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John Kniffin (1940-2002)
By Veteran Staff
John W. Kniffin, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War whose experiences as a tank commander turned him into a peace activist, died September 2 in Brenham, Texas. He was 62.
Mr. Kniffin was among the first Marines sent to Vietnam in 1965. While serving with Bravo Company, 3rd Tank Battalion of the 3rd Marine Division near Hue City during the Tet Offensive in 1968, Life magazine published a photograph of his tank covered with wounded U.S. servicemen with the caption, "Tank turned ambulance."
During his 32 months in Vietnam Mr. Kniffin received, among other decorations, the Bronze Star with the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry and two Purple Hearts. He was honorably discharged in 1968 and returned to his native Texas where he devoted the rest of his life to improving conditions for all Americans.
In Houston he worked with the civil rights movement. In 1970, after moving to Austin, he married Catherine Goodnow who shared his concern for the welfare of both people and animals. In 1971 he joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War and expanded his activities to include the GI and veterans' movements.
He and his wife opened their home to veterans and geared their efforts to providing drug rehabilitation for service personnel and veterans that was not otherwise available to them. They also supported the GI coffeehouse, Oleo Strut, outside Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas.
By 1972 Mr. Kniffin had been elected to the National Steering Committee of Vietnam Veterans Against the War as the Texas coordinator, a position that brought him into direct opposition to the Nixon administration, landed him in jail a few times, and resulted in his being indicted in July, 1972, as one of the Gainesville Eight, for conspiracy to riot at the Republican National Convention that August.
The Gainesville trial was the last of the Nixon conspiracy indictments in which dissidents, including the Berrigan brothers, were indicted for alleged plots that could not be proven but served to cripple the anti-war movement.
In the Gainesville, Florida case the government put on a battery of witnesses, including several FBI informants. The defense called one (1) to testify on a minor technicality. The jury quickly returned a blanket acquittal.
After the trial, Mr. Kniffin, who was born in San Antonio on February 9, 1940, settled quietly in Brenham, Texas, with his wife, but never stopped caring about others. During the blizzard of 1996, he and two other veterans drove a dying Marine to the Vietnam Memorial Wall eight days before he died from cancer caused by exposure to Agent Orange.
At the time of his death, Mr. Kniffin had also succumbed to the effects of Agent Orange and had been declared 100% disabled.
Mr. Kniffin was preceded in death by a brother, Stephen Humble of Cambridge, Mass. He is survived by his wife, his mother, Jane M. Humble of San Antonio, a sister, Yvonne J. Hough of Jacksonville, Florida and one brother, James E. Humble of Boerne, Texas.