When Kevin Vreize reported for Army induction in Houston seven years ago, he refused to take the one step forward, and thereby became a draft evader.
He was told refusal to take the oath would mean a visit by U.S. marshals and prosecution. Within two weeks he had moved to Toronto, where he has tried to make a new life for himself.
Vreze, 19, now a student at the University of Toronto, is one of the few Vietnam war resistes who benefit from President Carter's pardon eight days ago. Deserters and those with less than honorable military discharges are not affected.
For the first time, Vriege can go home. But like many draft evaders in exile communities in Canada, Sweden, France and elsewhere, he has no immediate plans to move back to the United States.
He plans a short visit to New York city during a long holiday weekend next month "to kind of get my feet wet." But Vrieze now feels that his roots are in Toronto.
Vrieze and other draft evaders attending a conference here this weekend denounced the Carter pardon as not going far enough. It does not affect an estimated 100,000 deserters, whose cases Carter has said should be reviewed individually.
"It was only because I expressed my resistance to the war before induction and refused to step forward that the pardon allows me to go back," Vrieze said in an interview. "Other guys didn't form their ideas about resistance to the war until after they were in the Army, and so they became deserters. It's not fair that they aren't pardoned, too."
Jack Colhoun, an Army deserter who has been one of the most active war resisters in Toronto, told the conference that he is "mad as hell" about the limited pardon "and I'm not going to take it any more."
Colhoun, a Watertown, N.Y., native who has been in exile for seven years, said President Carter is still punishing those who resisted an immoral war while rewarding the architects of that war by naming them to Cabinet posts.
Referring to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, a deputy defense secretary in the Johnson administration, and Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, who was a secretary of the Air Force under President Johnson, Colhoun said, "Carter rewards these war criminals and calls upon them to formulate his foreign policy, while at the very same time he continues to punish deserters . . . I and other deserters are not war criminals. We did not desert the American people. It was the war planners like Vance and Brown who deserted the American people."
Colhoun's angry sentiments were echoed repeatedly today by speakers representing deserters, evaders, veterans with less than honorable discharges and war protesters who have been convicted of criminals acts.
The New York-based National for Universal and Unconditional Amnesty, which organized the conference, had hoped 400 resistors would make it to Toronto, but heavy winter storms in central Canada cut first-day attendance to about 200. Participants managed to arrive from as far away as France, Sweden and Vancouver, however.
Conference participants hope to forge a united response to the Carter pardon before they leave.
Pat Simon, whose son was killed in Vietnam in 1968, said: "Our sons would be alive today if our government had listened to what the resisters were saying and had stopped the war."
Simon said she came to Toronto Boston "to represent the hundreds of Gold Star parents . . . who are not comforted by the punishment of those who refused to participate in the war. We will not allow our grief to be used to prolong the anguish of those who rejected the violence that took our sons.
Steve Kinneman, who deserted from the Army in Bangkok in 1967 and who is now in exile in Sweden, called for veterans to mobilize throughout the United States.
"Our demands today," Kinneman said, "are universal and unconditional amnesty, honorable discharges for all Vietnam-era vets, a single type discharge, and reinstated and improved GI bill of rights."