Hed Lines: Reader thinks release of movie should place spotlight on Ali's Vietnam record

Former President George Bush, a World War II veteran, reached the peak of his presidency after a U.S.-led coalition defeated Iraq in the Gulf War in 1991.

Bush saw it not only as victory over Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Bush the Elder proclaimed, as I recall, that the American military had vanquished the ghosts of Vietnam.

He was wrong.

The ghosts continued to haunt us.

A year later, then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton found that out when the press exposed the details of how he evaded military service, as well as his participation in protests against the Vietnam War while he attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.

Clinton, actress/anti-war activist Jane Fonda and others became lightning rods among hawks because of their opposition to the war.

I almost forgot about retired boxer's Muhammad Ali's refusal to take the Army oath, until I received two voicemail messages at home on Saturday from a Golden Valley resident who served in the States during World War II.

I did a search on the Web, and came up with an article by Robert Lipsyte in the New York Times dated April 29, 1967.

Ali, who changed his name from Cassius Clay, maintained that he was entitled to exemption from the draft as an appointed minister of the Lost-Found Nation of Islam, also known as the Black Muslim sect.

The article quotes John McCullough, then a 22-year-old graduate of Sam Houston State College, as saying, "It's his prerogative if he is sincere in his religion, but it's his duty as a citizen to go in.

I'm a coward, too."

More than 33 years later, Russell C.

Jemison in Golden Valley expressed concern that the upcoming release of the movie, "Ali," starring Will Smith, will glorify the prizefighter.

"I just cringe every time they give this guy all the glory that he does not deserve," Jemison stated in a detailed message.

"I have lived with his changing his name and not wanting to go into the service, not wanting to do his part for the country.

Every time I have seen him on TV, it put a cringe on me."

Jemison told me that he got drafted in 1941, and was sent to a radio communications school at Republican Flats, near Fort Riley, Kan.

He spent "22 months plus" at Republican Flats and Fort Riley as an instructor.

Although Jemison did not see combat, he said he was wounded during a training exercise after he dived to retrieve a grenade that a trainee inadvertently threw at a tree.

As he ducked his head, a piece of shrapnel lodged in his neck.

Jemison said he was hospitalized for 10 days and got stricken with penicillin poisoning.

He apparently instilled a love of the military in his family.

He said his three sons and four grandsons served in the military.

Son Dennis, also of Golden Valley, served in Vietnam as a Marine.

An old friend who served in Vietnam as an Army medic disagrees with Jemison regarding Ali.

Alex Yaron, who lives in a recreational vehicle park in Yucca Valley, Calif., enlisted in the Army in 1965, arrived in Vietnam in December 1967 and left in January 1969.

He was awarded Parachutist and Combat Medic badges, a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

"Anybody who calls Ali a coward for publicly claiming (conscientious objector) status on principle and yet ignores the others who hid behind their daddies' influence (like G.W.

Bush, Dan Quayle), must have a hidden agenda or is simply blinded by race and politics," Yaron stated in an e-mal.

"I have often said that had I known then what I know now, I would either have been a CO or gone to Canada.

From the recent revelations of Lyndon Johnson's taped conversations, one must conclude that those who did so were on the right track.

Even that paragon of conservative certitude, Cal Thomas, said in a column recently that because of those tapes he, Thomas, concluded that George McGovern had been right! Now that is saying something."

Yaron said he is willing to take a phone call from Jemison.

I am sure Jemison is man enough to the challenge.

Ken Hedler covers county government and politics for the Miner.