"Joe Gump, 1927-2014" by Joan Giangrasse Kates, Chicago Tribune, March 16, 2014
Longtime peace activist was convicted of damaging missile silo in 1987
It was while sitting in a Missouri federal courtroom watching his
peace activist wife refusing to pay $424.47 in restitution to reduce
an 11-year sentence for damaging a nuclear missile silo that Joe Gump
decided that he, too, would take what he liked to refer to as a
"retirement" in prison.
Mr. Gump ramped up his own antiwar efforts. In August 1987, 16 months
after his wife was arrested at the silo in Holden, Mo., Mr. Gump and
Jerry Ebner, broke into a K-9 missile silo near Butler, Mo. The two
men poured blood in the shape of a cross on the concrete silo, snipped
the cables to the alarm system, smashed the electrical outlets and
took a sledgehammer to the geared tracks
"That day, while many others supported our action, what it dwindled
down to was just him and me," said Ebner, who received a 40-month
prison sentence, while Mr. Gump received 30 months. "Joe was married
with children and much older than me, but was still determined to go
through with it even though he had so much at stake."
Mr. Gump, 86, died of congestive heart failure on Saturday, March 8,
at his home in Bloomingdale, Mich. An active member and treasurer of
KNOW, the Kalamazoo Non-Violent Opponents of War, he was also a
volunteer tax preparer for the elderly for the past 20 years.
He was living in Morton Grove at the time of his wife's arrest in the
1980s. He started a chapter of the Plowshares Action Group, a
nationwide movement of Christian anti-nuclear war protesters who broke
into nuclear silos and did damage to nuclear weaponry. The group took
its name from the Bible verse "beating their swords into plowshares."
"Simply put, Joe was someone who not only talked the talk, he walked
the walk," said Ebner, who lives in Omaha and remains involved in
antiwar efforts. "He sacrificed a lot, risking everything, to stand up
for what he believed in."
Jean Gump was released from prison in 1990, after 4½ years of
incarceration. They had instructed their children to sell their Morton
Grove home while they were both serving time.
In the 24 years since, Mr. Gump and his wife took part in antiwar
protests at places including the Oak Ridge Nuclear Enrichment Facility
in Tennessee. They traveled to Iraq in the early 1990s after the first
Gulf War to bring medical supplies to the children affected by the
war. The couple were profiled in Studs Terkel's 1988 book "Great
"They never stopped fighting for their causes, even if it meant
traveling to far off places," said Mr. Gump's daughter Liz. "It had
become a way of life for them."
Born and raised on Chicago's South Side, Mr. Gump graduated from Leo
High School and attended the Illinois Institute of Technology for two
years, before joining the Army in 1946. He was in Korea for several
years before the Korean War broke out. He married his wife, Jean, in
1949. The two met on a blind date in high school in 1944.
After his military service, Mr. Gump attended the University of
Illinois in Urbana-Champaign on the GI Bill, receiving a bachelor's
degree in chemical engineering. He received a master's degree in
business administration from the University of Chicago in the 1970s.
While raising their rapidly growing family, the couple moved to Morton
Grove in 1954, and Mr. Gump worked for a Skokie company that
manufactured instrument panels.
He and his wife shared a belief in social activism, though his wife
was far more fervent. They marched for civil rights and in the 1960s
and joined the Christian Family Movement, which urged Catholics to get
involved in social justice. They delivered food into the slums and
alienated some neighbors when they supported fair housing for
minorities in their own town.
As Mr. Gump rose through the ranks at work, eventually becoming plant
manager, he had less time for activism. But his wife remained active,
joining nearly a million people in New York in 1992 for an
anti-nuclear war rally. She was arrested numerous times. She blocked
the entrance to Motorola in Schaumburg and handed out leaflets and
prayed in front Morton Thiokol in Chicago. In 1985 she was arrested
with her sisters at Strategic Air Command base in Nebraska during a
Her arrest and imprisonment in 1986 spurred her husband to greater
action. In December of that year, Mr. Gump was arrested for the first
time when he and about 100 other people in front of Water Tower Place
were singing Christmas carols with lyrics changed to reflect their
opposition to American involvement in Central America.
"You begin to assign a different scale of values to things than you
had before," Mr. Gump told the Chicago Reader in 1987. "My job, for
one; earning an income has absolutely no interest to me anymore. I
think I've become much more involved in resistance to those things
which need to be resisted."
Four months after that profile ran, Mr. Gump and Ebner, calling
themselves "Transfiguration Plowshares," because August marked the
feast of the Transfiguration, when Jesus' divinity was revealed to his
disciples, cut the chain-link fence at the K-9 silo and made their
"In the end, it was Joe's sheer conviction that saw us through that
day," Ebner said.
Mr. Gump, who defended himself at trial, asked U.S. Judge Howard Sachs
for the longest sentence possible.
"I have little doubt," Sachs said during sentencing, according to a
1987 story in the Chicago Tribune, "that Mr. Gump is here because he
wants to share the punishment imposed on his wife."
Mr. Gump also is survived by his wife; three sons, William, Andrew and
Joseph Gump; six other daughters, Katherine Lage, Christine Perlin
Gump, Holly Gump, Marthe Murray, Margaret Gump and Nancy Charlesworth;
a brother, Raymond; a sister, Kathleen Johnson; 15 grandchildren and
A memorial Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. May 24 in St. Martha
Catholic Church, 8523 Georgiana Ave., Morton Grove.