Vietnam War Veteran Rejects Violence, Embraces Peace

By on April 17th, 2015
Scott Camil, 68, points to a cartoon depicting himself and other members of the Gainesville Eight at their trial. The original cartoon was given to him by the artist, Bill Day. The Gainesville Eight was the name given to a group of anti-Vietnam war protestors charged with conspiracy to disrupt the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami.

Scott Camil, 68, points to a cartoon depicting himself and other members of the Gainesville Eight at their trial. The original cartoon was given to him by the artist, Bill Day. The Gainesville Eight was the name given to a group of anti-Vietnam war protestors charged with conspiracy to disrupt the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami. Taylor Bello / WUFT

Scott Camil said he wanted to be a hero.

He spent four years in the U.S. Marines fighting the North Vietnamese and four decades trying to make peace.

The 68-year-old veteran sergeant is one of 2,709, 918 Americans who fought in Vietnam. He was featured in “The Winter Soldier,” a documentary based on the investigation of United States policy in Vietnam.

He is also co-founder and president of the Gainesville chapter of Veterans for Peace, which partners with other organizations around the area to promote peace. Some of the projects include the John A. Penrod “Brigadas” Award for Peace and Justice, two Peace Scholarships of $500, the annual Memorial Mile event during Memorial Day weekend, the Peace Poetry Contest for Alachua County students and protesting American militarism around the city.

Camil was also a member of the Gainesville Eight, a group of anti-war protesters taken to trial on charges of conspiracy to violently disrupt the Republican National Convention in Miami in 1972. The Eight were eventually found not guilty.

On April 30, veterans around the country will be filled with solemn remembrance on the 40th anniversary of the Vietnam War’s end. This, in part, is what has fueled Camil’s activism. 

The war in Vietnam officially ended on April 30, 1975, when the city of Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese and the last American soldiers were evacuated by helicopter. But in Camil’s eyes, the U.S. has only been repeating Vietnam in new places. He has been active in anti-war movements since the 1970s.

“You can’t export democracy at the point of a gun,” he said.

The Bully’s War

Camil graduated from Hialeah High School in 1965. Three days later, he entered boot camp and began the process of becoming a U.S. Marine. He said he looked forward to doing what he called his “duty as a man” and fighting for democracy.

After completing basic, infantry and jungle warfare training, he volunteered to ship out right away.

“I spent my 20th and 21st birthdays in Vietnam,” Camil said.

Camil said he followed orders just like any soldier should.

He saw his friends become men, he said, and he saw them die.

Despite seeing Vietnamese civilians tortured, raped and mutilated, he volunteered to stay for a second tour.

Camil said he had gone into the military wanting to defend his country, believing the U.S. had a right to overthrow communism, so that people could be free. He said he wanted to fight for the democracy that he and other Americans enjoyed.

“I was proud of what I’d done,” he said. “I believed the war was right.”

College changed that perspective.

After he returned to the U.S. in 1967, the future University of Florida graduate first enrolled in Miami Dade College with the money he received from the GI Bill of Rights. For his American History class, he read a required text called “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn. He said at first, he disagreed with the book, which approaches U.S. history through the eyes of minorities who were abused, massacred and oppressed from the colonial era all the way through the Vietnam conflict, according to Zinn.

Camil said he went to talk to his professor about the book, and the professor gave him more material to read. The more he read, the more he said he believed Zinn’s thesis was correct: America is a bully.

Camil now feels that he and his friends were used.

“I killed people in hand-to-hand combat,” he says, his voice cracking. “I murdered people who were defending their homes.”

He now calls “A People’s History” the most important book he owns.

A Hero For Peace

Camil left the Marine Corps with 12 medals: two Purple Hearts, a Combat Action Ribbon, two U.S. Presidential Citations, a Good Conduct Medal — of which he was particularly proud — a National Defense Service Medal, a Vietnam Campaign Ribbon with three stars, a Vietnam Presidential Citation, a Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star and another with Palm Leaf, and a Vietnam Service Medal.

In 1971, he threw them all away.

Camil, along with other members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, marched on Washington, and he said he cast his medals over a fence toward the steps of the U.S. Capitol building.

Decades later, his wife Sherry, 64, requested replacements for some of his medals. She said she wanted him to have them.

“It was an honor of a sort even if he didn’t agree with the policy,” she said.

Now, he wants to be a hero for peace.

In 1987, after a fact-finding trip to Central America, he said he became enraged at what his country was doing in other parts of the world. When he returned, he founded the Gainesville branch of Veterans for Peace, which has more than 100 chapters across the nation.

Pierce Butler, an associate member of Veterans for Peace, has been a close friend of Camil’s for more than 20 years.

Butler, 61, befriended Camil during a nonviolent standoff with anti-abortion protestors outside the Gainesville Women’s Health Center, which Butler said had requested help escorting potential patients inside due to the large number of protestors harassing them. Butler and Camil were joined by civil rights activists, labor activists and even environmentalists, Butler wrote in an email.

The Gainesville Veterans for Peace stayed on for more than a year after that to help provide security for the center.

“As a friend, he’s totally loyal, helpful and generous,” Butler said of Camil, “but as an organizer he doesn’t put up with laziness, unfilled promises or avoidable mistakes.”

The intensity Camil handles projects with inspires some people, but it also makes others, the thin-skinned people, pull back, he said.

“You just can’t talk about Scott without saying ‘but’ because, without being two-faced at all, he creates a contradictory response in almost everybody,” Butler explained.

Camil is Jewish, but he supports Palestine. He is a proud Marine, but he opposes any and all wars.

Even when he fills out forms and is asked for his race, he always marks “Other” and writes in “Human.”

“I’m not an American first,” he said. “I’m not Jewish first or a white man first. I’m a human being first.”

This entry was posted in Local and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

More Stories in Local

John Denny, the head brewer and a co-owner of First Magnitude Brewing Co., poses with the growlers the brewery sells. Starting July 1, breweries can legally sell the 64-ounce size in Florida. Nicole Gomez / WUFT News

Gainesville Brewers Celebrate Legal 64-Ounce Growlers

As SB 186 goes into effect Wednesday, Gainesville brewers are preparing to celebrate. Breweries expect the 64-ounce growlers to attract people from outside the state that will come and patronize Florida’s growing craft beer industry.

The downtown clock has frozen in time. Currently the city is reviewing all avenues to resolve the problem but does not have a time table yet for the clock to start ticking again.

City Still Looking For Solution To Repair Historic Downtown Clock

The downtown Gainesville clock has stopped working. The city does not yet know the extent of the problem, but is looking into how long it will take to fix.


Residents Call For Removal Of Local Confederate Statue

Following the Charleston massacre, Alachua County residents call for the removal of a statue outside the Alachua County Administration Building that commemorates the Confederate dead. Supporters do not believe the statue is still relevant and hope that removing it will bring attention to the greater issue of white supremacy.

The red line shows the new county line on State Road 121, where the boundaries of Springs County and Alachua County would meet. Jonathan Munoz / WUFT News

Commissioners Discuss Creating New County

Newberry City Commissioner Tim Marden is proposing drawing a line through Alachua County to create a new county out of the western portion. The county, which would be called Springs County, would address the issue of some residents of smaller towns, like Newberry, feeling like they do not get adequate representation.

Neena Schueller takes a break from practicing tricks on her longboard in the parking lot of Gainesville’s FreeRide Surf & Skate Shop. The nineteen-year-old is sponsored by the local shop, which provides her with clothing and whatever other equipment she doesn’t receive from her other sponsors.

Student Teaches Herself To Skateboard, Rises To “Queen”

Neena Schueller climbs to the top of the longboard community as one of the only female skateboarders sponsored by a local skate shop. She has been recognized for her skills on YouTube and in the skateparks, winning titles such as “Queen of Kona.”

Thank you for your support

WUFT depends on the support of our community — people like you — to help us continue to provide quality programming to North Central Florida.
Become a Sustainer
I want to support FM 89.1/NPR
I want to support Florida's 5/PBS
Donate a Vehicle
Underwriting Payments