Chez Bennett Deck Farm is Soaked
Happy Fourth of July, Everyone

REFLECTIONS: 1970

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the bi-weekly Reflections column for Time Goes By in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation. He also publishes a weekly column, Gray Matters, on aging for Newsday.

Does anyone remember when a president and his cronies tried to take our Independence Day from us? It happened on July 4, 1970 and I was there.

That was the year when the era, the values and the spirit known as the Sixties reached its climax – for good and for ill. The Beatles broke up, but protest, the stuff of freedom and democracy, was in the air. So was caring, for lives, for the future, for peace and for the earth.

On April 21, with the sainted Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin leading the way, the nation celebrated its first Earth Day and the environmental movement came of age. But less than a month later, on May 4, four students were killed and others wounded at Kent State University, by the jittery members of the Ohio National Guard sent by Republican governor, James A. Rhodes, to quell a campus protest with loaded rifles. What happened was inevitable.

You must remember the photo of a young woman, Mary Vecchio, screaming over the body of a fallen student, Jeffrey Miller.

KentState1970

The kids at Kent State, as well as students on other campuses, were protesting Richard Nixon’s decision to widen the Vietnam conflict with the unauthorized bombing of Cambodia and an invasion of Laos, which revealed that U.S. forces had been secretly fighting – and dying – in Laos in violation of the law.

Following the Kent State massacre, campuses everywhere exploded with angry, shocked protest; even the kids at my daughter’s middle school walked out. And thousands descended on Washington in some of the largest protests ever seen in the capital. Richard Nixon, who couldn’t sleep came out of the White House in the early morning to talk to students camping near the Reflecting Pool.

The students reported that the president seemed high on drugs and spoke to several of the protesters not about why they were there, but about the surfing near the western White House in California.

Anyway, as July 4 neared, there was fear in the White House and among supporters of the war that Americans might mark Independence Day by protest or by petitioning their government to hear and pay mind to their grievances. Imagine! Free speech, dissent, on the day the nation celebrates a revolution? That could not be.

And so, the Rev. Billy Graham and comedian Bob Hope, two of the nation’s most eminent cheerleaders for the war and for Richard Nixon and his “silent majority,” agreed to co-sponsor their substitute for Independence Day. It was called “Honor America Day, ” as if it dishonored America to honor the First Amendment.

The same White House cabal that was already at work against the anti-war movement in an illegal effort that became Watergate, helped organize Honor America Day to give aid and comfort to Nixon, his thieving vice-president, Spiro Agnew, and to charge that the millions opposed to the war were subversive and un-American.

Veterans organizations, Republican groups, religious types, the Boy Scouts and other professional patriots called thousands to the Washington Mall near the Lincoln Memorial. I doubt if they knew much about the union Lincoln saved. Only a few visited the nearby memorial to Thomas Jefferson who gave us the right of revolution and whose words are inscribed above his statue: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

Billy Graham gave the keynote address and noted that Nixon, from his White House window could see the crowd. “That’s the one nice thing about America, “ Graham said. ”You can get a crowd like this together without a football game and what a gathering.”

July 4 that year fell on a Saturday and I was pulling the weekend duty at the Knight Newspapers Washington bureau. It fell to me to do a story on the gathering, but I needed a fresh angle.

What I did was circulate a phony petition seeking signatures from people in the crowd. I told people I represented a group called The Sons of Liberty, and I showed them the petition which read something like this:

PETITION

“As the Declaration of Independence says, the people have certain unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed. We believe that whenever any government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it and form a new government that will provide these rights. Please join in our appeal.”

I left spaces for people to sign, but couldn’t get more than two or three signatures. Most of the dozens of people I approached were suspicious that I was some kind of anti-war activist. I assured them that was not my purpose and still most refused on the grounds that, “it sounds subversive. I’m not for overthrowing the government.”

When I told them that the petition simply echoed the words of the Declaration of Independence, some were embarrassed, others just shrugged but still declined to sign; “I don’t sign petitions,”they said. On this Independence Day, people were afraid to sign a petition.

But I remember most clearly an encounter with a young civics teacher from the Midwest who had brought with him a number of his students. They were gathered about us when I asked the teacher if he would sign my petition. He read it carefully and refused, telling me, “I can’t agree with that.” I told him and his students, “The words and ideas come from the Declaration of Independence.”

I showed him the relevant passage from a copy of the Declaration. “You tricked me,” he said. His students laughed at his discomfort. But I think he learned something. And I had a story.

Fortunately, Honor America Day died with that day. From then on, Washington got back its Independence Day with all the bells, whistles, music and fireworks on the Mall, as John Adams intended. Unfortunately, the killing in southeast Asia went on for five more years.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today: Nancy Leitz: The Ring.

Comments

I remember that. I was 19, and didn't pay much attention to the news bck then.

I remember being in Washington that year, following the Kent State killings. What I remember now are scattered bits of things - a woman on a concert stage, protesting that women there for the protest had been raped; she was booed offstage. I remember being in a long line in one of the colleges that let us in to wash up, and a woman, a girl you could say, commenting on how bourgeois she felt, being there to protest but also being anxious to get her deodorant on and her teeth brushed.
I remember, too, we were all camping someplace. It had been, for many people, a late night of concerts and partying. Somebody came through very early, saying that our permit to be there had been rescinded, and we had to leave.
All over the streets of Washington for the rest of the day (my memory is suggesting May 1), overtired kids and students walked the streets of WAshington, DC, stopping in parks to catch a few Z's or just to rest, and being told, Move on.
Somehow I ended up at a protest - in my memory now, the only way I knew it was a protest was that the cops were teargassing the crowd, and an injured girl couldn't get out to get help.
I have no memory of how I hooked up again with my friends to come home. As we drove through D.C., we passed a classical statue of some sort - a horse? a sculpture? not a war-hero type monument. It had been defaced with graffiti, and one of the kids crammed with me into a Beetle said, "If that's the revolution, I don't want any part of it."
**
It's not a very impressive story. And yet it's the story I think we need to re-create to regain responsiveness from our government.

Thank you for a reminder of how easy it would be to lose the Democracy we claim to cherish. I think we came close to it again with the lawless Bush Administration.

We must be ever vigilant.

Oh yes -- I remember that spring and summer. I was living among very poor people on the Lower East Side of NYC at that time. One of my friends was a severely disabled woman who'd been terribly burned in an auto accident. Her face was a mass of scar tissue and she had hooks for arms. Many people didn't know how to react to her and consequently she was shy and sometimes seemed in another world.

Somehow she heard there were going to be protests of the war in DC and wanted to go. She got herself on a bus for the May Day demonstrations.

When the bus came back, she had a whole load of new friends. People had taken her under their wings, kept her out of harm, and she felt she'd found a community.

The reason (one reason) she was living on the Lower East Side in such poverty was that her son was in prison for draft resistance.

Wasn't that a time ...

Wow, Saul, that was your petition and article? I certainly recall how embarrassed I was that our citizenry didn't recognize their own Constitution; but, I was 32 and not of the generation. More power to you!

When 1970 began, I was 22 years old and had just returned from Vietnam. I hadn't kept up with the news for months and was completely naive regarding the political and social issues of the day (including the antiwar sentiment that prevailed). I was shocked and couldn't understand what was going on when protesters jeered at the planeload of vets walking across the runway area from our ride home and into the San Francisco airport. It literally took me years to "get" it......

I was very worried during the Nixon presidency that he had in mind becoming a dictator. We had a friend who said he'd rather have a president who was a dictator and effective rather than one who was foolish. Dictator? What was he thinking. Then Nixon resigned and I thought maybe I had been silly to worry. As more and more comes out about his time in office, who he was, his ideas, I feel my worry wasn't foolish. We should never hold our freedoms lightly but too many times people do and sell them at unbelievably cheap price.

I was a senior at the University of Denver in 1970 where Woodstock West was what the press dubbed the earnest but failed protest on our campus.

People of our generation usually know about the killing of white students at Kent State, but fewer seem to recall the deaths of black students at Jackson State .

I wonder how many signatures you could get on your petition today.

Too young for WW II, to old to be a hippy. "Either too grey or too grassy green" I was 36 in 1970 and according to Jerry Rubin (the activist and stock broker) too old to be trusted. I wanted to take part in the protests against the war but was looked on with suspicion by what would later be the "Baby Boomers".
What still fascinates me is how brainwashed I was by WW II propaganda. I wanted to go and fight the Japanese but the war ended before I could register for the draft. I felt cheated - no chance to be a hero so when the Korean War started I joined the Marines as soon as I could. Was I the only boy in my age group who felt like this?

I CAME HOME WOUNDED FROM NAM INTO A NAVAL HOSPITAL SHELTERED FROM THE PUBLIC DISPLAY AND DISRESPECT ON THE STREETS. I SOON LEARNED FIRST HAND HOW UNGRATEFUL OUR AMERICAN CITIZENS WERE. THEY ALLOWED THE POLITICIANS AND THE DEMONSTRATORS TO DEGRADE OUR EFFORTS. MANY SUFFERED UNBERABLE GUILT AND DISPAIR. IT HAS BEEN OVER 40 YEARS FOR ME TO TRY AND SORT THAT OUT. WHAT CIVILIZED CULTURE ALLOWS 55 THOUSAND BRAVE CITIZENS TO BE SACRIFICED BY THEIR POLITICAL LEADERS AND THEN ALLOW THE PROTESTORS TO ATTACH THE SURVIVORS WHEN THEY RETURNED HOME? FORTUNATELY, SOME OF US SURVIVED BUT NOT WITHOUT HARM AND SUFFERING. FREEDOM NEVER HAS AND NEVER WILL BE FREE. OUR CITIZENS ABANDONED OUR VIET NAM HEROES AND FED THEM TO THE DISCONTENTED MASSES. THAT IS DIFFICULT TO ENDURE.

I was at the rally as well...hitchhiked from Long Island NY with 7 other high school seniors...we went to support our tropps, later enlisted in the Air Force
no regrets...right thing to do
funny how we are made out to be the bad guys..but the untold good we have done for others seems so easily brushed under the rug

Mike

A minor correction....then stage was actually on the grounds of the Washington Monument. I was in attendance with my family and we were tear-gassed 3 times that day. The police were trying to control the protesting "Yippes," who then threw the canisters back at police and into the crowd.

I was a Marine Corporal with about 200 other Marines that were stationed around the Washington Monument, all locked and loaded. As far as the stage, it wasn't at the Washington Monument but a short distance away, I would guess about 350-400 feet. As far as tear gas, I witnessed two times that it was used. Once on the other side of the stage away from the Washington Monument and again towards Georgetown but that was quite a distance from the Washington Monument and all we could see or hear was the gas clouds rising in the distance with a lot of yelling. Some of our unit was sent to the Georgetown area, which was a very confusing scene but one thing that did stand out was some young women on a balcony opening up their robes with nothing on and yelling to us to 'Make Love Not War'. I thought one of my buddies was going to bolt right then and there to join them. LOL

It was a day of high tension but, overall, it was a peaceful protest in our general area around the Monument. Just a lot of protesting, yelling, speeches, and singing but there were a few obscenities as well as some spitting at us.

As a personal reflection, I had already decided that I would never fire at another American over their political beliefs, no matter what the consequences to me. I was not alone in that decision.

What I regret is that, as a nation and as a government, we haven't learned from our experiences in Vietnam as it relates to the current day Iraq and Afghanistan. Our young men are fighting and dying in a conflict that we cannot win in an area of the world that will never be trustworthy to help protect American interests.

The day Bush made his announcement back in October 2002 to invade Iraq, I turned to my wife and told her that this was a mistake that we will be regretting in another 5-6 years when we find ourselves in a war we can't win. The sad thing is that Bush never really cared about our troops, only trying to do what his dad had been criticized for not doing and that is getting rid of Saddam Hussein. I'm no political genius, just a country boy from Alabama, but I saw that from a mile away.

We will be in Iraq and Afghanistan in some shape or form for the next few decades, well after I am dead and gone. I just hope to God my grandchildren are not put in harms way for this misguided effort.

I was there...
I remember good times and good people.
My mother took a bunch of kids, my two sisters and brother, teens and I was four.
I laughed at Bob Hope and cried with Billy Graham's words and saw amazing things, all the people of everyway was there.
Everyone had a smile for a four year old boy.

There was alot of anger but also alot of care.

I remember smearing my face with an ice cream cone because I fell on a cannister spewing gas. That was the best ice cream cone I ever had.
I searched this site out because my sister becky wanted to remember.
Love you Becky. David.

I was there that day as a performer. I was 21 and a member of the Marine Corp Drum and Bugle corp. We actually openned the show and I recall having Bob Hope graze my arm as he walked onto the stage in front of a million people for this live televison broadcast. We performed the Star Spangled Banner and then the Marine Corp Hymn and exited the stage. The show had begun. Back Stage we had a little time to mingle with the stars including Jack Benny, Red Skelton, Barbara Eden, and all the musical talent in the schedule. We stayed until our bus transport came to return us to Marine Barracks 10 blocks away from the Capital. Once we had returned to the barracks we changed out of our uniforms and returned to the monument on foot. We approached from the Capital side of the Washington Monument and came down the hill on the back side of the Monument towards the stage. We could barely see the stage from the tops of the croud, but we could clearly hear the protesting screams "OUT NOW" "OUT NOW" "F--- Nixon" F--- Bobe Hope". It was clearly an overwhelming protest ovasion that was intended to disrupt the live broadcast.It did just that and we were gassed just for being observers. I know this was funded by the Marriot Family and it was intended to return pride to being an American. I was unable to realize the political undertone of that event at the time but we did feel the tension of the event and how determinned the American people were to demand an end to the Viet Nam conflict.Being a Marine and performing in the show was a great honor. Being a Marine in that crowd and being protested against on one side and being gassed as a protester on the other was a very interesting and dificult position to be in.I will never forget that day.

Thanks for conjuring up some memories. I was there as a 19 year old who just finished his freshman year. I remember the Left branded the event as Dishonor America day. I think I remember estimates of 500,000 people in attendance. Some of the most vivid memories are of the white middle class parents with kids in tow vomiting as they ran from the tear gas. Of course the gas was meant for us but once sprayed it follows the wind, and who knows which way the wind blows.

As I recall the tear gas got fired off as Red Skelton gave his " Pledge of Allegiance" skit. I remember the families running and the kids wrapped up in blankets and crying. I thought the wind blew the cloud over to where we were on the Constitution Ave side of the Washington monument. Didn't realize that the yippies had thrown them back at the crowd

My sister and I remember being being there with our parents and other siblings, and the mass confusion as the tear gas hit the crowds. A memory we will never forget, sparated and alone. Out troops deserve honor and respect for all their sacrifices and losses in the Vietnam War!

I was there that day. I remember everything.

What I most remember was being a 17 year old who grew up in the suburbs of D.C. and following the 'crowd'; growing my hair and smoking weed and mouthing ignorant protests against the war and America because people like you told me to. I went to the Mall with a wounded Vietnam vet - lost an eye to grenade fragments and had a permanent limp due to an SKS round through his left leg - and saw the Grateful Dead and other bands play for free, and had to listen to that jerk Abbie Hoffman screaming against everything America stood for.

I remember the American flag rolling papers making their debut that day as I sat on a branch of one of the huge, ancient oaks on the Mall near the Washington Monument and watched a guy farther out on the same branch dump a burlap sack of joints out over the crowd of 'fellow travelers'.

I remember meeting up with a bunch of other Vietnam veterans, most of them with some wound or disability, and then get carried along as they saw a bunch of ignorant Yippies waving NVA flags and started smacking heads and tearing up those standards of our then-enemies. The vets were there to protest the war, not America, and certainly not to betray their dead brothers-in-arms and fellow combatants still over there.

I remember chaos breaking out as the day turned cloudy and the D.C. police formed lines and started shooting tear gas into the 'hippie' crowd. And the rain start to fall just as the gas was wafting over us, so it got into our eyes and mouths. And seeing bricks appear out of nowhere, flying through the air at the cops. Where did bricks come from? The D.C. area around the Mall was spotless.

I remember wondering about all the things I had been told by the 'cool' people, and what were the lies and who was telling them, and I remember thinking that my brother was with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment fighting in Vietnam while I was here watching people call him and his fellow soldiers baby killers.

I remember then thinking that maybe the 'with it' people in the free press, like you, were lying cowards who disparaged the truly decent folks in this Nation so you could look cool and 'with it'.

Yeah, I remember all of it.

I remember the day like it was yesterday. Some friends took the bus with me from NYC to Washington DC to celebrate July 4th, 1970 and have a peaceful sit in on the lawn across from the White house and protest the Vietnam War. The hilly lawn was dotted with blankets full of people having picnic lunches. Some were dancing to music and lots of small children were playing, dancing, napping, etc. All of a sudden, out of the blue, many police on horseback came riding through the groups, shouting and shooting tear gas into the crowd. People had to quickly grab their children, blankets, etc and started running, some falling. It was terrible. Before the police arrived it was a beautiful peaceful gathering. No one was yelling, some held signs, but it was nothing like the protests at Berkeley Feb. 2, 2017 or the terrible destructive protests in the streets after Trump was elected president. All citizens need to relize Free Speech, the free speech we marched for in 1964-66, means free speech for ALL, not just those you agree with.

I was there for what was billed as the 'Great American Smoke-In" at the Washington Monument. I drove my VW bug to DC from upstate NY, via NYC. There were 5 people in my bug, and 6 when we left NYC. LOL. We got there around 6AM, on 7/4, , and there were already freaks next to the Monument lighting up joints. I was against Nixon, the Vietnam War and enjoyed the "counter-culture." But I could never be comfortable with some of the hard-core leftists waving Viet Cong flags..Some friends of mine got drafted and sent to Vietnam. I thought the goal was to 'bring the boys home,' not indulge in chanting for an enemy that was killing men my age. I remember in the evening near the Monument, Kate Smith was singing God Bless America and there was a riot going on, with tear gas and screaming by tens of thousands of people. I remember thinking: this is incredible, SURREAL. I remember one hard core type wearing a football helmet, and throwing tear gas back at the cops. I remember naked Yippies wading up the Reflecting Pool toward the Lincoln Memorial during the day, chanting "F*** Billy Graham! I really was not OK with some of what went on, but people were incredibly stoned on various psychedelics, including me, and we just watched, amazed. I was 20 years old.

That was the day I was truly radicalized against the system. 17 years old and had hitchhiked from Wyoming to Atlantic City a week or more earlier. Found out about the 'Smoke In' and hitched over there with a Jewish kid from New York and two girls in their Volkswagen bug to DC on the night before or on the 3rd. What I remember was violence from the start. No sooner than we exited the VW when over a hill in front of us ran a couple of hundred kids with cops on horseback riding through their midst and smashing heads with clubs. People were dropping like rocks. We got caught up in it so fast it was crazy. It was a running riot all night, or at least I was caught in it, and the Nixon administration goons were out in full force. So were we. Witnessed experienced yippies help fight back the cops and throwing tear gas back at them. Trust me, they were intent on pummeling anyone who got in their way. All night that went on.
4th of July they stopped (or at least at the monument) and let the demonstrators smoke their pot. I kept watching the periphery and saw the riot police forming their ranks just watching. It was all peaceful surrounding the Washington Monument until noon hit, or there about, and they dropped tear/pepper gas on us and moved in for more rioting.
I don't know if they were pissed because we broke up their big corporate/Bob Hope gig but I would think it was all the times and Nixon's fear of the left wing. Glad for the experience. To this day . . . Screw the System.

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