Remembering the Vietnam Era at Silver Lake

June 23, 2020
By Rev. Karl Duetzmann
Alumni Chaplain/Historian/Archivist


Throughout the history of Silver Lake, there have been times that reflected the history of our

Silver Lake Archive
A 1970s work project underway. Several conscientious objectors of the Vietnam War performed their alternative service at Silver Lake.
nation and the issues that confronted us all. From the mid-1960s into the ‘70s, the issues swirling around the Vietnam war came into the life of camp along with other issues of the day. It affected people in different ways. 

Several staffers like Josh Weber, Tom Kelleher, and Bill Thomsen enlisted in the Navy in 1969. Josh and Tom had run out of draft deferments, and Bill didn’t want them to go without him. They had basic training together before being deployed, Tom and Josh on ships off the coast of Vietnam and Bill on antisub aircraft over the North Atlantic. 

There were others on staff who became conscientious objectors to the war. John Bach was on the engineers. He took his CO claim to the draft board and was denied. He stood his ground and was sentenced to jail time in Danbury Federal Prison, where he met the Berrigan brothers and joined them in the antiwar movement. Other staffers like Nick Gilbert, Jeff Scott, and David Walker did their alternate service by working at Silver Lake. Peter Jessup did his alternate service at Ryder Memorial Children’s Hospital, established by the United Church of Christ in Humacao, Puerto Rico. All of the above staffers were moved by what resonated in their hearts.
Vietnam became real to me for the first time when I was a counselor at Mayflower conference in 1972. I was two years out of high school, and Vietnam was something I watched on the evening news. It wasn’t something that related to me! But it was. Another counselor had returned from Vietnam after serving in the 101st Airborne Division. Glenn Nordin had been wounded by a hand grenade that destroyed his left knee. He called it his Vietnam leg. After a shower, he sat on the bench in the boy’s Fred pulling threads from his uniform that were coming to the surface in his still healing knee. He matter-of-factly talked about what had happened ... and with a grin he pointed to a bit of shrapnel still embedded in the tip of his nose. It was in that encounter and

Silver Lake Archive
Conferees in the early 1970s share a message of peace.
subsequent conversations with Glenn that the news became a flesh and blood reality. I began writing this article because my thoughts turned to Glenn, who lost his battle with pancreatic cancer in early March.

Silver Lake embraced him and other returning veterans with the same unconditional love and respect as was given to the COs like John Bach, Jeff Scott, Peter Jessup, David Walker, and Nick Gilbert. There are others to be listed among those who became COs or served in our armed forces. The Lake has always been a place of welcome and unconditional love, embracing all who have traveled “the road we came in on.” It has also sent us out as seed sowers of that same love.
 

Silver Lake Conference Center

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