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Recollections: Statue of Liberty Xmas 1971
By Jim Murphy
December 26th, 2021 marks 50 years since 15 of us VVAW members took over the Statue of Liberty in NYC. Also with us was a young reporter, Paul Fisher, from WBAI. Bob Barracca and Gene Halpern are in touch with me and I'd like word to get out to the other 11 of us that may still be alive. Mike Parker passed away in 2009. I will buy the coffee on Liberty Island but this time we will pay the cashier instead of leaving the $15 we left on December, 28, 1971. "Bring Our Brothers Home."
Reprinted from the Spring 2009 issue of The Veteran.
Motivated by hearing about the loss of Mike Parker, who was one of the four Maryland VVAW members in the Christmas 1971 takeover of the Statue of Liberty, I thought I would share my recollections of the event.
To Michele Osborne. I knew your Uncle Mike. Mike was the most clean-cut VVAW member I ever saw. He was sincere, insightful and helped with our precision. My memory of our conversations includes his reminiscing, while we were in control of the statue, about his having done duty at Governor's Island USCG and falling asleep at night waiting for the Lady's arm to fall off.
I am sad to hear that Mike has passed. He was a really fine brother. In Peace, Jim.
I was coordinator for the Maryland VVAW chapter during the period that "Operation Peace On Earth" occurred. We hammered out the week of demonstrations at Len Sproehnle's apartment in Philly. The main ideas for the Statue demo were conceived by Ray Grodecki and Bob Clarke, PA VVAW.
We camped out at Valley Forge beginning December 24, 1971 (we were big on symbolism; still are). After a great campfire and "Do you remember Boone's Farm?" fourteen of us left for NYC on Xmas Day, staged at Gene Halpern's house in NJ and took off for NYC and the Statue early on December 26th.
There were four of us from Maryland, four from PA. and the rest from MA and NY. Ray Grodecki, Gene Halpern, Bob Clarke (these three were the creative minds); Jim Murphy, Steve Juli, Bob Barracca and Mike Parker (R.I.P.) - Maryland/D.C. Dave Shafran, Bill Garvin, Andy Mellor (CT.), Tim Holmes Tim McCormack, Don Carrico (MA), Paul Fichter, and Lou Pichinson.
"Vietnam Veterans take the Statue of Liberty, December 26th 1971." Fourteen members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War "liberated" the Statue of Liberty with a sit-in to protest resumed US aerial bombings in Vietnam. They flew an inverted US flag from the crown as a signal of distress." There was one extra member, an unheard from member of Pacifica News Service.
It went like clockwork. Steve Juli and I were the first two to get on the Island along with Ray Grodecki and Bob Clarke, the gatekeepers, letting us up through the locked gate into the arm of the statue. There were two locks on the gate to the arm, one high and one low. Ray and Bob cut the lower lock and we were the last ones up the stairway which was sealed and circular. No one could see them bend back the wire mesh gate and let us squeeze in. I was first so I got to watch lower Manhattan all day till 5PM, sitting next to the lights at the top of the torch as VVAW brothers two by two came up into the arm.
By the last boat of the day, there were 14 vets and one young reporter from Pacifica standing on the ladder going up the arm. When the lights came on, it was time to move. There was an old night watchman on the first level. We told him we had peaceful intentions and that he could join us if he wished. The "Bring Our Brothers Home" leaflet was given to him but he left pretty quickly. Then we barred the doors and put up a minimal barricade with the bar metal that was available from construction of the "New Immigrants" display.
The Director of the National Park Service (NPS) was hunting in Alaska and out of contact. He and the NPS Police had jurisdiction, not the NY or NJ police, although they were said to have wanted to help. Our legal advisor, Peter Weissman (?) tied up law enforcement reaction for nearly two days letting our message play on an international stage for all three days. Ray and Bob had all international and US media outlets notified the moment we took over. The media kept the police at bay and, as we all know, we were entitled to make our continuous anti-war statements. We had to vote on taking an order of contempt. It was eight to leave and six to go to jail. I wanted to go back to the campfires in Valley Forge.
Rod Kane (DC Coordinator VVAW/DCVC) mentioned in his book Veterans Day, "neither the government nor the 15 of us realized that the doors opened outward. Our saving grace (in my opinion) was the hordes of press that were present (thanks again, Ray G.) made it impossible for a heavy-handed response."
Years later I met Sherman Adams who was the corresponding new face token for NBC (Jerry Rivers aka Geraldo Rivera was the other). He was at the desk at NBC and took a call from the White House demanding that the story not play in the evening news. Some things never change.
We have lost Mike Parker. We should find a way to reconnect. I know that this event, this crazy moment of trying to end the war and bring our brothers home, is something that we all carry with us. It was a fine moment in our lives.
Jim Murphy is a long-time member of VVAW from New York./i>