From Vietnam Veterans Against the War,

[Click When Done Printing]

Download PDF of this full issue: v44n1.pdf (21.8 MB)

Vietnam Protests, Kent State, and Nixon's Cambodian Invasion 1970

By Daniel C. Lavery

Dan Embree, a West Point graduate, joined me and other Academy graduates to form a peace organization opposed to the genocide in Vietnam called Concerned Academy Graduates. He resembled Abe Lincoln, at six feet three, penetrating eyes, and chiseled chin. Twenty members founded the group that included Ed Fox, an Annapolis classmate, and Hastings' law student. We held a press conferences voicing our opposition to the Vietnam debacle. Embree, studying for a PhD in English, gladly wrote position papers. We decided upon the wording on our petition to Congress to remove our troops from Vietnam.

At one of our meetings on the University of California Berkeley campus, a group of loud disrupters suddenly entered and shouted, "We're the gay liberation army and demand to be heard!" They made so much noise we could not hold our own meeting. We had already decided on our purpose before the interference, so we disbanded. Long afterwards we learned that this incident appeared as one of many Republican Party dirty tricks in a Freedom of Information request filed by the ACLU.

As I drove home, I saw a man with a sign in the back window of his truck where he had a rifle mounted with a peace sign that called it "Footprint of the American Chicken." I zoomed up in front of him with my convertible containing "Vets for Peace," a peace sign, and "Vietnam Vets Against the War" bumper stickers. He jumped out and confronted me. Face to face with an angry old man with gray hair, a white tee shirt with an American Flag, and faded jeans. He screamed, "I lost my son in Vietnam! You peacenik punks deserve to die."

Thinking he might do something crazy I quickly said in a measured tone, "I am a Vietnam vet. I'm sorry you lost your son."

Tears streamed from his face, "I want the protestors to know my son's life was worth something."

"Everyone's life is precious, mister."

He turned around and slowly walked back to his truck shaking his head. I knew he had a rifle and was distraught. Stunned by such emotion, I raced to my car, jumped in, and sped off leaving one of the endless confrontations Americans had about Vietnam. How ugly that could have been had he led with his weapon without hearing my words.

Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace both held rallies, press conferences against the War, and marched at every peace demonstration. It surprised me to find my name mentioned by KCET after the camera caught me saying at a press conference, "The United States has unleashed its military monster on the Vietnamese people killing over two million Vietnamese men, women, children, and babies while we have lost nearly 50,000 Americans in a civil war. Please support our effort to bring the troops home and stop this destruction." The announcer added, "Dan Lavery will be speaking at the demonstration and hopes a large number of the public will join the Concerned Academy Graduates, Vets For Peace, and Vietnam Vets Against the War this Saturday at noon." How quickly my name became associated with peace marches marveled me having just arrived in Berkeley in August 1969. Media power amazed me that I had a public identity in such a short time.

Berkeley Campus had many demonstrations that caught the attention of progressive crowds. "People's Park" was a small plot of land used for speeches, planting vegetables, and protesting. It became a line in the sand for demonstrators and the establishment. Police in riot gear had blinded a student there, injured many others, and brutalized the crowd with their nightsticks and tear gas. Mario Savio, an eloquent spokesman dating back to the Free Speech Movement a few years before, urged the crowd to stop the madness of the "odious machinery of the state," in Vietnam or on campus. Peace advocates in the hundreds shouted, "One, Two, Three, Four. We don't want your fucking war."

On April 30, 1970, President Richard Nixon demonstrated his dishonesty in telling America he was the peace candidate for the 1968 presidential election when he ordered the invasion of neutral Cambodia. Students, peace groups, and the growing outraged public joined in massive demonstrations to protest this blatant abuse of military power, rejection of the mood of the public, and world opinion. Protests dominated the news. Hastings College of Law, many colleges, and high schools marched and shouted disapproval of the escalating American war machine Nixon led.

On May 4, 1970, the shooting of unarmed college students by members of the Ohio National Guard left four students dead. Seventy-seven National Guard troops from A Company and Troop G, with bayonets fixed on their rifles fired 67 rounds killing four students aged 19 and 20, wounded nine others—one suffered permanent paralysis. Four million students waged a student strike. Hastings faculty responded by making exams optional and allowed us to make speeches, join peace rallies, and do draft counseling. We led detailed presentations to the students, answered questions, and gave them information how to claim conscientious objection. Some were patriotic and equated that emotion with a requirement to support the President no matter what he ordered. We knew this from first-hand experience, challenged blind patriotism, and showed them how military officers opposed the Vietnam War.

At a televised peace rally for VVAW in San Francisco behind hundreds of protesting vets, I marched to honor former member of the House of Representatives, George Brown, opponent of the Vietnam War, read my anti-war statement, and threw my Vietnam medals into a coffin. We believed our protests were the most patriotic actions we could take against the Nixon Administration's abuse of international law.

VVAW member Daniel C. Lavery graduated Annapolis, navigated a Navy jet and ship, turned peace activist, and civil rights lawyer for Cesar Chavez's UFW. His memoir, "All the Difference," describes his experiences.

[Click When Done Printing]