Skip to the Content

Life in the United States: Civil Rights, the Vietnam War and the Draft

Changing Awareness - Peter Seixas

Time 0:01:49


So, it was very, if I were to sum up my childhood, I would say it was a very comfortable, safe, solid childhood where I had the opportunities and resources to do well at school, to have nice activities. It was—it was a good place to grow up. Now, by the later years of high school, some of the rosy picture had begun to change. The larger, historical picture had begun to change, and the way that we thought about the United States, which to me, in the growing-up years, the United States was just the obvious place to be, and it was the best, and it was the most important and, everything else was just foreign lands. By late high school, I started to have a different awareness of the—both the—domestically, what kinds of lives were available in the United States, and particularly with the beginnings of the civil rights movement, what that meant, um—and internationally, with the increasing immersion in Vietnam, and the sense that the United States wasn’t the good guy. And what did that mean for all of—the whole belief system that I had grown up with, and that was part of making my life so comfortable, up to that point.

Oral History 14.02.27PS with Peter Seixas
Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21

Click image to see the full size photo.

Political Involvement and Divisiveness - Frank Scarfino

Time 0:03:04


I was one of the, yes, I was one of the,—it would be arrogant to say student leaders, but I was one of the co-presidents of a group that was, I don’t know if you heard about it here, but the Students for Democratic Society. So, we were—there was a wide range of people in that group, in different campuses. Even within the SDS, Students for Democratic Society, there were people who had a wide range of views about what to do about the war. So, we were affiliated also with uh protests, union affiliation, civil rights for black people. We had—I was non-violent. We had people who were more aggressive and wanted to be more forceful about getting the message across. I didn't want to do that. We were—we all considered ourselves uh Marxist-Humanists. That was the term. I'm sure very few of us read Marx. I did. I liked Marx and I liked Hegel. But I wasn't a member of the Communist Party. And most of the people, I know—I remember, there were also, were not members of the Communist Party. We were called, "Communists, traitors. How could you do this to your country? You know, you're destroying the country, you're destroying, you know, blah blah blah. You're not supporting the war. How could you do this to our country?" We were actively involved in peace marches and civil rights marches. In this case, Pittsburgh and depending on what city it was—they're everywhere like Boston, New York, San Francisco. So, it wasn't just us. At that time, in the sixties, it was everywhere I think. Every big city; especially with university campuses. They were sort of a hot bed of—for a variety of reasons I'm sure. Some students didn't want to get drafted. Some sincerely believed in what they espoused. So, it was a tough time. It was awful. It wasn't like,I never felt like uh— I don’t know what the right word is. It wasn't like going to a meeting about trying to set up supportive housing for the homeless or what should we do about lead pipes in the sewer. It was—you think it's divisive now in the U.S. It was divisive and everything was awful because people were angry, frustrated—us, students especially got frustrated. It was divisive.

Oral History 16.03.04FS with Frank Scarfino
Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21

Click each image to see the full size photo.

Civil Rights Demonstration - Diane Kristensen

Time 0:00:46


I wasn't involved in any of the heavy duty demonstrations, the ones I was in were more the peace marches, so I didn't occupy any university offices or do any of that sort of thing, but uh, but I was definitely involved in, there was one march we had downtown, we went from campus all the way to downtown Cincinnati, and it was quiet, nobody spoke, and we just, thousands of students and other people too, and people were lining the streets, and I've got a picture and I, I would have brought it but it was so faded you can barely see, there were a couple of little old ladies sitting there and they're flashing the peace sign, um, and so, there was a lot of support for the – you know the anti-war uh, sentiment was very strong in Cincinnati.

Oral History 16.03.01DK with Diane Kristensen
Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21

Vietnam Draft - Tom Corcoran

Time 0:01:07


Tom Corcoran (TC): Yup. So I didn’t come back and as soon as I didn’t come back, I lost whatever college deferment I had as far as the military was concerned. And then I ended up in the military. I got drafted.

Emily Burton (EB): You got drafted.

TC: I was here. That’s worth telling, I guess. I was here and my dad was in the navy in the Second World War. We weren’t getting along really well at this point and time. I felt like I was doing as much fathering at home as he was, because he wasn’t there. I expected him to tell me to get my butt home as soon as he found out that I had been told to report to the draft and all that stuff. So I called him to tell him—to have the fight. That isn’t what he did. He said, “If you decide that you want to stay there, we’ll just come and visit you instead of you having to come and visit us,” which floored me. So to make a long story short, I packed my bags and went home—hitchhiked home the next morning. I was in the army a week later.

Oral History 14.05.07TC with Tom Corcoran
Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21

Vietnam War - Len Sirois

Time 0:02:22


I had just graduated from university—1965. I wasn’t home two weeks. This would be in May because school used to end in the end of April there. I was home two weeks and I got a letter from the government saying to report to Portland, Maine for your draft physical. They sort of got to give you a rating, whether you’re A-1, or A-2, or 4-F. 4-F means hit the road, they don’t want you. So I went for my physical and I knew then—I had flat feet, still do, always did—born with them. I had flat feet and a hearing problem. I wear a hearing aid now, but I didn’t then. And I was lucky. I think I was lucky. I went down on the bus and there must have been forty guys on the bus and I think I was the only one that got classified 4-F. Because of my hearing, I guess. And if you had flat feet, that used to somehow do you in too, because apparently a lot of guys would complain about back problems, you know, carrying your backpacks and all that stuff, then it would end up costing the government money to—medical. So I had two things going for me. So I got 4-F, so that cleared that up. I used to be accused of being a draft dodger (laughs) when they’d joke around up there or whatever. And, I’m being honest when I say I don’t know if I would have been one. I did not agree. I was a hundred percent against the Vietnam War. History has proved that, that was probably okay. But, you know, whether I would have draft dodged or not, I don’t really know. Thank God I didn’t have to make that choice. But I certainly didn’t agree with—I saw no value at all of sending young boys over there to lose their lives for—

Oral History 14.05.09LS with Len Sirois
Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21

These audio clips are available in English. Transcripts for each clip are available in French and have been translated from English.