News Year’s Eve 1970 Band of Gypsies
— Young, broke, homeless & AWOL I found The Fillmore East
Me? I grew up peaceful. Never wanted to become a soldier. But America wanted me as one. My country wanted me to become a soldier who’d help push a racist war on faraway distant shores. Contrary to present day impression, that war back then wasn’t just in Vietnam! Much like with today’s Middle Eastern proxy wars, the Vietnam War killing was widely spread throughout much of Southeast Asia.
The casualty of killing, injury and home displacement was high volume!
Indeed, it was a dastard and most immoral war. It finally ended when the war’s veterans and active duty soldiers called out against it. Many stopped fighting it. Eventually, the public caught on. In the end, nearly everyone — except for war profiteers — marched for its conclusion.
At 19-years-old I was dead meat for the draft. During pre-draft lottery times, there was no way I could avoid getting the call. Having repudiated higher education a college deferment wasn’t an option, I felt like it would be unconscionable for me to do a fake Donald Trump/Ted Nugent-like medical exemption and I didn’t wanna flee my country. I had to meet my forced military obligation head-on.
My thinking became: If I’m to become a soldier, at least I’ll become one who won’t kill!
Thus, I filed to my draft board for 1-AO status, non-combatant conscientious objection. This meant they could draft me but could not legally require me to carry a weapon. After my submission I went to Los Angeles for the 1969 Summer of Love. While there I got notice they granted my request for non-combatant status. However, the next day I learned they drafted me with an order to report for induction on August 20th — the week of The Woodstock Festival.
I was to become A Woodstock Solder!
I Became A Woodstock Soldier
— Hitching not from LA to Woodstock but to Military Induction!
Ironically, I hitched the roadways with thousands of hippies from the West Coast all headed east to Woodstock, New York. At least I got to experience an important aspect of Woodstock: The act of getting there! What’s sad is the folks I hitched with all took a left to the festival while I had to keep moving to New Hampshire in order to become a military man.
In any event, they shaved off my young shoulder-length hair. The military barber saved my cut hair in a cloth which he would later prepare for a future wig sale. Shown the mirror and now bald, the barber pulled off the apron and asked me to give him a buck-ten for the haircut. I protested claiming he was gonna sell my hair.
During my modified basic training (without weapons training) I was athletically fit and easily aced all of the physical testing. But attitude-wise, it was clear apparent I wasn’t gonna become a good soldier.
I always rejected the authority of my parents and the disciplinarians at my high school. So rejecting any authority inherent from the US military, for me, would seem easy. It was!
My early teenaged years were spent being an excellent baseball player, a pretty good hockey player and general all-around athlete. So physically I held an excellent primetime military skillset. But mentally? I’d been a hitchhiking antiwar poet who’d often run away from home and one who quit playing ball because I became opposed to competition.
I even had joined an alternative religious order called The Brothers of The Common Life (BCL). We emphasized Jesus as a man who tremendously helped others, the quality of dedicating one’s self on behalf of living in the spirit of living for others and we were formally and officially vowed into poverty. Tax records show we gave away all of our money at the end of each year.
Back then, I’d sign my documents: Pvt. Michael R. Weddle, BCL. If I was a soldier back then, I was fighting on the side of God!
My true dichotomy? I was a veteran of the LA Summer of Love of 1969, a traveler among Woodstockers and I was all about roach-clip, tye-dye and granola advocacy. My bands were not military marching bands; rather, I was keenly aware Led Zeppelin already had dawned. But there I was stuck in the military, which all about competition and getting people and other living creatures killed.
One time our unit went out on what’s called a bivouac, which is essentially a long forced march and then camping out raw without tents. So there I was at the training area sitting on nicely arranged logs that surrounded the drill sergeants who brought out two beautiful all-fluffy white rabbits and slit their throats. I gagged at the blood draining and especially at the thought of those beautiful creatures dying supposedly for me … when I wanted them to live!
This incident sparked my thinking. I began reevaluating my non-combatant role within the military and eventually concluded the military was like a machine, but an institutionalized killing machine with nuts and bolts holding it together, like with any machine. I reasoned no matter my role — infantry, clerical or medical —the bottom line was I was helping to hold together a killing machine.
It became more troubling when I learned military medics were taught to treat minor injuries first, ahead of major traumatic injuries. This was so a killer could quickly return to the field of battle. My philosophy is, unless it’s The Alamo, saving a life should always be medically prioritized over a minor injury.
So I requested a discharge as a full conscientious objector (CO), based on theological reasoning. Politically, I viewed the ordered actions of our military in Southeast Asia as reprehensible and morally bankrupt. Moral considerations were especially important with shaping my viewpoint.
In response to my request for an application for conscientious objection discharge, they gave me a form and told me to fill it out in 10 days. They then placed me on extra-duty after dinnertime. This meant I had only one hour of each day to write about the entirety of my conscientious beliefs, how they came into fruition and why I should be honorably discharged.
Both the importance and nature of the CO document required extensive research, fact-checking and presentation. There’d be no other common sense way to adequately present such a document.
I needed more time. So I went to see the military chaplain.
I’ll never forget it. There sat Chaplain Jasper Dean of Southern gentry … and not a bad guy! The man wore a very nice smile. He sat at his desk with his feet up while listening to my heartfelt and intellectually well-reasoned experiences and, while looking at him, I almost felt like he understood exactly what I was saying.
I don’t call ’em wrong too often … but, man, did I flub this one!
When I finished, Chaplain Dean plaintively put his feet down square, assumed a proper position behind his old army desk, clasped his huge hands together and then peered at me with his giant smile growing gargantuan. His thick southern accent then drawled out, “You know, Michael? God willed war!” He then went on to cite scripture of angels swooping down with swords, implying they were chopping heads off, etc. It was almost as if religion and war were one and the same, and I was wrong for thinking otherwise.
Sensing I’d get no help, I shaped my next move. It was Christmastime and I was in San Antonio, Texas. Most soldiers had returned home for vacation leave. I was still stuck on extra-duty with my request for discharge still in the mill. Overall, they were quiet times for an Army unit — nobody paid much attention too anybody.
So I walked around and surveyed the buildings of my platoon and also the buildings of the neighboring platoon. After scouting the area I went back to my barracks. I packed some clothes, grabbed my Dylan, Zeppelin, Beck and Crosby Stills and Nash albums and called a cab to pick me up not at my platoon unit, but next company over.
The cab came. I scooted out the back door. I showed all of the grace as a middle infielder sneaking up behind a baserunner. I got the cab. Leaving it drove past the HQ of my unit where Sargent-Major Bill was standing and leaning against the doorway. On a beautiful day, he was looking out. Our eyes met. I tipped my hat, never to see that man again … we drove off.
I was finally free!
There was a three-striped sergeant who I befriended and we’d been talking about antiwar matters. He fully understood my conscientious objector position. He noted he too was done and fed up with the military, and he planned on filing for his own discharge. He gave me and my two friends — two long-haired hippy brothers from Arizona — a ride to Canton, Ohio. The brothers were stuck in San Antonio but always wanting to go to Boston.
Hitching the cold of Route 80 with two long-haired hippies, the day before Christmas, was no easy matter. This was especially true given our southern clothing wasn’t fit for a northern climate. We suffered our way near to the New Jersey border, but were still stuck in Pennsylvania. We were trying to get to New York City where I had arranged for a religious peace movement connection to rescue us.
But there we were on Christmas morning. It was around 5 am, somewhere where we had no idea where we were and we were seeking warmth from the bathroom of a mundane car lot. There I sat on the toilet: Wanted by the government, AWOL from the army, a man of conscience, thinking about Santa and his reindeer bringing gifts of happiness and joy to families all over the world, my own family.
In a freezing vision, I saw children, parents, grandparents, aunts with uncles and cousins — all near decorative wreaths and trees, fireplaces with stockings, scented candles, dining room treats and the smell of fresh coffee and cheerful yells of happiness. The smiling delight of humanity!
During the Christmas of 1969 my gift was not only the oddly-placed vision described above, but the fact my friend left his loving Christmas morning scene in New Jersey to come and rescue us. He found us somewhere in Pennsylvania and drove us to the The Emmaus House, a multidimensional religious community then located at 116th Street in New York City. We got there just in time to find a house full of happy smiles as Christmas dinner was about to become served!
My friend from New Jersey? His timing was impeccable. Thank your forever, Tuey! He, too, was a private in the Army trying to get out. Nobody wanted that war!
My AWOL experience became one of the more memorable moments of my lifetime. I was extremely fortunate the priest from the Portsmouth, New Hampshire Christ Episcopal Church, where I attended growing up, was also the founding director of New York City’s Seminary In The Streets program. So I was very well connected. Indeed, religious peace community groups were among the unsung heroes for helping to end the War on Vietnam.
STREET SEMINARY ENDS A SEMESTER (Published 1971)
This is a digitized version of an article from The Times's print archive, before the start of online publication in…
Holy Cross Episcopal Monastery — Fate of Introduction
My religious connections gave me sanctuary throughout my time AWOL, which ended up being almost three months. I ultimately ended up staying in the Guest House of the Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, New York. The rooms of the Guest House were named after the saints. While visiting, I kept switching rooms so I could draw within me the energy from those saints.
Ironically, the monastery was located directly across from the Vanderbilt Mansion on the Hudson River. Often I’d beam my personal vow of poverty across the river towards the magnificent mansion, hoping my magic would catch on.
After about a weeklong stay at The Emmaus House, I finally got my two brother friends a ride to Boston where I introduced one of them to a female friend who lived on Beacon Hill. Time saw them get married and have a child together. It’s amazing to think had I not gone AWOL, this couple never would have met and their child never would have been born.
Jimi Hendrix & The Band of Gypsies
Before I could arrange the trip to Boston for the brothers, we had a very nice unexpected surprise awaiting for us, as if a reward for our long and perilous hitchhike journey from the south under great adversity. John Hersey — a guy I grew up with at Hampton Beach, New Hampshire — had moved to Greenwich Village and settled on Sullivan Street. Not only did he drink regularly at Googies, he also was often an usher at The Fillmore.
Jimi Hendrix & The Band of Gypsies were performing on New Years Eve. Over beers at Googies, John told us he might be able to get us into the show. This, of course, was a show worth waiting for! For hours that night, the three of us circled The Fillmore, hanging out in the cold, our boot heels clicking. We stayed mostly in areas where we could best hear the music from inside while we were on the outside.
We had arranged for timed checkpoints where we’d try to time our connection. But as the night wore on it seemed not to work. But, hey, by this time, the three of us were well used to freezing in the cold — at least we were hearing Hendrix! Finally, near the end, my friend came rushing around the corner, found us and led us in. We got to hear the encore songs and gratefully enjoyed a very nice New Year’s Feast which had supplanted the equipment on stage.
Secondary Unexpected Concert
After the concert I got my friends to Boston. But before transferring to my long stay at the suburban monastery, I briefly hid out at the office of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship on 9th Avenue. There were three people primarily working this office: a hardcore political organizer, a concert pianist and a folksinger.
Interestingly, the pianist had tickets at The Met for a very special first-time performance by a conductor — I can’t remember the details. Sadly, he broke his leg the day of the show and he gave me his ticket.
For me, this became a very strange experience as everyone attending were occasioned with black ties and gowns. Me? I was wearing a golden-pleated Nero jacket, jeans with Beatle boots and a brown suede cap pulled down to my ears. I refused to take my hat off, since I still had no hair. I was completely out of place and out of my element — but I thoroughly enjoyed the show. I only wish I knew more about the musical experience.
All in all? It proved an extraordinary way to get to a Jimi Hendrix concert. While at the monastery I completed nearly a 100-page document, replete with references, deploring war, the reasons for war and the continuation of war. When finished, I turned myself into Fort Devens where I helped to start up the GI Resistance Movement.
My application was summarily denied and I was reassigned back to Fort Sam Houston in Texas. Instead, I went directly to NH Senator McIntyre’s office who served on the US Senate Armed Services Committee. The senator helped me to become congressionally-attached to Fort Meade for a spell. I was told if I resubmitted my application for an honorable discharge as a conscientious objector it would be approved. On October 30th, the day after my birthday, I was honorably discharged.