Vietnam era. Protestors spitting on soldiers. Myth vs reality+McGovern/Nixon

I couldnt think of a concise thread title.

I watched a documentary today about the '72 presidential campaign. McGovern vs Nixon and was hoping some dopers who were adults at the time could clear up some questions regarding the feel of the times.

There is that undying meme of “soldiers returning from vietnam were spit on”. Seems very unlikely. I’m sure at big protests, some insults were hurled at guardsmen or whatever, but there was never a big homecoming. Soldiers went for a year and came home, so there would have always been soldiers leaving and coming back. I cant see someone making a special trip to the airport to go spit on some private coming home after his tour.

So what WAS the feeling towards the soldiers? I imagine it as people hated the war but even the people dead against it probably had high school friends or relatives in the military and didn’t hate them personally.

Watching the McGovern documentary I get the feeling that the “hippies spitting on soldiers” myth sounds like a rumor put out by the Nixon campaign.

Lastly, did you vote for McGovern?

I was 18 in 1971, a radical who ended up voting for McGovern, as anti-war as they came, and never even considered spitting on a returning vet. I think the Vietnam vets got treated badly, but not by anti-war folks I ever saw. I heard some vets speaking at anti-war rallies, and you’d need to be a special brand of stupid to spit on someone who might just agree with you. Plus who was trained in combat techniques.

There are no substantiated instances of spitting on soldiers. Most flights were civilian charters that landed at military fields, and when they landed at commercial fields on the way over and back, military units were not allowed to leave the airport or even the area in which they were more or less quarantined. My plane (a Pan Am charter) landed at Norton AFB in San Bernardino. I got a ride to Hollywood and rented a car. I was wearing my summer white uniform and had a tan that made me look like I’d been on a beach for a year. Nobody looked twice at me, other than a few young ladies who seemed interested.

Military guys were looked at as being tools of the politicians who were waging a proxy war with Russia/China. Protests were aimed at the government, not at soldiers, although most of us saw that as a fine distinction back then. I remember being angry at the protestors, and puzzled/shocked by the flag burning. I was never confronted by anybody, nor did I ever talk to anybody who had had a confrontation. This is over a 23 year career, so I have a pretty large sampling base. Not that confrontation couldn’t have happened. I’m sure there may have been some heated discussions about the US role in Vietnam.

I can tell you for sure that if anybody had actually spit on me, it would likely have been their last act for quite a long while. I would imagine the same would have been true for most military guys. As to where that meme came from, who the hell knows? It was probably propagated by the same people who spread the lies about Jane Fonda: military vet groups with their own political agendas.

While there wasn’t overt hostility, there was a very noticeable indifference to returning military, and certainly not the adoration that is heaped on our military now. No talk of “heroes”. No welcome home galas. Nobody buying you drinks at the bar. Not even a “thanks for your service” in most cases, not that anybody was really looking for any of that, despite the whining you still hear from some vet groups. Part of that was because of the rotational nature of the people fighting the war. There weren’t shiploads of doughboys coming back to parades after a victorious finish to a world war, just constant flights full of rotating units and individuals returning from a “conflict” that seemingly had no stated purpose and no forseeable end. Then, when it did end, it was an embarrassment for the government and soldiers were the face of that embarrassment. The bright red lacquer of “loser” takes a long time to dull, and it’s just easier to not look at it.

This strikes me as one of the key points refuting the spitting-on-returning-soldiers legend. The idea of hippies/protesters routinely lining up at airports to spit on soldiers, who just hang their heads and take it silently, is totally ridiculous. There would have been major fights/riots. Yet the legend has become a rallying point for those who argue (to some extent with justification) that Vietnam-era soldiers were not given due recognition.

You can make those arguments without denigrating antiwar protesters.

There has been at least one thread on the Dope about this “controversy”. As I recall, the best any pro-spit-legend advocate could come up with is an unsupported anecdote or something like “you can’t prove it didn’t happen”. :rolleyes:

I didn’t see actual saliva, but I did see a fist fight at the Philadelphia Airport, provoked by two or three guys in what I think of as my own demographic; er, …hippies. I was about 15, Quaker, anti-war, anti-violence and very shocked.

I participated in a number of protests in the Bay area and no, I never say soldiers being spat on.
Plus I worked a lot with the VVAW and I promise you, anyone that tried to spit on a soldier who have been ‘corrected’ very quickly.

Yeah, it just doesn’t pass the common-sense test, and really pegs my bullshit meter. However, I could certainly see GIs getting into physical confrontations with protesters, particularly someone coming back from being out in the shit and seeing friends die. The emotion of the moment could have lead to somebody losing his self control. My father was a bartender at the Anchorage Airport during that time and saw a Green Beret mop the floor with three guys who were baiting him. But they weren’t protesters, as I recall, just assholes.

The guys I saw fit that description. They were not protesters, they were just part of the airport crowd.

What year was this? I’m guessing you were in the Navy? Based on your uniform description.

And were you able to tell a big difference in how soldiers were viewed in say '67 vs '71 or so?

I don’t believe there was ever a documented instance of a returning GI being spat upon by anyone. I think I lot of GIs would have spit on Jane Fonda if they had the chance, but not the other way around.

Something to keep in mind is spitting on someone is assault in most places in the United States (maybe all places?) so the person doing the spitting would get in legal trouble. At the very least the fact that this person committed an assault would be see as instigating any fight that started afterward, so you could end up with your ass kicked and potentially being charged with a crime on top of that, or your ass kicked and nothing being done to the guy who kicked your ass (police releasing you both on “mutual combat” grounds.)

Arrived RVN in 1968, departed in 1969. I was a Navy Seabee stationed with a public works maintenance detachment at Force Logistics Command Red Beach (a Marine base), north of Da Nang. I don’t recall any difference in the way the military was treated in your specified timeframe. In 1971 I entered a bootstrap program that sent me to a University to try to get an engineering degree and subsequent commission. There was an ROTC unit on campus, and we had to attend classes in our dress blues once a week. Nobody ever gave me any shit about it. Apparently somebody tried to set fire to the ROTC building the year before I got there, but it was a lame attempt and probably more a protest against military on campus than the war. I was hugely relieved that the war was over in 1973, as I was about to head back to regular duties and would have absolutely found myself back there.

I didn’t know of any anti-war protesters who hated the soldiers (except for William Calley, I suppose); our line was that we supported our troops – that’s why we wanted them home and out of harm’s way. Since many protesters could relate to the idea of going off to war (my draft lottery number was low enough that if I hadn’t gotten a student deferment, I would have been drafted), they didn’t blame the people who had the misfortune of going to Vietnam.

I did vote for McGovern, though it was because the alternative was to vote for Nixon.

I was already in Vietnam when Nixon was elected the first time. I couldn’t believe that Humphrey had lost to this weasel, and literally walked around in a daze for a half hour. I don’t think I voted in the '72 election, as I didn’t get an absentee ballot in time, but McGovern was hopelessly out-maneuvered and never had a chance against CREEP. He was the first in a long line of hapless and hopeless Dem candidates over the ensuing years.

What about the other meme: “Baby killer!” Did anyone hear someone called that?

Bob Greene wrote a book where he documented many incidents of abuse of uniformed servicemen during this era.

There is also a lengthy discussion of the topic on

Some of the statements appear to be first hand accounts. Accounts of curses and disrespect were far more common than spitting, but the account that all servicemen were returning through military fields appears to be busted to me. It makes a lot more sense that they would use charter flights going to Vietnam rather than coming back. There would be big batches going over as they finished basic. The guys coming back would be more piecemeal

I was in college during the early seventies and I suspect many people don’t remember how controversial the draft made military service. A lot of Colleges asked their ROTC units to leave campus. I remember how relieved guys my age were when they got a high lottery number. Guys that were avoiding or actually evading the draft aren’t going to call the guys that did serve heros, since that implies they were cowards.

First-hand accounts = anecdotes, not proof. Why would you believe that sort of uncorroborated ‘evidence’? People tell these bullshit stories often enough so they actually believe them. As for the planes, Flying Tiger was the primary charter for units bound for Vietnam. There may have been military aircraft going to and fro, but by and large it was commercial charter. My plane coming back was full, as were most of them. It wasn’t like you just showed up at the airport and got on a plane. I waited three days for my flight, presumably so that it would be as full as possible. Planes did NOT fly directly to commercial airports. I went on leave when I got back, traveling in uniform and had zero problems.

Never heard anybody called ‘baby killer’, never saw people hanging out at airports for the sole purpose of harassing military people. FWIW, during this era I traveled through LAX, JFK, SFO, SEA, and San Diego, all in uniform. Never had a problem, never saw a problem, never so much as glimpsed a protester.

different people had different feelings. What, you don’t believe that there were some traitor Commies who hated the military for being lackeys of the bourgeoisie, oppressors of people of color and stuff? A possibly incomplete list of Commie terrorist attacks in the 60s can be found here . For instance, carried out a bunch of bombing attacks, including on a military recruitment center, although apparently did not manage to kill anybody. 1970 attack at was more successful in this regard.

Now, if some people hated America and its military sufficiently to engage in terrorism against the war effort, is it hard to surmise that others like them were not brave enough to break the law but could still manage to spit at somebody?

Totally an off-the wall post. What does this screed have to do with the OP? If you have incidental evidence of perhaps five protesters spitting on returning GIs, please post them.

And, WTF are you on about “Commies?”

Terrorists are cowards that hide in the shadows. It’s a different matter to spit on a fighting man.