Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Patrick Terry seeks the truth

Express Staff Writer

Patrick Terry

"If everyone was to take an eye for an eye, the whole world would be blind and toothless," said Pat Terry, in between Facebooking sessions at the Hailey Coffee Co. last week. He was quoting Mahatma Ghandi, but also expressing his own philosophy of nonviolence.

"Civilization fails to recognize the truth," he said, offering me one of his muffins. "Instead they just make it up. Our purpose is not to have money, or power or glory. Our purpose is compassion, sharing and belonging."

Patrick Terry was born in 1946 at the Booth Memorial Hospital in Boise, otherwise known as the home for unwed mothers. He was one of seven siblings. His father served in both World War II and the Korean War.

Terry was married and living in Seattle when he was drafted into the Army.

"It was toward the end of the Vietnam War and most people had begun to realize that the war was unwinnable," said Terry.

He considered moving to Canada to avoid the draft but instead applied for status as a conscientious objector to the conflict.

"I wrote a letter to the draft board and tried to explain to them that it was immoral to make the decision to take another's life, that no one should be put in the position to have to do this. But they didn't accept it."

Terry's religious affiliation with the Methodist Church in Boise had ended when he was 13 after seeing a friend abused by a member of the clergy. About that time, he stood in front of a tank on Vista Boulevard en route to Gowen Field Air Force Base to protest the tearing up of miles of roads each year by tank treads.

"It was insane behavior. Boise Paving would fix the roads each year after they tore them up. It was corruption between the city, the paving company and the military," he said.

In junior high school, Terry and a friend jumped the fence at Gowen Field with a can of gasoline and a six-volt battery. They climbed onto an Army tank, opened the lid, rigged the ignition and started the machine.


"We drove it down toward these buildings and an officer came out with a gun pointed at us. I told him I would drive it back to where we found it. They said get down. I said 'O.K., but I want my battery back.'"

Terry was drafted into the Army in 1970, the same year that the Ohio National Guard shot 13 unarmed Kent State University students, killing four of them, at a protest against escalation of the Vietnam war into Cambodia.

Terry was trained as an infantryman, but due to high clerical scores on a military test, he said he was kept in the U.S. to help train new recruits and give advice to returning GIs on the availability of benefits and social services.

"I didn't have to shoot anybody or get shot at. I was lucky," he said.

"It was my job to help soldiers readjust to the safety of being home in America. Post-traumatic-stress disorder was pervasive, and soldiers weren't treated very well when they came home."

Terry said he heard stories about soldiers "fragging" senior officers, killing or injuring them with grenades because they were making bad decisions that endangered troops' safety, or were "just overloaded."

Terry later worked as a cook in Boise, and then as an automobile and motorcycle mechanic. He moved to the Wood River Valley in 1990, but is on the road during winter. Three years ago, he picked up a hitchhiker who told him about Slab City, a 640-acre abandoned U.S. military barracks in the desert near Niland, Calif.

Slab City was featured in the book "Into the Wild" and also in the 2007 movie of the same name. It is home to hundreds of self-supported artists, veterans, RV campers and squatters living off the grid and by their own rules.

Terry has spent several weeks over the last three winters at Slab City, but is not sure if he will return this winter. He said trash problems at the site have become a problem, and the place needs a recycling center. About 150 people live there year-round.

Terry has no permanent address at the moment. He seems untroubled by not having definite plans for the future. He seems more concerned about getting his actions in line with his spiritual beliefs.

"To belong we have to contribute. I am working on recognizing my own inherent human value, and especially the importance of women and children.

"Truth is born of woman. Justice is a nurturing environment.

"There are no separations between living matter. Trees, animals and people are all connected. If we are suffering, or are angry, we are contributing that to the environment."

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