"At this point I had a vision of a solution which was not without Quaker precedent: A sailing ship, loaded with medicine and with Quaker relief workers, defying the United States government, and sailing directly to Vietnam. The idea seemed fantastic and unreal to AQAG leaders, but they did mail out a query. When it reached Earle Reynolds in Japan, and he promptly volunteered the good ship Phoenix with himself as skipper, the dream rapidly jelled into a major project. i was soon flying to Tokyo with Phil Drath to help get the ship ready.. ."
A Quaker Action Group rented the Phoenix from Earle for the year 1967-'68 and sponsored three voyages to Vietnam. AQAG combined the traditional Quaker Peace testimony--"We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretence whatsoever---" (From "A Declaraton to Charles II," 1661) --and the Gandhian nonviolent direct action.
For the first trip in 1967 a multi-national crew of eight, captained by my dad, assembled to sail to Haiphong to deliver nearly a ton of medical aid to the Red Cross Society of North Vietnam for civilian victims of the Vietnam War.
|Phoenix (with Quaker Relief Star) in Hong Kong Harbor, en route to North Vietnam, 1967|
Elizabeth (Betty) Boardman of Madison, Wisconsin, was the only woman to sail all the way to Vietnam. (Akie was dropped off with friends in Hong Kong so she would not jeopardize her Japanese citizenship over an American issue.) Afterwards, Betty wrote a frank and very personal account of the 3-month journey, The Phoenix Trip: Notes on a Quaker
Mission to Haiphong.
In the book's Appendix, crew member Horace Champney describes the crew (edited):
"The ship, of course, belongs to Earle, and his authority as Skipper is unquestioned in all matters related to the ship, its fittings, provisions, navigation, safety, cargo, crew, and schedule. [He] is reputed to be cantankerous and difficult. But Earle really has a deep tenderness and a saving sense of humor, and he can tell bad ones on himself. He became to me a likeable man, after i ad learned to bend a bit with what came through as sharp, often thoughtless and unjust authoritarianism. After all, the long established tradition of the sea makes the captain of a ship an absolute dictator--quite necessary for the safety of the ship and her crew.
"Akie (25) is meticulous almost to the point of ritualism. Much of her routine is completely out of step with rough men struggling against the sea day and night.
"Bob Eaton (first mate) is a tower of strength as a knowledgeable and experienced sailor. Ivan Massar is a quiet, non-dominating Unitarian in his forties. A professional photographer.
"Phil Drath (56) is a kind of lovable Joe Palooka who was conquered by a Quaker pacifist wife many years ago and metamorphosed from all-American football player, prize fighter, outdoor adventurer, through Fellowship of Reconciliation, conscientious objector, Quaker, stage by stage to his recent and almost successful stint as a peace candidate for Congress. [B]uilding contractor and yachtsman.
"At 61, I am the senor member of the crew. I mind the wheel while the younger members of the crew scramble over the reeling and slippery deck in the spray-filled darkness handling sails and by the grace of God managing to stay aboard.
"Carl Zietlow is not a Quaker. AQAG dispatched him to Phnom Penh to negotiate for us with the North Vietnamese officials.
"Then there is Dick Faun, hoping to do a documentary movie on the Phoenix for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and Bill Heick, his cameraman. . ." (When they reache Vietnam, qall but two of the cameras aboard had to be sealed in a locker.)
Of Betty, the author of The Phoenix Trip, Champney writes, "Betty Boardman is perhaps closer to the Quaker-leader type than anyone else on the crew. She exudes abundant upbeat energy and sparkle and she has extensive Quaker background and organizing experience. . . . Betty may be a bit impulsive, but the whole mission is one grand impulsive venture. . . ."
Betty came to the Vietnam trip with vivid memories of another war. In the winter of 1941-42, her Marine husband was stationed in Hawaii. ". . .[F}or two months. . . Gene and I had lived happily in Makiki where we walked and swam and went to dinners and parties. . .
"On this trip I remembered the long walk Gene and I took around the city on December 6, 1941, when we noticed a larger than usual number of guards at the telephone company and the water works. . .
"The next morning we woke late to the sound of huge explosions and a fire engine with its siren screaming. It didn't occur to us to turn on the radio; we just wondered why there was artillery practice at Fort DeRussey on Sunday and decided to take our breakfast up on Punch Bowl to see if we could see anything. Just then a neighbor dashed in to say that the Japanese were attacking Pearl Harbor. . .
"[S]treets [were] crowded with people looking up in the sky while their radios blasted orders from inside their houses. 'Everybody take cover. The Japanese are attacking Pearl Harbor. Do not stand in the streets. Take cover.' When I got to the top of Punch Bowl i could see Pearl Harbor seven miles away. Huge black smoke smudges rose from many of the ships lying there. Up in the clouds I could see the silver glint of planes flying in formation, while around them burst anti-aircraft shells. . .
"Now here I was almost a quarter-century later, involved once more in war. Last time I had been a potential victim--one bomb landed several blocks from our home while we sat listening to it whistle down. This time my country was the invader, and I was opposing the evil actions of my government. . ."
In the Appendix, Champney went on to discuss their mission. "Why were we here? A complex question. The answers would vary in detail among crew members. Certainly we were all opposed to the war in Vietnam. We saw it as a tragic mistake in United States foreign policy, in violation of the United Nations Charter, the Geneva Agreements, and the age-old principle of self-determination. We believed emphatically that American interests and honor would be best served by an immediate and complete pull-out of our military, allowing the Vietnamese to resolve their own problems.
"Personally, I had logn been convinced of the evil of all war and violence in the settling of disputes. Gandhi and A.J. Muste were my heroes. I had become a Quaker shortly after World War II. For me the Vietnam campaign was, therefore, doubly evil. . .
"In leaving job and family I felt like a patriot going forth to fight for his country. But instead of the armed forces it was the newborn, international, non-violent 'Quaker Navy'! It as a deeply validating experience to have a chance to back up my words with my body, even perhaps with my life. And perhaps one little sailboat with its handful of Quakers and a few boxes of medicines--though hardly a drop in the bucket of need--could serve as a symbolic witness around the world for a better way of running the planet."
Before the trip, Better had met with my mother, her long-tie friend. They had silent meditation together. "Barbara glowed with the conviction that there is a light within all, and her joy was contagious. I loved her and I felt her spirit healed mine."
Later that month, during a meeting for worship on the Phoenix, Betty wrote, "Phil. . . spoke of the love Jesus had for his disciples and of his joy in them. . . The feeling was strong in us that we were on an important mission, that we would be frustrated and vexed and tired, and that we would need support from each other and strength from God. In a sense we were disciples of Jesus, and we had to cherish and love each other in order to carry out what seemed to us to be God's work."
On the trip to Vietnam and during their time there, this love and unity was put to the test. As our family had found during our second protest voyage, the conflict was sometimes not between us and the enemy "out there" but among ourselves.
Champney had written, "Earle's autority as Skipper is unquestioned in all matters related to the ship. . .But the larger project, the Quaker mission to North Vietnam, is something else. [We] are doing fine with a quiet kind of consensus."
That didn't last. The Quakers aboard expected decisions of the whole group to arise out of consensus resulting from quiet meditation. Instead, Earle made the decisions for everyone (as he had in our family, even when we were on shore. We'd go to a restaurant and he'd tell the waiter, "We'll have spaghetti.") This caused resentment and friction.
For instance, as they dropped anchor in Hong Kong, Earle ordered the crew, "Don't talk to the press! Just leave it to me!" Champney writes, "Earle is both articulate and canny and can give a very balanced story. He is, truly, our best spokesman, though he is easily annoyed and gives sharp answers if pushed too hard: "Dr. Reynolds, what do you think the Seventh Fleet will do about your trip to North Vietnam?" (The Seventh Fleet was in control of the Gulf of Tonkin and the regions around Hanoi and Haiphong were being bombed constantly and heavily.) "I don't run the Seventh Fleet. if you really want to know, go ask them!" Shortly, he ordered them off the ship."
They carried out the primary purpose of the trip. They did make an official presentation of the medical supplies to the red Cross. But whether they got the Quaker message across is questionable.
Betty records that on March 26 they were in the Gulf of Tonkin, "jittery. . . now that we were sailing in the same gulf that the U.S. ships patrolled." They were buzzed by a delta winged jet, circled by a helicopter, then flown over by a 4-engine jet.
The next afternoon, Betty writes, "we dropped anchor between a Russian and a Polish ship, each about a mile from us, and exchanged expressions of disbelief [withe each other] that we had actually arrived at our rendezvous without being stopped by the Seventh Fleet or shot at by the shore batteries of the Vietnamese." That night "the sky was ablaze with anti-aircraft explosions, shells burst on the ground at a distance ans red glowing lights moved horizontally through the sky."
At 2 AM, after the necessary paperwork (and the confiscation of their passports and cameras for the duration of their visit) the crew were swept up in a welcome of "pretty girls, beaming officials, and busy young interpreters," with big bouquets of flowers and many speeches covered by news cameras with floodlights. For the next 8 days, while Earle and Bob stayed on the Phoenix, the rest were transported in limousines, housed in hotels, fed elaborate meals at banquets. Betty wrote, "It was made clear that our plan to stay on the boat, eat our own food, and make a Quaker witness of simplicity wouldn't fit in with the plans the Vietnamese had made for us." Earle, she added, "thought we had sold out."
(To be continued)