Today in labor history: The Fort Dix stockade rebellion

On June 5th, 1969, more than one hundred imprisoned soldiers rose up against deplorable and inhumane conditions at the Fort Dix stockade in New Jersey. The prisoners were made up of AWOLs, Vietnam war resisters and conscientious objectors from working class and rural country backgrounds.

Prisoners had been forced to stand in the sun for 5 hours and then in a chow line for 3 more hours. When some were denied water, a prisoner demanded a water bowl. As others followed suit, he was charged with inciting a riot and placed in “seg” (a small cell. 8 feet long, 7 ft. high, and 5 ft. wide, with steel walls and floor) thus starting a spontaneous rebellion among the prisoners.

The rebellion was put down by 250 MPs who moved in with tear gas, bayonets, and riot guns. Nine prisoners were seriously injured and many were beaten by the MPs.

The Army denied allegations that prisoners had been subjected to abuses at Fort Dix. They also tried to dispel notions that teargas had been used to quell the rebellion.

In the aftermath thirty-eight men were charged with rioting and arson. Dubbed the “Fort Dix 38,” they faced court-martials and as a result some of the men were sentenced to military prison.

Joan Crowell chronicled the conditions the prisoners faced, the events of the June 5th rebellion and subsequent trials in the 1974 book, “Fort Dix Stockade: Our Prison Camp Next Door.”

The rebellion was an important event in the history of the GI resisters movement during the Vietnam War. Across the country a network of resisters and allies were at work on military bases and nearby coffee houses where GIs learned the truth about the war.

The movement grew to include Gold Star Mothers who had lost their sons in Vietnam and were denouncing the war; the draft resistance movement, inspired by the courageous stand of Muhammad Ali and the Fort Hood Three, that made the words, “Hell no, we won’t go!” the battle cry of their generation; and the revolt by “grunts” straight from the combat zone.

In May of 2012, more than 40 U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars from all branches of the military threw their medals towards the site of the NATO Summit in what was called the most dramatic antiwar action by ex-GIs since Vietnam.

Photo: Veterans prepare to throw their medals at the NATO Summit, in Chicago, May 20, 2012. Teresa Albano/PW 




Special to People’s World
Special to People’s World

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.