began to notice that I had an entourage with cameras at anti-war rallies. Then, men in PX suits came to my work site looking for Sgt. Miller. They identified themselves as Officers from the Office of Special Investigation (OSI). They escorted me deep into a building I had never noticed before. I was left with one officer in an interrogation room furnished to look like an office. I was too naive to realize that the excessive mirrors hid other Officers who would soon join us. To this point I had forgotten that there is no "free speech" option for active duty service members and I spoke candidly to the pleasant man in the PX suit.
We were then joined by about six more PX suits and the shit hit the fan. Leavenworth seemed to be an ultimate destination. But in the meantime, life got ugly. After reporting to my usual work site, I was met by military police who introduced me to my replacement and escorted me to the ammo dump on the far side of the base. I was assigned to palletize 90 pound boxes of ammo and prepare them for shipment. The San Bernardino heat was relentless. My cushy job was gone. I was married and living off base. Too bad. I was to report to an assigned barracks to pull CQ all night and then back to the dump in the morning. But I knew this would be over soon. I had applied for and had been granted an early release in order to attend college San Bernardino Valley College (SBVC).
I attempted to begin the discharge process when I was given the bad news. They told me they couldn't find my paperwork: translation, "You aren't getting out." Furious, I contacted Senator Alan Cranston who was a strong anti-war advocate. In short order my paperwork was found and I was discharged. Now, I was not only anti-war but very angry. I traded an OSI entourage for unknown "intelligence" groupies who wasted a lot of film on me.
I started school more adrift than ever. It was at SBVC where I found the newly forming VVAW and my dear friend Barry Romo. Barry would be a very important influence in my life and VVAW was immensely helpful. It was now 1970 and the year would be filled with school and anti-war activities. It was really good to be with like-minded vets. We vets had already been marginalized and discarded but now in the eyes of the "Greatest Generation" VVAW members were bordering on treason.
We frequently held planning sessions at my house and as 1970 was coming to a close, the big event, Operation Dewey Canyon III, was about to take center stage. Barry handled all of the national coordination, which was substantial. As April approached, our organization was relatively small and we were always looking to accept new members. And that is when he showed up.
No one knew him. Nothing about him fit. He just appeared at one of our planning meetings. Our typical dress was OD green jungle fatigues. He wore stateside fatigues that looked to be late 50's early 60's vintage. He sported Captain's bars but didn't look old enough to be a Second Lieutenant. Everything about him was wrong but he managed to worm his way in. We were all very distracted at the time. Barry was especially busy we just let the "Captain" slip by. He was granted an airline ticket for DC.
The night before we left there was a final meeting. The Captain showed up. As the meeting broke up the Captain approached me and wanted to trade a film canister of pills for some weed. I declined but gave him some weed. He said there was some really good drugs in the canister and I would probably change my mind. He stuck them in my refrigerator. There was a lot of excitement about our pending departure and it was no time to split hairs. Soon we were on our way to DC. It was an amazing week and the support that VVAW received was tremendous. Richard Nixon was furious at the anti-war vets. The anti-war movement was emboldened by us. I was so glad to be a part of it.
But where was the Captain? No one had seen him since we arrived. He was a no-show for the flight home. We were now absolutely convinced we had taken some type of undercover agent into our welcome organization.
And there it was again. The banging on my front door was louder and voices were now yelling. I made my way in the early morning darkness to see what the fuss was about. As I opened the door the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department presented me with handcuffs and a search warrant. First stop was the refrigerator and a new nightmare was just beginning.
They thoroughly trashed the house as they savored the opportunity to punish me. After all, many intelligence officers had worked months to see this night happen. There were frequent snide comments about my being a communist and that they knew I was taking money from Hanoi. The long arm of Richard Nixon had neutralized me and I was never again able to participate in VVAW work. And I learned later that I was not the only one. Other VVAW members around the country met similar fates.
Steve Miller served in USAF from 1966 to 1970. In Vietnam, he was with the 15th Aerial Port Sq. as an Air Freight Specialist. He was with the UPS of I-Corp but instead of trucks they used C-130's, C-123 and C-7 Caribous. They delivered everything and returned bodies. For 12 months prior to deployment, he worked 12-hour night shifts prepping cargo and warehousing bodies.