Why I Joined VVAW When I Left the Navy
By Dan Lavery
I am a volunteer for Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) and respond when the organization receives requests from the public anywhere interested in why Vietnam vets opposed that war. I give interviews, send important information on why I protested against that war, and make myself available for interviews in person or by Skype. My memoir, All the Difference, was written in large part to show how a dedicated military officer could join anti-Vietnam protests, and work for peace while becoming a civil rights attorney for Cesar Chavez's United Farm Workers in California. I began in support of the Vietnam intervention as I was taught at the US Naval Academy to follow orders without questioning them. The Academy had qualified historians who provided the Defense Department version of why we had to intervene in Vietnam to prevent a communist-inspired insurgency to overthrow a weak democracy. Many of my classmates and friends went to Vietnam and I didn't consider the protests at first to be from people who knew the threat as I had been taught. Then the Defense Department claimed an unprovoked attack occurred on the high seas on two of our destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin by North Vietnamese torpedo boats. President Johnson had recently become our Commander-in-Chief after Kennedy was assassinated and went to Congress for a Resolution that allowed the military to respond with all appropriate military response to the claimed North Vietnamese blatant attack on our warships. Congress passed the resolution with only 2 votes against it showing we were outraged at such an attack.
A year later when I was a navigator of the USS Oak Hill (LSD-7) about to take 300 Marines to Vietnam, friends confronted me after a softball game on the lies that surrounded the claim that our Navy was the victim of any attack, and certainly not unprovoked. I fought against agreeing with them, and accused them of being soft on communism as my instructors warned was happening in "liberal" America. But my friends stirred interest in me as to what was the truth. I read the Vietnam Hearings from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee led by Senator Fulbright of Arkansas. Those hearings exposed the lies our president told Congress. We (our CIA) had sent torpedo boats manned by Norwegian naval officers and South Vietnamese crew to attack the North Vietnamese Coast to try to destroy their torpedo boats and warships pounded them with offshore bombardment. So there was much provocation. The Captain of one of the destroyers supposedly attacked had sent in a message 30 minutes after the claim was made they were attacked, saying it appeared to be from mistaken readings of radar and sonar by crewmen and that the attack never happened! The Navy tried to suppress those reports as secret, but they came out later showing the Resolution was a horrible mistake that led us into the Vietnam War. When I learned that, I began to be more careful and distrusted the defense establishment when it came to reasons for a war our government wanted. I performed all tasks required, took the Marines to Vietnam as my required duty, acted as an assistant operations officer at Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippine Islands training American military personnel in shooting targets at sea and assisting the war effort from but inside I was protesting and knew someday, when out of the military, would let others hear my protests loud and clear.
Dan Lavery graduated Annapolis, navigated a Navy jet, was carrier qualified, and earned NAO wings in Florida, and then a ship to Vietnam. He resigned, turned peace activist, joined VVAW, and became a civil rights lawyer for Cesar Chavez's UFW, the ACLU, and private civil rights practice. His memoir, All the Difference, describes his change from a pawn in the military to a crusader for justice. www.danielclavery.com