Repost: A Modern Thanksgiving Tradition of Sorts

| November 25, 2021 | 29 Comments

From several years ago. Happy Thanksgiving, all.


Because of the date of the original incident, this song has become a minor Thanksgiving tradition on many modern radio stations. This should also bring back a few memories for our Vietnam-era readers; hopefully, at this point, the passage of time has made them reasonably mellow ones. Enjoy.


For what it’s worth: the song actually is based – loosely – on a real event. Alice was a real person (Alice Brock); Alice had indeed purchased an old church (Trinity Church) and lived in same with her husband Ray as depicted in the song.

Arlo Guthrie and a friend, Richard Robbins, really were arrested for illegal littering in Stockbridge, MA, on Thanksgiving Day, 1965 – after they hauled off some of the Brocks’ garbage, found all local dumps closed, and illegally dumped the trash elsewhere. The arresting officer actually did look through the garbage to find a clue (the Brock’s address on an envelope), leading to Guthrie’s and Robbins’ arrest.

The judge that later heard the case actually was blind, and the arresting officer was named William J. “Obie” Obanhein – sometimes referred to as, yes, “Officer Obie”. (The judge’s use of a seeing-eye dog, the famous “twenty-seven 8 by 10 color glossy photos”, and much of the rest of the song’s purported dialog and/or events may well be satirical exaggeration on Guthrie’s part). They pleaded guilty to littering and creating a public nuisance and were indeed fined $25 each – or $50 total.

Guthrie was later called for the draft (some accounts say he tried to voluntarily enlist). Whether his attempted entry into the military was voluntary or not, he was indeed disqualified for military service based on his criminal record (his guilty plea to the crimes of littering and creating a public nuisance and resulting in the payment of a $25 fine).

Though the song was at the time considered anti-war and adopted by the antiwar movement, Guthrie has long said the song was not written as an antiwar song. Rather, he says he wrote it more as an “anti-stupidity” song.

I have to say he has at least a partial point. Disqualifying someone for military service because of a guilty plea to the crime of littering at a time of manpower demand so extreme it led to Project 100,000 (AKA MacNamara’s “Moron Corps”) does seem to fail the “WTF?” test. Then again, all of us who’ve served already know that the Five-Sided Asylum often seems to regard common sense as a disqualifying trait for, well, pretty much anything. (smile)

Again: Happy Thanksgiving, all. And remember:

You can get anything you want, at Alice’s Restaurant
(Excepting Alice)
You can get anything you want, at Alice’s Restaurant
Walk right in it’s around the back
Just a half a mile from the railroad track
You can get anything you want
At Alice’s

Category: "Truth or fiction?", Pointless blather, Who knows

Comments (29)

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  1. Odie says:

    Morning all and happy Thanksgiving.

  2. Hatchet says:

    Thanks for reminding me, Hondo. Definitely, one of my all-time favourite movies. A very Happy Thanksgiving to all adorable-deplorable TAH denizens.

  3. KoB says:

    I give Thanks for the Blast from our Past Hondo!

    Thanks for the reminder of just how ancient many of us are?…! “Just take these old records off the shelf…”

  4. CRS says:

    The comment about Project 100,000 reminds me of my time at Ft Lewis in 1966-’68. As a young Artillery 1LT I was the OIC of the Mortar Committee at the Infantry Training Center. One Monday morning as I approached the training area I heard the voice of SGT Gonzales. I had expected to hear the voice of SSG Ledbetter. Then I realized Gonzales was speaking Spanish! SFC Camancho, the section OIC, approached me to explain that these were Project 100,000 trainees, but they were not dumb. They were all of Mexican descent from south Texas and southern CA. They just did not speak English! SSG Hernandez had conducted the introductory class earlier, all in Spanish. Gonzales was now giving the gunnery commands in English then in Spanish . Other than that the class was proceeding normally. Long story short: That platoon of Project 100,000 quickly began to respond the the English commands and as qualified as 11C Mortar Soldiers with better scores than a normal group. We weren’t that lucky with the next group as they were not Mexican. I recommend that most of the second group be recycled as 11B or as sandbags.

  5. Graybeard says:

    I remember when I first heard it on the radio.
    For some reason (high-school aged boys are stupid, ‘K?) I was awake at 2:00 a.m. and had my radio on, when the DJ played it in its entirety.
    It was too long for regular play in the daytime slots, as they needed/wanted more commercials then. That changed as the song’s popularity rose, I believe.
    Surprised still I didn’t wake my brother laughing.

  6. Boiling Mad CPO says:

    A few years ago, I brought up on a website called “Rally Point” this very question on Project 100,000. Only we in the Navy called them Cat 4. Rally Point is a place where service people can ask some question and see what other service people think about it.

    Well, my question was in 2 parts.

    1. Does any one remember Cat 4 people and what happened to the ones in your outfit.

    2. Does any one remember when the Navy Reserve recruited a person and than offered them a slot in Hospital Men Core School or a discharge to go Army and become Helo pilots. This atually happened.

    One of my answers came from a bird colonel who misread the questions and thought I was attempting to tell about a Cat 4 going to Helo school. Talk about not reading well.

    This was during the period of ’68’ to ’72’.

    My spiel as a recruiter was “do you want to go to HM school for 8 weeks, got to Nam, and be killed in 15″, get paid $100 per month, or go to Helo school for 18 months, get paid as a warrant officer, go to Nam, and be killed in 10”. I also offered that the war could be over by than. Guess which one ALL of them took

    To be clear for anyone misreading this , like the Col, all of the helo students had a combined score thru the roof.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Mother rapers, father stabbers, father rapers… sittin’ on the bench next to me!

    I’m just sittin’ here in the Group W bench, I mean, I’m sittin’ here on the Group W bench ’cause you wanna know if I’m moral enough to join the Army, burn women and kids’ houses and villages, after being a litterbug.

  8. nobunny says:

    Happy Thanksgiving Hondo!

  9. When the movie came out, I was working for an A/C outfit out of Hicksville, Long Island and we were doing work in a movie theater up in Conneticut and they were showing the movie along with Midnight Cowboy back in 1969.

    • David says:

      Station KXOK got on a kick of play Inagaddadavida, full version, EVERY WEEKNIGHT, at 10PM. After a couple of weeks of this, became a good reason to listen to any other station at 10. Eventually DJ Johnny Rabbit said “if they fire me, they fire me!” and played ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ instead. He got fired. Fan protest was huge, he got rehired, fans were happy, and few realized it was a great publicity stunt. St. Louis, summer of ’72

  10. rgr769 says:

    Ahh, yes, Project 100K, the program to enlist the semi-retarded into the Army. The only thing missing is trying to train them for MOS’s that require an IQ greater than 90.

  11. timactual says:

    When I first heard that song I, too, snickered at the stupidity of the local police getting so overwrought about a little (1/2 ton is little?) littering. Several years later I moved to rural Massachusetts,and my opinion changed. One such incident may be a cute joke, but when you constantly see your environment degraded with bags of garbage by the side of the road it ain’t funny or cute anymore;
    First offense with a small amount—jail time and fine.
    Second offense or large quantity (1/2 ton, for example)–capitol offense.

    • Hondo says:

      Second offense or large quantity (1/2 ton, for example)–capitol offense.

      I seriously hope you are exaggerating this for dramatic effect, timactual. Because if not . . . IMO you really need to think this one through.

      Yes, the government has the power to sentence those convicted of crimes to death (the recent SCOTUS decisions limiting the death penalty have gone too far IMO). But outside of UCMJ offenses, that sentence should only be reserved for a short list of especially heinous crimes – and even large-scale unlawful dumping of trash is not on that list. I personally can only think of maybe half a dozen crimes that IMO would qualify, and some of them would require repeat offenses before they became capital crimes. (The UCMJ would include a few more military-unique potential capital offenses, such as misbehavior before the enemy, desertion during wartime, and some others.)

      Larry Niven wrote a short story titled “The Jigsaw Man” 50+ years ago. If you actually believe what you wrote, IMO you really need to find and read it – and then think about the possibilities.

      Be careful what you advocate, lest it become reality.

  12. Sparks says:

    Thanks for the fond memories Hondo. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

  13. I used to know the entire thing by heart and recited it many times on the front porch of our Vietnam Veteran guitar player.
    I still remember most of it like I still remember the CDB “Uneasy Rider” “I wonder if anybody’s think I flipped, if I went to LA, via Omaha” !!!
    Good times in a town where hogs and cattle each outnumbered people in both species !!!

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