When PBI co-founder Lee Stern walked cash destined for Vietnam across the Peace Bridge

Published by Brent Patterson on

By 1966, there were more than 180,000 US soldiers in Vietnam and an estimated 67,000 Vietnamese were killed in the war that year.

Murray Thomson, a co-founder of Peace Brigades International, has reflected: “In the mid Sixties, Medical Aid to all sides in Vietnam became a Service Committee ‘international program’ with thousands of contributions.”

Thomson adds: “Many contributions were brought across the border by American citizens.”

Lee Stern, another co-founder of PBI, was one of those who brought aid from the United States across the border into Canada.

On March 26, 1967, Stern participated in the delivery to Canada of cash for medical supplies destined for North and South Vietnam.

Months prior, in the autumn of 1966, the American Friends Service Committee applied to send $6,000 of aid to North Vietnam. The US government refused this request.

The US government had also frozen the bank account of A Quaker Action Group (AQAG) and had even taken actions to block their cheques from supporters destined for the Canadian Friends Service Committee.

The idea then became to walk the aid across the Peace Bridge.

Richard D. Hathaway has written: “It was a deliberate and prayerful challenge to the U. S. Treasury Department’s ban on medical aid to victims of U.S. bombing in Vietnam.”

Hathaway adds: “Canadian Friends would take our money and, as they had been doing for some time, use it to ship medical supplies to both North and South Vietnam.”

On Easter Sunday in 1967, Stern and about 300 others began to approach the Peace Bridge between Buffalo, New York and Fort Erie, Ontario.

The group was confronted by a representative of the US Bureau of Foreign Assets Control who warned them that if they stepped onto the bridge that they could be charged with trading with the enemy and face ten years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

They nevertheless continued across the bridge, which is about 1.8 kilometres in length.

The Canadian Customs official then informed the group that Canada was not able to receive aid destined for North Vietnam. They were, however, eventually allowed to cross the bridge where they met with Canadian Quakers.

The Canadian Friend newsletter has reported: “When the American army withdrew from Vietnam [in March 1973], we estimated that medical supplies of various kinds had been sent valuing approximately $300,000.”

On September 4, 1981, Stern (on the left in the photo below), Thomson (on the right) and others came together on Grindstone Island south-west of Ottawa and formed Peace Brigades International. The founding statement they helped craft stated: “We are building on a rich and extensive heritage of nonviolent action.”

Additionally, PBI co-founder Gene Keyes burned his draft card in front of the Selective Service office in Champagne-Urbana, Illinois on December 24, 1963. He was drafted on May 15, 1964 and in 1965 sentenced to three years in prison for failing to report for military service. He served one year of that sentence before being released.

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