VVAW: Vietnam Veterans Against the War
About VVAW
Contact Us
Image Gallery
Upcoming Events
Vet Resources
VVAW Store


Page 17
Download PDF of this full issue: v51n2.pdf (30.7 MB)

<< 16. Ring Around the Red Squad: Memories of Annie Bailey18. Annie Bailey photos >>

Annie Bailey: In Her Own Words

By as told to Richard Stacewicz

[Printer-Friendly Version]

Excerpts from Winter Soldiers: An Oral History of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War by Richard Stacewicz.

(pages 72-75)
Annie Bailey had already been active in the anti-war movement before joining VVAW in 1971.

I was born in Cincinnati and raised in Milwaukee. My dad was an industrial designer and my mother did trade show coordinating and other advertising stuff. They were well-educated working-class.

The thing that was most important, on a consistent basis, was that the family spend time together doing something fun and learning something at the same time. We went to museums. We went to the art center. We went driving out into the country. My father would take us out to these historic buildings just to look at. My father always said, "Keep your eyes wide open. Never focus on one thing; you'll miss something. Hold your head up. Always look around you. It only goes by once."

My mother lived by Doctor Spock. They had very good instincts. They knew what they didn't want.

What do you mean?

Well, sort of uptight, never question authority, never speak to your parents about money, never question their judgment, they're the adults, you're the kid….

They allowed that?

We'd get into it, but we had four rules. They never changed: You treat everybody like you want to be treated; don't touch anybody else's stuff without permission; do what you're told if you don't know any better; and always tell the truth. If you broke one of those rules, there were serious consequences. It wasn't beating, although occasionally we did get spanked. The punishments were more like a lecture. My father could go on and on and on forever. He would make you sit there and listen. To make sure you were listening, he'd make you repeat it back to him. He was intense.

We started out being religious. We went to North Shore Congregational. I was already into the civil rights movement in the early 1960s. Our church was involved in going down to Selma and Montgomery for the civil rights stuff. Jim Groppi was here and he was a priest here who had a big parish in the inner city, and he was plugged into the civil rights movement and he started the open-housing marches back in 1963. Politics crept into our church, and a bunch of families left when they fired our minister for ragging on rich people about filling the plate on Sundays and then going to their defense-contract corporations. The whole family walked out. That was it for organized religion. That was the start of my politicization.

I also have an uncle who's a communist. He gave me my first subversive literature on Eugene Debs in junior high school. He was a college professor. He came to visit my folks and he found me moping. He says, "What's the matter?" "I have to do a book report and don't even have a fucking book." He throws me this little paperback, a biography of Eugene Debs. He came through. I got into reading about stuff.

At the time when I first started participating, it was just to get into circulation with people who were away from my community that I was in. Whitefish Bay was very closed and affluent. My parents spent a lot of time trying to keep up with the Joneses. At that time, they believed there was a middle class. They understand now that that was all an illusion. But they bought into it hook, line, and sinker. My mother used to tell me to go to college and get a rich husband and you'll never have to work a day in your life. She regrets that now.

When I went to school they were saying: Just be glad because you're going to be a lawyer or a doctor. I'd say, "No way! I'm not going to college, I hate school." I loved to read. I loved to learn, but you had to go through so much bullshit to get to that point. That's what I didn't like. The rules and regulations, but also the flimflam teachers who didn't really give a shit, and the administrators who would screw things up, or the other students who were making what you were wearing and how big your tits were more important than what was in your head. If you didn't go with their line, then you were rejected. You were a misfit. You were an outcast. That happened to me, and I just wore it like a badge. The daydreams they were trying to sell me at Whitefish Bay high school were not real to me.

I moved away from my family and found something else to do. I started "straying" (sarcastically] when I was about fourteen. I was attracted to older kids. I lived in group houses, collectively. Everybody contributed whatever they could. I started hanging around the city-rock and roll, anti-war, open housing-and all that stuff was real to me.

What was real about it?

Well, because it was multi-cultural and there's a lot of guys [laughs], and girls love guys—especially older guys, college guys. Of course, I never stopped there, I went down to Northwestern train station on Friday nights looking for sailors from Great Lakes. During those times when I wasn't with my family, there were a lot of things that they had told me that proved to be true countless times. Those kinds of things helped me, when I was away from them, to make better judgments. Their growth tied into my growth. When I left the family fold and went out on my own, they opened themselves up to my ideas and my lifestyle. They didn't like it, but they really tried hard to learn what I was experiencing.

How did all of this tie into Vietnam?

I had a really good friend who was a black guy from Cleveland who was stationed at Great Lakes. He was my first official date. I didn't tell my parents he was black. I had him come to pick me up at my house. I just wanted to see what they would do. They were great. They were fine about it. But two days after he turned eighteen, they sent him to Vietnam. He was killed about three months later. I lost my first friend in Vietnam in 1963. It was the summer before I was going into high school.

I knew war sucked. I knew how unnecessary it was. My dad was anti-war from just having been in World War II. He was a master sergeant. I'd say, "What did you do in the war, Daddy?" And he'd say, "I don't want to talk about it." My father had already told me it never solved anything, and it brings out the worst in people. He saw Americans abusing German prisoners. He saw what happened in little Italian towns. You go in, you find the best house in town, kick everybody out. You take it over, trash it, and do whatever you want with it. When I lost my first friend in Vietnam, we started discussing the implications of the war.

The anti-war movement and the civil rights movement were so mixed up together. I hung on every word from Dr. King all the time, and he was anti-war. Then good old Muhammad Ali ... Cassius Clay changed his name and refused induction. I went to an anti-war demonstration at UWM (University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee) and met Groppi and some other people.

All this kind of stuff was going on and influencing me. The fair-housing marches were going on in the mid-1960s, SDS was forming on our campus here, and it was all kind of mixed up together. I got into the social whirl of the community. I went to demonstrations, and once I was there I was into it, but I wasn't an active person on planning committees and things like that. But I was also active in other ways. We were smuggling draft resisters from Chicago to Detroit and through Windsor into Canada. Because I was younger, I couldn't be charged with a federal crime. When you were underage, you had to do a little more underground stuff. You had to take more risks.

My attraction to veterans was less political; it was more practical. I was tired of having my boyfriends ripped away from me, being drafted and killed, gone and never seen again.

Annie Bailey at VVAW 25th Anniversary in New York, 1992.

(pages 273-276)
Annie Bailey and John Lindquist

Annie Bailey (AB): We were active in VVAW since May 1971. Right away, we picked up on the alienation between a lot of vets and their families—guys who were married, came back, and were having a lot of problems with their wives, or with their families. That's where we started, right from the very beginning. Within six months of forming VVAW, we had a family night.

John Lindquist (JL): I started being a veterans' counselor in 1972. I worked with vets on the street to make 20 hours a week as my part-time city job as a student under the Nixon Emergency Employment Act, the Veterans Aiding Veterans program. They give me 5- by 7-inch cards with names and return addresses of people. I called them, rang their doorbells, and explained their benefits to them; [I'd] see if they have any problems and refer them.

AB: He also wore his VVAW button everywhere.

JL: And recruited a bunch of people; but I didn't care, though, whether I recruited them or not. You could tell when you ran into some right-wing dudes. I just wouldn't talk politics with them.

AB: We discovered early on that Vietnam veterans were militantly anti-organization. The more organized you wanted to be, the less response you got.

JL: It's a flow-through organization. Vets come in, have a good time, do some demos, find it too political, and leave; or vets come in to do their thing and leave. Some come in and stay for a long time and become leadership. We don't care what you want to do. You put in what you feel comfortable with. That's our model, at least here.

You're seeing the flavor of Milwaukee. It's been like an extended family. The strength of this chapter for the longest time was its "extended familyness."

What else were you doing?

JL:We were doing every anti-war demo; guerrilla theater, there was a speakers' bureau, a slide show, discharge upgrading, ... rap groups. ... VVAW had already started the first rap groups with Lifton. McCloskey suggested that we consolidate a national clearinghouse on PVS (post-Vietnam syndrome), so I compiled the PVS library. At the same time I was putting together the library, Jack was putting together rap groups in San Francisco ... and Jack played an instrumental role in the DSM III printing of this as a disability.

DSM III was the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition (1980), published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). It was in this edition that APA first officially recognized post-traumatic stress disorder as affecting combat veterans.

AB: We declared war on the VA. The war on the VA was our shining light.

JL: We took over the VA about every other month. ... We were in the newspaper and on television more often than the mayor.

Why take over the VA?

JL: Because the treatment was so bad. We didn't even have methadone for people who were strung out on heroin.

Nobody else was saying anything about these issues?

JL: Not locally. Not the traditional vets. There was no other Vietnam veterans' organization. There were all the traditional ones.

(pages 399-400)

Annie Bailey: The more political vets in the 1970s, who were more firmly against the war, would join VVAW, and through working with a chapter where they were, would meet other groups of people doing other things in the community. Once they got over their "veteranness" and started blending back into the community, got a job, got married, and started having a family, their priorities would change. They were still against the war, but they were active in their unions, they were into the food co-ops—you know—so in that way VVAW was a transitional organization. Thousands and thousands of guys came through the organization and readjusted in VVAW and went on to other organizations.

We just had a friend who hasn't been active for a long time. He's been on the Board of Directors of Jobs for Peace for years. He just got elected as county supervisor. He's a perfect example of someone who comes to meetings and does some big demos and starts to feel normal again and then gets out there and starts his own life.

Copies of Winter Soldiers can be purchased through Haymarket Books at www.haymarketbooks.org/books/859-winter-soldiers.

Annie Bailey and Dennis Kroll leading the march at
Operation Dewey Canyon IV, Washington, DC, May 12, 1982.

<< 16. Ring Around the Red Squad: Memories of Annie Bailey18. Annie Bailey photos >>

(Do you have comments or suggestions for this web site? Please let us know.)