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Remembering Tom Hayden as activist who helped shape the 1960s

When news broke that Tom Hayden had died, many remembered him as the Vietnam War protester, former husband of Jane Fonda or the California legislator. But classmates and fellow activists at the University of Michigan still think of the impassioned and eloquent student who more than anyone shaped a signature document of the 1960s: the Port Huron Statement.

“He was intensely alive, hardworking, indefatigable and courageous,” said Todd Gitlin, who later wrote “The Sixties,” “Occupy Nation” and several other books about activism. “He exhibited this capacity to put a name on things and invoke the possibility of changing the world.”

Completed in 1962, the Port Huron Statement was the manifesto of the Students for a Democratic Society, one of the leading youth groups and representatives of the New Left for much of the decade. The statement’s language had an urgency and historical consciousness that recalled the Declaration of Independence and other foundational American texts, beginning with its opening statement: “We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.”

A 25,000-word rejection of the so-called silent generation of the 1950s, the statement captured the hope and anxiety of the new decade, the awareness of material comfort and the distress over a society the students viewed as complacent, unjust and misguided. The Port Huron paper linked the civil rights movement to the nuclear arms race and other causes and advocated participatory democracy, whether through voter registration, peaceful protests or through candidates who would challenge political machines.

“When we talk about the ‘spirit of the ‘60s,’ you have to think of the Port Huron Statement. It was idealistic and aspirational, but also practical. And one of the extraordinary things about it was its elevation of political language,” Gitlin said.

Authorship of a group statement is often disputed, but friends of Hayden, who died Sunday at 76, agree that his was the essential voice and liken his role to that of Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence. Both documents were critiqued and altered by quarrelsome peers, but both needed an individual capable of synthesizing and making poetry out of collective ideals.

“He was the best writer among us and was able to articulate so well all the ideas and philosophies we had been debating,” said Sharon Jeffrey Lehrer, another University of Michigan student who worked on the Port Huron Statement.

“A lot of work was done on that statement after Tom first wrote it,” says former SDS member Robert J.S. Ross, a research professor of sociology at Clark University. “There were a lot of sentences pulled out, and others pulled in. Everybody had a hand in it. But Tom was channeling us all.”

The statement was widely circulated and championed, but it was tested as the decade’s traumas accumulated, from the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., to the growing and seemingly endless U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. By the mid-1970s, the SDS had broken apart, and many young people had despaired that peaceful change _ or any change _ was possible.

But Hayden’s friends say that he never gave up on civic engagement and that the document remains vital, even if few current students have read it.

“I was on a panel with Tom once that was well publicized and had about 70 there. And half of them were old,” Ross said with a laugh. “But I think the statement really speaks to democracy being an active, not a passive process. And in that regard I see it as a living document.”

Lehrer, who became a leadership coach and co-owner of an art gallery in Northern California, said Hayden was deeply committed to democracy.

“What stands out for me about Tom, fifty plus years ago, was his commitment to a lifetime of participatory democracy,” she said. “I remember him getting up and saying he wasn’t only going to be in activist for this period (as a student). I can still see him saying that, and I remember saying, ‘Right on.’ “

Before Broadway, ‘Miss Saigon’ to appear on movie screens

American audiences will get the rare chance to catch a sneak peek of the new Miss Saigon before it opens on Broadway next spring. They just have to go to a movie theater.

A filmed version of the musical’s live 25th-anniversary celebration in London will make its world premiere on some 175 U.S. movie theaters on Sept. 22, some six months before the same production with the same leading actors lands on Broadway.

The show captured the performance at the Prince Edward Theatre in London’s West End in September 2014 and was augmented by close-ups recorded a few months after the show closed there earlier this year.

The same stars — Jon Jon Briones as The Engineer and Eva Noblezada as Kim — are slated to appear when the show opens at the Broadway Theatre in March, but mega-producer Cameron Mackintosh isn’t worried the broadcast will cannibalize fans.

“It encourages business,” he said. “This is the greatest cinematic trailer for a theatrical production that’s ever been produced. I could be wrong, but I defy anybody who loves the show and isn’t bowled over by the film not to want to go.”

Miss Saigon, a tragic Vietnam War love story inspired by Giacomo Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly, has songs by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, who also wrote Les Miserables.

Mackintosh said he didn’t initially plan for a broadcast version of Miss Saigon, but was persuaded to capture the 25th anniversary of its West End arrival with a dozen cameras. A special finale was added that featured the original stars Jonathan Pryce, Lea Salonga and Simon Bowman — as well as Mackintosh making a surprise appearance.

He considered it one of the top three performances of Miss Saigon in its history. “Beyond just it being a wonderful performance, there was a sense of magic in the air,” he said. (As for Mackintosh himself, “I bounce around like an irrepressible ball.”)

He and his team decided to add documentary footage and fold in close-ups shot later. They reminded viewers it was a live event by not digitally removing the performers’ microphones and layering in shots of the audience going into the theater and their reactions at some scenes.

“What producer in his lifetime gets the chance to do a great show twice with two brilliant companies in two different productions? Not many people have ever had that opportunity,” said Mackintosh.

The final result is presented by Fathom Events, Universal Pictures and Picturehouse Entertainment. American audiences will see the same production from London directed by Laurence Connor and with its two stars. “They’re seeing what they’re going to get,” Mackintosh said.

When the revival finally arrives on Broadway, it will join other Mackintosh-produced works like The Phantom of the Opera and Cats, which returned this summer. (It will have missed his latest revival of Les Miserables, which closes next month after 21/2 years.)

“Thirty years on, to have my four great musicals of that era still firing on all cylinders is amazing,” he said. “I’m as enthusiastic about these great shows now as I was when I helped create them all those decades ago because, to me, they smell as if they’re absolutely freshly minted.”


On the Web


Mystery lingers in Vietnam War murder of Wisconsin soldier

It wasn’t the enemy that killed Lt. Ronald Kielpikowski of Green Bay in Vietnam on Feb. 28, 1969.

It was a fellow G.I., and it was no accident.

That’s about as much as Debbie Piontek knows, and 46 years later, it weighs heavily on her.

Piontek, now 59, was only 12 when news came to report on her brother’s death in Vietnam. Whether her parents or siblings knew Ronnie had been murdered, she can’t say, but she didn’t learn about it until much later.

“I remember the news crew outside the church and the 21-gun salute at Fort Howard Cemetery,” she said.

About five or six years ago, while surfing the Internet, the town of Eaton resident searched her brother’s name and came upon a site that identified his death as a homicide. It was the first she had heard of it.

The Press Gazette reports it sent her on a quest to find out as much as she could, but she got no help from her family. Her parents were gone by then. Her older siblings?

“Well, when I told them what I found out, they just said it’s not going to change anything,” Piontek said.

She quickly found the U.S. military bureaucracy was a labyrinth she couldn’t travel alone. Computer searches were giving her mixed messages, with some sites, such as the National Archives, identifying her brother’s death as being accidental, others saying it was homicide and at least one, the Military Honor Wall at togetherweserved.com, proclaiming it was an accidental homicide.

At her husband’s suggestion, she enlisted an aid of then-Sen. Herb Kohl’s office. Information began pouring in.

Conflicting versions

Piontek managed to get a copy of the original Western Union telegram, stating “First Lieutenant Ronald L. Kielpikowski died as a result of wound received while in base camp when shot by another individual.”

Another document, called a disposition form, called Ronnie’s death “the result of a non-hostile action” and went on to repeat the information stated in the telegram. It also indicated there was “possible misconduct” involved.

She received another document, not identified by a header but appearing to be some kind of printout, written entirely in capital letters. It refers to a “gunshot wound to the abdomen” and says “AT BASE CAMP STANDING IN CHOW LINE WHEN ANOTHER INDIV CAME UP TO KIELPIKOWSKI AND SHOT HIM WITH AN M-16.” It goes on to explain that Kielpikowski was admitted to the 71st Evacuation Hospital, where he later died, but most of the rest of the document is a jumble of abbreviations and computer code.

The most useful document she received was one identified as “statement of medical examination and duty status.” It came out of the 71st Evacuation Hospital, where it says Kielpikowski died while in surgery for a gunshot wound to the chest — not abdomen, as the previous document stated.

“Officer was shot by another EM with M-16, 1130 hrs 28 Feb 69, at LZ Mary Lou, RVN,” the detail portion of the form states. “SP4 Leon Carter and 1LT Kielpikowski had ridden the convoy from Camp Enari to LZ Mary Lou. Upon dismounting the two individuals had faced each other, then 1LT Kielpikowski had begun to walk away when he was shot and killed by SP4 Carter. A CID investigation and a 15-6 investigation are in progress.”

That’s the last official word Piontek was able to get. No explanation of how he suffered a chest wound while walking away, no reference to what might have been said between the two men, no word on the outcome of the two investigations, and no word on what if anything happened to Carter. It also doesn’t explain how the two could have just dismounted from a convoy, as one report says, and yet been in the chow line, as another of the reports says.

One big break in her investigation, albeit with a different account of the incident, came when she got a phone call out of the blue from a man named David Binder of Prineville, Ore.


Binder was a lieutenant in the same battalion, but a different company, and he claimed to have been a witness to Kielpikowski’s shooting.

Piontek can’t remember quite how she got connected up with Binder, but he sent her a letter spelling out what he saw. Their battalion, having been in fierce fighting for several weeks set up camp near the city of Kontum, to protect it and rest up. The shooting was a day or two after their arrival in Kontum.

Kielpikowski was responsible for doling out pay. He told a soldier (later to be identified as Carter) to report for pay, and “without provocation, the man lowered his M-16 and sprayed Ron and his 2 guards,” Binder wrote.

Binder, who didn’t know Kielpikowski or Carter, had just woken up and left his tent when the gunfire started. He said he saw Kielpikowski and two other men fall.

“I saw the shooter going berserk yelling and running up the road toward the gate,” he wrote.

Binder retrieved his rifle, chased Carter, and they exchanged gunfire. At one point, Binder managed to shoot him, hitting him in the right shoulder. By then, MPs had arrived and pinned Carter to the ground. Binder returned to camp, then sat with the injured Kielkipowski in the infirmary until medics came to take him away in a helicopter. He recalled that Kielpikowski had three bullet wounds in his torso.

“I heard later he died en route,” Binder wrote. “I never heard what happened to the shooter, he probably survived and got a life sentence or death.”

Binder’s account says nothing about a chow line, as referenced in one military document, nor about the two men having just disembarked from one of the trucks in a convoy, as referenced in one of the other military documents. His account also doesn’t match the one listed in the medical report indicating the two men had been facing each other and Kielpikowski was walking away when Carter opened fire.

“I could only tell you this story from my own perspective,” Binder said in his letter to Piontek.

More recently, Piontek got another break in the case. This time it came in the form of a contact from an old family friend. Gary Tremble grew up in the same eastside Green Bay neighborhood as the Kielpikowskis. In fact, Ron used to babysit the Tremble kids, Gary recalled.

Gary Tremble never was in Vietnam and had no first-hand knowledge of Kielpikowski’s death. He remembered when it happened and assumed it was a battle-related incident. But about a year ago, Tremble happened upon one of the same websites Piontek had visited and learned Kielpikowski’s death had been because of homicide.

He contacted Piontek, who remembered him from their childhood, and he agreed to help her continue her investigation.

Tremble made contact with Kirk Ramsey, a Vietnam veteran who is the battalion’s webmaster. Ramsey had no knowledge of Kielpikowski or his death, but at Tremble’s request, he asked around.

Ramsey tracked down someone claiming to be an eyewitness, someone Ramsey wouldn’t identify other than to say he was on the same convoy as Kielpikowski and Carter.

Conflicting eyewitness

According to the man’s account, he didn’t seem to know either of the men, but the story among the troops was that Carter had been in the 71st hospital’s psychiatric unit previously, and that Kielpikowski apparently believed Carter was faking mental problems to shirk his duties. Kielpikowski went there and forced Carter’s release and return to the unit.

“Carter allegedly told the doctor that he was not ready to return to his unit, and if forced to do so, somebody was going to get hurt or killed,” the man wrote to Ramsey. “Again, allegedly, Kielpikowski talked the doctor into releasing Carter and put him on the transport that day with his M-16.”

The man said Carter’s M-16 was supposed to be unloaded, but Carter easily could have picked up a half-spent magazine from the truck floor.

The man claimed he heard shots just as he was getting off one of the trucks.

“The shots started immediately after I hopped off the truck I was on,” he told Ramsey. People ran for cover and he saw “a man to my left get hit.” That, presumably, was Kielpikowski. The witness also claimed he saw someone named Sgt. Barker get hit in the leg. No one else got hit, although “a spray of bullets came between us and the tent a few feet from us,” the man told Ramsey.

The man said another soldier told him he saw the shooter run off, but surrender when confronted by an officer. That soldier said the shooter’s “eyes were open real wide and he looked deranged.” That soldier said nothing about the shooter having been wounded in the shoulder or of a second sergeant having been injured.

Press-Gazette Media contacted Ramsey, who said, “The eyewitness I found doesn’t want the publicity.” Ramsey acknowledged that the majority of the man’s story was nothing more than hearsay, but the eyewitness portion seems to match at least one of the official versions and contradicts Binder’s account.

“Both had gotten off a truck when the shooting started,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey told Tremble he “would hesitate to put much credibility in the ‘Pay Day’ story and the officer shooting Carter.”

During the Vietnam War, when people were still being drafted into military service, friction often was heated between soldiers and officers and it wasn’t unheard of for that friction to escalate to the point of murder, Ramsey said.

Speaking to Press-Gazette Media by phone, Binder stood by his account. He denied the men had just disembarked from convoy trucks and said that convoy had been days earlier.

“I know for a fact there were no trucks around close by the area,” he said.

Binder recalled a chow line nearby, but neither Kielpikowski nor Carter were in it. Binder said he had no first-hand knowledge that Kielpikowski was the payroll officer that day — that’s what he had been told — but it fit with what he saw:  Kielpikowski was standing with two sergeants. It was standard procedure for the payroll officer to be accompanied by two sergeants serving as armed guards for the cash payouts being made, Binder said.

Both sergeants were injured, Binder said. When told no one could confirm a second sergeant was injured, Binder said he definitely saw both sergeants appear to be shot in the legs, but one might have been hit superficially.

Binder had no knowledge of Carter having previously been in the psychiatric unit or of Kielpikowski trying to get him out.

“There is information in there (official documents) about Leon Carter being unstable, so I do know that he was classified as unstable, but why he had a gun, I have no idea.”

He found it doubtful that Kielpikowski would have ordered Carter to carry an unloaded weapon in a battle zone, as Ramsey’s witness claimed.

In any case, “it was a horrible tragedy,” Binder said. Kielpikowski “didn’t deserve to die, and it was because of some goofball that the Army should have flagged . I felt horrible about it. I didn’t know Ron, but I felt just terrible about it.”

Despite his involvement in the incident, investigators never questioned him, nor was he ever required to fill out a report on it.

“I’m surprised they didn’t ask me,” he said. “I thought about that later. Why in the hell didn’t they ask me? Because everybody saw me chasing him.”

Piontek and Tremble say they don’t know which versions to believe. But the real question, they both say, is what happened to Carter.

Piontek’s efforts in the search ended when Sen. Herb Kohl retired in 2013. She hadn’t decided whether to contact Sen. Tammy Baldwin or Rep. Reid Ribble and has so far been content to let Tremble carry on.

Tremble said he kept digging but has hit an impasse: The problem is, nonfamily members can’t typically dig into a soldier’s official military record, especially without crucial information such as a Social Security number. Tracking Leon Carter through unofficial sources has mostly been impossible because the name is too common. Tremble has no idea where this particular Leon Carter is from. He says he found records of three different Leon Carters just in the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan.

“I’ll keep looking, and when I find out, I’ll tell you,” he said.

“I would just like to see what happened to that man,” Piontek said. “He should be punished.”

An AP member exchange story. 

‘Hair’ is just as groovy and socially relevant as it was in ‘67

In 1967, the Broadway musical world was rocked like never before by Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical. Nothing like it had been tried before, and it spawned an entirely new direction in musical theater.

Wrapping sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll in social, political and environmental themes, the show captured a unique time in American history. Nearly 47 years later, Hair still speaks with vibrancy about issues remaining at the forefront of American social concerns, according to Ray Jivoff, the director helming Skylight Music Theatre’s upcoming production of the classic.

“The show is about raising people’s awareness,” says Jivoff, a native of Syracuse, New York, and life partner of C. Michael Wright, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s producing artistic director. “The idea of men with long hair as a revolutionary statement has evolved, but there is still controversy in terms of language, sexual references, racial issues, the war and the government.”

“This is more of an event than a show,” he adds. “It’s a ritual that asks more questions than it answers.”

The play’s street theater conventions and cultural references, which would date a lesser work, simply serve as a starting point in Hair, says Jivoff, who’s directed the work twice before.

Written by James Rado and Gerome Ragni with music by Galt MacDermot, Hair’s loose storyline chronicles a “tribe” of characters on New York’s Lower East Side at a time when the Vietnam War raged, racial unrest burned in America’s cities, and young people questioned every aspect of traditional society. 

Claude (Doug Clemons in the Skylight production) receives a draft notice telling him to report for military service. Friends Berger (Alex Mace), Sheila (Alison Mary Forbes), Woof (Ryan Cappleman), Hud (Sherrick Robinson) and the rest of the tribe attempt to talk him out of going, but with little luck. 

Between the opening notes of “Aquarius” and the closing anthem “Let the Sunshine In” come a host of former pop hits, including  “Hair,” “Easy to Be Hard” and “Good Morning Starshine.” The play also includes a “be-in,” an anti-war protest, a hallucinogenic drug trip and an obligatory nude scene.

Make that a nude “episode,” Jivoff says.

“The nude scene seems to be what everyone remembers, but it’s really only 20 seconds at the end of Act I,” he explains. 

More unsettling to contemporary audiences might be the racist stereotyping in the song “I’m Black/Colored Spade” sung by Hud, an African-American character. The song “Sodomy,” sung by Woof, a closeted gay character, broke new ground in 1967 and might continue to set some audience members on edge.

Act I is full of high energy as it establishes themes and explores the characters’ joyous, hedonistic lifestyles. Act II turns darker as it follows Claude to Vietnam and explores the narrative’s anti-war roots.

“Claude is often compared to Hamlet and Jesus Christ and quotes from both of them,” Jivoff says. “He feels he is a character in a myth and turns out to be a character destined to be sacrificed to inspire the tribe to continue with its anti-war mission.”

Hair has seen notable actors and other performers in productions throughout its history. Authors Rado and Ragni appeared in several early iterations, and a young Diane Keaton was part of the original Broadway cast. So was singer Melba Moore and dancer Ben Vereen. 

Performers Andre DeShields, Donna Summer, Meat Loaf, Dobie Gray and Jennifer Warnes appeared in various productions. The London staging introduced Tim Curry to Richard O’Brien, who went on to develop The Rocky Horror Show.

Jivoff is proud of his all-Wisconsin cast, including 19 performers from the Milwaukee area. He also is thrilled with Jeremy McQueen’s choreography, which he says takes the show to a new level.

Audience members should be prepared to interact with the cast. The actors have been instructed to break the fourth wall and address audience members, asking for spare change, handing out leaflets and encouraging them to come on stage for the finale. They also dance in the aisles during the song “Hair,” he says.

Although not designed to make the audience uncomfortable, interaction with the cast could be a little more extensive than similar shows, Jivoff adds.

“The character of Berger is extroverted and fairly sexual,” he says. “I think that’s all I will say about that.”

Yale celebrates return of ROTC a year after DADT repeal

Yale University welcomed the Air Force and Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps detachments last week to campus, a return after a decades-long absence that was hailed as a historic development that would help groom leaders at a prestigious university.

Yale brought the ROTC units back to campus this fall after Congress voted to allow gays to serve openly in the military. ROTC hasn’t had a presence at Yale since the Vietnam War era.

“It’s a historic event for our militaries and it’s an historic event for our nation,” said David S. Fadok, commander and president of Air University, an umbrella of Air Force leadership training programs.

The ceremony was held on Sept. 21 on Yale’s Hewitt Quadrangle, in front of the cenotaph honoring Yale servicemen who gave their lives in World War I. Students in crisp uniforms marched into as a commander shouted “one, two, three” and a military band performed.

The Naval ROTC unit has 12 Yale midshipmen enrolled, while the Air Force has eight Yale cadets and 30 cadets from other Connecticut colleges who will train at Yale.

Juan M. Garcia, assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve affairs, said the program would prepare future leaders for everything from wars to the ongoing fight against piracy to humanitarian missions that help prevent wars.

Yale President Richard Levin said Garcia recognized the symbolic importance of establishing a Naval ROTC unit on at least one Ivy League campus. “We’re glad it’s ours,” Levin said.

“It is truly a distinct pleasure to welcome you to this celebration of the arrival of Naval and Air Force ROTC units to the Yale campus,” Levin said.

Two other Ivy League universities, Harvard and Columbia, also signed agreements last year to bring back ROTC.

ROTC programs left the campuses of several prominent universities in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the fervor of student protests against the Vietnam War. ROTC was kept away more recently because of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which banned gays from serving openly in the armed services. The universities said the policy violated nondiscrimination rules for campus organizations.

The return of the ROTC renews a long military tradition at Yale. The inventor David Bushnell is credited with creating the first submarine ever used in combat while studying at Yale in 1775, and one of the original six Naval ROTC units was established at the university in 1926.

Students enrolled in the ROTC program receive scholarship money in return for agreeing to military service after graduation.

Students participating in ROTC say they have been welcomed at the campus.

“So far it’s been very well received here,” said Matt Smith, an 18-year-old Yale freshman participating in the Naval ROTC. “It’s something that is hopefully here to stay.”