by Erin Hogge 4.1.2020
Frank Hines Gilliam is a 79-year-old Vietnam War veteran who hails from Hinsdale, Montana, where he grew up working on his family’s ranch. He graduated at the top of his high school class of 10 and later studied at Montana State University. A registered Republican, he typically votes for the Republican candidate and plans to “hold my nose a little bit” and vote for President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential general election. He said he always tries to vote for the “best person” for the job, regardless of political party.
Q: Why did you register for the Republican Party?
I grew up in the state of Montana and it was kind of a very rural area… . It was pretty much self-reliance. You didn’t look for the government to take care of you, or anybody else. You had to take care of yourself. I didn’t have spending money, so I did odd jobs… . Everybody worked; we always had plenty of food to eat because everyone had gardens. World War II was not far behind us… . In those days, Republicans kind of stood for “no reliance on the government” and “controlling your own destiny.” Of course, in the state of Montana, a lot of the governors were Democrats because the big cities had a lot of unions, which have always been believers in big government… . In the Democratic primary they had in Virginia this year, [my wife Carol and I] voted as Democrats for Michael Bloomberg. I was trying to help him out. Of course, I’m … in the minority of thinkers. Most people in the Democratic Party think, “Well, he’s just trying to buy the election for himself,” but I think his purposes were good… You know, the media doesn’t give [the candidates] a break… . There’s no such thing as a level playing field [in politics]; they talk about it, but it’s hard to find one. You’re always trying to make it uneven and tough for your opponents.”
Q: Did anyone ever influence your decision to vote or for which party to vote?
“Probably my family and my relatives…. [My dad] didn’t grow up in a political environment because he was an orphan by the time he was 6 years old, and he lived with relatives and they treated [him] as an indentured servant. So he kind of ran away from home at about 13 and was on his own. And my [mother’s mother] died shortly [after] childbirth with her and she was kind of raised by her older sister, who was five or six years older. She left home as well, and in World War II was living in Indiana working for the United States Rubber Company and she met my father there. I think he was a truck driver for a laundry service. But neither of them were dumb people — but neither of them had a high school education…. I think to a certain degree we’re all kind of influenced by our families.”
Q: What was your very first voting experience like?
I first voted in the presidential election between [Lyndon] Johnson and [Barry] Goldwater. My frat brother in college was an avid follower of Barry Goldwater and often talked about his book “Conscience of a Conservative.” The media hurt Goldwater I believe by using his quote regarding the virtue and vice of being a conservative. It was implied by media that he would lead the U.S. into a war with the Soviet Union, and Johnson won by a large margin as I recall. I voted absentee, as I was on a tour of duty from mid-1964 to June of ‘66 in West Germany, and I voted for Barry. I was in Army flight school in November of 1963 when JFK was killed, and we were all deeply saddened, regardless of who you voted for. Training was suspended for a few days, as I remember.
Q: How has the voting process changed since you first voted?
“You can vote now if you’re 18… . What else has changed? Well everything, from the way that politicians present their programs and plans. I mean, there was television — you could watch the debates and things when I first voted — but it’s become much more sophisticated in the coverage and the expense.
Q: What was it like voting from Vietnam while you were serving your country?
“It’s interesting. When I was in the military, people tried to avoid any outside demonstration of any one political party. You’re in there, you’re defending the Constitution and the people of the country and it doesn’t matter how they vote. You’re defending them all. I think I voted absentee because the Army always had a voting officer and they made sure that everybody had access to the absentee ballots… and I had to talk to the men in my unit and give them a little pep talk on voting, although I’m not sure it did much.”
Q: How do you stay informed about political news?
“I watch TV, both Fox News and NBC. I still use AOL and I pay a little fee every month and I get a lot of news when I log onto the internet. And I get magazines that have that kind of information in them as well. I get AARP for the liberal [opinions] and the Military Officers Association of America [for the conservative opinions]. The internet is full of it, but you can’t believe everything you get on the internet. If you do, do so at your own risk.”