I was reading the NY Times at home last night when I ran across an obit, towards the back of the A section. The family name was familiar, and unique enough to pique my interest. Turned out to be about our realtor’s father, who passed away earlier this month.
I’m in Seattle, reading the New York Times. So clearly this man was well-known enough for his passing to rate a mention in one of the world’s premier publications. What Dale Noyd was known for was being the first conscientious objector to base his case on the morality and legality of a specific war. That war was Vietnam. Captain Noyd was a decorated Air Force Captain, with 11 years in the service when he wrote an eight page, single spaced letter to his superiors asking to be allowed to resign his commission, or be classified as a conscientious objector. The Seattle Post Intelligencer notes that Captain Noyd could have taken a much easier path to keep out of Vietnam (apparently taking an eye test would have done it). It’s also worth mentioning that things came to a head when he refused to train a combat pilot heading for Vietnam, stating his humanist belief that his combat training should only be used as a deterrent, not for aggression.
The Supreme Court refused to hear the case, determining that the military had jurisdiction. The military court did not permit discussion of Captain Noyd’s humanism, or about his assertions that the war was illegal and immoral. They did allow testimony during the sentencing phase about the belief that risking one’s life (in war) for a core belief constituted a religious act. The argument went that Captain Noyd’s beliefs constituted a religious conflict with this, so he should be excused. This apparently resonated, and Captain Noyd received the minimum sentence of one year, with a dishonorable discharge.
While I think it’s a shame that the entire argument wasn’t permitted, the case is a striking example of courage and conviction. He chose to give up much of what he’d worked for in order to remain true to a principle.
I dropped Erik (our realtor) a note expressing our condolences and some admiration for what his dad had done. I expect that his dad was a more interesting and complicated person than can be described in a short article (always the case). It’s still important that we remember examples of courage like this, in the hope that we can find something like this in ourselves in time.