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Oral Histories: Lyle Quasim

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Lyle Quasim was born in 1943 in Chicago to a family with a long history of labor and community activism: his grandfather was a Pullman porter in one of the first African American labor unions, while his mother, Ophelia, was a longtime community and labor organizer. Quasim was involved in civil rights activism as a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and in his home neighborhood, the West Side of Chicago, as a community organizer.

After leaving the university, Quasim lost his student draft deferment and was drafted into the army. Ignoring his draft notice, he only realized he was AWOL from the army when two recruiters showed up at his house one evening. Within six days, he joined the Air Force and found himself sent to McChord Air Force Base, near Tacoma, WA. Always against the war, Quasim challenged his commanding officers for greater democracy in the service, who sent him on a long tour of Vietnam as a punishment.

In Da Nang, Quasim served as an Air Force medic, where he worked with military nurses and doctors to set up a free medical clinic in downtown Da Nang—off-limits to American servicepeople—for Vietnamese civilians, Vietnamese soldiers, and Americans. His experiences as a medic in Vietnam solidified his commitment to ending the war, and upon his return to the States, Quasim began working at the GI coffeehouse in Tacoma, the Shelter Half, and with antiwar and progressive organizations across the Northwest.

After being discharged from the Air Force, Quasim began working in health services and social service policy for the state, federal, and county governments with the hope of bringing more attention to disparities caused by race, class, and gender.

Click here to go to a special section on the Vietnam War-era GI movement in the Northwest.

Lyle Quasim was interviewed in Tacoma on September 5, 2008 by Jessie Kindig and Steve Beda.