Dan Sharry grew up Worcester, Massachusetts, the 2nd of ten children. He comes from a very politically active family, with his grandmother part of the Electoral College. As a child, when not trying to survive Catholic School, his job at the County Courthouse gave him an opportunity to keep up with current events. While he was not up on a soap box shouting his protests, his personal experiences gives us a unique view into the times. From seeing a classmate get shipped off and killed in Vietnam, to going on a hunger strike to dodge the draft, Mr. Sharry’s offers a unique perspective into the Vietnam Era.
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Q: Okay so, could you tell us when you were born?
Mr. Sharry: May 19, 1950
Q: Could you describe where you grew up?
Mr. Sharry: I grew up in Worcester Massachusetts, on the West side of city. Relatively large neighborhood, a city that’s probably, probably like Newton or Watertown in terms of the neighborhood I grew up in. big houses, small lots, big family, more than 10 children I’m the 2nd of 10. So I have 6 sisters and 3 brothers, so I had a big house with lots going on. And the range is 16 years, so the oldest was 16 when the 10th was born. So it runs the whole family there.
Q: So, What did your parents do for work?
Mr. Sharry: My mother didn’t work, except at the house, and it was quite a bit of work actually. My dad was in the insurance business for many, many years, and later got into the travel business, for the second half of his business career at about the age of, say 45 or 48. Sold his insurance business and got into the travel business until he was, say 65.
Q: So this was around what year?
Mr. Sharry: Well, he worked in the insurance business from 1950 till probably 1970, and then from ‘70 to 1990 he worked in the travel business.
Q: Was your father in World War II?
Mr. Sharry: He was in world war two, yes. He was very young, 18 years old. He was born 1925, so in 1943 he was 18, at the end of the war, and joined to be a fighter pilot. They didn’t need as many fighter pilots because the war was winding down, they didn’t want to put these guys through all the expensive training so he ended up in a, I think it was a B-26. He was as a tail gunner, had the machine gun out the tail/back end of the plane, and spent some amount of time in England and then flew across the channel to the continent, towards the end of the war
Q: So were you a typical baby boomer of the post World War II Era?
Mr. Sharry: I guess. I don’t know what typical really means in that sense, but I think I was quite similar to most of the kids I knew in my age. I mean I went to a parochial Catholic school, still out in Worcester. St. Peters, St. Peter Marion. And so I had a group of friends and associates at the school, which was halfway across the city. I was pretty normal compared to them. And then where I lived, there was a whole other neighbor hood of friends. and there was a public high school about a half a mile from my house and I think I was probably pretty typical of those kids too.
Q: And when were you in high school?
Mr. Sharry: I graduated from high school in 1968
Q: And what was high school like for you?
Mr. Sharry: Well, like I said I went to parochial school. I was taught by priests and nuns, somewhat conservative environment. I didn’t care for it all that much to be candid, at least from the 11th to 12th grade. Up until the 10th grade, all 10 of my brothers and sisters went to the parochial school with nuns from first grade on, through 8th grade. It was in the neighborhood it was right down the street and then 9, 10, 11 and 12 there was 7 Catholic high schools in Worcester in those days, I think there are only 2 left. So I went through a completely different environment, and by the time of junior year I didn’t care for it that much. There was no cafeteria in the school, there was no gymnasium in the school, it was really [bland] compared to what all you all have here. No laboratories, in those days it was pre-computer there was no automation, it really wasn’t that, what’s the word, invigorating. So I went through the motions 11 and 12th grade, really just wasn’t as committed as I see most kids. I mean, my son is a senior here, and he’s got a much better experience than I ever had in high school. But you know it was a typical high school, it was all right. It wasn’t great, it wasn’t the end of the world, either.
Q: And did you do anything outside of school like sports, volunteer work?
Mr. Sharry: I mostly worked actually. I played a couple of freshman sports, but by the time I got to be 16 I really just wanted to make some money. And I worked 5 days a week after school from 2 to 5:30, at the County courthouse downtown. So I took the bus from the high school, got off at the courthouse, and went into the courthouse there. And then in the summer I worked 40 hours a week, so between sophomore and junior, junior and senior, that was it. Got up in the morning, took the bus to school across town, took the bus half way home, got off, went to the court house, and actually walked home from there at 5:30 every night. And that’s all. There was really not much school activity. Plus it wasn’t a community school like it is in Wayland, where everybody knows everybody. There was this one, actually, one friend of mine who lived two streets over that went to high school with me. Nobody else was in a 2 -3 -4 mile radius of my home that I knew [that] went to my school. It was just going to school. Kind of a sterile way of doing it.
Q: So as a teenager, how aware where you of world events?
Mr. Sharry: Very much aware I think, because, well I was aware of the events that impacted me personally. I think that’s mostly what its like for kids that are not out there working in the world. You guys in your school environment, or your home environment, you watched the news a little bit perhaps. But the world events that impacted me or people that I knew in my age bracket I was aware of those. And that primarily revolved around me the Vietnam War. I knew a guy who graduated a year ahead of me that went to Vietnam and was there 3 weeks and got killed. So, I mean, those were the kinds of things where it impacted you, and you were kind of aware of that particular aspect of world events.
Q: Did you ever hear of the Cold War as a kid?
Mr. Sharry: Normally in class. It was a previous era. I mean, it was primarily post-war ‘48 through ‘50’s, but I was born in ‘50 and in 1960 I was only 10 years and you’re not really aware of world events at that age. And by 1964 I was 14, so I was graduating from 8th grade. And the focus of most of the TV news, remember this was pre-cable, pre-internet, you had 3 stations. 4, 5, and 7, that’s all you had, the news was mostly about the Vietnam War, starting in 64 through 72. So there really wasn’t much outside of the classroom where you might study, you know, recent world events.
Q: Did you have an opinion on Communists?
Mr. Sharry: I can’t say that I did one way or the other. I mean, I probably heard what everybody heard in the media or in the classroom like lack of freedom, government control and things of that nature, but I don’t think I had a completely formed opinion one way or the other. It was probably too remote for me to really concern myself with.
Q: So what was your view on John F. Kennedy?
Mr. Sharry: Probably because he was from Massachusetts, and we were from a fairly politically active family. In fact my grandmother was in the Electoral College. She was one of the electoral votes. Most people don’t really understand what that is frankly, but she was the elected official vote person, one of the few in Massachusetts. And she was very, very, very active in the Democratic politics, knew president Johnson after Kennedy died. And so I was quite aware of the fact that we had Democratic Massachusetts based president.
Q: So I assume you recall his assassination then?
Mr. Sharry: Oh yeah, very vividly. We were in the 8th grade, we were upstairs in a mini auditorium having some kind of rehearsal for some something, a debate or a skit or some sort. 7th and 8th grades were there, this was still the grammar school. And one of the nuns came scurrying in, and whispered, and I still remember it actually, it was quite vivid. And then we went downstairs to a classroom where they turned on a little black and white TV. And that’s what I remember about it.
Q: What do you recall about the general state of the country as you came of age?
Mr. Sharry: Mostly from a political and a disruptive prospective. There was quite a clash of ideas between people who didn’t support the war in Vietnam and people who did. And in many cases that broke down between younger, college age, under 25 lets say and those older or more conservative who thought we were really fighting Communism, which most, I don’t think most people really believed that. But there was a lot of protest, quite a lot, on a much broader scale than you ever see nowadays. Very, very vocal, very passionate, there were hundred’s of thousand’s of people. I remember kids getting on busses out in Worcester, and they had a caravan, couple of dozen buses going down to Washington DC, protest the war. And then the other aspect obviously was the drug culture, pretty pervasive in the 60’s. It was everywhere, I mean, everywhere. You couldn’t turn around, drugs were everywhere. Those where the two probably key characteristics, the war and the changing culture around drugs, I would say.
Q: Was life good for you, how did these events affect you in any way, were you part of the people who went to protest?
Mr. Sharry: To a slight degree, because it was, lets see I was graduated from high school in ‘68 and it was really about that time where it got really, really vocal and passionate, At least that is what I remember. So ‘68 through ‘72 perhaps in that range, it was very, very, very vocal and passionate anti-war protests and the news media was starting to turn, that “why are all these guys coming home in body bags?” and “what are we really accomplishing?” and much like what you hear about in the Iraq war. There wasn’t a good government justification for what we were doing and that there had been some lies that were exposed. Really some complete disinformation, where at one point the government claimed that we had been attacked, or one of our ships had been attacked when it really wasn’t true, and it was the motivation to expand the war. And when that was exposed, it was pretty obvious that, you know, things weren’t on the up and up, so by the time war was really a gigantic issue on the cultural landscape with mostly the younger generation. I graduated from high school and I had started college and I was living in Honolulu, so it was very different environment out there. So it wasn’t as vocal and as passionate resistance towards the war because of the substantial military presence out there with Pearl Harbor, Scofield barracks, “canneo” and Marine Corp air stations, a lot of retired military, maybe a much more conservative environment. So it wasn’t like on the East coast where people were very, very passionate about being anti-war, but you know, I had a very good life as a kid in high school and for the most part enjoyed my college days.
Q: So did you enjoy the privileges of the so-called “affluent” society of the period? You lived in bigger houses and probably had a lot of consumer items, and did school sports?
Mr. Sharry: Didn’t really think of it that way to be honest with you. I mean, we came from a big family. I mean, people would say that you live in a big house, but we had a lot of people, we had 12 people living in the house. We always had food on the table, but we weren’t what I would have called, you know, rich. Not by any means, no not at all, very middle class. But I went to a good school, I thought. It wasn’t expensive then, not like tuition is now. You know, it was okay, we had a clean house, food on table, lived in a nice safe neighborhood, but to be honest with you, most of Worcester was pretty safe in those days. It wasn’t really a lot of crime. It wasn’t obvious to us. I mean, I knew we didn’t live in a three Decker, I don’t know if you know what a three Decker is. Or in a house that maybe wasn’t thought as nice as ours. It was nice, I just considered it middle of the road.
Q: How aware where you of racial tensions as you grew up?
Mr. Sharry: I remember when Martin Luther King got killed. That was probably one of the first, and that was in ‘68, April of ‘68, so I was aware. I was aware that there were issues. My father was quite a liberal oriented fellow, and very active in the Catholic Church. I’m trying to think what year it was, maybe 67’, he went down to visit a priest he knew down in Louisiana, a very poor part of Louisiana. A priest that he knew who has come from Massachusetts, who was for some reason down there, and for some reason my father went down to visit him. I have no idea what the connection was there, and he came home and told my mother that she and he would be vacating the master bedroom. And that they were going to take the den that we had on the first floor and make that the new master bedroom and then that he had a 18 year old black girl from Louisiana whose father was a sharecropper. And they lived completely dirt poor, they lived in a shack that you wouldn’t put a dog in. I mean, I saw the photos that they came back with. I mean, she had gotten a scholarship to Anna Maria College out in Paxton, Mass, but in those days they didn’t have any dorms, they didn’t have a place for this gal to live. So my father decided that yeah, she could come live with us. Oh you know, we already had 10 kids in the house, and he told my mother that they were going to move out of the master bedroom. And she ended up living with us for 2 years. And my father had a number of his business associates in the city of Worcester stop talking to him, because he had a black girl move into the house. And you know, they made some very unkind racial and, you know, sexually derogatory comments. You could imagine what they were saying.
Q: So did they ever stop talking to you or anything?
Mr. Sharry: No, but one of the guys that my dad told me that he was quite surprised and disappointed by was the father of one of my best friends. So that was an eye opener, because I knew this guy. And I still hung around with him, and his father didn’t know that my father told me what had transpired, but it was quite an eye opener. She ended up living with us for 2 years and she ultimately got a PHD in biology. She’s down in New York City as a, some kind of a highfalutin biology research professor or something but, it was quite an eye opener. Until it gets personal, you don’t recognize it. And so I knew that there were black people living in the city of Worcester. There was in my high school there was maybe 600 kids and maybe less than a half a dozen black kids. However in the neighborhood where I lived, like I said there was a public high school, and that was quite large, it was the newest one in the city at the time, and they had 1600 kids and they came in from all over the city. It wasn’t just for our Westside neighborhood. And a lot of black kids there, and we hung out with them. So I mean just, you just have different personal stories that relate to the racial thing. And that was, that was the one that was most surprising, when a fellow that I knew, my friend’s dad, I said “ you telling me the truth?” he said “yeah”. It was quite an eye opener.
Q: Did you keep up with the civil rights movement?
Mr. Sharry: I would say peripherally, to the extent that I was politically oriented anyway. My grandmother was, like I said, an enormously active democrat, knew JFK on a first name basis. My father had run for political office four, five times and I had helped him with his campaigns, I working at the court house, everyday after school, you know lawyers and judges, and so I was more involved, I had more of an awareness of political side of life.
Q: [More] than most kids?
Mr. Sharry: Yeah, I would say. Some kids weere all sports, some were all this, some were all that, some were a blend. Because I was working, and because of where I was working, I read the newspaper and I was aware. But that’s about it, you know? Wasn’t like I was up on a soapbox doing anything particularly dramatic, you know?
Q: What did you make out of the increase of black radicals as the 60’s progressed?
Mr. Sharry: You know, it’s kind of interesting actually. This young lady, Barbara, who came to live with us, your very conservative, southern, quite bright, very, very, intelligent and went to a private, I think it was at the time an all girls, college that was taught by nuns. So she was in a sort of a cocoon environment, in a little town called Paxton, which is just adjacent to Worcester. But because she was socially active to some degree, she met some people, some black kids from Clark University which is also out in Worcester, but a liberal, secular non-denominational school that was very much more radical. And she started dating this one guy, Marshal was his name, and I’ll never forget this. He comes in with the black leather blazer, what you would call a sport coat but it was leather, and black leather beret on. And I didn’t know how he got to our house, he didn’t have a car. But the 2 of them were sitting in the living room, we had a living room that was basically off limits, except for holidays, and so she would have that for her personal private area. And they were just socializing and whatever that they did. But I went into the living room and he wasn’t nearly as he would have been if I was walking down the street, or if you see them in the newspaper, where they’re screaming and yelling about Civil Rights. But they look intimidating because of the way they’re dressed, or they look different, as you are a 16-year-old white kid, you know. He’s a 22-year-old black guy with a leather jacket, and a beret, and his fist in a black leather glove and you’re thinking, “Okay that’s pretty scary.” You don’t know why, it just looks scary. But when he’s just sitting in the living room, on my mother’s sofa, he’s just a regular guy. So from that perspective it was about all that I could personally relate to. Rest of it you just read in the newspaper and magazines and stuff. There was no particular insight, just what I read in the paper. That was my only personal story I guess. Although while I was in Hawaii, I have to say one time I was surprised to see that there was a lot of reverse racism, reverse discrimination. White people, Caucasians were often times beat up and harassed by some times Hawaiians, but more often than not [they were] just a bunch of drunk local kids who were probably a blend of ethnicity. That’s just how Hawaii is, there is very few pure Hawaiians, probably less than 10% left. But most of the locals as you would call them are some blend of oriental mixture, so you could be part Philipino, part Chinese, part Korean, and they just call it Hapa. H-A-P-A, that’s just the Hawaiian word for it. But they where no more Hawaiian than I was. You know, they were, but they looked no more local than I did. So I would be riding down the street on my bicycle and some one would throw a beer can out at me and stop and try to harass me. I would be riding my bike, you know, in those days I was a kid, I didn’t have a car. And only because I was white. So it was an eye opener to be on the other end of the spectrum where you’re the minority, and obviously the more ignorant of the population [would harass me]. As would be the case down South. The more ignorant would be the one who beat up the black people, right? It only happened twice, but you certainly remember it when it happens. To be on the other end of racial discrimination and aggression towards you just because you’re a certain race.
Q: So when was this? When where you in Hawaii?
Mr. Sharry: I was in Hawaii from 69 to 73.
Q: And this is?
Mr. Sharry: This was probably 1970, 1971.
Q: Was your family living there too?
Mr. Sharry: No, I was living there all by myself.
Q: Oh, Was it for college?
Mr. Sharry: It was when I went to college, so, and they didn’t have any dorms there so you just lived in the community. So I just lived in an apartment. So they [my family] were back here in Worcester. So a different perspective on that.
Q: So when did you first hear about the conflict in Vietnam?
Mr. Sharry: I would probably say, you know, when it really hit was when the fellow, George Adams was his name, graduated a year ahead of me, graduated in 67. And he got killed over there. I mean I guess that we always knew about it, it was in the newspaper, but how many days a week do you guys read the newspaper?
Q: Not very often, sports section.
Dan: Right, right, or you might read your Sunday paper, or you know if it’s on the kitchen table or you’re having breakfast and you notice a headline, that kind of thing. So it really wasn’t that much different back then. Although when I was working at the court house I you know, would work from 2:30 to 5 and get a 15 min break, and go down to the little commissary where they sell sodas and donuts and whatnot. And there would always be a lot of news papers around, cause in courthouses people stand around waiting for something to happen, so there would be a lot of newspapers. So I’d read the news paper a little bit, so I was aware of it then. But when the fellow I knew, when he died, it was pretty much a “okay, this is real” [moment]. And, and by the way in those days there was a draft so you didn’t have the choice of saying, “I’m going to join the services”, and I know that it makes it likely that I’m going to be in a warzone given the current war realities that I’m going to be here or there or whatever. There was a draft, and you could get called to military service whether you wanted to or not.
Q: How old where you when the draft started?
Mr. Sharry: Oh, well the draft was around in World War II, and if I’m not mistaken it went dormant or they rescinded it. And I’m not exactly sure when they reactivated it, but I know my brother, who is a year older than me, well he graduated two years ahead of me in high school, he graduated high school in ‘66 and had he not joined the National Guard he would have been drafted in to the army. So I know in ‘66 there was a draft, and if you didn’t go to college, then army had first call on you. They would just take you, throw you in the army. And if they drafted you, you were in for two years and they decided what you did when you were in the army. If you got called for induction and you decided you wanted to then join, then you would be in there for three years and you got to choose what you did. So they gave you an incentive for joining but you had to stay longer. So I know probably, it had to be in the early ‘60’s that they reinstituted the draft. Because they needed, I hate to say it, they needed bodies for Vietnam, because the difference in Vietnam was that they didn’t have the medical situation they have now over in Iraq. They have these basically full surgical tents they have out in the desert. So you got a lot of guys coming home with missing limbs. You see that in the news all the time, guys with no legs, no arms, all talking about guys with brain injuries and stuff. Well in Vietnam those guys didn’t come home. They came home in body bags, because they couldn’t get them out of the theater, out of the area of active combat quickly enough to save them. Whereas now [we can save them]. They were in the jungle and it was quite different. But now they’ve got those surgical tents. And it’s a dry environment so they can race and bring them, get them into the tent, but in those days they came home in body bags. So what happens is that a lot of guys died. It was like what, I think the number was fifty thousand US young men died. It’s a lot of guys dead. So they had to get fresh recruits to go over there. So they did the draft, you didn’t have a choice.
Q: So this probably made you worry about the future?
Mr. Sharry: Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah, I had gone to school in September of ’68. I started at Worcester State College and for no good reason but I couldn’t make a choice [and] it was close to my house. But then our house burned down in September of 68’ and we were not living in the home for 3 ½ months, and my father had to rent a house out in West Boylston, which was quite a distance away. And my mother was running the kids back and forth all to the grammar school, and you know, had all the little kids. So it was just too much for me to be in college, and so I said “listen, I’m gonna quit school, and I’m gonna try to find a job” and I did find a job. And at least that was predictable. I’d go at 8 o’clock in the morning and I’d have to get picked up at 5:30, and my mother would run around, you know, getting all the kids to different schools and whatnot. So as a result of that I was eligible for the draft, ‘cause I wasn’t in college. But then I decided that I’d go back to school, that’s when I went to the university of Hawaii. So they sent me a letter and said, “you are a second year student, but you are a freshman. You haven’t maintained adequate progress” So they classified me into a status they called 1A, which means that I was eligible for induction. And when you’re in college they give you a different classification which they call 2S, you’re at level 2 for being a student. So I wrote them a letter and said, you know “blah, blah, blah, this is what happened, da, da, da, da” and so they reinstated me to 2S status, so they gave me my student status back. So they were, it was very real. I mean, you had a very short period of time when, if you weren’t in college, you were gonna [get called]. That’s where I had my book and all that stuff. They’d send you a notice saying, “Present yourself, you’re going to the army”. And in those days it wasn’t like World War 2 where the Nazis where killing millions of people. It was, you know, obviously people that the US government didn’t agree with, and I’m not saying that they were all good and our government was all bad, but it was quite a controversial scenario. And by that point ‘68, ‘69, particularly ‘70, it was pretty obvious that this thing wasn’t going well, just as a war, and it wasn’t going well on the home front in terms of political support and cultural, and social support for it. And because so many kids were coming home in body bags and because everybody was eligible, what was the word, susceptible, or exposed to be pulled into the war. Whereas now, I don’t know how many people from Wayland are in Iraq because it’s all volunteer. So it was an equal playing field of exposure. And in those days, unless you were in college, and not as many kids as a percentage go to college, went to college then. So it was a lot more kids from a lot of families that might not have otherwise wanted their kid to go to Vietnam and fight in the jungle. So there was a lot of controversy about it.
Q: Did any of your friends or brothers try to get out of the draft?
Mr. Sharry: Yeah. Before I left for Hawaii when that year I was working in Worcester, a lot of guys tried to get out. They tried all sorts of things. I knew one guy presented himself as a drug addict. I said, “I’m not gonna do [that], you’re gonna be on your record that you’re a drug addict. I mean, for the rest of your life you’re gonna be a drug addict, in the eyes of whoever looks at that file.” He didn’t care. He wasn’t actually shooting drugs, he was putting needles in his arms, and making it appear like he was a drug addict so he could get out of the war.
Q: And did that work?
Mr. Sharry: He got a deferment. But, you know, because they figure that once you clean up you are no longer a drug addict, so you don’t get permanently out. I’m trying to think the other ways guys did it, but there was a lot. I mean, people would always talk about “I’m gonna go to Canada”. ‘Cause who wanted to go to the war in Vietnam? Nobody. Nobody wanted to go halfway across the world and get thrown into a jungle and shoot at an enemy that’s ill defined, and you can’t really determine why you’re there. It was pretty pervasive in the culture of under 25 years old that if you went to Vietnam you were either stupid or ignorant or something. I mean, it was, it was perceived just crazy to do it. And [you had] to try everything you can to get out of it. And when I was in Hawaii, I saw guys there doing the same thing. And then they tried to get me out of college, and I had to do it. When I was a senior at University of Hawaii, they came back and gave me the classification of 2S, excuse me 1A, which means I’m 1 and I’m eligible. So I wrote them back a letter and said “well, you’ve reinstated me in my sophomore year, so by right you should have either taken me then, and disregarded my claim for being reinstated, or reinstated me and given me the full four years to complete.” So I was arguing it on the logic of that point. And I was carrying, you know, full load, I was going to graduate in 4 years with a 3.7, I had great grades, all A’s, but that didn’t matter, because I had to fight them on that. And they said “okay, we’ll give you a hearing, but in the meantime we want you to go for a physical, to see whether you’re physically able and capable to be in the armed services.” Hence your question on how to get out. So a fellow that I was working with at a restaurant in Waikiki said that he went to see the Quakers. I don’t know if you know the Quakers are, William Penn and the Quaker religion that came through Pennsylvania, founded the Pennsylvania Commonwealth and all that. They are pacifists, they are widely regarded historically as pacifists, see there was a group of them, so I went to see them, I said “So what can you recommend?” and we went through all of the guidelines and this and that, and they said “Well, if your underweight, they can’t take you.” So I said, “What does that mean?” So for every inch of height, there’s a minimum and maximum weight above or below which you fail the physical. I said, well “What’s the weight maximum, minimum for 5’ 10”, and they said “minimum for you is 119 and maximum is like 230” So they can’t induct you into the armed services. So I was focused on failing the physical, so I’d have a 2-pronged attack to avoid going into the army. ‘Cause you gotta remember now this is 1973 and the war is just about over, and I decided that I didn’t want to be the last guy to go over to Vietnam and get shot when even the president Nixon is talking about, not defeat, but retreat with honor, peace with honor and all that. So even he was throwing in the towel and admitting that it was a complete waste of lives and not the political objective that he thought or said it was going to be. So I said, “okay, I’ll do that then.” So I stopped eating for 7 weeks. And I was working at a steakhouse at the time and I went from 160 to 125 and I just couldn’t work anymore, cause I had to deliver meals, you know. I was going to school in the day. So I told my boss what I as doing, he kinda knew because I had obviously I had lost, what, 35 pounds. And I got to 125 and so from then I got to 119, which means I broke the barrier. And just to be safe I went to 2 doctors the day before my physical. I went to the University of Hawaii Health Clinic, and I went to the Waikiki Free Drug Clinic, where they used to give, you know, the hippies these free, you know, “medical service” whatever. I knew the guy who ran it, cause his wife was a waitress in my restaurant. He was a good guy, and he was one of those help people who can’t help themselves kind of thing. So I got weighed by his doctor, and I had the two doctors’ like prescription pads. I have them in the book here, I’ll show them to you. So I went to the army base in Honolulu, and I went through the whole thing. And put you up on the scale, it was like a hundred and, think it was 111. 112, 111, something like that. And the doctor said “Hmm, Mr. Sharry, you don’t weigh that much do you?” And I said “I haven’t been feeling well lately.” So they had to give me an exemption. And then I was still fighting them on the ruling, and I fought them on the ruling, and they ended up allowing me to have the exemption through to the end of my college. But then the war ended and the draft was ended. So all of those things happened sort of simultaneously. But I need to make sure that if I lost on the legal appeal, or the, you know, the difference of opinion appeal that I had for them, that I had a backup that could at least [prolong the fight]. ‘Cause I figured that worst case that I’d have to go below the minimum weight every 6 months. Because I figured, “ehh, well, we’ll try it, anything is better than being the last guy brought over there.” Because you
know, lets face it, you go on that wall in Washington DC, and if you look chronologically, someone’s the last guy. And he happened to die unfortunately, even after the entire government and army decided “This isn’t gonna [work], we’re not winning this thing. We’re just getting outta dodge.” So meanwhile, whoever that guy is, he lost his life. I said “Well, its not gonna be me. I’m no gonna be that guy” this is in November of 1972. I just, I couldn’t justify that. You know. I had more, I had more to give humanity. So it was pretty pervasive, nobody wanted to go, nobody wanted to go. And if your number was up, because they did a lottery by your birthday if you guys are familiar with that. My number was 75, so my birthday was 75, so if you were 300 [your safe]. Because there was so much political uproar about the draft, typical the politician says we’ll use a lottery system and go by birthdays. So every year they would draw all 365 days and assign them a number in reverse order, so and the year that they drew for my birthday, when I became 18, they drew every one of the birthdates and I was number 75 and so anybody they said “we’re not going for replenishing the armed services probably deeper than, you know, 150 numbers” So right away the politicians figured, the next 200 birthdays and the families that are attached to all those birthdays, are now not going to be so vocal and passionate in their resistance to the war because its no as personal for them anymore because their son or daughter or whatever is not going to war. When it was a random choice across all 365 days, every family who had a kid from the age of 17 to 22 had the same concern about their son ending up in a war that was completely unsupported by American people. So it was a political ploy to say, “okay, we’re gonna cut this in half and get rid of half of the resistance out of the general population” But those that were on the front end of the lottery, that was where I was. Kind of a different way of looking at things as you get out of high school. You guys don’t have that do you?
Q: No, thank god. So when you became more independent later in your life as a young adult, how did your consciousness about the Vietnam conflict change?
Mr. Sharry: It was from that point forward. I mean, it was pretty obvious that it was an ill advised foreign adventure we get in for the wrong reason, we get in behind the French, who were there for the wrong reason. It was poorly managed, there was a lot of deceit, you know, public information was manufactured, you’re not going to get a public support for a war like that, and everybody knew it. And the unfortunate part, in addition to one other thing I may comment on, is that I was living in Honolulu and because I was there that was an area, one of two areas, Japan or Honolulu, where during the 12 months time because you went over to Vietnam for 12 months you were in the jungle for 12 months, you got 2 weeks off after 6 months and you have all your combat pay so you got a big wad of cash and they send you to either Tokyo or Honolulu for two weeks R and R. And I was working in a restaurant at Waikiki and I lived right nearby. I was out there all the time, and in those days most everybody had hair like you [points to B-rad’s golden locks], as did I. I had hair about the same, and you see the army guys come and they had the buzz cuts. There was no in-between. Nowadays days you’ve got that the whole range, yours and mine, but in those days nobody had a buzz cut. If you were under the age of 35, 40, and you had a regular short hair cut, I mean, they could pick you out from a mile away that you were from the army. It was unfortunate because they didn’t get the respect. It wasn’t their fault that they got inducted, that they got drafted. But, what unfortunately happened in contrast to the Iraq situation, is that people against the war couldn’t separate the young men who were there for no choice of their own from the political issues that they opposed. So a lot of times you would see that they would be pretty poorly treated. Sometimes they very blatantly poorly treated. People would you know, “What are you doing here killer?” “What are you doing there killing babies?” and you know, all that sort of thing. Or it would be less blatant or more subtle where people would just take advantage of them. They knew they were only there for two weeks and that they had a big chunk of cash, and they’d just take advantage of them, just take their money. Overcharge them for things, and they didn’t get any kind of respect and consideration that kids coming back from Iraq get. Even though, kind of ironically, the guys going to Iraq are all volunteering, and you might have a case by saying “Well, what are you doing? You volunteer over there” while they were in Vietnam they didn’t even have that. Well ,forget whether that’s an accurate reflection really of the way they should be treated, which I don’t believe. But you know, in Vietnam, there wasn’t even that. If you didn’t go to college, you flunked out, or your family couldn’t afford to send you to college, which was often the case in those days, you’d end up in the army. You didn’t have a choice. You didn’t have the option to say, “No, I’d rather work at the gas station or I’d rather work someplace this, that or the other”. And it was really unfortunate. I happened to be in a position and a location where I could observe that firsthand how poorly they were treated.
Q: So did anyone in particular affect you, like family, friends, family, anything like that?
Mr. Sharry: Well I think it was more of a general [sense]. It was so pervasive, it was everywhere. It was in the music, on the radio, it was a constant topic of conversation with your peers and friends, it was in the news. When I was in college I was a political science major, American history, political science, so it was throughout all of my studies. And so it was pretty pervasive. You know the war was not good for America, it wasn’t good for our economy, it wasn’t good for our society, it wasn’t good for the people who were getting killed and injured. It was just pretty pervasive.
Q: Did you think the draft was a fair way to get troops?
Mr. Sharry: Well it was really their only way to get troops, because nobody was gonna volunteer. I [shouldn’t] say nobody, but very, very few people would volunteer. It wasn’t like World War 2, when my father couldn’t wait to volunteer. And he was the fifth brother who volunteered, you know. He was the youngest, he couldn’t wait. Soon as you get out of high school, you volunteer. Everybody was like that in World War 2, they were signing up in droves. So, it wasn’t like that with Vietnam. So they had to have a draft. And so many kids were getting killed, they were ramping up the troop count. They didn’t have enough troops because they were expanding the war in the late 60's, mid to late 60's. They were expanding the number of troops over, I don’t know what they had, five hundred thousand at one point. So they need a lot of troops over there, and they would never get that on a volunteer basis. Never. So they had to have it. I don’t know if I’d call it fair. It was efficient. It was the only choice they had, otherwise they were not gonna be able to manage the war.
Q: So how did you feel about the Lyndon B. Johnson?
Mr. Sharry: Good president, except for Vietnam. On the social front, on the American [front], I mean he had the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, a lot of social programs. Because remember he grew up dirt poor and he was quite a social innovator, and having been what was he, was he senator or speaker of the house, I forget [Senate Majority leader, 1954] he was quite an adept politician in a legislature. So he knew how the system worked. And when he became president, he got a lot done on the social front. Unfortunately, he fell into the same mind-set, I think, that his predecessor did. Just, I don’t know what made me say, taking a word of the generals, that you know this war is winnable, we need to do it for this reason or that reason, and he ended up not running for second term. He ceased to run. He had run the balance of JFK, his turn for a little while there, then he ran one full term and then he didn’t run in, what was it,‘68? I think that’s when Nixon came in. But it shows you how much impact it was of George Bush deciding not to run for a second term because there was so much resistance to his Iraq war. I mean, that’s the analogy you can think of that’s how strong the opposition to the war was. And he just decided not to. I mean, that was my view of things, that’s how I view it.
Q: How did the media impact the way you saw the war?
Mr. Sharry: I mean, they were primarily against the war, I think there was little doubt or little argument that the most of the media saw the war was ill advised, so that was the essence of their news reportings. So, it wasn’t hard to agree with them because I think in historical perspective it was hard to argue that it was not the smartest foreign policy that we ever had.
Q: So it was pretty one sided?
Mr. Sharry: I would say. At least the media that I listened to. I didn’t read the Wall Street Journal, I didn’t read maybe the more conservative newspapers which may have carried a different slant, but you know the media in general, was reporting I believe what everybody already knew. That we were not gonna win, there wasn’t a realistic, rational, legitimate reason for being there. It wasn’t if Vietnam were not Communist, let’s say they [weren’t], it wasn’t gonna have much of an impact on the U.S., and that was their rational. The whole Domino Theory itself in southeast Asia, that all of southeast Asia was gonna go Communist. Well, yeah. So? It really wasn’t enough of a rational, people didn’t buy it, and they didn’t make the case. So, I think they media reported that. People thought that because, not one hundred percent, but a lot of it was accurate. It was accurate.
Q: Did you see any footage from the Tet Offensive?
Mr. Sharry: I can’t remember clearly, or definitively, probably did. I mean, there wasn’t as much. Actually, there was as much. There was a lot of film from war, probably more then there is now. You don’t see much. I mean, you see the aftermath of a car bombing in Baghdad, [that] is all you see. But on the news, and it was quite an eye opener for Americans to be sitting down for dinner and seeing people getting shot, you know. Tracer bullets going off and they showed [it]. It was all in film, so they’d put it on film, put it on a plane, and send it back to the United States, and then they’d play the film on the six o’clock news. No satellites, none of that.
Q: They would show actual footage of the battle?
Mr. Sharry: Oh yeah, oh yeah.
Q: Yeah, they don’t do that now.
Mr. Sharry: They don’t even show caskets coming home now, because they’ve learned how to manage the war so that people often times misunderstand how grave it is, you know? In those days, there wasn’t as much control of, you know, the media. So someone with a camera could get on an army base, approved, and take film, video, of caskets coming home and things like that. Now they don’t allow that. No, you can’t go on base, they don’t wanna show that on the six o’clock news. Not to say that it has anything to do one to one with the reasons for being there, but it’s how they managed the perception of how grave the situation is and the impact on human lives. So, and when that started showing up on the six o’clock news, with real footage, and people getting killed, it was quite traumatic, you know? Mr. and Mrs. American didn’t particularly care for that.
Q: Do you think the media should be able to go into a base and film?
Mr. Sharry: Well, that’s not necessarily the point. You have to have civilian oversight of the military, otherwise you end up with a dictatorship. And you take it to its logical extremes and the military can determine whatever the media can report then really who’s in charge? I mean, that’s not to say that were at that point, but that’s the logic behind them saying that you can’t. So there has to be an ongoing push and pull about what we can show that doesn’t endanger, or can we show that doesn’t jeopardize, doesn’t form, and keeps the civilian population and civilian government aware of what our army or of what our armed forces are doing. Because were not a dictatorship and were not run by a military regime. That, needless to say, you don’t want to go in there and put all the battle plans out on the internet, so there has to be some kind of a balance. Never clear where that line is, though.
Q: So, do you think that the media did a good job of being a watchdog to keep the citizens informed?
Mr. Sharry: Yeah, I think so. By large, it was both, you know, the media, and the passion of the younger generation primarily who had decided that they were not gonna go halfway across the globe to fight a war that nobody could justify and create a logical rational reason for fighting, and it went part hand in hand with the rest of the cultural upheaval that was going on. Let’s face it, everybody in that age bracket, in that era, was rebelling against everything, you know. I don’t wanna wear my hair short, I don’t wanna be told I can’t smoke pot, I don’t wanna be told that I can’t do this, you know. I’m my own person. I don’t wanna be told that I have to go fight an enemy I can’t see or don’t feel threatened by. So it was all a parcel of that whole cultural shift. So the media was part of it, but it was much more than that, but it was more [connected] with the whole discussion thing, the controversy between those who believed and those who didn’t believe in the war, or the young and the old, Conservatives versus Liberals. You don’t see much of that political orientation in today’s younger society, I don’t think. Just, it’s not there. I mean, I don’t see it. Which is not saying it’s not right or wrong, it’s not good or bad. Just different.
Q: Why do you think it was such a disparity between your generation and our generation about political activism?
Mr. Sharry: Well it could be, you know, it’s hard to put. I mean I’m not a historian, but it could be a lot of things. It could be coincidence of history, the coming together of so many different factors that in one way or another contributed, you know. Here’s a card, here’s another element, here’s another card, here’s another, all the way down, you know. You take the whole, everything from the first generation, that large numbers of kids are in colleges as opposed to getting out of high school to work on a farm, the Civil Rights movement, the television era where previously, my father’s generation, sat around and listened to the radio, you know. Visual impact of news on the TV. You know, the end of one war, and then this whole Cold War scenario that sort of internationalized a lot of people’s perspective. Prior to World War II, I was, including my father’s generation, didn’t think much about the rest of the globe. But they all came back from World War 2 and you know, that baby boomer generation, all the kids that were born from what, ‘46 to ’64, you know, they were called out of a different place then the generation before them. So I think there was a whole number of factors to it. Similar to how it is now. I mean, look how different it is now, with communication, computers, and internet and satellites and, you can’t even imagine how different that is from what I grew up with. It’s how people communicated that maybe was much more of the town square. “We’re all gonna get together, we’re all gonna make our voice hear, we’re gonna have a rally”, because that was one of the primary ways that people could make their wishes or their demands or their feelings heard. And because you know, it was so personal at the end, that’s just one of the things that happened on it’s own, you know. Now everybody texts, right? I mean, I was in college when the Kent State Massacre happened, and I was in Honolulu and it happened in Ohio, obviously. And when it happened, almost without any design, they just sort of came around. And everybody heard word of mouth, and there was this big rally at what they called the quad, or the commons, or something at the University of Hawaii, and a bunch of professors got up with microphones and talked about, mostly about, that was mostly all the National Guard shooting at college kids. So the political status about that, about how devastating it was, and this and that. But nowadays it’s everybody’s texting, it all goes on the internet. [I] find that stuff very different. so you don’t have that coming together for any kind of common news gathering. So I think that led to a lot more protesting, a lot more coming into a group, town square environment.
Q: So in relation to the media, in 1968 members of Charlie Company under Lt. Calley shot and killed a few hundred civilians at the village of My Lai. Do you remember this, and did it have an impact on you?
Mr. Sharry: I remember this very clearly, very, very clearly. Yeah, absolutely. It was all over they news, and by then I was a senior in high school and if I’m not mistaken my friend from high school had already died. So the Vietnam War was much more in my consciousness, much more in my, you know, scope of awareness. And yeah, oh absolutely. I knew how it happened, I read all the news reports, and it impacted me in a sense that it confirmed the total chaos that was over there. That even the guys who were over there, I think he was West Point, were trained military commanders, can’t tell the enemy from bystanders. So rather then worry, “let’s just kill ‘em all.” That was the solution. So you think of it, how chaotic that must be for them, how their ability to process information, these are trained senior officers. This wasn’t a guy who got drafted from, you know, a part in Vermont that doesn’t know anything about anything, just shooting wildly because he’s panicked and he’s having some kind of a mental breakdown. It’s a trained officer. Why is the United States army doing that? So it was really a clear indication of the chaos and a breakdown of discipline and a breakdown of logic. The lack of communication from the senior officers who are in Washington and at the Pentagon about what was suppose to happen over there. And obviously the reality of what was happening over there was vastly different from what the American public was being told, and this was another example.
Q: After Johnson dropped out of the campaign, how did you react to the Democratic Party?
Mr. Sharry: I was glad to see him go, because that meant that Eugene McCarthy, Robert Kennedy, I think those were the two leading guys if I’m not mistaken, George Humphrey was around maybe then, I’m not sure, he was mostly ‘72 if I’m not mistaken, that they were going to push to end the war, and that’s what I wanted to see happen. So with Johnson out of the way, that meant that the field was open, that he wasn’t running for reelection, who had already expressed his desire to sort of continue the effort to a just and honorable conclusion or whatever terminology he used.
Q: So how did you react to Bobby Kennedy’s assassination in 1968, and where you were?
Mr. Sharry: I knew exactly where I was, in fact. I was driving down route 146 in Sutton, Massachusetts. I was on my way home from the prom, the after party of the prom. We had gone to a friend’s summer camp, about fifty of us, and I think it was about five in the morning. I was driving from Sutton back to Worcester, just myself and my date, and the radio was on. He has been killed the night before in LA, so if he had been killed, I don’t know, ten, eleven o’clock LA time, that would have been two here in the East. So you know, it was a couple hours later. It was like five in the morning. I was driving back to Worcester and I heard it on the radio, knew exactly where I was, couldn’t believe it. So you know, it was pretty disheartening that, you know, you’re eighteen years old and you’re trying to process what is up, what is going on. Martin Luther King had been killed two months earlier, in April. Of course, I was in eighth grade when JFK was killed, and that’s a lot of political upheaval. I mean, put it in the context of you guys, you know. Let’s say this is May, let’s say Barack Obama gets killed and two months ago Jesse Jackson is assassinated, and three years ago, you know, Bill Clinton is assassinated, you know. In that kind of context, in a five year span, and you try to process it all, you know. What does it all mean? And you’re still only fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen years old, you don’t have all the information to process it. But it’s pretty disconcerting, so it sticks to you.
Q: All right. In 1968, the Democratic Convention in Chicago by rioting and brutality. How did you feel about this?
Mr. Sharry: I agree that it was. There was a riot, there was brutality, and there was, it was pretty clear that there was excesses on both sides. I met Abbie Hoffman, who grew up in Worcester, who was part of the Chicago Seven. I grew up just about the street from her, I think. And I was pretty much aware of what those guys were doing, and let’s face it, if there were excesses on the sides of the protestors, the proper thing for the authorities to do was to arrest those people rather than bludgeon everybody. And just should[n’t] baton, and you know, people who were just there, so it was a pretty sad scenario. Not to say that the protestors were choirboys, because they were not. Everybody knows that, but the excesses, I think, were the greater misdeed. Because when authority exceeds its boundaries, it has a more dramatic impact on the culture then one or small group of people violate a law, or a code, or a regulation. They would get thrown in jail.
Q: So did you support any side more than another?
Mr. Sharry: At the time I just observed it, you know. I mean, it is what it is. That’s what protest was like in those days. It was very, very passionate, and a lot of people were breaking the law. They were violent. It wasn’t all this nonviolent Gandhi, or nonviolent Martin Luther King. There were a lot of people who were very committed to civil disobedience. Civil disobedience means you break the law in pursuit of a higher, greater good. And they were very much committed to it, and if that meant whatever they did, I don’t know, the list of rules they broke. There was enough blame to go around both sides, but if you had to draw a line beyond one side of it, I would have to say the police certainly quote unquote “should have known better”, because they are trained to be disciplined. They are trained to enforce the law, not break the law.
Q: Many young people today think that the youth of the 60's were all hippies who like joined the counter culture. So how diverse was the so-called youth movement?
Mr. Sharry: Much more diverse then that question would seem to ask. My high school had six hundred students. My graduating class had a hundred and thirty, I think. I would say ninety percent of them were conservative. We wore coat and tie to school. I would say probably ninety-five percent of them in 1968 when I graduated had never done any drugs at all. As a senior in high school I could probably name in my class of a hundred and thirty, I could probably name five or less, certainly less then ten kids. And of course you knew everybody in class. No, they were very conservative group, you know. The athletic oriented kids, and likewise the public high school right near my home, sixteen hundred kids, same spectrums, you know. You got the chess club, newspaper editors, and Greek club, and yearbook club, and you got, you know, the athletes, who drink a lot of beer, and then you got the, you know, other guys who just kinda hang out. So I mean you just, you know, same spectrum. I don’t see it being dramatically different. I think there was probably a little bit more of an inclination to experiment with drugs because people didn’t know, people hadn’t heard. “What is this? It doesn’t do anything.” And all the music that you listen to was, you know, whatever. Britney Spears, or whatever the bands are, I don’t know anymore. It was all you know, the Grateful Dead, and Jefferson Airplane, and San Francisco groups, and there were the rock groups. And every concert you went to, drugs everywhere. [You] Couldn’t go to a concert without just, I mean it would be [there]. So, I mean, there was more of a drug culture, that was pretty much known to everybody, but I think there was a lot of diversity in people, you know. Kind of think back in there, recollections.
Q: So, you already mentioned Abbie Hoffman, but do you have any other younger, better known leaders and activists? For example, Tom Hayden, Jerry Rubin, Jane Fonda.
Mr. Sharry: No. I mean I knew who they were, because I was politically aware, and I was a political science major, and American [politics], it’s a double major, sorry. I knew what was going on when the trial of the Chicago Seven was taking place, the fall of that, and it was because. Were you old enough to remember the O. J. Simpson trial? Was it on TV? That was back in ‘94, you probably were not old enough to remember it. It was on TV everyday, and everybody watched it, and when they announced the verdict, it was [big]. Everybody got around the TV, and it was all this nonsense. Well the trial of the Chicago Seven was the same way. It was all for the news. People followed it, so in particular, because you know, I was in college, and what’s his name? Judge, what’s his name? I can’t remember his name. [Judge Julius Hoffman] He was a total buffoon. I mean a total, total buffoon. And they made him look so ridiculous. I mean these guys were very good at political theater. Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden, Dillinger was the other guy’s name, I forget his first name [Original Eight were Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner, and Bobby Seale ]. I used to know all of them because I followed it pretty closely. They knew political theater and they made a mockery of the trial, and the judge couldn’t deal with it. They actually made a play out of it called the Trial of the Chicago Seven. And it was hilarious to watch what they were able to do, because they didn’t care and they didn’t buy into the same concepts of how political trials should be conducted. They considered it a political event, not a legal event. So, I mean all of those were right kind of influences, but there was no particular [one]. I mean, I didn’t read a particular person or have a particular person I looked up to in that respect, not really.
Q: Did you understand the appeal of the restoring law and order in the country, which is what Nixon said?
Mr. Sharry: Yeah, absolutely. Because, as I said, there was a lot of diversity in the country, you know. There was a whole element of more conservative people, a lot of them from more rural states in the Midwest, not East coast, not West coast. Yeah, they didn’t like what they saw. Once the war was deemed to be a mistake, then they turned their attention away, you know. We don’t like what kids were doing. There’s not much to like about some of the stuff you saw in the drug culture, you know. I mean, I know kids that I went to high school with that are dead because of drug overdoses. You don’t see that anymore. But I knew a kid who drank himself to death. They found him in the woods dead because he had drank so much wine that he died of alcohol poisoning in the woods. They found him in the woods two days later. So there was a lot of things not to like about what was going on in the youth culture around drugs, particularly because they were real hard drugs. People put needles in their veins, putting heroin in their arms and stuff, you know. These are life changing experiences, these aren't recreational, you know. Let’s have a beer and a joint, you know. These were pretty severe things. And then if you’re from a conservative, or American’s principle, work hard, get ahead type of mentality, it’s not hard to see how they wouldn’t like it.
Q: So do you have any last thoughts or points you’d like to share?
Mr. Sharry: About anything in particular? No, no. I think that, no, I mean.
Q: Like, do you feel a connection between Iraq and Vietnam, which you already stated a little?
Mr. Sharry: To some extent. Mostly from the standpoint that the lessons that everybody’s now learned about this are that if you’re going to expect the American public to support a war, that means that their sons and daughters are coming home dead, or maimed, or injured for life, then you better have a pretty darn good reason, and you should be able to articulate that reason day in and day out and it should be rock solid. It can’t be, “Oh they’ve got a hundred and sixty pounds of yellow cake uranium and they’re gonna make a bomb” when they don’t, or “They might but we’re not sure,” or when the debate could easily be about whether our real enemy was over in Afghanistan as opposed to Iraq. As bad, as evil as Hussein was, was he really a threat, and did we really, and are we gonna be better off when we ultimately get out of there then was the case then he was in there. As bad as it was for people in there in either of those borders, which is not to minimize how terrible that lifestyle was, was it really the threat that justifies the thousands of kids getting killed. So from that standpoint, there’s a lot of analogy there, quite a bit. So it’s kind of disheartening to see that that lesson wasn’t learned. Although the difference is quite dramatic as well. I mean, the dangers are so real over there. Stating the obvious, we could have at anytime some impact on our country. There weren't any Vietnamese peasants who were gonna come over and inflict much damage on us, so there’s a very different set of reality. So I mean, anything else is hindsight twenty-twenty, and a lot of people bought into a lot of justifications that just turned out to not be truthful.
Q: So do you feel there are any lessons that we learned over there?
Mr. Sharry: Well I think there are some lessons that we ignored. As it becomes personal, and it was so personal, things happen differently. And when New York was attacked, the Pentagon was attacked, it was so personal for so many people. Rightly so. I was less then twenty-five miles from New York City when that happened. I was working at a company, I was working in an office right across the river in New Jersey and I could see the smoke going up from my office. Couldn’t see the building, but could see the smoke. And I was down in that zone, less then two weeks later with a friend of mine who was a retired New York police department. He had a badge and we got behind the army lines and all that. It was pretty dramatic. I mean, the whole road was blocked off, and the army was everywhere, it was like being in a movie. So I mean, I understand that it was passionate and it was personal, and people wanted to make sure that whoever did this paid. But to your point about lessons learned, there were some people who were making decisions who I think could have done a better job making those decisions. And just hindsight's twenty-twenty, see your first decision, and say that now. But I haven't seen any evidence that Saddam Hussein is a danger to me right now or that their society is gonna be better now. Maybe it will be, I don’t see the evidence of it yet. And I would very much have liked to see that Al-Qaeda and Afghanistan be squashed like a bug, you know. I mean, wouldn’t that have been the better of two the choices? Because it wasn’t like Iraq was gonna go anywhere, they were always gonna be there. They could always take care of this first and then go there later. But you know, it’s easy to say after the fact that. I don’t mean to say that I have all the answers, but I think to your point that there were some lessons that were completely, can’t say ignored, but they just didn’t learn.
Q: So do you see the resistance of the Vietnamese as more of a nationalist reaction to foreigner presence or more of a revolution to institute a Communist State?
Mr. Sharry: I would probably think that there is a little of both. I mean, how educated are these peasants? I mean, you think of the lifestyle they lived, where they were, what they really know other then some of these Iraqi’s even. “There’s a big bunch of army people with weapons and their coming to shot at me. What do I do? I defend myself”, or “I have a bunch of North Vietnamese guerillaa countryman coming to tell me if I don’t fight on the Communist side, their gonna kill me”, and then “the Americans come in and say, if I fight on the Communist side their gonna kill me.” I mean, talk about being in a no win situation. There people working in rice paddies, what do they know? You know, to some degree, I’m sure it was survival, I’m not sure they thought it out like some political theater, “Communism, or Democracy?” I just don’t see that in the real world, people just don’t, you know? I think it becomes much more of a one to one decision, and their put in a situation where they probably had not nearly enough information or not nearly control over what decision they could make, you know? So I would think it’s a good likelihood that some days they were Communist because the Communists owned their province, and they would just as easily be non-Communist when the Americans would come in and throw the other guys out. I don’t think it mattered to them that much. They were trying to put three squares on the table, right? I mean these people, you live in a survival lifestyle. I’m sure they went to bed at night wishing they could be done with the whole lot of them, you know. I mean, think about it. I mean, when you go home at night and think, “I’d just like to be done with the whole lot of them, just give me some peace of mind,” I think that would have been a large percentage of the population. And of course you have different degrees, some are more involved in one side or the other. A lot of innocence, just like in Iraq, a lot of innocent people, which is really too bad.
Q: Well, what kind of documents did you bring?
Mr. Sharry: I’ll go through these real quick if you want. I got this in October, when I told them that I did not want to be classified as 1A, so they transferred my file from Worcester, the Worcester selective board, to the one in Honolulu. So now I’m fighting my battle of classification with the draft board in Honolulu. And then they say here, October 26th from the registrant, yeah, they made me 1A here, on August 25, 1973. And I’m just about to start senior year in college when they pushed me over to the appeal board in Honolulu. See the way this works is a three person board in every town that was civilian. It had a lawyer and a judge and some housewife, or I don’t know, whatever, because they wanted civilian involvement with the army with pulling kids out of basically homes and neighborhoods So then they called me up here for induction, September 29, there’s my address there. October 2, they tell me I’ve got to go for induction is what I think it says here. Report on October 2 it says, or something or other. And then here, October 27, oh they want me to report on October 29. These are just the advanced notices, I guess. I forget exactly what they are, notice to registry. So they just sent these to you in the mail, and you would get these envelopes with the Selective Service seal on the return address and you know you were toast, because you know. And then I had exceeded my weight loss, so instead of waiting, they wanted it to be October 29, I don’t remember, it says October 29, yeah. Then I said, can they make it earlier because I’d already gotten down to a lower weight. And they let me go a week earlier, cause I figured I already beat them on the weight loss. And this is something else. This was for my appeal, for the physical exam, and this was to come to this place, and tell my story about you gave me my exemption when I started sophomore year, arn’t you gonna give me four years to finish? And then here, yeah, November 20, at eleven AM, and November 20, I went in and got myself weight and I was a hundred and ten pounds five nine and a quarter. And here I was a hundred and nine and a quarter pounds and five nine.
BC: How much did you weigh before?
Mr. Sharry: One hundred and sixty. But you know what? They weren’t gonna get me. And it was the only way, I mean, you only have so many bullets in you, I didn’t have anything else to fight them on. And what is this? This is July 1, date of reexamination is believed justified. This tells me that, what does it say here, it tells me that I had already taken the exam. I forget what it says here. Here’s my number, it was my draft number, 75. What does it say here? Statement of acceptability, reexamined six months ago. I got my six month waiver. And 21 November was my physical, and this was the guy at the fort in Honululu. So I beat them on the six months and then they gave me back, and then I beat them on the argument and then on January 22 they gave me back my student status, 2S.
Q: So they gave it to you a year later, in ‘73?
Mr. Sharry: No this is January, this is November ‘72, and then a month and a half later, after I had that board review, they gave that back to me. So basically what they did is they allowed me to keep my student status, which is 2S, which is registered and preferred activity and study, as opposed to 1A, available for military service. So, I beat them for six months on my physical, which would have made me June of ‘73, and then I beat them to at least allow me to finish college, which pushed me to May of ‘73. But then they ended the draft. They ended the draft and they ended the war in May of ‘73, so all of those three things came together. ‘Cause if the war hadn’t ended I would have been called back, ‘cause I would have been out of college by May and my physical deferment was only gonna carry me until June. So I would have recycled through that whole [thing]. I didn’t know what would have happened to be honest with you, but you can see the cycle. But they ended the war, they ended the draft. And I said “Thank you very much.”
Q: You fought them long enough.
Mr. Sharry: Yeah well, they didn’t want me anymore. They didn’t need fresh bodies anymore. But I mean, people did different things. I know a guy who beat them on a hearing test. He was a music student. I don’t know if he had perfect pitch or whatever you call it, but he was able to beat the hearing test. And I don’t know how the heck he did it, because I tried to do it as well. So I tried the weight loss, and the hearing test. They give you this button thing, and you hold it down and you have the headphones on, and it goes: [Imitates sound of hearing test.] I don’t know if you’ve ever taken a hearing test, the tone goes: [Imitates sound of hearing test.] And they say, press it when you no longer hear it. The noise will reach its apex and then it comes back down, and you press it when you hear it again. And they do this over all these different tone variations. So this guy was so good, this fellow from San Diego, good friend of mine actually, he beat it. He didn’t have bad hearing, but he knew tone, so he he’d press it, and count, one, two, three, and he’d hear it reach its apex and he’d count it back down. And he’d got a deferment for having bad hearing. I tried that. They made me come take the test again because they could tell I was faking it because I wasn’t consistent. So they said, “Mr. Sharry, can you come take that hearing test again?” But you know, the cat was out of the bag by then. But that’s what people did. Nobody wanted to go to Vietnam, nobody that I knew anyway. They just didn’t want to go. And I didn’t want to be the last guy.