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April 24, 1971: Washington, DC
By John Retallack
These are photographs I made at an anti-Vietnam War demonstration on the Mall in Washington, DC, on April 24, 1971. Long ago, I know. There were 200,000 of us there that day. The event was organized by several anti-war organizations. But the major event was the previous week. It was organized by Vietnam Veterans Against the War and was titled Dewey Canyon III: A Short Incursion Into the Country of Congress. It was an important step in the campaign to end the war in Vietnam.
VVAW members were on the Mall in Washington, DC from April 19th to April 23, 1971. There were important events. Gold Star mothers (who had lost their sons) marched to lay a wreath at Arlington Cemetery (denied). VVAW members threw their medals on the Capitol Steps. There were meetings with congresspersons including Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm and many others including Ted Kennedy. Some even visited the campsite. John Kerry, spoke before the Senate Foreign Relations committee. His speech is still available on YouTube.
I was not there until the day after. I came to Washington from New York City on a bus loaded with mostly young wannabe protesters. This event was organized by several other anti-war groups. Our four-hour trip started at 6:00 am. There was the opportunity to make new acquaintances, talk, sing and sleep. We all had different agendas. I had my camera and spent the entire day photographing. It was a photo opportunity for me. Having just graduated college, I was beginning my career in professional photography; in advertising, not journalism. Nonetheless I was against the war in Vietnam. I was a veteran in service before Vietnam and served in Germany in the Army Medical Corps. I was there just long enough to see some of the first seriously wounded treated in the major Army hospitals.
On Saturday, April 24 many of the VVAW vets stayed to meet and march with the new arrivals, 200,000 of them. Many VVAW members mixed and marched with the newcomers, adding meaning and legitimacy to the day. Their presence gave great significance to the proceedings. You could feel the excitement in the air. The upside down flags, an officially recognized signal of distress, were visible everywhere. Some of the new arrivals were older veterans who had experienced Korea and WWII. Everyone wore buttons from one or another organization. All were serious. They had come to see and to be seen. There were numerous spontaneous conversations, marches and demonstrations.
My entire time was spent watching and photographing.
Now in retirement I have the opportunity to accomplish things I have always wanted to do. I have made an artist's book of the photographs.
I am currently a VVAW member. I was in the Army Medical Corps stationed in Germany 1962-1965. After discharge I went to college and studied professional photography. I then moved to NYC to pursue a career photographing for advertising. In 1980 I began a career teaching at the college level which brought me to Rochester Institute of Technology, in the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences. I am now retired and am pursuing a career in fine art photography.