Carl Douglas Rogers, R.I.P.
By Jan Barry
Carl Douglas Rogers, a key figure in founding VVAW, died in Los Angeles last fall of cancer he attributed to Agent Orange. He served a tour in Vietnam with an Army unit as a chaplain's assistant from March 1966 to April 1967. The son of a newspaper columnist in Ohio, Carl had an amazing ability to vent outrage in creative ways. I met a lot of outstanding characters in the military and in the peace movement — Carl stood out and spoke out with the best of 'em. When I first met him, in the summer of '67, he was the toast of the New York Post for his brash dissent as a GI against the war. He instantly helped launch a fledgling band of odd ducks called Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) onto the national media scene. And this at a time when the mainstream media was whole-heartedly beating the drums, flying the flag, patriotically promoting the war.
As noted in "The Turning: A History of Vietnam Veterans Against the War", " 'Rogers, who could step tomorrow into a Wheaties ad (he wears a crew-cut and teaches Sunday school at New York's Presbyterian Church) has been in the news since his return from Vietnam,' observed [a profile in] Commonweal magazine... He marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr., appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and became the subject of feature stories in the New York Post, the New York Times Sunday Times Magazine, Redbook, and Eye, a magazine oriented toward the nation's youth."
Helping launch VVAW shortly after arriving in New York City to hold a press conference announcing his dissent as a veteran against the war. Carl dove into peace organizing, doing publicity work for the Negotiations Now campaign, working with Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam on various projects, founding Vietnam Veterans for McCarthy and serving on Senator Eugene McCarthy's presidential campaign staff. He organized GI-Servicemen's Link to Peace, which provided support for anti-war GI coffee houses set up near military bases.
At a reunion in Chicago in 2007 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of VVAW's founding, Carl greeted the gathering with exuberant tales of the early days of organizing vets to protest the war we served in. In the 40th anniversary booklet, Carl recalled the April 1971 morning when hundreds of Vietnam vets threw their war medals onto the front steps of the US Capitol in protest of the war that never seemed to end. "The words and emotions that poured out were the most poignant and angry words I had ever heard in opposition to that dirty stinkin' rotten little war... I walked away from that moment in tears, but never more proud to have been a part of the founding group of brothers who created VVAW."
Walking in Grant Park near the reunion site, Carl was still outraged as he recalled when Chicago police stormed through the area in August 1968 beating people with batons - bystanders as well as anti-war protesters, journalists as well as staff members of Senator McCarthy, who was seeking the Democratic Party convention's nomination for president.
Yet Carl maintained a flair for creative responses to governmental outrages. Another innovative project he worked on was Help Unsell the War, which countered the Pentagon's gazillion-dollar propaganda machine with a blizzard of anti-war ads created by simpatico advertising agencies on billboards, posters, radio and TV, and in magazines and newspapers across the country. Radio ads featured testimonials from Vietnam vets, such as John Kerry's 1971 address to Congress on behalf of VVAW.
And, with typical gusto masking a deep and abiding sense of grief and anger over the war's casualties, Carl helped stage The War Is Over concert in Central Park in New York in May 1975. The concert featured Phil Ochs, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Tom Paxton, Paul Simon, Patti Smith, Richie Havens, Harry Belafonte and Peter Yarrow, among others, singing anti-war anthems to a cheering crowd of 50,000 of Carl's closest friends and fellow peaceniks.
Jan Barry is a poet and writer. A co-founder of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, he is active in Veterans For Peace and Warrior Writers/Combat Paper, which provide creative arts programs for veterans and family members.