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Often jailed anti-nuclear activist dead at 74


Samuel H. Day Jr., an award winning reporter, editor and political activist, died Jan. 26 at 74. Day was among the first journalists to report about the full extent of the threat posed by the United States’ nuclear arsenal in the late ’70s.

Day’s many acts of civil disobedience led to multiple jailings and months of imprisonment, even after the age of 68, when he was legally blind and in frail health.

Day served as managing editor of The Progressive in 1979, when the monthly political magazine based in Madison, Wis., was legally enjoined from publishing an article about secrecy in the U.S. nuclear weapons program. The magazine insisted that all the information came from public sources. After six months, the federal government dropped the case, and the article, “The H-Bomb Secret,” was published intact.

In 1982, Day reported without qualification that South Africa had secretly built a small quantity of atomic weapons to protect apartheid. Eleven years later, his reporting was confirmed by the South African government.

Through the 1980s, as a director of Nukewatch, a public interest group now based in Luck, Wis., he organized two national programs to raise the visibility of nuclear weapons transportation and deployment.

One program, the “H-Bomb Truck Watch,” enabled anti-nuclear activists to track and follow the unmarked convoys that transport nuclear warheads and their ingredients on the nation’s highways.

The other Nukewatch program targeted the 1,000 Air Force Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles in unmarked underground launch sites scattered over the Middle West and Great Plains. Volunteers mapped the missile fields and organized vigils and demonstrations at the fences of the underground missile silos.

As an outgrowth of the missile silo campaign, Day and others occasionally risked arrest by entering the silo enclosures and standing on the concrete silo lids in symbolic opposition to the launching of weapons of mass destruction.

In 1988 he joined 13 other Midwesterners in the simultaneous occupation of 10 missile launch sites in Missouri. For his part in the “Missouri Peace Planting” he served six months in federal prisons.

Day was imprisoned again for four months in 1991 for entering the Fort McCoy army base in Wisconsin to distribute war crimes literature to the troops the day after the start of the U.S. bombing of the Persian Gulf.

Day suffered a series of strokes in prison that left him partially blind, unable to read or drive. But with the help of his family and friends he continued his political activism.

In 1992, he served as national coordinator of the U.S. Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu, a former Israeli nuclear technician serving 18 years in solitary confinement for telling a British newspaper about Israel’s secret nuclear weapons program.

Day received the Distinguished Reporting Award of the American Political Science Association in 1962 for investigative stories in the Lewiston, Idaho, Morning Tribune exposing abuses in Idaho’s child welfare program. In 1992 the U.S. Fellowship of Reconciliation awarded him its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Prize.

National Catholic Reporter, February 9, 2001