Vietnam Veterans of America
The VVA Veteran® Online
homepipeAboutpipeArchivepipeSubscribepipeContactpipevva.orgVVA gifFacebookContact
May/June 2018

Glory Days: VVA’s Founding Convention

Back in 2009 a small group of veterans of VVA’s 1983 Founding Convention met for dinner at the now-defunct Golden Flame around the corner from VVA’s National Office to talk about that seminal event. A free-wheeling conversation took place between John Rowan, Keith King, Jack Devine, Jerry Klein, Connie Steers, and filmmaker John Giannini, later joined by Rick Weidman. Afterward, unwilling to end the discussion, most returned to the National Office. Highlights of that evening are presented here.

—Michael Keating, Editor

Keith King: I remember the Convention rules. There was a big fight before the agenda. Basically, what were the Convention rules? How are we going to conduct this before we ever even got into all of it? The general rules had come from the UAW Convention Handbook, which put [VVA Founder Bobby] Muller at the podium onstage and in control of the Convention. And they felt as long as he was controlling it, they won. The real first victory of that Convention was the rules game. Once he had won the rules, he figured he’d won the Convention as far as the election.

Michael Keating: How did he win?

King: Because no one else really knew an alternative to how to conduct the Convention, and he had the UAW Handbook. [John] Terzano’s family was well connected with Walter Reuther. The son of Walter Reuther was still at the UAW at the time, and Terzano knew him. They came in and got the Convention handbook, and Reuther was coaching him, saying, “Look, if you do this, we can control the Convention. You control the Convention, you win the election.”

John Rowan: I don’t think that Bobby was worried about winning that election in the first round.

King: I think that he was concerned about losing control all the way around. If you remember, before the Convention, at the meeting of the State Council Presidents down in Ohio—

Rowan: No, I had nothing to do with that.

King: We were the ones who forced the Convention. We threatened to take VVA away from Muller. We were no longer going to accept this self-appointed executive director, and we said, “We will have a Convention.” And he was threatened by that.

Ned Foote: That’s when Michigan, Ohio, and New York were the leaders, the big boys.

Keating: There were three?

Rowan: New York, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

King: Wisconsin Chapter 5 was there. But the Big Three were Ohio, Michigan, and New York. We controlled around 80 percent of the delegates. Tennessee was there, and there were a lot of other states there, but they had dribs and drabs. We were coming in with thirty, forty, fifty people each.

Jack Devine: Although Ohio had a really big delegation, they more or less self-destructed because they ran three or four people for President.

Keating: What was their reason for running so many people?

Devine: They couldn’t control them. They hadn’t agreed among themselves how they would run across the Convention.

Jerry Klein: Nobody knew anybody. That was the beauty of this whole thing: Nobody knew anybody.

Keating: So none of the New Yorkers knew the people from Michigan?

Klein: Right.

Foote: Nobody knew anybody in New York.

Connie Steers: We knew John Rowan and Jerry Klein from downstate.

Foote: They didn’t know me.

Steers: I only knew downstaters.

Devine: But in Michigan, we had been meeting for quite a while. We had a state council and we didn’t know what to expect, but we wanted to make sure that we had some say in the outcome of our positions and the people elected. So we decided in advance. We talked about it a lot and decided to vote as a block. We decided to have a caucus and agreed that everybody would vote for the same person and the same position.

King: I was Michigan State Council President/Chair. Jack was the Floor Leader. I had Jack running around the Convention, talking to people from different states and seeing who they liked. And we started brokering deals, like with Jack: We put Jack up and we said, “Look, you guys vote for our guy out of Michigan; we’ll vote for your guy out of New York.”

Devine: And I was the only candidate.

King: Jack was the only candidate out of Michigan; we threw everything behind him. We went to the other states and said, “Look, here’s who we are going to vote for in New York. Here’s who we are going to vote for in Tennessee. Here’s who we are going to vote for in Michigan. Now, we’ll put your guys in and vote for you if you guys agree to support our candidate.” So that’s how we got Jack elected.

He was engineering most of that stuff for Michigan. When he’d come back and go into the caucus, we’d say, “Give us your report.” This guy is good, this guy is a jerk, you know. That’s how we tried to affect the Board, because we didn’t think we could beat the officers. Frankly, we were supporting most of them, but we wanted to make sure we got our guys on the Board, the guys we liked.

Devine: And we made sure that we had somebody on every committee and in every subject area. So George Claxton was obviously Agent Orange. I was in Government Affairs with Steve Mason and some other guys.

King: I was on Resolutions.

Devine: We had somebody on everything. We caucused every day, and we compared notes about what was happening.

Steers: Before we leave here tonight, we’ve got to figure out how voting was done. Keith said we did it by state; I say we did it individually in chapters. I talked to Ned, and he remembers voting.

Foote: We voted by going up to the microphone.

Steers: Going up to the microphone in public.

Rowan: We had got a laundry-list tabulation of about forty people who were running for the fifteen at-large spots. There were no regional directors. It was all at-large.

Steers: For the officers we voted individually. When you were talking into the microphone and you vote, you are looking at Muller, Terzano, [John] Messmore—you know? And you look in their eyes. Should we vote for these guys? If we don’t, does our chapter go down the tubes? That was what we were afraid of.

King: Oh, yeah, it was very intimidating.

Steers: It was scary and intimidating.

King: What they did was part of the rules of the UAW. Because you had to go up there and declare it. But you knew somebody was going, “Oh, these guys voted against us,” and it became a situation where even if it wasn’t true, we believed that if your votes were recorded publicly, all of a sudden you lost chairmanships; all of a sudden you were not on committees; all of a sudden you were persona non grata. That stuff happened.

Steers: And your chapter is going to be in a world of hurt.

Foote: I do not recall New York being all together like that. You guys from Michigan seemed to know all about what was going on. I don’t remember all that.

Devine: And we did that on purpose.

Keating: What do you mean that you did it “on purpose”?

Devine: We made sure that we were covering everything and had somebody who had an interest or knowledge about the different issues, and we divided it up. Actually, we had more than one person. We usually had two so there would always be a back up.

King: We had the advantage that some of us had been at prior conventions. I had been involved in other state conventions. I had been through this process of voting. So when our state council was formed, we actually sat down and started having classes. We had delegates come up, and we were teaching them how to vote and what to vote for.

We tried to be as organized and prepared as possible. We wanted to make sure we had every committee covered. We wanted to make sure we were involved in every aspect of this organization. So we really were out striking a lot of deals and trying to make sure that we delivered as strong as we possibly could. We did not know how much we were going to be involved with New York and Ohio. We were concerned those two might gang up and we’d get left out.

Devine: But New York and Ohio were not organized.

Rowan: New York came in with a large contingent. John Catterson was the chair. First, Bobby Muller came out of New York, so he had a lot of friends there. Second, particularly the guys up in Albany in Chapter 8 were all Muller people—George Swiers, Greg Kane, and that whole group. Even Buffalo.

The other group came from downstate. You had the Long Island chapter; you had 82 that had already formed by then. You had 11, 82, 32, 72, 126, and 118; 118 was the Bronx; 126 was Manhattan; 72 was Brooklyn/Staten Island; 49 was Westchester.

And then you had a couple guys who were off the Hudson. It was 29 up in Poughkeepsie. You had Kingston. You had all these guys kind of in the southern tier. And then you had guys like Ned.

Foote: We started with 79; you got Buffalo at 77. Chapter 20, Rochester: They were the big boys.

Rowan: Rochester was not all that big. They were big, but they weren’t that big.

Keating: But the downstate chapters did not communicate with the upstate chapters?

Foote: At that time, we had an upstate-downstate thing.

Steers: We even had the lawyer in New York—[Tom] Leckinger.

Rowan: Catterson was from Long Island and he was in charge. Then you had Leckinger. Then you had Swiers. Then there was a bunch of other pretty sophisticated folks. Some of us had been around the block. I’d been a Democratic state committee man. I’d been brought into real political office in ’76, in ’78, and ’80. I’d been to the Democratic National Conventions in ’74, ’78, and ’80. So some of us had real political backgrounds.

Anyway, the New York delegation started to gel because almost all of us lived in the same room.

Keating: It started to gel at the Convention?

Rowan: Yeah, in the suite. And as things moved forward, we still were no way near as organized as, say, Michigan. But we started to pick up the slack a little. Basically, we were pretty much in line with Muller and his gang. We had no desire to knock off Bobby or be anti-Bobby. We were pretty much pro-Bobby; he came out of New York.

Devine: And he was the founder.

Klein: We had a member of my chapter, Pat O’Toole, who was a retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel and JAG officer. A lot of the motions regarding eligibility for the organization, including allowing individuals who had dishonorable discharges, absolutely floored him because from his very conservative political ideology, this was an absolute no-no, considering the fact that he court-martialed a lot of these individuals. To allow them into our organization was almost heresy. Yet he embraced VVA fully and completely.

Rowan: I would say the vast majority of the people who showed up at that Convention were former VVAW
—Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

Keating: Was that true just for New York?

Rowan: I think that was true for everywhere. We had a lot of folks in a lot of places.

Devine: I don’t think we had that many from Michigan.

Rowan: We had plenty. And we had plenty from New York. We had plenty from Ohio. We had plenty from other parts of the country. I would say that’s how half those guys in California and other places even got there.

Devine: One of the most poignant things that I remember during the campaign was going into New York because you had that big suite. We had to go in there as total strangers, do a little bit of background, and talk about why we wanted to be elected. It was a little intimidating and at the same time it was really interesting.

Keating: So, essentially, the caucus room was the suite where people were sleeping?

Devine: Yeah.

Steers: A place where a lot of people were sleeping and a place to put up the beer cans.

King: Most of the bathtubs were full of beer. Nobody took baths.

photo: Steve Andrascik

There were a lot of characters at that Convention. But I think the guy who probably was one of the most outstanding in the sense of causing total chaos was Al Jenkins out of Chapter 5 in Wisconsin.

Foote: That’s the guy.

King: He’s the one who reached into his back pocket and held up a mini version of Robert’s Rules of Order, claiming to be an expert. I think he had bought it the day before. He was the only one who had one.

Rowan: So basically, about four or five of us talked about procedures. I was one of them, Ray Strischek from Ohio was another, Jenkins was another, and there was another guy.

King: Some of us had some knowledge, but these were the guys who could yell the loudest and wave the books. Remember? They would say, “Well, on Chapter 47, paragraph 3….” What the hell does that have to do with the motion?

Devine: After a couple of days, we fell into a pattern. I remember John, specifically, and others who were spokespersons for delegations, going up to the microphone and speaking on an issue. When we realized we were like-thinking on something, one would make the motion; the other would second. We called the question, getting it done, then moving on to the next thing. And it was very interesting because we did not know each other when we started.

I remember the rules that Keith mentioned earlier. One of the ways that we actually got through it was with a sense of humor. You guys might remember this. If something was, you know, really egregious and nobody liked it, it ended up being a “typo.”

Rowan: Yeah. Yeah.

Foote: Typo. John Deering started that. It sounds like we were organized and not organized. Chaos. It was like we had no clue whatsoever.

Devine: And we didn’t know if we were going to come out friends or enemies.

King: Do you remember [John] Blake? He was the guy who said he walked from Ohio to Washington, D.C., and he had campaigned across the country by walking, and he showed up in fatigues and a backpack.

Rowan: Blake’s poster was a picture of him and his squad—some sort of recon squad in black pajamas—with a dead VC in front of them. That was his campaign poster.

Devine: But he had no platform. He had no position. All he did was polarize.

King: I am trying to remember some of the other candidates for vice president, secretary, and treasurer.

Foote: I don’t think there were any.

King: Yeah, there were. I just can’t think of any.

Devine: Who ran against Messmore?

King: Messmore was elected in ’85. He was the Ohio State Council President.

John Giannini: Leckinger was Secretary; Casteel was Treasurer.

Devine: Then I remember after the elections we had the first three Board meetings. One of the guys who was elected ended up being the Product Sales guy.

photo: Steve AndrascikRowan: Jim Pechin.

Devine: Pechin got elected to the Board. He attended a meeting and immediately resigned. Then Bobby got to appoint his replacement.

Rowan: But there was another guy, too—a black guy, I can’t remember his name. He got elected, and he showed up at one meeting, and then he quit.

Devine: And Jenkins was on for a while, and then he quit.

We had our first Board meeting in Virginia, and Bobby had the whole agenda and everything set up. We more or less listened.

Rowan: That was the first one. And the second one, they came back and said, “Fuck you, Bobby.”

Devine: Remember who delivered that message? Who did they select to do that?

Rowan: Of course—

Devine: It was me.

Rowan: Yup.

Devine: But one substantive thing we found out in that first Board meeting was that we were $350,000 in the hole.

Keating: How could you be $350,000 in the hole?

King: Because Bobby had no money, and he had been borrowing left and right whenever he could.

Giannini: I’ve got to put it on the record. I never had an agreement with VVA to pay me anything. I always wanted to be independent. The only thing VVA ever gave me were the hotel rooms at the Shoreham at the Convention for my crew. That is the only support I have ever gotten. And at one point, I was running up against the problem of not being able to raise any more money. I had maxed out all my credit, which I eventually lost. Essentially, I lost everything on it, including my girlfriend.

I went to VVA, but I was trying to remain independent of VVA. Finally I went to him. Bobby was flying through San Francisco, and I had this meeting with him in the airport. He had his whole entourage—Terzano, Pechin, Casteel, and the whole mob. They were all there.

And I said, “This is what we need to get the Convention film finished.” I cannot remember what the amount of money was. They go off and huddle down one end of the terminal, then they come rolling back and Bobby says, “We will support this thing but we want to own 51 percent of it.” And I said, “Well, if you own 51 percent of it, you own it and you control it, and I’m out of it. Essentially, I’ve lost control of the project.”

I thought he was trying to kill the project, because he knew I had run out of rope but he wasn’t offering any. He wasn’t offering any entrees into his financial world of foundations that could put up the money. And that’s what I was looking for.

Rowan: Bobby had already hocked his house; we had no income. I think it was the Springsteen concert—already done or was just about to be done?

Devine: It was coming up.

Rowan: That was the only thing that saved our lives.

Devine: Springsteen, Charlie Daniels, and Pat Benatar.

Keating: So if the Convention was mostly about Michigan, New York, and Ohio, what did the other states do? Were they just peripheral?

Rowan: No. There were some individuals from Massachusetts. There was John Deering from Tennessee. There were other guys who made a presence just by the very nature of who they were. Doc from Jersey.

King: Dave Evans from West Virginia; he was into prosthetics. I worked with him a lot.

Rowan: Jim Rogers, also from West Virginia, got up and said, “I’m Dr. Jim Rogers.” And we were like, “Holy shit, we have a doctor here.”

King: John Deering from Tennessee. When he saw me, in his booming radio voice he said, “I spent five and a half years in captivity.”

Foote: That’s all he had to say.

Devine: Lynda Van Devanter and all the other women vets who were there.

Rowan: Lily Adams, who came from Hawaii. Even though she was a Chinatown kid from New York, she had been living in Hawaii. She got there somehow from Hawaii, and we elected her from Hawaii, strangely enough.

photo: Steve Andrascik

King: Back in those days, to form a chapter you had to have fifty members. To form a state council, you had to have five chapters in your state; five chapters with fifty members each was the original rule. And we had guys there like from West Virginia who really only had three chapters. There were arguments: “Do we seat these guys?” Like California: These guys had no state council. They weren’t even supposed to be there.

Rowan: California had George Gorman, who was a political guy and involved in union stuff. And Skip Roberts, the political director for the State Education Association, the Teachers’ Union in California. Gorman had worked with California politicians. These guys were no slouches. Even though they didn’t bring a whole lot of people, they brought three or four very smart guys.

Giannini: I went to meetings with those guys in Sacramento. Steve Casteel and I went. I had to hook up with these guys at some exit off the freeway on the way to Sacramento. So I drove up from Marin, and we met all these state legislators. They were having lunch with these state legislators.

Rowan: Gib Halverson from Washington State was another guy who worked for a legislator. He had a Master’s in government.

Dan Carr out of Massachusetts. There was bunch of guys out of Massachusetts. One guy was a nurse in the VA.

Ken Walkky was a banker and no slouch.

And there was that guy from Cleveland who got up to speak and we figured, “Oh, Jesus. This poor guy lost an arm in the war, right?” No. To cancer. It was like, “Holy shit.” He was one of the early guys with a cancer issue going on.

King: You mentioned cancer and Agent Orange, but in ’83 at the Convention, we still weren’t sure what we were going to do about Agent Orange. We were still talking because there was no service connection presumption. We were still far ahead of that.

We started talking about Agent Orange and how we wanted to make this an issue. Thank God I had George Claxton, because he was the only one who could pronounce half the things that were going on. Do you remember all that? Claxton would start talking about Agent Orange—

Rowan: And everybody would go, “Hunh?”

King: But look at what we did. Look at the Resolutions Committee. We had Agent Orange resolutions. We had POW fights over whether POWs were still alive.

Rowan: Normalization didn’t go anywhere. That was one Bobby lost.

Devine: I brought up the Equal Rights Amendment but it didn’t come out. So I made use of the rules to bring it up to another committee, and then it got passed. Two of the guys in our delegation didn’t vote for me because I had brought it up. We had all these resolutions and issues dealing with all the range of things that affected the women who served there. And then we weren’t willing to talk about them. It didn’t make any sense.

Rowan: No, but I remember one of the biggest discussions had to do with the constitutional amendment to ban bars.

Devine: We weren’t going to be like the VFW.

Rowan: You had the one chapter in Massachusetts that owned its own building and had a bar.

King: Chapter 9 bought a building in Detroit in June of ’83. The building had been a restaurant. We had looked at the VFWs and American Legions, and we knew that bars were moneymakers. But the argument, you remember, was that so many Vietnam vets already had drug and alcohol problems. We had drug and alcohol problems, and we were doing our outreach in the Vet Centers.

Devine: Remember the early Vet Centers? The fight was about not putting bars in VVA chapters because of the drug and alcohol problems in the Outreach Centers.

Rowan: The Outreach Centers—some of the Vet Centers—were drug havens. I remember one where the guy was practically running drug traffic at the back door. It was self-medication city.

A lot of the chapters in VVA started out of the Vet Centers. Where the hell else are you going to find a bunch of vets hanging out? We had already gone past trying to organize on campus.

King: Chapter 9 started as a rap group out of Wayne State. These guys were all veterans going to school, and they formed a rap group. One of the earliest Vet Centers was called Bamboo Rap. And this is in ’78, ’79, when they started putting this together and created Vietnam Veterans of Michigan.

Rowan: I would be interested to know how many delegates in that first Convention had college degrees. My gut tells me it was probably higher than the general Vietnam veteran population because there were a lot of guys—in addition to those with VVAW—who came from campus groups.

Some were left-wing; some were right-wing; some were no-wing. And there were groups of vets who were just hanging around together. And then some of us came out of the programs that got spawned off of that. I was involved in the Veterans Upgrade Center in New York; the guys in 20 all came out of the Rochester Outreach Center. They were there before there was a chapter.

Keating: Is it fair to say that prior to the Founding Convention there were tight groups, but it wasn’t until the Founding Convention that it felt like a national organization?

Rowan: It was an odd, good-old-boys network across the country between the VVAW and the National Association of Collegiate Veterans. And they were kind of spread out.

Then the National League of Cities, U.S. Conference of Mayors, got this multimillion-dollar grant to set up, I believe, twenty centers across the country. It included the Veterans Upgrade Center in New York City, the Rochester Veterans Outreach Center, the Seattle Veterans Action Center, and Swords to Plowshares in San Francisco.

There was Bill Elmore’s group in St. Louis, another in Kansas City, and others scattered around the country. This was basically a federally funded vets group that kind of connected with each other. So there was this combination of left-wing politics, middle-road politics, government politics—all this shit coming together that brought most of those people to the table at the Convention. Most had some connection.

King: The thing that I give Muller and Terzano real credit for is they began looking for guys like us in Michigan, guys like us in Ohio. And when they showed up, they were talking about forming this Vietnam Veterans of America. We already had the Vietnam Veterans of Michigan up and running.

We were already meeting. Jack had already met with the guys in Grand Rapids and Lansing. We were already organizing around the state. And these guys figured out that there were other guys like us in Kansas City and in different places around the country. And that’s what they did. They went out and started talking to these guys saying, “Join us. Join us.”

Klein: Bobby was in Nassau County. He knew there was a group that was ready to form, and I got called to meet four people at the Vet Center in Manhattan to form Chapter 11 in Suffolk County. At our first organizational meeting at the East Bloomingdale Firehouse, we probably had 250 veterans attend. I had no idea where they came from. I have no idea how they advertised it, but that place was mobbed.

Steers: Because a lot of us came over from Nassau County.

Klein: But it was a combined chapter, Suffolk and Nassau. And we had a vets club at Stony Brook University.

Devine: John said before that a number of us were politically active and aware. When I joined the chapter, I was on the staff of U.S. Sen. Don Riegle. I was doing military and veterans’ casework. That’s how I got invited to the meeting where I joined the chapter when it was forming in October of 1980. Then, by the time we went to the Convention, I was on the staff of the new Lieutenant Governor of the State of Michigan, Martha Griffiths.

King: Look at the guys out of Chapter 9. I worked for one of the bigger radio stations in the United States; that’s how I met Jack. We had a lot of lawyers; we had doctors; we had psychiatrists.

Devine: And guys working in the factories.

Rowan: Yeah. You had combinations. In Chapter 22 Leckinger was an attorney. There was a very wealthy guy who owned a big restaurant in Rochester. There was a filmmaker. Remember the slick-looking filmmaker?

Keating: So were you impressed by all these credentials then?

Rowan: No, not really. But when you look back, it was an interesting crew of people. On the other hand, you had guys out of my chapter like Kenny Trautman who was a senior tech at Con Ed; he was an electrician.

King: I think what happened was this: We were just surprised that all of us were Vietnam vets. I mean, you start talking to this guy: “Well, what do you do?”

“I’m a lawyer. I work for one of the biggest law firms in the United States.”

“Well, what did you do in Vietnam?”

“Oh, I was a grunt; I was in the Marine Corps.”

Foote: Lots of guys had credentials. Sometimes people like me without the education were in awe of some of you guys, like John Rowan speaking at the microphone all the time.

Rowan: In 1983 I had been a district manager on a community board in Queens, a fifty-member board for a 125,000-person community since 1977, so I had already been working and doing that kind of stuff for six years.

Before that, I had worked for a congressman doing community relations. I was his rep out in the community. Also, I had been an elected state community man in the Democratic Party from ’76 to ’80, and I had already been to three national conventions: first the mid-term conventions in ’74 and ’78, then I went as a Kennedy delegate in 1980 against Carter. On all three occasions I was carrying the veterans’ issues, trying to get them to do something about veterans, except the idiot Democrats didn’t do anything. I was also on the national board of the Americans for Democratic Action. We were the old lefties from the Roosevelt days.

King: John and Jack had political connections. That’s why we started looking for candidates for the Board, because Michigan thought that Muller had to be elected. We just couldn’t find anybody other than the slate that Muller put together.

From ’83, we had to get this organization formed because that is the one thing that I have the most vivid memory of: We had an awareness of what we were doing. We knew we were creating a national organization.

Steers: What I was afraid of was that all you guys would scare us off, all you lawyers with your backgrounds and all that. Us working stiffs were going to be lost in the shuffle. I really thought you guys were going to just forget about Chapter 82 because the chapter was all working stiffs.

At the first Convention all the big-time people hung around together, but we were afraid Chapter 82 was going to be forgotten.

King: I remember some of the conversations about officers versus enlisted men because Muller and others were officers.

Rowan: There were very few officers in that room.

Foote: We were all new at this. There were working stiffs and there were the more professional-type people. But the end result: When we came out of that Convention, I think we found out we are all brothers and we all came together at that point.

Devine: Exactly. We learned that by passing chairs.

photo: Steve AndrascikKing: Let’s be clear about what that meant. Passing chairs meant throwing chairs at each other over the tables.

In one of the last conversations I had with Steve Mason, he talked about how much he missed the passion of the Founding Convention, how we were yelling and diving over tables at each other, throwing chairs at each other. Yeah, we got around to passing chairs later on, but there were people throwing chairs at each other on the Convention floor.

Rowan: Going back, though, to what Connie was talking about. If you looked at how chapters developed, 11 was on Long Island. Thirty-two was the next chapter and the first chapter was in New York City. Now, one of the things that 32 immediately did was spawn other chapters: 72 came along right away, then 118 in the Bronx, then 126, and then you guys spun off from 11 and created 82. And before you knew it, we had the whole metropolitan area.

photo: Steve Andrascik

Foote: Upstate, we had Chapter 8 that spawned my Chapter 79, and then you had 85. And 20 was operating by themselves.

Steers: And 77 in Buffalo was off on its own.

Keating: How long did the Convention last?

Devine: About five days.

King: Yeah, I would say four or five days.

Steers: It felt like eternity to me, twenty days in a week.

Devine: Because it went twenty-four hours a day.

King: Remember how we set up the committee hearings? The Constitution Committee and the Resolutions Committee: They were going into session and we would go all day and argue and fight, then go back in after we reported to the floor, then we go back and fight and do it again all night long.

Devine: Then we campaigned on top of that. We had to do it because we didn’t have any organized sessions where people who were running could make presentations.

Rowan: Yeah, we did. We had the dog-and-pony shows.

Devine: We didn’t have anything on the floor.

Foote: They came to our room.

Rowan: No. No. That’s all well and good, but everybody at the Convention who was running for at-large director, one after another, got up and had their say. Two, three minutes; every single one of them. We spent hours.

Steers: They were on stage.

Rowan: But I would agree with Keith. I think most people were pretty much predisposed to Bobby Muller.

Foote: New Yorkers were for Bobby Muller.

Rowan: But I think even the rest of them were pretty much predisposed. I mean, he was literally the guy who founded the whole damned thing. There was really nobody of any stature whatsoever that even remotely put up a fight against him.

photo: Steve Andrascik

Devine: A challenge.

Rowan: A challenge on any of the four levels.

King: Right, I agree with that.

Steers: And how many were going to vote against Bobby Muller in public like that? They’d never do that.

King: Well, the guy from Ohio. I joke about it, but they have been dysfunctional from Day One. If you put twenty of them in a room, you’ve got nineteen different opinions. It just seems that way at every Convention. How many times have they split their votes? They did it with Muller; they ran two or three guys, then they couldn’t agree on which one to vote for.

So they voted for Muller. They abandoned their own guy. I think what happened in there, right from the beginning, is that once they passed the rules, Muller had the podium, he controlled the podium, he controlled the agenda. Look how much face time Terzano got versus any other vice president candidate.

Steers: It was Muller Rules.

King: I know I had a chance. I spent a lot of time with John Terzano. He was from Redford, just outside Detroit, where my mother lived and my family grew up.

photo: Steve AndrascikI was standing next to John Trezano when [Michigan Rep.] David Bonior was giving his speech. And Bonior said, “Let’s make a solemn vow that never again….” Nobody remembers the part, “Let’s make a solemn vow.”

But Terzano just lit up. It was like, “Oh my God, what did he say?”

Rowan: And immediately it became—

King: It immediately became our motto.

Rowan: We went right into a vote on it.

King: He understood instantly the significance what Bonior had said. The reason he left me was to go and get a copy of the speech because he wanted to make sure he had exactly what had been said. So he went running up there to wait for Bonior to get off the stage, to take his speech away from him.

Rowan: I seem to recall—I could be wrong—but I believe it was right after Bonior’s speech that we immediately took those words and voted to make it our motto.

It wasn’t even open to discussion. It was voted on as the founding principle and won unanimously.

The conversation continues in the July/August issue.





- Departments
University of Florida Smathers Libraries
- - -
- -
chapter 301A National Honor: A new memorial at Arlington. chapter 301A Stitch in Time: Louisiana’s Kaye Lessard’s quilts raffled.
- -
VVA logoThe VVA Veteran® is a publication of Vietnam Veterans of America. ©All rights reserved.
8719 Colesville Road, Suite 100, Silver Spring. MD 20910 | www.vva.org | contact us