Dale E. Noyd, a decorated Air Force captain and fighter pilot who became the first conscientious objector to oppose a specific conflict during the Vietnam War, has died. He was 73.
Noyd died in Seattle of complications of emphysema, his son Erik told The New York Times for a story in Sunday's editions.
Noyd, who died Jan. 11, was given a medal for successfully landing a badly damaged nuclear-armed F-100 fighter at an English airfield. He also taught at the Air Force Academy.
But in 1966, after 11 years in the Air Force, Noyd asked that he either be allowed to resign his commission or be classified as a conscientious objector because of his feelings about the Vietnam War.
His request was denied and Noyd took his case to federal court in Denver in March 1967.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented him, said it was the first lawsuit claiming conscientious objector status because of an opposition to a specific war. In December 1967, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, saying the military had jurisdiction.
Then, the Air Force ordered Noyd to train a pilot who was likely on the path toward Vietnam. Noyd refused and was court-martialed for disobeying orders.
During his military trial, the captain's belief that the war was immoral and illegal was not addressed. The panel of 10 officers, who were all Vietnam veterans, also did not allow discussion of Noyd's humanist beliefs.
In the trial's sentencing phase, a theologian told the judges that risking one's life for a core belief, as the officers had all done in battle, constituted a religious act.
The prosecutor summarized this view as "two religions butting heads against each other." As a result, Noyd was sentenced March 9, 1968, to a year in prison instead of the five years he could have received. He was given a dishonorable discharge and stripped of his pension and benefits.
Noyd went on to teach at Earlham College in Indiana for two decades, then built a boat and sailed it to Tahiti.
Born in Wenatchee, Wash., Noyd returned to Washington state when his health began to fail.