The GI's led off the march about a quarter of 12 on Oct. 12. The monitors said "go" and they went, mostly nervous, and afraid the rain would start up again.
They were pretty quiet until they got to the top of the hill on Fulton St. Then they paused and looked behind them. For half a mile there was nothing but people, and they were still coming around the corner out of the park. 15,000 people is an impressive sight - especially when they're behind you, and with their own banners. Reservists for Peace - 300 of them. Vietnam Vets for Peace, Veterans for Peace - thousands of them.
And then the civilians, led by a color guard of 10 American flags. Priests, preachers, nuns and vets acting as monitors. An 85-year-old Gold Star mother from WW II, on crutches. Banners of teachers' union locals and others. Wives carrying signs demanding their husbands' return from Vietnam. Mothers demanding that their sons be brought home. Kids walking with their mothers. Very straight people, very serious.
The GI's were looser when they started down the hill. Two hundred of them had started the march, and along the way a hundred more came out of the crowd on the sidewalks to join them. Some were from the Presidio's Special Processing Detachment, whose CO had scheduled formations every two hours Oct. 12 to keep guys away from the march.
Then they marched into Civic Center, where 200 more GI's were waiting. They sat down in front of the speakers' truck and waited while the rest of the marchers filled the plaza.
Mike Locks, an airman from Hamilton and a march organizer, opened the rally by reading letters and telegrams from 61's in Vietnam and other places. One said, "Hundreds of GI's I've talked to here (In Vietnam) agree with me ... let me know how I can help." Another asked for information on GI antiwar actions after Nov. 15, when he gets back from the Nam.
Sue Schnall, a nurse from Oak Knoll Naval Hospital, spoke. She said the Vietnam war "means getting to know them, learning to love these guys, then losing them in a dirty, filthy war. For these reasons I plead - bring our boys home alive now."
Steve Pizzo, a marine reservist, said, "This turnout is encouraging. We don't feel so alone . . . to those politicians who want us to cover up their mistakes, I say, the day of the silent sacrifice is over." Pizzo's unit was well represented in the march.
Mike Paresi, a sailor on an ammunition ship, said, "Now's the time for us to tell Washington we will no longer condone its policies. I urge you to support our GI's in this democratic society that we are supposed to have."
Jack Michaud, an airman from Hamilton Air Force Base, told the crowd, "If we could get millions more people behind us, I think we could stop the war in Vietnam or a war anywhere else where they're going to kill innocent people. And I think GI's more and more today are seeing this - they don't want to keep on killing people."
David Kleinberg said, "I spent 14 months in Vietnam as a combat correspondent for the 25th division. I speak for hundreds of Vietnam vets who are here and the thousands more who'd be here if they could. One of the guys who marched here today has a Silver Star with valor, a Bronze Star with valor and four Purple Hearts. He had 47 bullets or pieces of shrapnel in his body. He's 40 percent disabled. And this is exactly the point I want to stress to the American people. They can't say that we don't know what its about, that we're cowards. We went there. We saw what it is. And we say it is wrong."
Kleinberg, who was heavily applauded by the crowd, went on to describe an NLF mortar attack on Cu Chi in which two of his buddies were killed. He said, "When Burns stumbled out of that bunker into the arms of Larry Craig, he didn't mumble 'those bastard Viet Cong' - he didn't mumble 'those bastard Communists'-he didn't mumble 'those slope-eyed bastards.' He mumbled only one thing over and over; 'That bastard Johnson. That bastard Johnson'."
Lt. Hugh Smith, another of the march organizers, said, "We do not intend to slander our supreme commander. We're just going to tell It like it is."
John Fingado, with the Coast Guard at Government Island, said the late Martin Luther King said, "revolutionary change would be impossible in this country unless the military were split. Well, I want to say, we're well on the way toward splitting it."
Donald Duncan, former Green Beret master sergeant, then spoke. He called Oct. 12 "something of an anniversary for me. It was three years ago that I first publicly spoke out against the war in Defremery Park in Oakland. The mass media kept asking, 'Why just you?' Here's your answer . . . GI's are protesting ... The demonstration is unique, but I guarantee you that by next month this unique demonstration will only be called the first of its kind. And although it is unique, it's not isolated. And the numbers (of protesting GI's) are increasing, here and in Vietnam . . This is not just another student mobilization . . . this was started by, led by and organized by activeduty GI's, reservists, Vietnam vets, veterans of WW II and Korea. As important as the other marches have been, I think this one is really going to be a hallmark, it's going to be a turning point.
"And the fact that this has taken place during a political campaign is extremely important. Many of us feel we have no representative for whom we can vote .... This is the first time GI's and civilians have gotten together. We're really rattling their cages. GI's are giving the lie to the contention that the antiwar movement hates GI's . . . This demonstration, as has been demonstrated by the military themselves, in preventing their own soldiers from coming here, has shown just how far up the wall this demonstration is putting them. I'd like to see all of us continue to keep giving them a boost up that wall.
"We're not just protesting the war in Vietnam; that isn't enough. There's a whole system we're protesting here: The system that got us into Vietnam in the first place. We're demanding other things, and we'll get them."
Duncan got a rousing cheer from the crowd when he called for an end to conscription and the heave-ho from campus of ROTC.
Pete Seeger, the famous folksinger, then played his "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," a well-known antiwar song, and led the crowd in "Oh Freedom." Between songs a collection was taken for which the GI's gave along with everybody else. One GI pledged 10 percent of his year's salary to the march; several gave $100. Two civilianspledged $1,000 each. The money will be used to pay for legal expenses and to publicize our next action.
Gen. Hugh Hester called the Vietnam war illegal, immoral and genocidal and demanded the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. "There's only. one aggressor in Vietnam, and that's the Johnson administration," he said. The crowd cheered Hester when he described the U.S. military as a world gendarmerie and said American imperialism had taken over the French role in Vietnam.
But the crowd showed its disappointment through jeers when Hester tried to offer up Nixon as what he admitted was a poor choice as a lesser evil than Humphrey or Wallace.
Hugh Smith then drew one of the biggest hands of the day when he said that telling about his own political choice "would probably start a revolution in this country." Smith ended with, "For the first time in war-time, GI's have come out against national policy. GI's have entered into the fabric of American politics. Welcome every single one of you."
Task Force, no. 3