Fort Hood 3 announce refusal to go to Vietnam: 1966
Army privates Dennis Mora, James Johnson, and David Samas announce their refusal to participate in the Vietnam War in the summer of 1966 sparking a number of refusals.
D.C. resident Reginald Booker preceded them in refusing orders for Vietnam, but did not do so publicly and was not punished.
In September of 1966, the three men were court martialed. During their separate trials, they argued the war was illegal. Samas cited Nuremberg code as precedent and said, “The way I was brought up was to judge things with my conscience, and that is what I did.”
The men were presented as counterpoints to Adolf Eichmann, the infamous Nazi who defended his orchestration of the “Final Solution” to kill millions of Jews by saying that he was just following orders. They were not unthinking cogs in an inhuman killing machine, but citizens of conscience and intellect.
The military court ruled against them, charging them with insubordination. They were all dishonorably discharged. Mora was sentenced to three years in jail, Samas and Johnson to five. When Johnson received his sentence, an audible gasp was heard from the gallery.
Not long after, a sparsely attended tribute was held for the men in New York. Mora’s sister warned about apathy about the war and the the fates of the Fort Hood Three.
In the coming years, the military would try to clamp down on similar conscientious objectors with brutal and excessive punishments. But insubordination proved contagious.
There would be dozens of demonstrations on bases and over 250 anti-war newspapers run by the enlisted. The Fort Hood Three were the first sprouts of resistance in what would become the full-on movement that ultimately toppled the Vietnam War.
Not long after the Fort Hood Three, another soldier refused his orders, saying “I follow the Fort Hood Three. Who will follow me?”
Booker, who would go on to lead civil rights and black liberation struggles in the District of Columbia, was asked why he wasn’t punished and replied:
“I was in a company that was predominately black. It was called an Ammo Company, and was scheduled to go to Vietnam. As a matter of fact, the company did go, but I didn’t go because I refused to go to Vietnam.”
“So at the time I was in the Army this anti-Vietnam sentiment just began to surface in the Army. I don’t think they really knew how to deal with it. Plus the situation of the fact that soldiers were sort of touchy, they didn’t want to, at least on that level, do anything to the black solider that would sort of incite other black soldiers to take the same action.”
“After I got out of the service then they began to take a hard line…position. Then soldiers, both black and white, began to express their views more in terms of being opposed to the war in Vietnam.”
Booker was discharged honorably in January 1967.
--description of the Fort Hood 3 largely excerpted from a post by Laura Smith on Timeline, Nov. 30, 2017.
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The photographer is unknown. The image is courtesy of the Finer Memorial, University of Newfoundland.