He emerged from the plane smiling into the madness of the cameras. He looked through them for a moment, and seven long years were sucked into one tiny increment of time.
For seven years he’d asked the London press to come to his marches and meetings, as he stood with other exiles and friends outside the American Embassy. They never came.
Now they came to see how far this gutsy kid was gonna get. They knew the FBI was upstairs. He saw NBC push CBS to record his homecoming — and he couldn’t believe it.
Fritz Efaw, fugitive from justice, draft resister and erstwhile enemy of the people, was finally coming home; and he was coming because he’d been elected to attend the Democratic National Convention. A project that had started as a grand foray into political mau-mauing had somehow gone way out of control. Eight manic days later, despite the FBI and despite Robert Strauss and even Jimmy Carter, Fritz W. Efaw was to be nominated for the vice-presidency of the United States.
A half-hour before Fritz’s plane arrived, Leonah Scurlock, Fritz’s mother, had downed an apricot sour in a restaurant in the back of the Pan Am terminal. She looked pale and full of tears as she waited for Fritz to come home. Leonah had never thought of Fritz’s decision — to leave the country instead of fight — as a bad decision or a good decision; it was just his decision, and in that she took pride.
Louise Ransom raised her glass and waited for Fritz’s mother to open her eyes. Louise had especially asked if she could come to be with the family before Fritz came home. Her son had been killed near My Lai in May of 1968, on Mother’s Day, and she had since become an affiliate director of the National Council for Universal and Unconditional Amnesty. “That poor woman,” she said. “Imagine seeing your son after all this time.”
Now Louise held her glass high in the air and waited for Fritz’s mother to look up. “To Fritz,” she said.
At the press conference after his arrival, the reporters asked Fritz if he really thought the government was going to let him attend the convention. Fritz said he didn’t know. Louise Ransom patted Fritz’s mother lightly on the back.
It was late afternoon when 12 people finally piled into a VW camper and left for East Meadow, Long Island. Fritz couldn’t enter Manhattan because he would be leaving the Eastern judicial district of New York. A deal had been struck by which the assistant U.S. attorney had agreed to let him through immigration to see his family if he gave himself up in Brooklyn the next morning. So for one day, Fritz Efaw was underground. He put his arm around his sister Marilyn and spoke quietly. “Where am I,” he said.
It’s a long way from Stillwater, Oklahoma, to South London.
Fritz’s great-grandfather had come to settle in Nebraska after leaving Germany to avoid being drafted by the Prussians. His children moved south and became Oklahoma dirt farmers.
Fritz was the skinny kid with the glasses. He spent long hours alone reading things like USSR magazine and the British humor magazine Punch; he also read Plato. He eventually earned a full scholarship to MIT and went “up East.”
He had gone to MIT to learn how to build a sputnik and ended up studying philosophy. He had played around with various radical groups but was never a leader. He surprised his family at Christmas 1968 when he announced that he was leaving the country rather than fight in Vietnam:
“Nineteen sixty-eight was the year that changed me. The Tet offensive, Martin Luther King was killed and there were riots in Chicago and Los Angeles. McCarthy running for president and there was all this flower power in the air in Boston.
“The pressure started to build up as the specter of induction into the Army got closer. I couldn’t write my thesis, my money was running out. It was a bad time. I went to a draft counseling session at Harvard and I’ll never forget that rich kid with a medical deferment telling me to join the Army and do the right thing from inside the military.
“I thought about faking a medical deferment, but I hadn’t had that solid middle-class experience with doctors and lawyers. During Christmas vacation of 1968, I announced that I was leaving.”
So in May of 1969, Fritz Efaw, American picaro, lit out for London with a one-way ticket, no money and some misplaced dreams of European life that he’d drawn from books.
The GI movement had extended to England because of the large number of American flyers who were stationed there after their first tour in Vietnam. Fritz helped organize the illegal GI marches in London and was involved in various programs to relocate deserters in other European countries.
He found work in London as a freelance computer programmer and found solace with other young American draft resisters and GIs in an organization called the Union of American Exiles. He eventually became president of the organization.