Thursday, April 12, 2012

A photo story of the largest march on Washington

story and photos by Mike Marcellino

It was the fall of 1969 and I had a Dodge Coronet 500, light blue, or aqua, and a Hurst five speed and already dropped a clutch.

While the newspaper, The Painesville (Ohio) Telegraph, the oldest newspaper in the Western Reserve, east of Cleveland, didn't assign me, I volunteered to cover the march against the Vietnam War in Washington. D. C. on Saturday, November 15, 1969.  Hey, after all I had volunteered to cover the war itself for the United States Army.  I had only been back from Vietnam for a little more than a year and the first six moths I drove from one corner of the country to the other in my Coronet 500 with an Indian-Chinese girl I had married in Singapore.  The trunk was full.  I had a lot of vinyl. I was trying to unwind and land in some town as a newspaper reporter.  I'll never forget an editor of a California paper telling me he couldn't hire me because I hadn't covered politics.  Yea, I just covered a war.

Now, this being a piece I am blogging, I decided music would be appropriate at this time. So, rather randomly, I'm listening to Cat Stevens' "Wild World (1970)." He's well known for his conversion to Islam to become Yusuf Islam, but the British singer songwriter was born Steven Demetre Georgiou, 21 July 1948. He had a Greek-Cypriot father and a Swedish mother.

So, here's "Wild World" by Yusuf Islam. Cat Stevens is back so to speak and the world goes on.

The tires on my Coronet 500 were bald and we decided to make the trip to D. C. at the last minute to do a photo feature story for the weekend magazine, "Telegraphic."  We (photographer Dennis Gordon and I) ran into a blizzard on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and all I remember is endless seas of fluffy white lit by my headlights and the windshield wipers going back and forth.  This wicked snowstorm reminded me of how the Huey helicopter pilots described night flying on their "Firely" missions to stop the VC from infiltrating troops and supplies into the Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam.  (The last of the U. S. troops pulled out in 1973 and South Vietnam fell to an invasion of the North Vietnamese army two years later.)  

All I could think of was the bald tires and staying on the road winding through the Allegheny Mountains.  We got into D. C. at 4 o'clock in the morning.  I pulled over on the side of the road somewhere.  It was pitch dark and nothing was moving.  We woke up a few hours later to the banging of police billy clubs on fenders of my Coronet 500.  I don't remember where we put the car, just somewhere away from the Capital.  

It was crystal clear but cold, in the 30s, but by the end of he day it was bitter.  The day turned out to be historic in a number of ways.  An estimated 600,000 people marched and filled The Mall between the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument.  And, other than some teargassing of demonstrators later in the day at DuPont Circle, the day was peaceful.  It was the largest march on Washington in our nation's history.  

Can you imagine waiving the Taliban flag and marching on Washington today? Or, maybe a flag of peace in a neutral color would work.  Those flags of a different color today may be the Arab Spring and Occupy and other such protests around the world. People want their rights and they don't want wars.

I'll never forget at the end of the day, looking at the courtyard in the Department of Justice complex filled with tanks and troops.  I'll let these photos, first published on November 21, 1969 tell the rest of the story.  The image of the Viet Cong flag framing the U. S. Capital building seems to tell the story of our nation's longest war.  

A few weeks before the march on Washington The Beatles released "Come Together."  Well, people did though it took some years but finally they ended the bloody war.

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare

- The Maha Mantra