by Jim Foreman
"HELL NO, WE WON`T GO! HELL NO, WE WON`T GO!" Tom Davis led the shouting mass of students as they surged back and forth in front of the Administration Building at Berkeley University. This was only one of the almost-daily protest sessions which he led against President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Viet Nam War, the price of tuition, the food in the cafeteria and whatever else might be on his mind at the time. Even though there was no immediate danger of his being drafted due to his college deferment, which was good until he graduated, he was one of the first draft resisters to burn his draft card on the steps of the Selective Service Office. To his fellow students, he was the local hero because he had led so many anti-war demonstrations that the school finally decided to abandon its ROTC Program.
With his long, stringy hair, unruly beard and totally unkempt appearance, he looked as if he would be more at home in the hippie haunts of San Francisco than on a college campus.
Protesting the Viet Nam war wasn't the only cause that occupied Tom's energies. He had led rallies to legalize pot, to stamp out nuclear weapons, to stop construction on the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, to save both the whale and the sea otter and against the CIA involvement in Chili. In any cause which flew against the accepted interests and aims of mainstream America, Tom Davis was first to lead a noisy demonstration either for of against it, depending on which direction would attract the most coverage by the local media. He loved the TV cameras because they allowed him to take his cause into every living room and the TV reporters loved him because he always provided "good press" for them. This exposure also earned him a prominent spot on just about every government list of subversives, reactionaries and other dangerous or undesirable characters.
Unlike most students who used the college campus only as a base from which they could safely pursue their causes, while gaining very little in the way of an education; Tom not only graduated with the honors, but also earned the highest grade point average in the history of Berkeley. The President of the university, realizing who would be delivering the valedictory address at the graduation ceremonies, sent word to Tom that he would be required to submit his speech for approval. Tom wrote a speech worthy of the best of politicians. He praised God, country, motherhood, short hair, apple pie, hot dogs, baseball and the good old American way; using every hackneyed cliché ever written. The President approved the speech with a personal note, "Most inspiring speech that I ever read."
Graduation day came and the hall was filled to overflowing. On the large stage sat the college's regents, directors and honored alumni. The officers of the college were there in their doctoral robes and a color guard stood at attention to one side. Just below and in front of the stage, the band played softly.
The graduating class occupied the center section of the auditorium and thousands of proud parents jammed the rest of the hall. The band played "Trumpet Voluntaire" and the auditorium became quiet.
After a lengthy introduction of the people on the stage, the President of the College gave a glowing introduction of the Valedictorian. Tom walked to the podium, arranged he notes and began his speech in a most proper way, "Mr. President, Regents, Directors, Deans, Department Heads, Graduating Glass and distinguished ladies and gentlemen. Now that we have that formal horseshit out of the way, let's get down to the things which really concern us." With that, discarded his cap and gown, ripped his notes in half and launched into a tirade about how the Washington Politicians were using illegally obtained tax monies to send the nation down the road to ruin. While he continued his diatribe about crooked politicians and matters in general, the President rose and walked into the wings at one side of the stage. Suddenly, the microphone at the podium went dead and the band began to play so loudly that it completely drowned him out. While the stunned audience sat in silence, Tom dropped his pants and mooned the dignitaries on the stage, gave the audience the old middle-finger salute and strode off the stage.
As he reached the bottom of the steps, four husky men in dark blue suits stepped up to him. His arms were jerked behind his back and he felt handcuffs snap around his wrists. "We are United States Marshals and you are under arrest," said the leader.
"On what charge?" asked Tom.
"The charges," said the Marshal, emphasizing the plural form of charge, "Are sedition, inciting to riot and destruction of government property, among other things."
"What government property have I destroyed?" demanded Tom.
"Draft cards are government property and you burned yours, that will do for a starter," he replied.
During the next few hours, Tom was fingerprinted, photographed and processed into a holding cell in the Federal Building in San Francisco. The following morning, he was brought into a room where another man dressed in a blue suit was seated. "Mr. Davis, I am Cecil Stone with the Department of Justice. You have some very serious charges against you, but I am here to offer you an alternative to a long prison term after you are convicted."
"You seem pretty sure that I'll be convicted on these trumped up charges," replied Tom.
"Mr. Davis, I can assure you that we have enough evidence to convict you ten times over, so I suggest that you hear what I have to offer."
"No harm in listening," replied Tom.
"I am authorized by the Justice Department to make you this offer on a one-time basis. If you do not accept it today, we will proceed with prosecution on all charges. Here is our offer. You will appear before a Federal Judge tomorrow morning and enter a plea of "Guilty" to all charges. He will defer sentencing with the provision that you agree to immediate induction into the Army. Your Army service will be for only two years while a conviction will get you from ten to twenty years in a federal detention facility. I believe that you are smart enough to understand the wisdom of accepting our offer."
Seldom has an appearance before a judge taken less time. Tom was taken into the court room and seated at a table. Cecil Stone, whom Tom had met with the day before, was seated at one table and a man whom Tom not met was at the other. The other man put out his hand and said, "I am Ogden Hayden, your court appointed attorney."
"The case of the United States of America against Thomas Dwight Davis," said the Judge.
"Defense waves reading of the charges, your honor," said Hayden.
"How do you plead to the charges, Mr. Davis?" asked the Judge.
"Guilty to all charges, your honor," replied Tom.
"Your guilty plea is accepted by the court, however I will defer sentencing, pending completion of the agreement submitted by the prosecution," replied the Judge. "Next case."
Two hours later, Tom was standing stark naked in line with a hundred or more other men being processed into military service at the induction center. "Wouldn't it be a hoot if I failed their damn physical examination," he thought to himself. But, little did he realize that under the agreement, it was already decided that Thomas Dwight Davis was going to pass his draft physical, regardless of what the doctors might find.
Tom left his mop of long hair and the scraggly beard laying on the floor as he went past the barbers on his way through the induction process. His "Save the Whales" T-Shirt and ragged jeans were traded for Army fatigues and suddenly, he was no longer a hippie resisting the draft; he was just another nameless grunt in the army. All that it took after induction was six weeks in a Hell Hole called Fort Polk, Louisiana before he was loaded aboard an airplane bound for Viet Nam. Tom kept getting the feeling that he was being pushed toward his destination in Viet Nam with the same rapid efficiency that had moved him through his session in the kangaroo court.
Each canvas seat on the airplane was filled with a gaunt-faced youth, most of whom still weren't old enough to legally buy beer. The seats folded down to haul new cannon fodder to Viet Nam and folded up into litters to haul the wounded back. The airplane was on the ground in Hawaii for two hours to take on fuel, food and a new flight crew but Tom and the other soldiers were not allowed to step foot off the ship. The only exercise that they could get was walking down the aisle to the bathrooms.
The airplane raced with the sun across the International Dateline, seemingly driven to deliver its load of new bodies to the war as rapidly as possible. After more than twenty-four hours in the air, the ship touched down at Da Nang Airbase just as the sun was rising over the rice paddies.
The two hundred newly delivered troops were hustled off the airplane so that it could be refueled, the interior rearranged to haul wounded and made ready for the return flight. Names were called, people were shuffled into small groups, some going to one place and some to another. Tom was the last person to be loaded aboard a truck which rolled out the gate and headed for his assigned unit. The company to which he was assigned was located in an area which was supposed to be free from fighting at the time.
"Everybody out," shouted the Corporal as he dropped the tailgate of the truck. Tom stood up, stiff from the two hour ride over rough roads, and jumped to the ground. There was a roar, a blinding flash of light and searing heat as he felt himself being blown back into the truck.
Tom could hear voices, "Poor bastard, jumped right on top of a land mine."
"What gets me is how the hell the Cong could get into the middle of our area to plant the damn thing."
"Who knows. It could have been a houseboy, or one of the old women who scrounge through the garbage. You never know who's a Cong and who isn't. We ought to shoot every damn gook who comes into the area."
He felt people doing things with him, picking him up and moving him about. Someone rolled his sleeve up and there was a slight prick of a needle. Tom slipped into darkness.
"Think you can save his feet, doc?"
"They're blown all to hell; hand me a bone saw and I'll take them off."
"How about just patching him up and shipping back him stateside. We are already getting a lot of heat for amputating too many limbs that they claim could have been saved."
"Even if they do save them, they won't be anything more than stubs. I say that we amputate, especially the right one."
"Even stubs are better than plastic ones."
Tom could hear the voices and feel the awful, burning pain in his feet and legs. He had to see what was going on, so he opened his eyes. A bright light was aimed at his feet and several figures in surgical gowns huddled around him. Masks covered their faces. "No! Don't cut off my feet!" Tom screamed as he struggled to lift his shoulders high enough to see what they were doing.
"He's coming to, bomb him!" said one of the figures. Hands held him down while a black rubber mask was cupped over his face. He drifted back into darkness.
Tom could feel hands on his body. They felt wet as if someone was washing him. He could no longer feel any pain in his feet; were they still there? Had the doctor cut them off? He opened his eyes to see a nurse in a white uniform bending over him. She was busy washing his chest and arms.
"Welcome back," she said.
"My feet, are they still there?" he asked.
"Sure are. The doctor said that they will be just fine."
"But I heard him talking about amputating them," said Tom. "I came to for a few seconds and heard him."
"You were probably imagining things, that happens a lot when you are under. Don't worry about your feet. They are still there and just fine."
"Where am I?" Tom asked, looking around.
"You are in an M.A.S.H. unit. As soon as you are stable, you'll be going to an EVAC hospital for shipment back stateside to an orthopedic hospital."
Tom couldn't remember too much about what happened during the next few hours. It seemed that every time that he opened his eyes, they would give him another shot and he would be out again. He could remember only bits and pieces, like riding in a helicopter and then in an ambulance.
"Water, could I please have some water," he heard himself saying. His mouth was as dry as cotton.
"Sure thing, soldier. Drink some through this straw," came the voice as he felt something against his lips. He drew on the straw and water had never tasted so good in his life.
He opened his eyes and became aware of a low hum. He rolled his eyes around and realized that he was in an airplane. He looked up and recognized a broken place in the plastic ceiling. He was going home on the same airplane which had brought him to Viet Nam.
"Are you in any pain?" asked the voice.
"Not much, so don't give me another shot to knock me out again. I want to know what is going on," said Tom.
"Your tour in Viet Nam is over and you are on your way stateside to a hospital," said the voice, which Tom could now see belonged to a young soldier.
"You a doctor, nurse or what?" asked Tom.
"Medical technician," he replied. "A doctor will be along in a few minutes to check you over. Anything that I can do for you until he gets here?"
"Yes, one thing. Raise me up high enough so I can see my feet. They keep telling me that they are there, but I still can't feel them." The young man helped Tom raise his head until he could see his bandaged legs and feet.
"See, just like I told you. Your feet are still there, just wrapped in bandages," said the medic.
"Thanks a lot, I just wanted to be sure."
Although Tom's legs and feet were badly mangled, the doctors were able to save them. After three months in the hospital, his feet were repaired as well as possible and he was due for release.
Tom sat in a wheelchair while the doctor read from his report, "You have a ninety percent loss of motion in your right foot and ankle and a sixty percent in your left. You also have a fifty percent loss of motion in your right knee. You will be able to walk, but your days of playing football are over," he joked.
"Beats the hell out of rolling round in a wheelchair," replied Tom. "If it had been left up to that quack over in Nam, my feet would still be there."
Six months to the day after he was sworn in, Tom Davis received a Purple Heart and a disability discharge from the Army. "One thing that I can say for the Army is that it doesn't take long for them to make a cripple out of a person. This Purple Heart and fifty cents will buy a cup of coffee most anyplace. I'll learn how to walk on these feet, but it's going to be tough as hell learning to live on the three-twenty a month that they are going to give me for fucking up my life."