Draft Resister Stories

I recently posted a copy of An Epistle to Friends Concerning Military Conscription.  Two of the men who signed that letter, which explains why those Quakers felt they could not cooperate with the draft (Selective Service System), were Don Laughlin and Roy Knight.  Both were members of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) Friends (Quakers).  They were  both arrested for refusing to cooperate with the draft.  Their stories below explain their experiences as a result.


I spent two years–May 1944 to August 1946–in California Quaker CPS camps under the Forest Service.  During that time I made two trips to Europe, under the United Nations Relief Administration.  One trip took cattle to Danzig and the other horses to Trieste. During this time I accepted a CO classification under the draft.

    I was on the staff at Scattergood School at the time of the 1948 peace time military draft and felt differently about the governments right to impose such. On my twenty-fifth birthday in December, 1948, I became illegal.  Shortly after that an FBI agent showed up. We drew up a statement of my position which I signed.
     Harold Burnham, teacher at Scattergood School, and I had our trials together in Waterloo, Iowa. We made the trip there on a cold February day, accompanied by Leanore Goodenow, Scattergood Head, and my wife, Lois, and our six-month-old son, David. Leanore spoke as a “friend of the court” asking that we be given probation, rather than a prison sentence, since we were essential to the operation of the school.  We both got eighteen month sentences instead. We were offered the opportunity to go home and “settle our affairs” and return in a month to start our sentences, but we were prepared to  start that day. Our tearful good-byes were said then and Hal and I were were escorted to the Waterloo County jail.
     Following is the letter I wrote to the U.S. Attorney General:
August 30, 1948
Mr. Tom Clark,  Attorney General
Washington, D.C.
Dear Mr. Clark;
At a time like the present when international relations are so upset, in the
interests of world peace we need to be indicating in every way possible that
we are a peaceful people; our expanding military program and peacetime draft are indicating exactly the opposite of this.
Military training is the poorest kind of training for citizens of a democracy.
The best soldier, the man who is willing to do the least critical thinking
and accept the orders from higher officials makes the best citizen of a
totalitarian society and the poorest citizen of a democracy.
In the eyes of other nations we are getting stronger and stronger and are
becoming a nation to be feared, thus encouraging the armament race among all nations.  I believe any government or political philosophy  whether democratic or totalitarian that maintains its support through military might is violating the laws of God and therefore I cannot support its military policy.  I feel that if we are to secure the world from destruction we must have faith in man and God and repeal our expanding military program before it even gets under way.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.”
Because I believe the military program of the United States government to be a violation of the laws of God I feel I cannot take any part in such a program, even to the extent of registering. So I did not register on August 30, as required by law,  and will be at my home in West Branch in case a government official wishes to talk with me.
Donald E. Laughlin
West Branch, Iowa

Don Laughlin

PRISON CAMP      #3236
Written by Roy Paul Knight   (1989)
Earlham,  Iowa
Born   June  26,    1928
In the summer of 1948 there were  a few liberal young Quaker men, who were pondering how to respond to the U.S. government’s decision to draft men into military service.  Living, with wife and baby son, in a rural Quaker community in Northwest Iowa, I was among a number of such  young men. Several were nearly beyond draft age and had already spent time in Civilian Public Service Camps for conscientious objectors, supposedly to do civilian work of National importance.   Mostly the reality of such camps was a place for the government to hide from public view these objector to military service.  Part of the work was made up and irrelevant.
The feeling that we wanted no part of any alternative service work of any kind, and that we wanted to absolutely say to the U.S.A. that the military draft and reliance on military power was in opposition to our Christian pacifist belief in the Power of Love, pushed about twenty of us in Iowa to refuse to register for the draft. I wrote my area draft board and the U.S. Attorney General’s office telling of my plan not to register.  There was no reply from the draft board, and the Attorney General’s office sent a note of warning that refusal to sign up for the selective service was punishable by 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Then came a period of waiting for the Justice Department to move.  As I recall the F.B.I. showed up in about 6 weeks with an invitation to appear before a Federal Judge, who tried to persuade us to register to avoid being prosecuted.  Since we had decided that taking the penalty was the route to go, we were soon given a sentence of 18 months in prison and hauled off to Springfield, Mo. Federal Medical Canter.
Sometimes we were handcuffed, sometimes not.  We soon learned that the Springfield Prison was a place where prisoners with serious physical and mental problems were housed;  however, it had a small farm and vegetable production facility for helping them make use of the few able minimum custody inmates.  After three weeks of being locked up on individual quarantine cells for the purpose of being checked over, we were assigned jobs in various parts of the prison and quartered in a prison camp bunkhouse dormitory.  About 20 of us non-registrant types had bunk beds fairly close together. We quickly adjusted to being treated as potential escapees, with being counted several times each day, being frisked going out to work and coming back in, and being usually confined within high fences or lock-ups.
The prison farm manager used to good advantage the farm skills among us; the business office made use of those who could be of help to them;  the prison basketball and softball teams appreciated the athletes in the group.  We also developed a choral group, which sang on the radio from the prison.
As religious objectors to the war machine, most of us were spiritual seekers, so we established an early morning time and place for meditation and worship.  Which was a time of refreshment in the midst of confinement. We were fortunate to have each other to lean on when various tensions developed in prison and in our back home scenes.
We had some famous Quaker leader visitors, some of whom applauded our position, others who thought we were wasting out time.  One disappointment to me was to find that our own Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative, as well as several local Meetings gave no support to non-registrants.  I believe it was widely felt by Quaker groups that we should accept some kind of alternate civilian service, which would have been available to us had we signed up for the draft, and would avoid the stigma of a prison record.  My Father and Father-in-law had both served under the American Friends Service Committee in France doing reconstruction work right after World War I as an alternative to military service.
Generally we were all paroled after eight months in lock up and were happy to return to our families and to get on with our lives.  I turned to carpentry and woodworking  as a vocation and within a few years became a self-employed building contractor.  I have had a kind of paranoia about people disapproving of my prison record, but mostly have blended into the American mainstream.
My civil rights were taken away as a felon, so I am not allowed to vote and do not speak out politically.  A presidential pardon for this felony has been granted to some, and no doubt would have to me. . . . I don’t want to tell the Government that I’m sorry, so have not applied for a pardon.
IYM 020

Roy Knight

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