1968 — Active-duty members of the military march in uniform in San Francisco against the war in Vietnam

The March

 

On October 12, 1968, members of the military, wearing their dress uniforms, marched in San Francisco against the war in Vietnam, along with approximately two thousand civilian supporters.  

 

In contrast to many other anti-Vietnam war demonstrations organized by committees of students, workers, teachers, professionals and others, this demonstration was conceived of and organized by active-duty military personnel: the "G.I.s For Peace."

 

Mutiny in the Presidio

 

Two days after the "G.I. March," as it has come to be known, a mutiny of 27 Army soldiers in the Presidio stockade took place.  Conditions in the brig had been deteriorating for some time as more and more inductees went AWOL, were convicted as "deserters," and imprisoned.   A spate of suicides and suicide attempts had taken place in the stockade, demonstrating the mounting anguish created by the guards' brutal treatment of their military brothers.  One prisoner was so distraught that he committed suicide, shot by an armed guard as he ran away from a prisoner detail.   The 27 Army soldiers' "mutiny" consisted of a nonviolent sit-down protest in which they planned to voice their grievances. Though the protest went peacefully and according to plan, an officer, Captain Lamont, ordered the twenty-seven protesters to be physically carried off to their cell-blocks. All but five prisoners were convicted of mutiny and received sentences from six months to sixteen years. More than a year after the sentencing, the convictions were overturned, but only after the demonstrators had suffered brutal prison conditions, marked as "deserters."

 

Veterans and on-duty military as part of the world-wide anti-Vietnam war movement

 

In spite of the punishments heaped upon them, protesting soldiers continued to march against the war in Vietnam. They joined the world wide Vietnam Peace Moratorium on November 15, 1969. The San Francisco Moratorium peace march was held simultaneously with other large demonstrations around the country and the world, including 500,000 in Washington, D.C. Unlike earlier marches, this one had the clear stamp of labor and left wing organizations. The Communist Party of the USA appeared openly with their own banner. Labor union locals, teachers, students, librarians, engineers, scientists, doctors and health workers all carried banners protesting the war in Vietnam.

 

 

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Susan Schnall, unsung American hero

Photographing the Oct 12 G. I. march, I was struck by the presence of a Navy nurse who had been prominently placed in the front row of active-duty protesters at the head of the march.  I didn't know her name, but her striking good locks, poise and the sense of purpose she projected captured my attention and that of my camera.  I researched her for this article, and found out that on October 10, she had dropped thousands of leaflets about the march on five Bay Area military installations, including Oak Knoll Hospital, where she worked, caring for wounded Vietnam veterans.

Susan was court-martialed after the march for dropping the leaflets and disobeying orders not to wear her uniform in anti-war protests.  She received a sentence of six months at hard labor and dismissal from the Navy.  The Navy decided, with uncharacteristic wisdom to keep her out of prison and have her work as a nurse for six more months at Oak Knoll.  Although she continued to later work as a nurse part-time, she has spent her life since 1968 organizing for Veterans' medical treatment, educating communities about the disproportionate burden of war on the poor and minorities, assisting in documenting and treating victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam, just to name a few aspects of her amazing commitment to veterans and others.  Some of the groups she has worked with include the Medical Committee For Human Rights and Agent Orange Relief.

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Active-duty Navy Nurse Susan Schnall at the October 12, 1968 G. I. March in San Francisco.

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Young G.I. for peace at the march staging ground

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WW II veteran at the G.I. march.

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He spoke at the G.I. March rally. 

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Enigmatic man at the G.I. March staging ground.  

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Every march has to start somewhere.  This one was staged in a park.

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28,286 soldiers dead at this point.  58,220 by war's end

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Pete Seeger entertained us enroute with banjo picking and freedom songs

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General "Hershey Bar" at the G.I. March staging ground.  William "Bill" Matons was a modern dancer active in the thirties.  He was a also a professional calypso dancer, promoter, and night club owner in the 40s and 50s.  In the 1960s he adopted the name General "Hershey Bar."  He kept the name for the rest of his life, and most of the time, when in public, he wore his "uniform" and stayed in character as part of his anti-war street theater.

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At the head of the march, Susan Schnall 

More pickin' and singin'

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Showin' some spirit!

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An admirer plants a kiss on Susan Schnall

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The marchers generated a lot of interest walking through residential parts of the City

Medics against the war

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What's a party without balloons?

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The City Hall rotunda in sight

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We seemed to be welcomed wherever we marched

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The line of march.

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The G. I. March of 1968 ended at Civic Center Plaza

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A couple on the G.I. March, selling the Guerrilla, a New York newspaper "mixing humor, politics and music under the circus big top of surrealism and pop culture."