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42 Years of Fraggin' with Bill Shunas
By Bill Shunas
When I got back from Vietnam, it was during the period of the invasion of Cambodia and the demonstrations resulting in Kent State. That was just the time I got out. So, I went downtown to join the anti-war march. I saw signs for some guys from Vets for Peace. I had a beer with one of them afterwards. I guess he sent my name to VVAW. So, then I started receiving the VVAW Chicago chapter newsletter, beginning in 1970. But I didn't become active until 1972. By 1972, I was a chapter member and going to demonstrations, leafleting, whatever. I went down to Gainesville to work on that. That was 1973, I think.
That was the trial of the Gainesville Eight, eight members of VVAW who were accused of conspiring to disrupt the Republican Convention in Miami. Down there, I was part of a group trying to get VVAW's outlook on the trial, raising people's consciousness, doing media work, that kind of stuff.
I went down there with Walter Klim, out of the Milwaukee Chapter. There were about a dozen of us organizing for a demonstration at the beginning of the trial. Four or five of us stayed around to monitor the trial. Bart Savage was there. Brian Adams was there at the start. They were both National Officers, at that time. They were supposed to be running the show, I guess.
Well Gainesville, that was an eye-opener. Three months, I think. It was kind of a heavy situation. They put a gag order on us. We broke the gag order and figured "We're all going to jail." We were going to go one day at a time, call a press conference, one day, one person presents it; one person goes off to jail. On the next day, the second person; the third day… I think I was number eleven, or something like that. They actually didn't arrest the number one guy, who was Bart Savage.
One thing I remember about that. The language the judge used was "acting in concert with the Gainesville Eight." So, when we had this rally before the thing started, one of the speakers was Tony Russo (of the Pentagon Papers) and the first words that came out of his mouth; "I am in concert with the Gainesville Eight." I said: "Wow!" That's the correct line!
I stayed through the whole trial. We didn't have contact, too much, with the actual defendants, because their lawyers didn't want us outsiders to influence the judge's rulings; acting in concert with them.
The VVAW National Office was in Chicago, so I knew the people. I did leaflet writing and stuff like that. Someone I was talking to from the National Office came up with the idea for me to a column. I came up with the title Fraggin' - that was the Fall of 1978
At the time, most of the people weren't signing their articles. But I signed mine as Spec Five Willie. I think part of the reason for anonymity was we looked at it as a mass movement that was going to make changes. So, you suppressed the individual a little bit. Plus, the paranoia.
Early on I would also give out the Grenade of the Month to someone who did something outrageous, usually a politician type or officer type, or something like that. There was an incident; I don't know if it was Navy senior officers or who; had some kind of convention with naked ladies running through the hallways and so forth. You know, that kind of thing. I would give them a grenade of the month
I still do the column because I feel an obligation to people who like it or want it. Every once in a while I get feedback that they like it.
I've finished five books, I think. I only published two. The others are in my basement, smelling of mold. Wilson and Jernigan and Remembering Gage Park are the two I finished.
I found out that I enjoyed writing. That's why I started out with it. I submitted Wilson and Jernigan to the publishers. I found one who would do it. But, I had to pay for it. That's the way they work. Remembering Gage Park, my thought was that it was more important, in terms of questions of the day.
The three that are in the basement? Well, let's see, I wrote one mystery. I actually wrote one about VVAW, an informant in VVAW. It was fictionalized. The guy I wrote about, or I had in mind, as I was writing, he was real. I never found out whether he was an informant or not. Yah. He was conflicted. I had his character being conflicted between thinking he was doing his patriotic duty versus his feelings as a veteran, and so forth.
So that's about it for my writing. During the mid seventies I was Chicago Chapter co-ordinator. Then I got a real job(postal service). I became active in my union, mainly as editor. So I had less time for VVAW organizing so I once again became a grunt.
Excerpts from an interview conducted with Bill Shunas.