The Phoenix Trip: Notes on a Quaker Mission to Haiphong (Celo Press, 1985) recounts the story of the Quaker project to deliver medical supplies to North and South Vietnamese civilians during the Indochina War. It was written by Betty Boardman, one of the participants.
In March 1967 the Phoenix of Hiroshima set sail from Hong Kong with a ton of medical supplies. When it neared the North Vietnamese coast, it was buzzed by U.S. jets and helicopters. Later, in Haiphong harbor, five SAM missiles roared overhead and, as the crew learned later, shot down an American plane. At Haiphong the North Vietnamese Red Cross accepted the supplies. The North Vietnamese government gave the crew a tour of hospitals and villages and held a dinner in their honor. (Subsequently, in November 1967, the Phoenix sailed to South Vietnam, and the crew attempted to land medical supplies at Da Nang but were refused. Back in Hong Kong, they shipped the supplies to the Unified Buddhists of South Vietnam. In January 1968 the Phoenix returned to North Vietnam with more medical supplies but the crew had to depart early. The Tet Offensive had begun, and the North Vietnamese were expecting American bombing).
A Quaker Action Group organized the Phoenix voyage. AQAG was formed in the summer of 1966 as a loose association of Friends activists. Its mission was to renew Quaker commitment to peace and, more specifically, to “apply nonviolent direct action as a witness against the war in Vietnam”. In 1971 it morphed into the Movement for a New Society. As MNS, it greatly influenced other progressive movements. It still exists as the New Society Publishers, which releases publications on analysis and training for social change.
Betty Boardman (1917-2008) was a member of Madison (NYM) Meeting and later an attender at State College (BYM) Meeting. A life-long activist, she worked against nuclear weapons, opposed the Indochina War and helped found the Clamshell Alliance, an anti-nuclear power group.
In the early 1970’s, when I first started attending Friends Meeting, I heard about the Phoenix voyage. Later, in the mid-1980’s, I learned that Illinois Yearly Meeting had contributed money to the project, and I met Betty Boardman at Northern Yearly Meeting’s annual sessions.
The Phoenix project, of course, was controversial, even among Friends. Quakers feared it would jeopardize the efforts of organizations like the American Friends Service Committee. War supporters charged that the medical supplies would be turned over to the North Vietnamese military. The U.S. government threatened the participants with ten year prison sentences, under the 1917 Trading with the Enemy Act; revoked their passports; and froze AQAG’s bank accounts. (In the end, the U.S. government declined to prosecute).
As an experiment in practical non-violence, the Phoenix voyage was invaluable. Working with civilians during a war was a Quaker tradition, though the civilians belonged to the Friends country or nations allied with their country. After a war had concluded, working with civilians on both sides was also a tradition. But working with civilians on both sides during a war was a new tradition.
The Phoenix Trip is a frank account of A Quaker Action Group’s project. Boardman writes about the tensions between the crew and the fears about what they were facing. She admits her rage at the American government after witnessing the horrific casualties from U.S. bombing. Horace Champney, another participant, also described the voyage in an appendix.
The Phoenix of Hiroshima now rests in 25 feet of water in the Mokelumne River, just off Tyler Island, in northern California. The Phoenix of Hiroshima Project, Inc., a non-profit organization, is attempting to restore the ship for use in peace activities. More information about this can be found at https://phoenixofhiroshima.org/.