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Alton Foss (1946-2020)
By Peter Mahoney
Alton C. Foss Jr, one of the VVAW Gainesville Eight defendants, died on April 28, 2020.
Alton grew up in Hialeah Florida, and went to Hialeah High School, where he starred on the basketball team. After school, Alton joined the Navy and became a Corpsman. As a Corpsman, he was assigned to a Marine unit in Vietnam, where it was his job to save the lives of Marines wounded during combat.
On one mission, Alton was shot in the leg, and medevaced out. It was a relatively clean wound, and while in the hospital, the leg was put in traction. For over a week, Alton continually complained of the pain he was experiencing in his foot from the traction, but the medical personnel just kept feeding him painkillers. It turns out the traction had severed his Achilles tendon, and Alton was doomed to spend the rest of his life in and out of VA hospitals, undergoing multiple unsuccessful operations to ease the pain in his foot, and to deal with the severe addiction to painkilling drugs his condition foisted on him.
After coming home from Vietnam Alton did not allow his wounds to keep him from speaking out against the war. He joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and soon he became the coordinator of VVAW for Dade County Florida. In 1972, both the Democratic and Republican conventions were scheduled to take place in Miami Beach, and Alton was heavily involved in the organizing and planning efforts for VVAW's demonstrations at both conventions. VVAW, at that time, had been heavily infiltrated by federal, state and local law enforcement agents and informers, a gift from the Nixon administration for the hugely successful and highly publicized Dewey Canyon III demonstration in Washington DC the previous year. Alton's chapter in Dade County was infiltrated by two local police undercover agents. In July of 1972, a federal grand jury was convened in Tallahassee, Florida that subsequently indicted seven members of VVAW and a supporter for conspiracy to incite a riot at the Republican Convention, which was still a month away from happening. Alton was one of those indicted.
The government's case against the Gainesville Eight consisted exclusively of the testimony of agents and informers, and they decided they could significantly strengthen their case if they could turn one of the defendants to testify against the others. They chose Alton as the potential weak link, because of his wounds and his use of painkillers. The two undercover cops grabbed Alton, and held him in a motel room for several days. They pushed him—HARD —threatening to bust him on drug charges if he didn't cooperate. Despite the intense pressure, Alton stayed strong, and refused to turn on his brothers. In August of 1973, the case was brought to trial. It lasted for four weeks, and the jury took four hours to find the defendants Not Guilty (according to reports, the jury was ready to acquit after less than an hour, but one member—a Black Vietnam veteran—convinced them to stay a little while longer so they could get one more free meal from the government).
Alton lived a difficult life after that, battling his Vietnam demons. He was a kind and gentle man, who served his country in war, and served it even better afterwards fighting for peace.
Rest in peace, Brother.
Peter Mahoney was also a defendent in the Gainesville 8 case.