Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Lies and Poetry and Blood on Campus


President Nixon announced he was ordering troop withdrawals from Vietnam. Soon the media was reporting that the Army First Infantry Division was coming home. This was the Division Joe Rubio served in and our expectations grew he might be deactivated from that war sooner rather than later.
He wrote me on January 24 concerning this rumor.
“I better tell you a little about this supposed to be pullout of the 1st Division. The latest word we heard was if you weren’t about to go home anyway you wouldn’t be going. What they are doing is taking people from other divisions who are just about finished their tour and putting them in the 1st division for the pull out. The amount of first division people going is about 2%. The rest of us will be transferred to new divisions. I know for the people back home this will be very disappointing, many of us feel the same way. The thing that gets me is how they can tell all the people back home these things knowing they aren’t true. Oh, some of the 1st Division is leaving, but all of its men are staying and being put in new units. So now all I can do is resume my old count down and hope the time goes fast. By the way I am down to 163 days now.”
In February, Eugene McCarthy appeared on the “Today Show”. “Clean Gene” was the first person I heard that verified what Joe had written, that the withdraw was not a true withdraw because the troops who came home were coming home anyway because their tour was up.

Joe noted on the plus side he had been promoted to E-5 Sergeant. His brother John arrived in Germany on January 10.

At this point in my life I had become very left wing politically. I was frankly almost an anarchist and Joe’s reveals about what was going on in the Army only made me feel more antigovernment. Adding to my distrust and disgust with our leaders was the trash crisis then going on in Philadelphia. The collectors had gone on strike when the Mayor named a new Commissioner without consulting the union. Trash and garbage was piling up about the city and spilling over the pavements. Meanwhile, there was no decent school system in the city, no smooth transportation and no entertainment to speak of, and a policeman named Rizzo was becoming far too powerful. I viewed Rizzo as a threat to freedom and justice and that he was wrong in thinking his heavy handed tactics would cure crime.

Becoming ever more radicalized, Lois and I became active with the Social Action Council through the First Unitarian Church in Center City. The first Sunday we walked into this institution we found ourselves not in a usual Sunday service of hymns and homilies, but in a rehearsal for a planned Vietnam protest in Rittenhouse Square. It was a die-in, where we participants would lay scattered about the park representing the dead killed in the war. It was still the waning days of winter and the grounds and pavements of the park were icy cold to lie upon as if a casualty.
Lois and I got very enthusiastic about a program to buy Black Action Bonds in support of Black Capital. We viewed it as one of the best ways possible to aid the African-American community since we believed their plight was mostly economic. It was the program's idea that if we Whites and the church participated with this bond objective we would help the Black community to reach economic equality with society as a whole.
As far as I know that program faded into failure, but that particular church is still actively leading social protest and holding fast to the philosophy of the late 1960s. More recently they have taken up the cause of Black Lives Matter.

Many people today think the country is about to explode; In 1970 it did explode; in fact, there were a number of bombing as Sping was blooming: two in Maryland, one in Pittsburgh, one in Wisconsin, three in California and four in New York all within later weeks March. On the 13th alone there had been 400 bomb scares in New York.

 It snowed Easter morning at the rate of 2 inches an hour before changing over briefly to rain and hail, then back to snow that dropped another 5 inches of the white stuff. I still had no job and a car that would not start. My dad came into Philly and picked us up and we stayed at my parents through dinner. Dad took us home around 8:00 PM.
It was an unpredictable stormy March in mores way than one.

It was a month later, on April 14, that I attended the premier at Quince Pie (I believe they actually spelled it Pye). My article on it was published a week later in "Philadelphia After Dark".  It was around this same time I received a letter from Young Publications requesting I send them some poems to be published in an anthology they were planning. My poetry had been published here and there, including readings on a weekly radio show called Personal Poetry. Hosted by David Allen. It was broadcast on WEFG-Stereo out of Winchester, Virginia. It was my guess the editors had learned of my poems from that.

The Anthology was published later in the year, a 301 page hardbound book sampling a number of American poets. It was called Dance of the Muse: A Treasury of Modern Poetry. It was published by Young Publications, Appalachia, Virginia and edited by Jeanne Hollyfield. Two of my poems were included in the volume, “Touching” and “Song in the Graveyard”.

In early May I received a letter from Joe Rubio asking what I thought of Nixon sending troops into Cambodia. I didn’t write him back immediately because I couldn’t afford stamps.

Meanwhile, the violence in the states continued to percolate. On May 4, students at Kent State in Ohio held a protest against the U.S. incursion into Cambodia. Several members of the National Guard, who were there to keep order, opened fire, most shooting into the ground, but some fired into the crowd and four students were killed and nine additional were wounded, one of whom was left paralyzed. This garnered much media coverage and became something of a symbol of the times, especially the image of a female student on her knees wailing over a fallen body lying on the pavement.
Less than two weeks later, on May 14, students at Jackson State in Mississippi, a predominately Black College were also protesting the war's spread into Cambodia. When a rumor was circulated that Medger Evers' brother, Charles Evers and his wife had been killed, the students rioted, setting fires and throwing rocks at passing cars. Fireman trying to control the fires called for police backup. The Jackson police, Mississippi State Troopers and the National Guard descended on the campus. Chaos apparently resulted and the police opened fire, killing two and injuring 11. The Jackson State Massacre didn’t get the media attention that Kent State received and is sort of forgotten today, but it was one more indication of the tensions and violence of those times.

From my letter to Joe dated May 17:  We’re used to getting casually figures from Vietnam, now we get them from the home front as well. Four students at Kent State in Ohio, 11 at Jackson State in Mississippi, instances of confrontation, colleges closed down, construction workers attacking student demonstrators on Wall Street, etc, and so forth. Our country is losing its cool; going out of its collective head, who is talking sense anymore? Hardly anyone. And there isn’t a soul listening.”

On May 11 Joe Rubio became one of the troops sent into Cambodia, where he remained until the 14th.
Have we really progressed much today?

1 comment:

WARPed said...

I was barely a teenager in 1970, and it was a very confusing time to grow up in.

I remember H. Rap Brown agitating in Cambridge, Md. (and thought that was a cool name!)

And on my daily commute to work, I pass close by to the Knights Of Columbus hall where the Berrigan Bros and the Catonsville Nine burned draft records.