By David Zeiger, director of the film Sir! No Sir! September 18, 2007
“He has played a tremendous role in making Sir! No Sir! the spark for today’s GI Movement that it has been.”
I am very sad to have to report the news that Dave Cline died this past weekend.
There are many wonderful tributes to Dave being written at Veterans for Peace, and I would like to add some personal reflections on the part of his life with which I was deeply connected-the GI Movement against the Vietnam War. I hope you will indulge some nostalgic reminiscing here-there really is a point to it.
Let me say up front that without Dave Cline, Sir! No Sir! would not have been made.
I met Dave in the Spring of 1970, when I joined the staff of the Oleo StrutCoffeehouse outside Ft. Hood in Killeen, Texas. My introduction to him and the GI Movement was riding in a broken down Chevy with Dave driving 120 mph through central Texas and me convinced I would never get out of there alive. I’m not sure anything defines Dave Cline better than that wild ride.
Dave and I were from different worlds. I was a middle class kid who came to my opposition to the war and growing radicalism intellectually. Dave, a working class kid from Buffalo, had joined the army and been wounded three times in Vietnam. It was his last wound, from an NLF soldier at point blank range, that changed everything. The soldier shattered Dave’s knee, and Dave killed him with a bullet in the chest. His first realization was it was “pure luck” that he was alive and the other guy was dead. Then it hit him that there was no real difference between the two of them. Finally, the epiphany: It was the NLF soldier who was fighting for a just cause, while Dave and his comrades were fighting for a lie. In typical Dave Cline fashion he concluded in 1970, “I had to kill a revolutionary to become a revolutionary.”
And revolutionaries we were. Right there in Killeen fucking Texas. In 1971-with literally thousands of GIs rebelling against the war and joining groups like the Black Panther Party-planning demonstrations by day and hotly debating the writings of Marx, Lenin and Mao by night was a very practical thing to do. And boy could Dave debate. Even in his sleep. It wasn’t uncommon for him to jolt up from his bed at 2 am to continue a discussion from earlier that day, only to have no memory of it the next morning (Dave claimed he had even slept through a mortar attack in Vietnam).
And it was in that cauldron that we grew up. We were part of an unprecedented political upheaval, and we were alive in a way that is very rare-even though we could barely afford to eat two skimpy meals a day. Terry Davis, Dave’s wife at the time, reminded me recently that one of her happiest moments was when Mark Lane donated a sack of potatoes to the staff.
Dave was intense, determined, and maddeningly stubborn. In 1970, the last thing a GI wanted to do after getting out of the army was live in a military town-even if he had been active in the movement. But here was Dave, during high points and low (which were most of the time), refusing to let go or give up. His connection with the GIs, whether they agreed with us or not, was deep and seamless-and it made the Oleo Strut something special. I can’t begin to quantify what I learned from Dave those two years.
Then the war ended, and we all moved into other arenas, believing deeply in the possibility of revolution right here in the United States. For a while we stayed close, but through the years political disagreements developed, and in those heady times that meant a lot. By the end of the 70s and beginning of the 80s we weren’t in contact any more. Those were very difficult times. In one of the last conversations I had with Dave back then he told me that every morning he woke up thinking “Oh fuck, another day!”
So when I started to make Sir! No Sir! Dave was the first person I wanted to talk to, but I had no idea what or whom I would find. What I found was the person so many have been writing about these last few days. Wracked by illness, he was extraordinarily energetic and eager to tell his story. The day of our interview, he had just come home from a grueling three-day VFP convention and was worried he wouldn’t have much energy. We talked for four hours.
And here’s the most important part. After decades of both political and personal conflicts, there are still some out there who would say “Don’t talk to so-and-so, ’cause he’s a yada-yada.” Not only would Dave have none of that, he actively spoke against it. Dave knew the tremendous importance of telling the story of the GI Movement today, in this world and with this war. Because of him, several people are in the film alongside others they wouldn’t have been in the same room with a few years ago. And he carried that spirit into the dozens of screenings and Q&As he participated in these past couple of years. He has played a tremendous role in making Sir! No Sir! the spark for today’s GI Movement that it has been. And that’s on top of his superhuman energy in building the work of Veterans for Peace.
In these last years of his life, I don’t think Dave was saying “Oh fuck, another day!” anymore.
This has been a tough year. Along with Dave, two other veterans of the GI Movement who were integral parts of the film have also died-Oliver Hirsch of the Nine for Peace, and Terry Whitmore, who deserted to Sweden after watching federal troops invade his home town of Memphis as he lay wounded in a hospital bed in Japan. Along with Dave, their lives had deep historic meaning.
For more about Dave, and information on funeral and memorial plans, please go to