“Summer Of Love, My Ass!”: How Tom Brown Faked Suicide To Get Out Of The Army

By and on May 29, 2016

Not everyone wants to be a war hero, and not everyone wants to die and be remembered each year on Memorial Day by their relatives and friends. Summer Of Love, My Ass! A Memoir June 12, 1967 – April 28, 1969 is our contributor Tom Brown‘s story about what happened to him when he received his draft notice, in June 1967, right around the same time that Muhammad Ali was being convicted of draft evasion.

He knew that, like Ali, he wasn’t going to be forced to go to war without putting up a fight either, and that’s exactly what he had to do, for the next twenty-two months.

After a four-day binge of sleep deprivation and awe-inspiring drug ingestion, Tom showed up for his physical, convinced that the Army would take one look at him and turn him away, but instead they put him on a bus to Ft. Ord, near Monterey, California, where they ended up throwing him in the stockade. He was abused and berated by practically everyone: army personnel, cops, FBI agents, prison guards and even fellow inmates.

Summer Of Love, My Ass! A Memoir June 12, 1967 – April 28, 1969 tells the story of Tom’s fight against the American Military Machine, at a time when an American’s free will could be used to punish him. His account of what happened — at the induction center, at boot camp, jails and military stockades, and his multiple escapes and what happened during the times he went AWOL — makes for a great read. It’s a book filled with dark humor, anger and confusion.

We asked Tom if he’d like to say a few words on Memorial Day about his experience, and here’s what he told us:

My war was taking place with my so-called fellow Americans. There had been no attacks on America at the hands of the Viet Cong. Not once. No one felt threatened that they would look up and see Viet Cong planes flying over preparing to bomb us. If I’m being asked to sacrifice my life for something, please provide me with an incentive. The possibility of Communists taking over the world via Vietnam doesn’t cut it. The idea was to turn us all into raving psychotics who would would kill whoever they ordered us to kill. The insanity continued to permeate the environment and roll over everyone in its path without any of them even able to detect or recognize its presence. The loneliness engulfed me as I sat on my bunk attempting to thwart the despair that continued to creep up on me like the fucking black plague.”

Today, we’re showing the sheer extremes that someone might go to in order to avoid being sent to fight in a war he didn’t believe in by excerpting the story about how Tom decided to fake his own suicide by slitting his wrists. This happened at the end of his first week of book camp, after spending his first three days doing KP duty, in order to get out of fighting a fight he didn’t want to get into in the first place.

As you’ll see if you buy a copy of Tom’s book and read it (please do!), they made him fight anyway. And be sure to check out Tom’s tale about meeting Wild Man Fischer, our first “rock story,” right here.

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Before we get to today’s excerpt, here are some of the quotes from the back of the book:

“If you want a frank, uninhibited account of a young American male who did not want to join the U.S. Army and go to Vietnam, this book is for you. A good read.” ~ Pete Seeger, American folk legend.

“H.T. Brown has written a dramatic personal book. A sixties bumper sticker says Question Authority. Summer of Love does this with searing honesty and ironic humor. No question Summer of Love will make an exciting, dramatic movie. Your life is a history lesson which can give younger people understanding of today’s erasure of the “Vietnam syndrome.” ~ Haskell Wexler, Writer, producer, director, activist and two time Academy Award winning cinematographer

“H.T. Brown’s idiosyncratic memoir is both funny and serious, intensely personal while illuminating important facets of our system of justice, in and out of the military. It is both troubling and instructive.” ~ Howard Zinn, American historian, professor, political scientist, activist, playwright, and author of A People’s History of the United States

“H.T. Brown’s story is a scathing indictment of the military industrial complex but it’s more than that: it’s a history lesson in counter-culture shock and the consequences of thinking for yourself. What happens when a musician gets kidnapped by the government? It’s all here. And it’s funny as hell.” ~ Carl Baugher, Musician and author of Turning Corners: The Life and Music of Leroy Jenkins

“Too angry, Too much shouting.” – Nick Angres, “a sensitive young friend of the author”

Here’s an excerpt from Tom’s book:

We entered the latrine while Pokorny remained at the inside of the doorway. Ruben stood only several feet away from me clutching a towel, which would provide us with a tourniquet apparatus if it was needed. I rested three of the four razor blades that I had extracted from my footlocker on the edge of one of the sinks.

I had decided that I would hack away at my right wrist to begin with, as I am right handed and figured that it would add to the dramatics if I was unable to use my most proficient limb in the aftermath. Not one word had been uttered between us. All three of us knew exactly what our job entailed. We were operating like the mutant version of a finely tuned military machine from another planet. I grasped the blade between the thumb and forefinger of my left hand and looked up to find Ruben and Pokorny watching me intently.

“Okay?” I asked as calmly as I could. They both nodded and I immediately placed the razor sharp blade against my wrist and with a great amount of effort drew it across the skin.

“Fuck!” I involuntarily yelped as I watched the bloodless crevice appear on my wrist.

“Go!” I heard Ruben exhort to Pokorny who was out the door immediately. There was no spurting blood and in fact only a very small trickle as I cut again more intently. This had to look real in order to convince the demons.

“Goddamn!” I had managed to urge an only slightly larger ripple of blood from the wound. I sliced again and the blood flow remained about the same. I now had a serious open wound two inches long that was barely bleeding, and it hurt like hell. This was nothing like the movies.

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Photo by John Livzey

At that point the door to the latrine was thrown open and the demon of the day accompanied by sergeant Arnold burst into the room. It was now time for the show to begin.

“Fuck you! Stay away from me!” I screamed in my best psycho rant voice, as they advanced toward me while I brandished the razor blade in a threatening manner.

“Goddamn it Brown!” Exclaimed the pissed-off demon as they immediately swarmed me and took hold of my arms, one on each side. I went apeshit. Screaming, thrashing, kicking and doing whatever I could to project the antithesis of cooperative, while they attempted to extract the blade from between my fingers. They were literally dragging me out of the latrine and down the stairs as I refused to walk, and I continued to rant and scream bloody murder the entire time.

“I can’t do this! Let me fuckin’ die! Let me go! Fuck you!” It was an entirely new game at this point and I had the freedom to curse them as much as I desired. With no lingering fear of reprisal. Great stuff if you ask me. I was letting all of the hatred and frustration that had been involuntarily repressed in me, now work to my benefit. The ultimate method acting situation if there ever was one.

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Photo by John Livzey

The dragging continued until we found ourselves in the foreyard where the army version of an ambulance had just arrived, complete with two army paramedics. They were immediately out of the vehicle and opened the back doors to extract a gurney, which they proceeded to wrestle me onto. Leather straps were then applied to both of my arms in order to hold me down.

“No, no, no!” I continued to shriek, as they placed the gurney with me on it into the back of the ambulance. One of the attendants climbed into the back to keep me company, while the other closed the doors and then took his place behind the wheel.

I didn’t shut up the entire drive to the infirmary. There was no way that I was going to break character at this point. The attendant in the back with me did his best to calm me, to no avail. It wasn’t going to happen. He had managed to also strap my legs to the gurney as I continued to wildly flail my lower appendages. I expected to see him extract a syringe from a secret compartment in order to shoot me up with an elixir like they do with crazy people in the movies, but it never appeared.

We finally arrived at the infirmary and I was shuttled into their version of an emergency room. They unemotionally described the situation to the very unfriendly and unhappy looking individual with a fat mousy face who was on duty this day, who appeared to get even more unfriendly when he heard the details of the situation. His name tag indicated that this was Gorn. He gestured for them to wheel me into a small room and to leave the straps on. I had stopped screaming, but I was breathing very hard from the bizarre ordeal and attempted to look as crazy as I possibly could. Lots of eye blinking and twitching accompanied by as many fucked-up facial expressions as I could come up with.

I’m sure that I was suffering from a mild form of shock induced by the actual act of cutting myself, but I felt that I was genuinely selling the crazy man persona in a very convincing manner. I was prepared to handle anything that they could throw at me. Or so I thought.

The attendants as ordered had placed me in the small room under one of those overhead circular lamps that are found in dentist’s and doctor’s offices everywhere. Without a word they were gone and the door was closed. It was just me and Mr. Mouse Face now. The overhead lamp was turned on and Gorn arranged it until it rested over my right arm and wrist. I remained strapped to the gurney.

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Photo by John Livzey

“So you want to kill yourself?” He said with a nasty trace of facetiousness, as he turned to open a drawer and extracted rubber gloves along with a needle and suture thread. “You don’t want to be in the army and you want to die,” he continued matter of factly as he put the gloves on. “People like you make me sick.”

I was beginning to get the feeling that I was at the mercy of someone a lot crazier than anything that I was attempting to portray. Why didn’t I expect something like this? I continued to breathe hard and twitched a lot, but did not respond verbally to any of his outrageously insensitive remarks. He was now holding a piece of gauze and what I assumed to be a small flask of alcohol to cleanse and sterilize the lesion. He poured the substance onto the gauze and began to roughly apply it to my open wound in a very un-doctor like approach. An intense burning sensation seemed to run up my entire arm.

“Aargh! Fuck! It burns!” I was helplessly writhing on the gurney. This did not deter him in the least as he continued swabbing the area maliciously.

“Have you ever been standing next to your best friend while half of his face was blown off in front of you?” He queried perversely.

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Photo by John Livzey

Holy shit! I thought, this was definitely a “worse scene” scenario, if I ever saw one. “He gave his life so faggots like you could walk around free.” He was now threading the needle. “And the army’s too tough to take, isn’t it? He doesn’t want to be in the army.” He sneered in the most condescending tone that he could muster. The burning sensation in my wrist and arm was gradually subsiding and I was finding myself very pissed off at this son-of-a-bitch who was about sew up the two inch gash in my wrist. But I could not betray my act and respond in the way that he probably expected to hear. I kept my mouth shut and twitched. I felt the needle enter the loosened skin as he proceeded to complete the first stitch. He drew the thread through and continued with his take on therapeutic colloquy.

“Doesn’t want to be in the army.” He repeated and then unexpectedly jabbed the needle into the open wound. If I hadn’t been strapped down, I would have risen several feet in the air.

“Fuuuuck!” This guy was nuts. How could this be happening this way?

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Fort Ord

It proceeded to happen this very way, and Gorn would jab me with his trusty needle after what seemed every stitch and disdainful remark. Mercifully it finally came to an end and I was drenched in sweat, breathing heavily and trembling with relief. Not once did I lash out at Gorn verbally as I knew he expected me to. I would stay inside of myself and not offer any attempt at communicating. Not even to say, Fuck you Gorn and I hope you fucking die an excruciatingly horrible death along with your immediate family. Fuck em’.

Looking back it’s not as if I’ve been traumatized for life as a result of his unorthodox behavior, but what if I had been a legitimately troubled person? And why would he think that I wasn’t? After enduring Gorn’s insensitive performance, I was certain that the worst was over and I’d be free from any further physical discomfort. A strange sense of accomplishment swept over me. Now all I had to do was convincingly portray an image of someone who was too messed up to be in the army to the psychiatrists that I was sure to be confronted with.

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Photo by John Livzey

After Gorn had furnished me with a bandage that encircled my wrist, all the while providing his running commentary of what a pathetic loser I was, he thankfully left the room without further word. I remained in the now dimly lit room strapped down to the gurney, with absolutely no clue of what my next encounter on the agenda might be. After my pulse rate had returned to its normal state, I found myself feeling extraordinarily exhausted. Since I didn’t appear to be going anywhere, I closed my eyes and welcomed the sleep that overtook me.

Post-script: In 2006, Tom Brown went back to Ft. Ord to take a look at the stockade jail where they’d kept him for trying to get out of going to war. These photos were taken by his good friend John Livzey. Tom has published two terrific books, Summer Of Love, My Ass!: A Memoir June 12, 1967 – April 28, 1969, and Confessions Of A ZAPPA Fanatic, both credited to H.T. Brown (but please call him Tom). They’re both available from Amazon and other places where you can buy books.

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Photo by  John Livzey

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.