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Huge Protest Is Staged At Fort Dix
Wrightstown, N.J. (LNS) -- For 20 glorious minutes on the afternoon of Oct. 12, 1969, a liberated beachhead was established inside the eastern perimeter of the sprawling U.S. military base at Fort Dix. For the columns of nearly 10,000 people who marched on to the base before being stopped by bayonets and tear gas, the action was a brief but striking triumph.
This army of civilians, made up primarily of young people and led by a contingent of 100 women, ran into the first line of military police in an open field nearly one mile inside the base. The scene that unfolded there in the next few minutes was unlike any other in American history.
Two armies meeting face-to-face on a grassy drill field, young people with the tips of bayonets inches from their home. Because of the tremendous sympathy for the marchers among the 32,000 GIs stationed at Dix, the 759th Military Police Battalion, half of all the MPs at the base, were put on restriction Sunday. They could not be trusted in a confrontation with civilians.
The Army brass was forced to call in riot control troops from Ft. Meade, Md. (the same elite unit that was used to defend the Pentagon two years ago), and the 82nd Airborne from Ft. Bragg, N.C.
But perhaps the most encouraging throats, talking to their brothers in uniform. Telling them they had come to free the men who had been thrown into the stockade for resisting the war in Vietnam, to free all military and political prisoners, and to bring the troops home now.
Two more truckloads of military police were rushed into the line as the MP's tightened their formation and fixed their gas masks. Then the first white puffs of gas dotted the air. It was signal for retreat, not panic. More gas guns erupted along the line and a heavy cloud spread across the battlefield.
Coughing, temporarily blinded despite makeshift gas masks, prodded by rifle butts and bayonets, the civilians withdrew to the road where they reformed and marched toward the main entrance of the base for a short rally before heading development of all was that 375 prisoners were transferred or released from the Ft. Dix stockade in the days immediately preceding and following the march. Another effect of this massive demonstration of support for GIs was that men in the Special Processing Detachment were given weekend passes for the first time. This detachment includes AWOLs awaiting trial or just released from the stockade.
The march began at noon with a rally around the GI coffeehouse in Wrightstown. Speakers from the Rainbow Coalition -- Black Panther Party, the Young Lords Organization, the Young Patriots -- the Resistance, the Committee to Free the Ft. Dix 38, and other groups addressed the crowd.
At one point during the speeches, two GIs in uniform appeared at the edge of the crowd and asked what was taking them so long. "The guys have been waiting all afternoon for you," said one of them.
The column moved eight abreast down Ft. Dix Street, Wrightstown's main thoroughfare. There were people of all colors and ages including more than 100 GIs who had defied orders restricting them to base for the day, but mostly the marchers were young and white.
Along the way, they picked up more people: construction workers, kids, a couple of guys who worked in the local hamburger joint. According to one of the coffeehouse organizers, the march has completely turned the town around in support of the coffeehouse and the GI movement.
Townspeople brought buckets of water up to the base when they heard people had been gassed. It will be some time before all the effects of the march can be calculated. Clearly, it has given a tremendous boost to the GI movement at Dix.
As one of the organizers said, "We had an awful lot of new faces at the coffeehouse the next day." After all the recent factionalism in the movement, the name calling, the antics and downright stupidity at times, how could it be anything else but rejuvenating and hopeful to see 10,000 brothers and sisters moving together, serious and disciplined, caring for each other, and clearly unified on the objectives of struggle?
GI Press Service, vol. 1, no. 10