“There are six of us. There were many more at the time, but now there are six of us who see one another regularly and talk about what we did and why. What changed us, what turned us from all-American boys into antiwar resisters and rebels?
We were junior officers in the United States Navy during the Vietnam War. We were Ivy Leaguers, graduates of the Naval Academy and respected colleges, from big cities and small towns all over the country. We manned the conn on giant ships, we flew fighter jets off aircraft carriers, we were handcuffed to secret war messages traveling up Vietnamese rivers, we trained pilots for war. And then, we didn’t — we wouldn’t.
Will Kirkland was the son of an Annapolis graduate. In June 1961 he stood with 1,300 others on the grounds of the Naval Academy, sweating, worrying as a deep amplified voice began, “Gentlemen, raise your right hands.” He already had misgivings. He had recently learned that American boys and girls had been taken from their homes; their parents from their work as farmers, store owners, teachers; and they were sent to barbed-wire camps during World War II. The jolt of that had stayed with him. He had lived in Japan for a year earlier in his life. He had played with Japanese kids, had a crush on one of them.
What was he swearing to do? To follow all orders? Would he be ordered to do something he thought was wrong?”