On September 24th 1968, fourteen people — including five priests and a minister — removed approximately 10,000 draft files from Milwaukee’s Selective Service office and burned them with home-made napalm.
The nonviolent action that inspired the Milwaukee 14
Friends of the Milwaukee 14 Today
Obituary“Patrick Flood followed his faith to serve the poor.”
In 1961 when I graduated from high school to go to Jesuit Seminary, Patrick Flood was a priest assigned to my home parish St. Thomas Aquinas. In 1968 when I was a student at Marquette University, Pat Flood was Executive Director of the Council of Urban Life — a group dedicated to social justice. After the Milwaukee 14 action, Pat Flood, still a priest, sneaked in bread and wine to our prison block and celebrated the liturgy with us. At the time we were not allowed any visitors, so for Pat Flood and another friend, Ed Walsh, then a Jesuit seminarian, to get into our prison block was quite an accomplishment. In those days wearing Roman collars had it advantages.
After Pat married and left Milwaukee for Austin I lost contact with him. However, mutual friends kept in contact with him and it was one of those other friends of the Milwaukee 14, Dismas Becker, who informed us last week that Pat had passed away. To the end, as the obituary states, Pat followed his faith to serve the poor.
Jack Stebbins was another friend from the 60′s that I just got to know the last few years. He was an original supporter of the Milwaukee 14 and a person who combined the works of mercy and works of justice and peace in his life. We met each other again a few years back when some of the Milwaukee 14 and supporters had a gathering. We stayed in contact and discovered that we had a mutual friend in the late Gordon Zahn. At Peacefest, two days after he died Julie Enslow, a longtime friend remembered him. She said that Peacefest was the kind of event he would be present at. She also told me of his great work in establishing and maintaining the St. Ben’s Meal Program, the last 40 years and of his other works of mercy and peace. Jack was an elder that we could all look to for what it means to be a follower of the Way of Jesus. I feel blessed to call him my friend. See his obituary.
Gordon Zahn 1923–2007
Gordon Zahn, a resident of Milwaukee, was responsible for letting the world know about Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian conscientious objector who was beheaded by the German military for his refusal to cooperate with the Nazi war effort. At the time of his death, Franz and his wife Fransiska Jägerstätter, a faithful partner in his terrible sacrifice and a witness to peace herself, had three daughters under the age of six. Fransiska suffered many years of economic punishment, discrimination and social exclusion before Austrian attitudes to her husband’s conscientious objection began to change.
The change occurred in the early 60’s when Gordon Zahn, peace activist and sociologist at Boston University, came to her little town. She showed Gordon the letters that Franz wrote from prison and his willingness to give all, despite the pleas of local townspeople, family and priest, for his belief in the principle of nonviolence.
Gordon wrote a book about Franz Jägerstätter called, In Solitary Witness: The Life and Death of Franz Jägerstätter. The world began to learn about this man of conscience, an example for our times. Just last week the Roman Catholic Church declared him “Blessed” and a Martyr for Peace.
A message from Don Timmerman and Roberta Thurstin: “We are still holding our anti-war vigil each Tuesday for an hour in Park Falls. We started it in 2001. We were arrested in Obey’s office in Wausau for protesting the continued funding of the war. We were also arrested recently at Notre Dame when we went with other Catholic Workers to protest the presence of the ROTC on a Christian campus. We delivered a letter to the President of the university, but we received no response. We have an Amnesty International group here in Park Falls, and we get together each month to sign and send on about 100 letters to various governments in the world asking that they abide by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We volunteer at the local nursing home where we sing songs for the people each Wednesday, and we volunteer at the Northwoods Christian Mission Thrift Store in Park Falls. The proceeds from selling the donated used items at a low cost goes to help the most needy in the world. We miss Casa Maria, but it seems that we should be here for now. We thank the Casa Maria people for helping to take care of the homeless and hungry, and we thank the Milw. 14 for their witness of conviction and truth; and we will always be grateful to them for risking so much for the sake of justice and peace.” — Don Timmerman and Roberta Thurstin
Nick Topping 1918–2007 First Supporter of the Milwaukee 14 On September 24, 1968 Nick was at his import store near Plankinton and Wells in downtown Milwaukee when he heard some sirens and commotion outside. He went out to the nearby intersection to find 14 men standing around a fire praying and singing. He knew what was happening, that the men were burning draft files, and cheered them on. Thus Nick Topping became the first supporter of the Milwaukee 14. Read More >>
John Gillman Today
John Gillman in 1968 ran a linoleum store and was very active in the peace and justice movement. In 1968 John was very instrumental in raising the funds to post bail for the Milwaukee 14 so they could be out on bond before the trial. Today he is retired but still active in the peace and justice movement. This picture of John, a veteran of World War II, was taken at the peace rally and march to end the war in Iraq on Saturday, March 17th.
Frank Blair is another friend of the Milwaukee 14 who is still active today in the search for peace. With the wisdom of 85 years, he writes weekly emails to a group of friends of his point of view, about where we at this time in our country. In response to this page, which asks the question “Where is the Milwaukee 14 Today?” he wrote this idea. Check out “Is it a Time to Strike?” on Frank Blair. For me, Bob Graf, it partially answers the question of how do we sacrifice, as we did in other wars, to end this war?
Howard Zinn 1922–2010
Howard Zinn is a celebrated historian who testified as a witness for the defense in the Milwaukee 14 trial. Last fall in Madison, Wisconsin, he gave a lecture on “The Uses of History and the War on Terrorism.” See this page, Howard Zinn, for a copy of this talk and other talks and essays.
Bill Sell I met the Milwaukee 14 during the planning process and it was supposed to be the “Milwaukee 15″ or some higher number, but I bowed out a few days prior. I was unable to face jail. The experience of working with these men, however, seared my life and I knew even in turning down jail, I would make up for my absence in some other way. I visited them in jails around Wisconsin and became active again when Mobilization for Survival (now Peace Action) started up in the late 70s. I offer short essay I wrote on August 6, 2007, that Bob asked me to include here. Lanterns, when your nation starts a war
The Ultra-Resistance: on the trial of the Milwaukee 14
New York Review of Books
Volume 13, Number 5 / September 25, 1969
By Francine du Plessix Gray
Men and women who believe they have exhausted every other means of protesting the Vietnam war raid a draft board, haul out records and burn them, stand around singing liberation songs while awaiting arrest. The draft board actions have elements of both terrorist strike and liturgical drama. They aim to destruct and to instruct; to impede in some small way the war machine; to communicate its evil, at a time when verbal and political methods have failed, by a morality play which will startle, embarrass the community; to shame the Movement to heightened militancy, perhaps to imitation. The word “witness” is used by members of this ultra-resistance, with its historical implications of sacrifice and penance, of moral primitivism, of romantic egoism, of psychological violence. The draft board actions in which the raiders demand arrest are called “stand around” to differentiate them from acts of “hit and run” sabotage; they are grounded in the non-violent mystique that a man’s witness in jail can move the conscience of a nation; that it can abate the violence of its rulers, and, like a monk’s years of passive prayer, aid to purify society. According to this mystique, the presence of the man awaiting arrest, sacrificing his freedom to witness to his moral indignation, is the ingredient that transforms sabotage into a religious and instructive act. As in tragedy and liturgy, sacrifice is conceived of as the most powerful means of communication.
Read the full article on Jim and Nancy Forest web page here.
Impact Today of the Milwaukee 14 Action
The Milwaukee 14 nonviolent action of burning thousands of 1A draft records in 1968 was not only a symbolic protest against the war in Vietnam and the Selective Service system at that time, but it had a practical affect. In an age before computer data bases, the main records of young men to be drafted in the military were these paper files. As the result of this action many young men in Milwaukee were able to avoid the selective service system and the awful choices of to kill or to be killed, to flee to Canada or to go to jail. Many young men came up to members of the the Milwaukee 14 in the following years to thank them for the destruction of their records which allowed them to avoid the forced draft. The impact still lives on. Here is a copy of a letter from a couple that Jim Forest, member of the Milwaukee 14, received in 2007, thanking him for his participation in the Milwaukee 14 action, and telling of the impact it has on their journey to D.C. to protest the Iraq war.
20 Jan 2007 Dear Mr. Forest,
My husband and I are planning to attend the Anti-War March in Washington this coming weekend. The very thought of going to DC has brought back memories of similar marches we participated in when we were much younger and living in Milwaukee.
You wouldn’t know it but we have thought of you often since September 24, 1968. Without a doubt, my husband’s 1-A records and very likely his induction notice were destroyed in the action taken by the Milwaukee 14. There is no telling how that action changed the course of our lives, but I am sure it did. The truth is I am embarrassed that we never thanked all of you for what you did for us.
Our going to DC may be in part a way to reconnect with our past, but there are so many parallels to the ‘60’s that it’s startling. And although you helped spare my husband from serving in the military, we have a son-in-law who is a career Marine. He and our daughter will celebrate their 5th anniversary in spring although they have been together for only one of them. Steve has been in Iraq more than half of almost every year they’ve been married. He has missed every Mother’s Day since the birth of their son in 2003 and will miss the birth of their second child in July. He will be leaving at the end of February for his fourth tour of duty in Iraq. His story isn’t unusual among today’s volunteer military.
So I hunted up our Peace buttons and a pin my Mother wore that says “War isn’t healthy for children and other living things.” And we’re going to join the expected tens of thousands of people in DC in the hopes of making a statement of protest against this current war, hoping that our son-in-law and everyone else’s son or daughter will come home to stay.
Unlike the mostly young crowd we were in when we marched in San Francisco in November of 1969, I am betting we’ll see lots of people our age, probably other people who will have the same “déjà vu” feelings we have.
And while you may not be in the crowd with us, you will be there in spirit.
With more gratitude than you know, Catherine and Carl Billingsley
522 First Street
Ayden, NC 28513