|The Whole World Was Watching
an oral history of 1968
Daniel Paster: Where and when were you born?
Cleveland Kurtz: I was born in central Florida; in a little town outside of Orlando in 1944.
DP:Where did you grow up?
CK: I grew up until I was about 14 or 15 in Florida and then I moved here.
DP: Can you briefly describe your family and your neighborhood in Florida?
CK: I always liked to say that it was like one block away from slavery. My family, my parents were migrant laborers and we would up North during the summertime and come back in September and go to school and my father worked in oranges and citrus, he was an orange picker for a while and then he worked in the packing plant. My mother worked in celery for a while and then she became a house keeper. The little town that I was born in, was called Ovita and it had little sections and they were called quarters and the quarters were named after the original slave plantations.
DP: Can you describe the ethnicity and religion of your town?
CK: I was very much immersed in the black churches there. My mother and my sisters were gospel singers and we sort of bounced around. I was born a Methodist, then went from there to the Baptists and from there to being Pentecostal as my mother sought, I guess higher (laughs). But it was an extraordinarily important part of my life. I never learned to sing, by the way, which was always an embarrassment to me because everybody sang around me but it was a rich experience.
DP:How did your family respond to your mother working outside the home?
CK: Well, I remember that when she first did it, it was very difficult, very traumatic but I guess we got used to it. She would come home about, oh, probably around four o'clock or something like that so it wasn't bad.
DP: Did you have any household chores or duties assigned in your family?
CK: Oh big time. My mother was one of the early feminists, so she believed that boys should do everything too so me and my brother did everything. Clean house, wash clothes. I know how to iron, I know how to sew.
DP: Did this change over time?
CK: Well, it's always been that way (laugh) .
DP: What were your parents' political views and affiliations?
CK: Okay, my father, I'm not sure, but my mother was sort of in the vanguard. She was out front, so she was from the time that I can remember, involved in Civil Rights, and so that had an enormous impact on me. This was long before it was fashionable. Almost when it was a secret activity, so she was always involved in civic affairs. She was the President of the PTA for years, and I would imagine that had a big impact on how I see things.
DP: Where did your family get information about politics and other events?
CK: At first we had no television so my guess was from the newspaper, from the radio and we got about three different editions of black periodicals. Black newspaper called the Pittsburgh Courier, Ebony Magazine and Jet Magazine and I would imagine that that's where they got theirs and I read all of those things and probably had an impact on where I got mine. There was also, every Friday, there was a black section in the local newspaper, you know, so that was more a society page but it was still important news.
DP: And in your town what were your experiences with dating and friendship?
CK: The way it seemed to me the town was a little cozy place, so it appeared to me that everybody was my relative [laughter]. So that it was very cozy, and I didn't do a lot of dating then and in fact I didn't really do it until I came to Rhode Island, because I knew everybody so well there that it was almost like living on a kibbutz of some kind [laughter] .
DP: What did you think you wanted to do when you grew up and how did that change over time?
CK: Hmm. that's a difficult one. I knew that I wanted to go to college, because I think that was almost expected of me, and I suppose that I wanted to be an engineer. I love mechanical things and I love working on cars.
DP: Were you aware of any discrimination against people in your family in your neighborhood?
CK: Oh my God yes! [Laughter] Yes indeed! I mean I was, every single thing where I lived was segregated, I mean there was nothing that was not. Even the pictures downtown. I mean one of the first memories I have is before I could learn to read sitting on the wrong bench and then some old white guy coming and snatching me off of it, you know, so everything was segregated. There was not, nothing in that town more pervasive than segregation.
DP: How did people around you talk about people in other ethnic groups?
CK: Uh, as the white folk, you know I mean that was at I mean there were there was this big block of mystery and hostility. There were some that were nice but in general we felt degraded by them.
DP: Where did you attend primary school and how did your education shape you as a person?
CK: I went to primary school there in that small town and that was a very lucky thing I think because the, it was, my mother was president of the PTA and my godfather was the principal [laughter] yeah so the, it was important to those people who taught there that we get the best that they could offer but also in spirit too so they really pushed us we knew what we were up against and they knew what they were pushing against and it was done with real devotion and sincerity so I really lucked out. You know, I really lucked out.
DP: And where did you go to high school and college, and what did you study there?
CK: I went to Central here in Providence for high school and I studied auto mechanics and then in college I went to Brown University and I took creative writing there and I went there as an undergrad and for my masters also.
DP: And did you have any extracurricular activities including membership in a fraternity?
CK: I wasn't a member of a fraternity but I was very much involved when I was at Brown in Rites and Reason, which is the black cultural, major black cultural activity, when I was there. I was the manager so I always had something to do. It had a big focus on theater, performing arts, visual arts, so it was also a super rich experience like Brown is the finest time I ever had in my life because of that.
DP: Can you describe your wardrobe and particular styles of clothing?
CK: When I came back I just wore my fatigues (laughs) if they wouldn't wear out. It was green fatigues and my boots. That was kind of fashionable at the time, when I was in school. So that's what I wore, it was just the same thing I wore in Vietnam. I wore straight through college with my little Kurtz name tag on my shirt and on my back pocket of my pants.
DP: How did you feel about the use of drugs and did anyone you know do drugs and what were the consequences?
CK: I was not really connected to it very much. I never used them and I wasn't really aware of it that much so I can't, I mean I had a few friends who got busted or something like that but I, it was not something that I was really connected to, you know so. I liked alcohol, you know, I liked it and so that was my favorite.
DP: Which were your favorite musical groups, movies and books?
CK: Okay. This time was the time of soul music and that was everywhere so that was my favorite. Soul music, blues, gospel, and jazz. In order, gospel, blues, jazz, and soul music would be.
DP: Did you watch TV?
CK: Yeah. Probably not much more than anybody else. I watched, I used to love to watch Channel 2 and 36.
DP: What instructor or course do you remember most and why?
CK: The man who was the director of the black theater there was George Houston Bass and he made all the difference in my life. I mean I wasn't interested in theater when I came there or writing and he got me started and was my mentor. He took me under his wing.
DP: Was the curriculum relevant to your life or to your political interests?
CK: Big time. It was right on the money because it was an expression of when I wrote it was an expression of me but also all the activities in the theater, and in the, were relevant to the social issues that were most compelling to me so it was dead center, bulls eye.
DP: Do you recall your understanding to the Cold War? How was it explained to you?
CK: When I was very young, it was terrifying. On the radio all the time there were advertisements about what to do when the bomb dropped and I can't remember the group that I used to want to be part of so badly but it was a group that could help you look at an airplane and look at the silhouette of it and detect to see if it was a Russian airplane [laugh] it was called the Youth of Zerbikaw [sic] or something like that. So initially it was when I was very young it was a terrifying thing to us you know to think that there was going to be a war and the Russians could slip through and I lived through the days when you know the big communist scares and they were sneaking around and trying to subvert the country. And as I grew older I think I just grew to think that oppression is oppression you know whether the Communists get you first or whether white racism American white racism gets you first. Big deal [laugh]. So that went away but I guess I still worried a little bit about bombs dropping, because I knew what that was like, you know.
DP: Were you affected by the Cuban Missile Crisis?
CK: It was a scary time. It was a scary time, you know, for a few days I sat on the edge of my seat, you know, so I was very much aware of it and it was frightening.
DP: Did you participate in the peace movement?
CK: When I came back from Vietnam, yes, I was a Veteran Against the War.
DP: Was 1960 and the election of John F. Kennedy an important turning point for you?
CK: It wasn't when, I wasn't that I was interested in who was running I suppose but by that time I think what difference did it make and that was more or less my attitude. But after he was elected then for me it started to kick in and I started to have some optimism. Like everybody else, I really liked him, and he initiated the legal aspect of the Civil Rights movement and that always made him kind of a hero of mine so yes after he came into it he was out front in the vanguard and that was it.
DP: How did you respond to his assassination?
CK: It was a terrible day, absolutely terrible day. I'm one of the people who know exactly where I was standing when it happened. I was working and I was really unable to finish the day out. When I looked out, everybody in the place was listening to radios and, it wasn't announced that he was dead, it announced the station that we were looking at and I looked out and I saw the state flag at half-mast you know and I knew that he was dead. It was a pretty, pretty awful time and some people left work early you know they couldn't work anymore and I wasn't in a position where I could leave early but I would have if I could have. And I just stayed glued to the television the whole time, I mean for the next two or three days you know so it was very traumatic for me.
DP: Did you think that discrimination against people of color was a problem?
CK: Well, I think that's an understatement. I think that nothing determines a person's life in this country more than race except for sex or gender. So I put gender first and racism next and when I was coming up it was extraordinarily important that Black-mericans stayed in a position that humiliated them. Like in Rhode Island, God it was awful. I mean it's ten times better now, but it was unbelievably backwards, right, so, it was nearly as bad as living in the South. All jobs that were good jobs were off-limits, you know, only certain sections of the community that you could live in, jobs like policeman, fireman, and . no way. If you wanted to be a fireman, that was just a fantasy. So nothing determines anything more so than race.
DP: Was discrimination against women a big problem also?
CK: Yeah, the same as it is today. It was probably different from racism but women when I came up were expected to do the jobs, just be secretaries and be file clerks and thinks like that and they were not expected to go out there and be doctors and lawyers or administrators and that was then the same as it was with Blacks. We were expected to do menial jobs all the time, work in . there were tons of jewelry factories around here and all the blacks that I knew worked in those jewelry factories.
DP: Did you follow political and social issues while you were in high school and college?
CK: Yes, yes. Very much so. I think that just was some of the fall-off from being the son of Thelma Kurtz you know. Yes, I was very interested, followed it and also acted in it.
DP: Did you join the ROTC?
CK: No. No. I never had any intention of going into the military.
DP: Did you support or oppose it on campus?
DP: Were you involved in any political groups?
CK: Yes, the NAACP, the Urban League, the Urban League had a group of young people whose names I don't remember now but I was involved with that group and we were the group that first got the governor to declare a national Black History Week in Rhode Island, you know. I was also involved in a group called the National Conference of Christians and Jews and that group was, the part of it that I was involved in, was young people and it was bringing people of different races and religions together for dialogue and that was an extraordinary experience for me.
DP: Were there any rallies or teach-ins or demonstrations on your campus or elsewhere? Did you participate?
CK: Yes. When I came back from Vietnam I was primarily antiwar. There weren't any demonstrations for racial equality that I can remember. That took place before I went to college. And when I went to college you know there was a significant number of blacks and Hispanics on campus which was not the case before I went. I went right at the time where the colleges started making an effort to diversify.
DP: And what kind of impression did they [the demonstrations] make on you?
CK: I'm not really sure. I worked with one of the groups that went to speak essentially to bring the veterans home, right, and the reception was mixed. There were some people, mostly students, who were antiwar, almost to make me uncomfortable and then on the other side you had the hawks it was the days of the hawks and the doves. There seemed to be nothing in between. So it was an uncomfortable time for me, because the students had hostility toward the soldiers themselves sometimes and so did the hawks have hostility toward the soldiers themselves so there was no place that I could call home. The traditional groups that support veterans were often very hostile to Vietnam veterans and I had a couple of bad experiences with that, you know, and just never bothered again, not until recently.
DP: Did you enlist or were you drafted?
CK: Both. I got my draft notice and in Rhode Island, once you get you draft notice you have until your date of induction to enlist. I got my draft notice and it was for the tenth of July and I went and looked to see if I could get the best deal that I could before that so I joined the Sea-Bees. So I got drafted and I enlisted.
DP: Was there any history of military service in your family?
CK: My father was a World War II veteran and my uncles, one or two of my uncles, his brothers were. My mother's brother was a World War II veteran too, so yeah, there is.
DP: How long did you serve?
CK: Two years.
DP: Why did you choose the service that you did?
CK: It was a misunderstanding. I thought that United States Sea-Bees didn't go to Vietnam (laughs). That's what I thought. Within six months of my enlistment I was in Vietnam and I was one surprised dude.
DP: Did serving bring you any new skills or help you in your civilian life?
CK: Well, I think that it changed my values. I don't think I gained any skills. I was a skilled person, I'm a journeyman machinist and I went through the Brown and Sharpe apprenticeship so I was well employed when I got drafted. You know I was doing very well for myself. I bought a home, I was in my early twenties. Life was just great, you know. I was buying my second car, you know. So the skill thing didn't, I don't think it helped me up there. I think though, with my values, it helped, you know, a great deal because after I came back from, I was, I think I was what they used to call a conspicuous consumer. I liked my toys and when I came back, I saw the world in an entirely different light and that kind of stuff meant very little to me. I used to be a super sharp dresser and, you know, and I think that, you know, I'm kind of more people oriented now because of that experience.
DP: How did you feel when you left home and what was your family's reaction?
CK: Well, it was a sad time. Of course everybody knew what was going in Vietnam because everybody saw it on television. I watched my mother, one time, watching the news and there was a veteran soldier who had gotten his legs shot off, right, and she just sobbed, so it was a very sad time. When I left, and you know, I didn't know what I was about to face or anything like that so there was so much uncertainty.
DP: What was your experience at boot camp or officer training school?
CK: Well I was in boot camp and in boot camp we trained in tropical gear in the middle, in December so I froze to death (laughs). That's what happened to me, so boot camp, to me, was just a time where I was perpetually cold and I, outside of that, just being that miserable all the time, I don't think I have any real powerful impressions except just being, just freezing all the time. That was here in Rhode Island, by the way, Camp Fogarty you know, that's on Route 2.
DP: Where did you serve?
CK: In my, the base was Davisville, right in Rhode Island but I was in a battalion and the whole battalion went to Chu Lai Vietnam which is central Vietnam. It's right in the middle, I was right on the shore, on the south shore.
DP: What did you understand the purpose of the American military presence in Southeast Asia?
CK: I didn't understand it, I did not understand it. I, from the time that I left until I came back, I never understood it. It was difficult because there were many veterans, it is difficult for me now because there are many veterans who have, you know, very strong feelings about the rightness of that endeavor and I could never pick that up, you know, the way the war went, the things that went on there, it never hooked up to me. I mean we were trying to, those people were our victims of our racism, you know, and if you're trying to save people you don't look down on them, you know what I mean, and so I could never get it straight, and not like I'm proud to be a veteran and all that, but I never figured out what we did there.
DP: Were you engaged in combat?
CK: Not as a grunt or a foot soldier but I've been through 23 rocket attacks, so I would suppose you'd call that combat. Makes you kind of nervous, you know.
DP: Can you describe that experience?
CK: Well, the first one was scary and exciting, you know, but it got old, you know, and it was extraordinarily nerve wracking for and most of the guys because you could not tell where the rockets or mortars were coming from, you know, you couldn't tell where they were gonna hit or whatever. So it wasn't a case were you could be like John Wayne and you could duck, you know, there was nothing you could do here, you know, you could run for your bunker and hope it didn't hit your bunker. So I, you know, to say the least, it left me pretty nervous.
DP: When did you become aware of the protests back home?
CK: I was aware of it before I left. I wasn't involved or that interested. I thought that I probably wouldn't go to Vietnam and so it wasn't something that I was that interested in, believe it or not, you know.
DP: What was your personal view of the war and how did that change over time?
CK: At first it was ambivalence, you know, and then it went to were I thought it was not a good idea, you know, and I'm still convinced of that since and look at, you know, what the aftermath, and that does nothing to change my mind, you know. It was an unfortunate decision by this country and the strange thing, like I have such funny feelings, like Lyndon Johnson is the President, was the president who got it really started and the same time Lyndon Johnson was responsible for me going to Vietnam, he was also the most powerful Civil Rights president we ever had. So you can understand how confused I am. I'll never get that straight.
DP:Did you lose any friends?
CK: Oh God yes. Yes, yes. I lost friends before I went to Vietnam and I lost a whole helicopter full of them when I was there. In my battalion you had little, little cliques if you would, and during one of the rocket attacks one of my friends was killed and he was maybe like 200 feet from me, you know, so that, those two incidents were the most painful.
DP: Were you injured yourself during the war?
CK: No, not physically. Emotionally I'm a mess, but physically, no.
DP: Was racism or conflict about race an issue during the war?
CK: Absolutely, yeah. There's a funny thing in Vietnam, it went both ways. I've never in my life been in a place where there was more racial harmony and unity, right, because guys actually got together and their souls flowed together, but then there was also the opposite extremes. There were segregated areas just like they are in the South, you know, the way it used to be here where you couldn't walk through certain sections of town without being called dirty names or something like that. So Vietnam was the same, you know, there were certain places where the term blue eyed soul brother meant that this guy is one of us, you know, and then other places where the hostility was so thick you could touch it, you know. So it was a confusing time and for me just knowing where you supposed to be, if you traveled. Like you didn't know what the rules were and this area was all red-neck country and this area was for the souls and the blue eyed souls. so it was a very complicated kind of thing.
DP: Did you receive letters or write letters home?
CK: Yeah, all the time. That was the real life line. I was lucky to have a lot of friends sending a lot of mail. so that was, every soldier I think just waited and waited and sometimes it took like two or three weeks for your mail to get there, you know, so everything was always behind and many of us used tape recorders, you know, the cassette tapes and we would send, you know, tape messages back and forth and I did that. I did that with my girlfriend.
DP: Have any of these survived?
CK: Yes. She has them. I haven't seen them in twenty years, you know.
DP: What were your living conditions like over there?
CK: I lived in a hooch, right, which is, you know, a wee bit better than a tent and about eight or nine, maybe ten guys stayed in it. And it had canvas sides and was screened in to keep the bugs out and wasn't all that uncomfortable, sort of like a camp, like a Boy Scout camp in appearance.
DP:Did you approve or disapprove of the military tactics that were being used in Vietnam?
CK: I thought they were pretty bad. I thought they were pretty bad. We blew up the country we were trying to save (laughs). tell me how smart that is, you know.
DP: Should the military have been more or less aggressive and why?
CK: Well, that's a bad one for me because I think we shouldn't have been there. I think that answers that one.
DP: What was your homecoming like?
CK: It was not good, it was kind of traumatic because when I came home, this wasn't the days where you got welcomed, right, and so you know, that sort of didn't happen but when I came home I came home to nothing, all the things that I accomplished when I was working, you know, then I had nothing and so that was really disappointing. I mean, for awhile I had to live with my mother again, you know, until I got back on my feet, so I was an unhappy customer.
DP: Were you aware of any hostility toward veterans?
CK: Yeah, the way most veterans dealt with it and certainly the way I dealt with it was I hung out with veterans when I first came home and outside of that I had little contact with people. I was a closet vet, you know, I didn't really talk about it except with the vets who were close to me and so most of my friends were veterans and we just hung together.
DP: Are you still in touch with anyone with whom you served?
CK: A few, yes. Yes, my. a funny thing happened to me, my closest friend when I went to Vietnam had lots of emotional problems when he came home and I ended up raising his son [laugh] and I had a lot. he had two children and one lived with me and I was very close to the other so, you know, there were all these powerful connections, you know, and I still talk to him and see him every now and then but I don't, I haven't kept in touch with as many veterans as I want to and I think that this is now the time in my life where I would like to re-establish some of those relationships.
DP: Did you belong to or were you active in any veterans groups?
CK: Yeah, I'm a member of the Vietnam Veterans of America and I work with a group called Operation Stand Down that works for homeless veterans.
DP: Looking back, how do you feel about your military service, and do you think it affected the rest of your life?
CK: Yes, yes it wasn't to the question did it affect my life, nothing ever affected it more, right, I mean I was in Vietnam for about a year and that year was half my life, right, so it changed everything. How I feel about it is really funny because some of it I feel awful about and other parts I feel really good, you know, the friends that I met and the kind of camaraderie that there was, so I have lots of nostalgia but also lots of bad feelings and it's just.I mean that's a difficult question for me because trying to assess whether it was all good or whether. you know I like what it made me, you know, but would I want to do it again, you know, so that's the question that is. there's no clear cut answer for me.
DP: What were your work experiences after the military?
CK: I went to, I applied to college when I was in Chu Lai Vietnam and when I came back they sent me from Rhode Island to Cuba and that's where I received my acceptance letter. So I worked in construction for just a couple of months, a few months, maybe six months, before I went to college and then from college I worked in the theater for a while after college and then I worked for the Rhode Island Council on the Arts and I worked in the prison in the arts program there and both of those experiences for me were altogether wonderful.
DP: Did you marry or have children?
CK: I never married but I had the same girl friend for twenty years and I had the child I was telling you about. His name is Tim, so in effect I suppose it all adds up to about the same thing.
DP: Was women's discontent an issue in your family or your relationship?
CK: Not really, I think that since my mother was a feminist that I was already pretty well trained for that and the feminist movement I don't think had that much of an impact on my life because I, you know, believe strongly that women should have every right that I have and so I didn't have to get punished by any woman for not treating them fairly so I don't think that that was a big issue. I was pleased that the changes were taking place.
DP:Was music an important part of your life?
CK: Oh big time. I told you my mother and sisters were gospel singers so I was born immersed in music and when I was in the theater the things that I used to love to produce in all of that were musicals and so, you know, it's politically, music were, was the drummer of the Civil Rights movement right so that was an important part so I still am, music is vital to me.
DP: Did you attend many concerts?
CK: Oh big time. I mean if you went to my church almost every Sunday was a concert but I like my jazz and my blues and my gospel so yeah.
DP: Did you attend Woodstock?
CK: No, no.
DP: Where did you get most of your information about the outside world?
CK: Well I was in the outside world a lot so that helped out a lot but television and during the Sixties and seventies there was tons and tons of small magazines that I always read a lot.
DP: Did you participate in any political, community or religious groups?
CK: Yeah I was the Urban League is a community group, the NAACP is a community group, the theater at Brown was also a community group, so, and now the Operation Stand Down, so yes. Local community groups, like we used to have one in the community called PACE and I was a part of that.
DP: When did you first become aware of the war in Vietnam? Did you approve or disapprove of US involvement in the Vietnam conflict?
CK: I was ambivalent it just wasn't a part of my life so I can't tell you that I . I think the first real awareness was the death of people that I knew and I suddenly realized that it was real. So that was probably in about `65 or `66.
DP: Did you fear being drafted or having someone you know being drafted?
CK: Oh yeah, everybody was afraid but I had a deferment at the time so I thought that I would not get drafted.
DP: Did you think avoiding the draft was morally correct?
CK: I didn't have any problems with it you know. I didn't think about it a lot so I didn't you know whatever you did was your own business.
DP: Did you know anyone who served in Vietnam who was killed in the war or was a POW?
CK: I don't know of any POWs but I know of tons of people who served in the war and I know more than I should of people who died.
DP: Did your opinion of the war change as time went on?
CK: Only in the sense that, in intensity, I realize now how really, really traumatic a war is you know when I see people involved in combat now anything on television instead of looking at it like looking at a John Wayne movie or a war movie there's a very strong. I have a very strong emotional response to it even if I just see people running from exploding buildings. I'm attached to all of it.
DP: Did you support the limiting of nuclear testing or think it was an important issue?
CK: Yeah I thought it was an important issue. I didn't participate in it but I thought it was an important issue to limit nuclear testing. To get rid of it altogether.
DP: Do you think the US should have used nuclear bombing or more serious weaponry in Vietnam?
CK: Certainly not. No. We blew up the country that we were saving anyway so that was more than adequate.
DP: When you saw Vietnam vets in wheel chairs and on crutches, what was your response?
CK: I think it broke my heart from the very beginning you know the uh after I came back you know I got you know I realized one thing every disabled veteran in, Vietnam veteran has had a horrible humiliating experience with the Veterans Administration and I knew what that was like so I know that if you see a disabled Vietnam veteran you are also looking at a person who was degraded to the max by his experiences trying to get his disability or trying to get fair treatment so I have a powerful reaction to that, you know, that this dude not only got injured physically or emotionally in the War, when he came back the Veterans Administration tried to take him out too. So the country when I came back had absolutely no concern for disabled Vietnam veterans. None. They were just considered pains in the butt and they were treated as such.
DP: Did you feel veterans were treated with respect and courtesy?
CK: No, they were degraded and, absolutely degraded, horrendous, horrendous the way we were treated the way nobody should be treated, you know. I think that many veterans got a chance when they came back from `Nam, got a chance to feel how it felt to be black (laugh) because we were all treated that way you know, that kind of hostility and indifference and so it was a time of people who hadn't really been discriminated against or treated that way, like pariahs, got a chance to be treated that way.
DP: Can you describe your reaction to the following events: escalation of the War in Vietnam?
CK: When that happened, well I was hoping that we were going to be getting out, right, so that if you're talking about the Nixon years and the bombing, when Nixon went in my hope was he would bring all the vets home, right, and so when it started to get more intense that was a little bit disturbing for me because I wanted everybody to come home.
DP: And the Tet offensive?
CK: Oh the Tet offensive was a little bit before me, so it was a bad time but it was in all honesty it was watching television for me. I didn't know what war was like until I got there.
DP: Lyndon Johnson's announcement on TV that he would not run for the presidency a second time?
CK: I was happy because I thought that whoever followed him would get us out of Vietnam.
DP: How about the assassination of Martin Luther King?
CK: Very bad day. The second bad day for me. The first bad day was Kennedy, the second day was Martin Luther King, and Martin Luther King was probably the biggest role model that I've ever had and that was a very difficult time. I found out about in the evening, right, it took out my, it was one of the saddest days of my life.
DP: Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy?
CK: It was, it looked like it was just never going to stop, do you know? I mean it was, I just thought for a while that all the good people were gone, gonna die, so it was a time of despair.
DP: Columbia University sit-in and other student agitation against the War and the draft?
CK: I didn't know quite what to make of it, you know, my gut feeling was that the people who don't have to go you know, most of those people had deferments, and so all of those antiwar things were colored by the fact that they didn't have to go, you know what I mean, and so the people who didn't have to go made the most noise, you know, so, but anything anybody could do to get us back home was okay with me.
DP: Bombings staged by the "weathermen?"
CK: I thought that was ridiculous. I thought it was just.
DP: Campaigns of Senator Eugene McCarthy and Gov. George Wallace?
CK: I liked McCarthy a great deal, George Wallace was the. I think I feared. that was during the so called white backlash days, you know, and I thought that Wallace's popularity. I was disappointed that people, that Americans, supported him. I went to see him when he came to Brown.
DP: The Democratic Convention in Chicago?
CK: I thought that the street riots were. I'm not sure how I felt about it. I think that I was a little annoyed at the street riots and annoyed at the police and the students.
DP: Hubert Humphrey's candidacy?
CK: I liked him.
DP: The election of Richard Nixon?
CK: A very bad day (laughs). A very bad day. I, you know, just had big total Democratic leanings and so that was just a bad, bad day. I thought that we were getting the best of everything, we killed the Kennedys and elected Nixon and I said, you know, "what a country."
DP: The women's liberation demonstration at the Miss America pageant described by the media as "bra burning?"
CK: I didn't care for the idea of them demonstrating at the Miss America Pageant, you know, that, it almost seemed to me like, you know, if these women want to do that, you know, want to be Miss America, they have every right to do so and I support the concept in its entirety. I don't think anyone should tell women what to do, including other women who think they know what's best, you know.
DP: The expulsion of Olympic athletes for their Black Power salute during the playing of the national anthem at the medal ceremonies?
CK: I couldn't see why they should be thrown out for that, you know, I mean, that made no sense to me.
DP: The space program and the circling of the moon by US astronauts.
CK: I liked it. I liked it. I know it's a lot of money and, you know, but it's a luxury that we should take advantage of.
DP: Overall, how would you say the Sixties affected you and the United States in general?
CK: It changed everything. It changed everything. I think that it was a time where the beginning of a people who were getting the short end of the sticks started to try to get their share and so it's built from, you know, the black movement, American Indians, feminist movement, the gay liberation and all of it, I think, sprang from there and so everything is changed and it was probably one of the most positive times.
DP: How would you compare the presidencies of Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon?
CK: I think that Johnson probably made the biggest difference in the country. Nixon too with international politics. I think that his contribution always will be. stopped, you know, we stopped China from being the pariah and he did that so god knows, I mean, that's one quarter of the world's population so we should respect him for that.
DP: Have African-Americans accomplished the goals of the Civil Rights movement?
CK: Not yet. There's lots to go; but thank god it ain't the way it used to be.
DP: So you think racism is still a problem in American society?
CK: Big time, it's still next to sexism most destructive force in the country. Nothing will determine what my life is more than racism.
DP: When the War finally ended, what were your feelings?
CK: I had a kind of a traumatic experience. I was in Amsterdam, Holland during the last days of the War and the folk their were so, they were anti-American in the sense of our involvement in the War and so they celebrated many of the triumph of the communist and that was painful because nobody should celebrate the triumph of the communist, you know, I mean they went from one thing that was ugly to something else that was ugly, so it was a very, very painful experience for me. I mean I, you know, what happened with the triumph of the North, you know, I mean, the War was a civil war and, you know, it probably should have been that way but that was a tragedy also, you know, leaving all those people. they are by the way extraordinary people. I grew to really admire the Vietnamese and, you know, realizing that they were going to be subjected to that kind of tyranny did not, and there were gonna be many people that I knew, friends and acquaintances who were gonna get screwed by the North Vietnamese and this didn't turn me on in the least.
DP:Did you go back to Vietnam after?
CK: I haven't gone back yet but I certainly plan to go.
DP: Have you visited the Vietnam War Memorial or seen a replica of it? What was your response?
CK: I've done both. I go to the wall for a tune-up, you know, it sort of helps to keep my equilibrium so I go frequently.
DP: Are you still concerned about the POW issue?
CK: Not so much as the homeless veterans issue and the disabled veterans issue.
DP: How do you feel about young people like us still striving to answer questions about American involvement in the Vietnam war and the whole decade of the 1960s?
CK: It's extraordinarily healthy. Wonderfully healthy.
DP: Is there any advice you would like to give us?
CK: Just keep doing it.