Memorial for audacious GI union leader
The memorial for Andy Stapp on Nov. 1 turned into a reunion of members and supporters of the American Servicemen’s Union, which he had headed, as well as of his comrades in Workers World Party, long-time acquaintances from near and far, family members and former students who thought him the best and funniest history teacher in the world.
As people arrived, they were greeted by a stunning collage of photos and images showing various aspects of Stapp’s life, including the historic August 1968 Esquire magazine cover story, “Exclusive: The plot to unionize the U.S. Army.”
The meeting was serious, revolutionary, passionate and rollicking as some two dozen people took the podium to give their memories of this former GI. Stapp, who died this September, had gladdened the hearts of multitudes of soldiers, sailors and marines who refused to fight the Vietnamese people and who applauded his audacious organizing against the Army officer corps.
Not lost in the sometimes raucous nostalgia about army life and the stockade was the connection to today’s wars. They are products of the same imperialism that tried, and failed, to subdue the Vietnamese, but has since killed and maimed millions of people in dozens of countries, including U.S. veterans now suffering high rates of suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The ASU vets told how the amazing steadfastness of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam had led to the almost total erosion of discipline in the autocratic U.S. Army, often with hilarious results.
Another prominent theme was the ASU’s strong stand against sexism and racism, which laid the basis for militant solidarity among the enlisted soldiers at a time when the government wanted to use its troops against the Black rebellions at home. The GI union supported these freedom struggles and the soldiers who refused to carry out the military’s illegal and unjust orders.
Messages were read from former ASU members who couldn’t be there, including Richard Wheaton, one of the founders of the union, and Eddie Oquendo, an African-American draft resister who went to Fort Sill, Okla., to attend Stapp’s second court- martial.
The memorial was held, fittingly, at a union headquarters — the large auditorium at 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, which graciously extended the time for the meeting to four hours to accommodate all those who wished to speak.
Plans are underway to post online the story of Andy Stapp, including a film of the memorial, other historic visual material, messages sent to the meeting and eventually e-copies of his book, “Up Against the Brass.” People in the audience contributed to this project. Readers who would like to donate and inspire today’s youth with what is possible in the struggle to end imperialist wars should contact Deirdre Griswold Stapp at [email protected] or write to Deirdre Griswold Stapp, c/o Workers World, 147 West 24th St., 2nd floor, NY, NY 10011.
For more information about Andy Stapp’s life and struggles, Google “Workers World Andy Stapp” or go to workers.org.