VIETNAM MONTAGE ARTICLE

 

first medal

I was in Newport News, VA, out of the army, and enjoying the success of BRANDYWINE’S WAR. It was national best-seller, it had received rave reviews, and I had sold the movie rights to Mark Carliner productions for a very decent amount of money. Unfortunately, the movie was never produced.
But it was time go on to my next book. Russell Means, of AIM, who was always referred to as “an Indian activist” was much in the news . . . as was the situation in Wounded Knee, where a stand-off existed between the Indians and the federal marshals. I decided that Russell Means could be an Indian Martin Luther King, and I wanted to write a book about him.
It took several telephone calls until I located him in Cleveland, Ohio, so I called him at his hotel. After a preliminary conversation, I told him I wanted to write a book about him, and could I come see him?
“Sure, where are you, in the lobby? Come on up, I’m in room 717.”
I explained that I was in Newport News, but that I would take the earliest flight that I could find. I wasn’t able to get there until the next afternoon, but when I called him again, he renewed his invitation to come up to his room.
“You’re a writer?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“What have you written?”
He had a newspaper in his room, and going to the entertainment page, I was able to point out Brandywine’s War which, at the time, was number 12.
“I’m speaking at Case Western University tonight,” he said. “Would you take a look at my speech?”
I looked at it . . . it was totally disjointed, mentioning Custer, Squanto, broken promises, and a demand that both South and North Dakota be returned to the Indians.
“What do you think of it?
“It sucks,” I said. I regretted saying that, almost as soon as the words came out of my mouth. I was, after all, one of the dreaded white men.
“I’ve got a portable typewriter, write me a new one.”
I did…and was proud of my efforts, getting most of his points in, in an intelligible order.
“This is good,” he said. “This is very good.”
“Thanks.”
“You left out that we want the US government to cede the Dakotas to us.”
“Yeah. Well, why don’t we take little steps at first, and deal with that later?”
“Good idea.”
Case Western provided a limo for him to come from the hotel, and, graciously, he invited me to go with him.
The auditorium was packed, and here and there were signs saying…”We stole from the Indians, Indian Rights Now! John 3:16.”
Means gave his speech, and there were frequent interruptions for applause, most of them exactly where I thought they would be.
Then, he went off script, and asked if there were any questions from the audience.
“Mr. Means, you are attacking the white people, but don’t you think that we are aware of your plight, and sympathetic to it?” This question, by the way, was asked by a black student.
“No, I don’t,” Russell replied adamantly. “Because if you really did support us, you would all grab rifles, go to Wounded Knee, and help us in our war against this oppression!”
I don’t know why, perhaps it was the times, remember, this was early seventies, just out of the turbulent sixties, but the applause for this was thunderous.
Other than being a little curious about the reaction, I gave the comment no further thought until after the speech was over. Several people came up to congratulate him, and I stood to one side to allow him to bask in the afterglow of having read my speech.
Then, as students and faculty left, two men in suits, stepped up to him, and flashed FBI badges.
“Mr. Means, you are under arrest for advocating revolution, and the violent overthrow of the United States Government.”
Russell had been through this before, and offering no resistance, he put his hands behind his back and let them apply handcuffs.
“Who wrote your speech, Mr. Means?”
“He did.” Russell nodded his head toward me.
I had never been through this before (and fortunately, never since) so I had to be told to turn around and put my hands behind my back.
“Mr. Means, does this mean you won’t need the limo?” the driver asked.
“He won’t be needing it,” one of the FBI men replied. “We’ll be providing both of them with transportation.
Four hours later, when they were convinced that nothing in the speech I wrote was revolutionary….the FBI let me go.
They did not provide transportation back to the hotel.

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