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By 1969 and 1970 demonstrations against the war in Vietnam were a nationwide phenomenon. In May 1970 four students were killed by National Guard troops at Kent State. In April 1971 Vietnam Veterans Against the War, led by John Kerry (later US Senator), camped on the Washington Mall (they called it "Operation Dewey Canyon") to demonstrate their opposition to the war. Fully aware of the symbolism, decorated veterans cast off medals they had earned in Vietnam. John Kerry testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the importance of ending the war.
On Memorial Day Weekend of that year, the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, again led by John Kerry, decided to create another visual, symbolic protest against the Vietnam War by retracing the April 19, 1775, route taken by Paul Rever from Boston to Concord (actually, Revere made it only to the outskirts of Lexington) - but the veterans were going to do it in reverse. They spent their first night in a bivouac at the National Park in Concord. During the day they practiced "guerilla" theater in Concord to "bring the war home." In Lexington the Board of Selectmen did not permit them to do "guerilla" theater. They instructed the veterans to walk into town single file. They unanimously voted to deny them the right to stay on the Lexington Battle Green.
All afternoon Saturday Lexington residents swarmed onto the Green. The day was a clamor of discussions and debates with clergy, townspeople and members of the town government that lasted into the evening hours. After nightfall, there were still hundreds of people on the Green. Many townspeople chose to find sleeping bags and spend the night. Upon instructions of the Board of Selectmen, the police chief ordered everyone to leave the Green. At 3 A.M. on Sunday morning 458 veterans and townspeople were arrested and taken by school buses to be jailed at the Public Works garage on Bedford Street. Later that morning, those arrested were again taken in school buses to a special Sunday session of the Concord District Court where most pled guilty to disobeying a town bylaw and were fined $5, "the cost of a night's lodging," as Concord Court Judge John Forte put it.
The Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), a national veterans' organization, was founded in New York City in 1967. Organized "to voice the growing opposition among returning servicemen and women to the still-raging war in Indochina," it grew, according to the VVAW, to a membership of "over 30,000 throughout the U.S. as well as active duty GI's stationed in Vietnam." The VVAW came to national attention in the early 1970's with a series of events and protests.
The VVAW's history of the Vietnam War, available on their website, describes the VVAW veterans' views of that war and their strong opposition to it. For further information, see www.vvaw.org.
For oral histories relating to the VVAW, see these interviews:
- Bob Barbanti
- Vietnam veteran discusses his experiences in Vietnam, the culture of the soldiers.
- Chris Burns
- Vietnam veteran discusses lack of purpose as infantryman in Vietnam during two terms of combat.
- Bestor Cram
- VVAW organizer now filmmaker describes how he became a conscientious objector
- Chris Gregory
- VVAW organizer, former Air Force MedEvac, talks of the formation of VVAW
- Jerome Grossman
- Businessman and national political organizer; founder of Mass PAX, and VVAW financial supporter
- Arthur Johnson
- VVAW organizer, served in the Navy, describes function of VVAW
- Sheila Hopkins
- VVAW member, wife of soldier, joined husband in protest
- John Hopkins
- Discusses his experiences in Vietnam, traumatizing effect of war
- Gary Rafferty
- Vietnam veteran discusses traumatic Vietnam experiences, post-traumatic stress
In 1991 Lexington resident and historian Eugenia Kaledin was stirred to mark the twentieth anniversary of the 1971 Memorial Day mass arrest and bring it to public view. She felt that it was a significant moment in the town's history, yet one that had mostly disappeared from the public's memory, marked only by a brief and incomplete entry in the Lexington Town Annual Report for 1971.
She arranged with Cary Memorial Library to mount a small exhibit in a case outside the library's Thoreau Room. The case would contain various artifacts related to the event, including a poem by John Walters about this arrest, a copy of Thoreau's essay on Civil Disobedience, and a comment by David Godine explaining that Thoreau wrote this essay to help his neighbors understand why he had been arrested during the Mexican War, and to explain that it was no whimsical gesture, but a protest of the extension of slavery, which the Mexican War represented. When the Persian Gulf War broke out that same year, the library wrote to Kaledin and said that it would be inappropriate to put on an exhibit of dissent at that time.
A group of Lexington residents then joined Eugenia Kaledin and created Lexington Oral History Projects, Inc. (LOHP) in 1992. The group's goal was to document the 1971 event. The following is what Lexington Oral History Projects ultimately accomplished:
Members of the Board of Lexington Oral History Projects:
- Recorded the memories of over 60 participants and observers in the events of 1971
- Consulted with noted historians
- Held seminars to explore issues of dissent and democracy
- Raised over $85,000 from foundations and individual contributions
- Made several short documentary films based on interviews
- Co-produced an award-winning documentary film that was shown at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival and was the winner of the New England Film Festival at the Museum of Fine Arts in 2001. It was screened for Lexington residents in May 2001.
- Kay Bell
- Nancy Franklin Earsy
- Lenore Fenn
- Eva Gordon
- Bonnie Winton Jones
- Eugenia Kaledin
- Norma McGovern-Norland
- Rochard Robbat
Sixty-six people who participated in the Memorial Day events and their aftermath were interviewed by LOHP between 1993 and 1999. All of the project's oral histories are available for viewing. In addition, 39 interview transcripts are available here as printable PDF files. All of the transcripts have been edited for coherence and clarity.
- Al Armenti
- Amelio (Al) Armenti is a resident of Concord. He had been involved with other peace-related activities before 1971, and he was president of the Federation for Fair Housing and Equal Rights in Massachusetts.
He talks of his decision to join his draft-age son who wanted to march to the Green with the Vietnam veterans. They ended up spending the day -- and, because they were arrested, the night -- together. Both believed the war was an unnecessary war.
The atmosphere among the protestors throughout the day, he says, was light-hearted. He talks about his impressions of the hours spent at the Department of Public Works and the Concord District Court on Sunday morning.
His activism continued after 1971. He discusses the activities of Concord residents to protest other national foreign policies, and his belief in the tradition of protest at the local level, including Town Meeting.
- Bob Barbanti
- This interview focuses primarily on the experiences this Vietnam veteran had in Vietnam. The memories still burn in his mind, as if the war had barely ended.
He was under eighteen when he joined the Marine Corps. He talks about the views of his fellow soldiers, the culture of soldiers and ex-soldiers, and the aftereffects of the war. Many of his Vietnam experiences were brutal and unsettling; all of them were intense.
He outlines his progression from somewhat of a conservative when he was raised, to what he considers a political "radical." The Vietnam experience, he says, is what changed him, and gave him many new ways of thinking about history.
- John Buehrens
- At the time of the interview in 1994 John Buehrens was serving as president of the Unitarian-Universalist Association. In May 1971 he was a student minister at Lexington's First Parish Unitarian Church on the Green.
Many in the church worked in the peace movement. The just-retired minister at First Parish, John Wells, was a co-sponsor of the Shea-Wells Bill, a legislative attempt to have the Vietnam War declared illegal. It was ultimately unsuccessful.
Buehrens recalls the turbulence of that era as it was reflected in the different views of parishioners. He describes the impromptu service he conducted on Sunday morning of Memorial Day weekend before a very small congregationthe regular minister and much of the congregation were in jail.
- Chris Burns
- Chris Burns is a Vietnam veteran who joined up when he was 17 years old, with no fixed ideas about what the war was about.
His experiences changed him, and afterward he joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War and became an activist. He describes his two stints in the infantry, his impressions of the Vietnamese people, the lack of purpose he felt as a soldier, and the emotional aftermath of the war for him personally.
He makes thoughtful comments about the motivations of the press, citizens, and public officials involved in the Memorial Day 1971 events. Despite holding strong anti-war sentiments, he says he understands the experiences that may have led Lexington officials to take the positions they did.
He expresses deep appreciation of the Lexington citizens who supported the veterans by being arrested.
- Robert Cataldo
- As Chairman of the Lexington Board of Selectmen, Robert Cataldo was a key figure in the events of May 1971 on the Lexington Battle Green.
The son of an Italian immigrant who farmed in the town, he describes what the town was like when he was young, and notes how much it has changed since then.
A veteran himself of World War II, he discusses his feelings about veterans who demonstrate against an ongoing war, his decision to make arrests on the Green, and the consequences of these actions, personally and politically.
He details his disaffection with the local clergy during that time, and other issues that provided the framework for a clash of values: the influx of residents with different ideas about town governance, changes in ethnic composition, and attitudes of "outsiders" toward what was in his view the sacredness of the Green.
- Frank Cavatorta
- Frank Cavatorta discusses his experiences in Vietnam as a combat soldier in a forward firebase. Only a month after he got married, he was drafted. He went, he returned, and tried to forget.
A Lexington resident in 1971 he says his "sanctuary" here was "invaded" when the Vietnam Veterans Against the War came to demonstrate on the Lexington Green. He was not affiliated with that group, or with any veteran's organizations, although he participated in therapy offered by the Veteran's Administration. He did not sympathize with anti-war protests or demonstrations, saying he felt his experience was different from all those he heard descibed.
He does not consider himself political, and has never questioned the reasons for the Vietnam War. If everyone served equally, he says he would serve again.
Note: at Mr. Cavatorta's request the transcript of this interview is available at the Cary Memorial Library in Lexington, Massachusetts and The Center for the Study of Violence and Social Consequences at the University of Massachusetts at Boston but not online.
- Noam Chomsky
- An internationally known linguistics scholar and thinker, and Institute Professor at MIT, Noam Chomsky is also widely known as a political activist.
As a Lexington resident -- although he says he spends relatively little time in the town and isn't aware of its politics -- he went to the Lexington Battle Green because he knew the VVAW; he had known and supported them even before they were organized, and felt he needed to be present.
He discusses his involvement in the 1960's and 1970's in anti-war activities, talks about the economics of war, and how he perceives the role of governments in controlling society, particularly with regard to social protest and movements in the U.S. and in South America.
- Marion Coletta
- Marion Coletta taught art at Lexington High School. She moved into town in 1950, having chosen Lexington because of its school system.
She talks of the birth of her liberalism that led to her involvement in various civil rights and peace activities in the late 1960's and 1970's. She helped form Lexington's first Democratic club.
She reflects on her son's choices, were he to be drafted, and his anti-war activism.
One of those arrested on the Green, she recalls that many of her students at Lexington High were supportive, and that a number of them also participated in the protest.
- James Corr
- James Corr was Lexington's Chief of Police in 1971. He describes what it was like being a policeman in his early days on the force, and compares this with his later experience.
The types of crimes have changed, he relates, since the 1970's, and the number of incidents of crime have increased. His job grew more complicated as time went by, and it became increasingly difficult to satisfy both conservative and liberal elements of the community.
He discusses the special nature of the Green and the Town rules that protect it, and the importance of obeying the law at all times. He describes handling various demonstrations in the late '60's and early '70's, the strategy behind the arrests of Memorial Day weekend, 1971, and the consequences.
- Bestor Cram
- Now a Boston filmmaker (and co-producer with LOHP of a documentary based on this project entitled "Unfinished Symphony:Dissent and Democracy"), Bestor Cram was a leader of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) group that protested in Lexington in 1971.
He describes his experience as a junior officer in Vietnam (where he was not in active combat) and his growing feelings against the war. Just before his release from the Marine Corps he filed a Conscientious Objection claim, after he had already been to Vietnam.
He talks about his involvement with the Legal In-Service Project counseling Vietnam veterans, with the VVAW, and the evolution of that organization.
- Tom Curran
- Tom Curran was a photojournalist for the Lexington Minuteman in 1971. He had Memorial Day weekend off, but often used his free time to do photography. When he heard about the planned event he decided to stay around and cover the story.
He was with the Vietnam veterans in Concord the day before they marched to Lexington. He continued to cover the story in Lexington, up until the arrests in the early hours of Sunday morning. He comments that the protestors were well behaved, the protest itself was peaceful, and the arrests were orderly.
Many of his photographs were in the next edition of the paper, which, he says, did an excellent job of reporting. He also wrote an editorial, the only one he ever wrote for the Minuteman. He supported the decision and actions of town officials, and felt the Selectmen were right to prohibit the veterans from staying on the Green.
- Jackie Davison
- Jacqueline (Jackie) Davison has been active in Lexington affairs since she moved here in 1954. As Town Meeting member and School Committee member she played a role in issues that are a litany of milestones in Lexington's development during the 1950's, 1960's, and 1970's the location of what is now Burlington Mall, the shaping of Lexington Center, decisions about the nature of the high school, cluster housing, the building of new elementary schools, etc.
Many of the issues she was involved in divided the town, she says, in the same manner it was divided by the issue of the VVAW staying on the Green.
The unusual large police presence in Cary Hall when townspeople gathered to air their views to town officials was, she says, frightening an example of a lack of understanding of the true nature of the protest, and of the people who protested.
She was on the Green, but left before the arrests. She also talks about the discussions held that weekend with Selectmen.
- Mim Donovan
- When they learned the Vietnam veterans were marching through town, Mim Donovan and her husband decided to go and meet them. Later in the day, she and her daughter went down to the Green, stayed there, and were arrested.
The coming together of people -- the non-veterans -- on the Green on Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, she says, was entirely spontaneous, not the result of involvement in any anti-war movement or even in local politics. They all shared the moral conviction, she says, that the Vietnam veterans should be supported and the Vietnam War must end. Church-related friends came from as far as Roxbury to support the veterans when they heard what was happening in Lexington.
She also discusses the differences between church congregations and the activity of the clergy in the town.
- Nancy Earsy
- Nancy Earsy is a Lexington resident, and a mother, who was involved with peace protests prior to 1971. In the years following 1971 she became a lawyer. She is a former president of the local League of Women Voters.
She explains her reasons for supporting and being arrested with the VVAW, based on citizen rights under the First Amendment.
Her interview describes the sequence of the VVAW's request to the Lexington Selectmen to stay overnight in Lexington and their response, and explains the legal charges against those arrested, the pardon petition, and political campaign that followed on the Memorial Day events.
- John Forte
- Judge Forte was the judge who presided over the Concord District Court specially convened on a Sunday on Memorial Day weekend, 1971 to handle the 458 people arrested. He discusses the preparations made in advance with Lexington town officials, before the actual arrests were made.
The Judge explains the legal procedures and the meaning of certain legal terms. Protesters pled "not guilty" to the disorderly charge and nolo contendere to the violation of a town bylaw.
He fined the protesters only $5 far less than the $50 he had discretion to charge which he called "the price of a cheap night's lodging" for spending a night in Lexington's Department of Public Works garage.
- Emily Frankovich
- Emily Frankovich was working as a journalist and was also very busy in state and national politics in 1971. She was Chair of Citizens for Participation Politics, an anti-Vietnam War organization, raised funds for the George McGovern presidential campaign, and worked for Eugene McCarthy.
She describes behind the scenes campaign strategies of candidates who were supported by organizations affiliated with the peace movement.
She speculates about the socio-economic backgrounds and cultural sensibilities of various groups in Lexington that contributed, she feels, to setting one side in opposition to the other, not only in the case of the Memorial Day protest (in which she and her husband were arrested), but in politics, generally.
- Bruce Gordon
- Bruce Gordon was a newly retired high school guidance counselor in 1971. Around that time he had begun to work for the World Federalist organization, and recalls being involved in anti-war activities just before the events on the Green.
He describes how his experiences in the army during the Korean War led him to become a pacifist and later to oppose the Vietnam War. In doing this he broke with his family's tradition of military service.
One of the arrested protesters on the Battle Green, he worked afterward on the campaign to defeat Selectman Robert Cataldo.
- Eva Gordon
- Eva Gordon was born in Germany in 1922. Her memory of the events of Memorial Day weekend 1971 is colored by her having lived in Berlin through World War II. She came to the United States in 1947.
Her anti-war activism has its origins in the Quaker beliefs that she came by as a result of her relatives' involvement while she was a child in Germany.
She talks of her appreciation of and commitment to free speech and protest after having lived in Nazi Germany when speaking out could have fatal results.
Along with her husband, Bruce, she was arrested on the Green.
- Chris Gregory
- Chris Gregory enlisted in the Air Force, choosing it almost by chance, in the mid-1960's before Vietnam was on the public agenda. He became a "MedEvac," a medic who helped evacuate the wounded from the combat zone. His role was to fly soldiers out of the country, out of Vietnam.
He discusses how he gradually became aware of the futility of the war.
He became one of the founding members of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). He talks articulately and emotionally, with insider knowledge, of the growth and decision-making of the VVAW, and describes the events of Memorial Day Weekend in Lexington from this perspective.
Chris Gregory is one of the VVAW members arrested on the Lexington Battle Green.
- Jerome Grossman
- Jerome Grossman is a long-time political activist, fundraiser, and member of the peace movement who has a played major role in various grassroots political movements.
For many years he was a businessman, the CEO of the Massachusetts Envelope Company.
The prime organizer of the Vietnam moratoriums, he helped establish the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). In this interview he talks about a march in South Boston by clergy and the American Civil Liberties Union to support the rights of draft resisters.
He also recalls urging Eugene McCarthy to run for President, and helping Senator John Kerry (Dem., MA) begin his political career.
- Kenneth Hale
- Although MIT linguistics professor Kenneth Hale lived in Lexington, he says he was for the most part unaware of local politics. So he was caught by surprise when the Board of Selectmen ordered arrests of townspeople who were on the Battle Green to support the Vietnam veterans.
He recalls how he came to believe in the importance of resisting "any illegitimate authority." It was after he became acquainted with an Australian labor organizer while researching Aborigine languages. Hale learned first-hand about Australian officialdom's treatment of Aborigines. Thereafter he developed a new way of thinking, and when he came back to the U.S. began to work with the anti-Vietnam War movement.
The views he gained are, he says, in marked contrast to those he had grown up with in Arizona, where he was insensitive to the ongoing struggle of Native Americans.
- Sally Hale
- Sally Hale had been involved with the peace movement before moving to Lexington in 1967. In the early 1960's, after she and her husband returned to the U.S. from Australia, she grew opposed to the war in Vietnam, prompted by discussions at a "women for peace" conference.
Along with her husband, she had become "politicized" when they were in Australia, where they met a person who held what to her were radical political beliefs. Those kind of ideas, in particular her opposition to the Vietnam War, led some members of her family to consider her a "traitor."
A mother of young twin boys, she became caught up in the activities of Memorial Day weekend after hearing about what was unfolding on the radio. She immediately joined the group on the Green Saturday afternoon, leaving the evening's support of the VVAW to her husband.
- John Hopkins
- John Hopkins was at the Lexington Green in 1971 with his wife Sheila. A Vietnam veteran and member of VVAW, he had joined the army almost on impulse, having decided to make a dramatic change in what he describes as a troubled youth.
His memories of Vietnam recall the film "Apocalypse Now" in many respects: the scenes were horrible, senseless, and surreal. Among the soldiers there was a lot of drinking, and drugs were easy to get. No one seemed capable of satisfactorily articulating their mission.
The Vietnam experience marked a lot of veterans. Some of the casualties, he says, are not listed on the Vietnam Wall memorial because they died afterward, of self-inflicted wounds, both literally and metaphorically.
His personal salvation came in the form of the comradeship he found in the VVAW. The strength of the VVAW, the feelings of shared emotion and optimism about bringing about an end to the war were at their height, he says, around the time of the arrests on the Green.
- Sheila Hopkins
- Sheila married John Hopkins when he returned from Vietnam. He was concerned about the war and joined the VVAW right after his return. It was important to him, as Sheila Hopkins came to recognize, that he talk with other veterans about the horrors of that war.
Her brother was never able to deal with his feelings of guilt and died two weeks after his return from Vietnam.
She discusses her support of the VVAW and describes the events of Memorial Day 1971 from the perspective of a pregnant wife accompanying her husband in protesting the war.
She also describes their involvement with a Cape Cod peace group that launched a successful anti-war protest at the local recruiting station during the Gulf War in 1990.
- Arthur Johnson
- Arthur Johnson chose to become a Conscientious Objector when sent for his second tour in Vietnam. He was in the Navy. While not involved in actual combat his ship lobbed shells one mile inland from one mile offshore for a month he turned against the war because of what he understood about the conflict, not because of what he witnessed in Vietnam, although he describes that experience as "meaningless."
He joined the VVAW and became one of its leaders, along with John Kerry [later Senator Kerry], Bestor Cram, and Rusty Sachs. He helped organize the protest in Lexington on Memorial Day in 1971, which he describes as an act of "theater." He says it was successful in no small measure because of the actions taken by the Lexington Selectmen. He is now a lawyer in Boston.
- Bonnie Jones
- Bonnie Jones came to Lexington in the mid-1960's, a choice made in part because of its good school system. It was not long before she became active in the local Civil Rights Committee, the Fair Housing Committee and the League of Women Voters.
She went with her husband to what was her first demonstration against the Vietnam War in New York in 1967. Later on she joined a group of residents who demonstrated their opposition to that war with a weekly vigil walking around the flagpole on the Lexington Battle Green.
People active in the various rights organizations had created an informal liberal-minded network throughout the town. Many of these same people were, like Bonnie Jones, among those arrested on the Green on Memorial Day weekend in 1971. These were exciting times, she recalls.
- Eugenia Kaledin
- Eugenia Kaledin describes her experience on the Green from the perspective of an American history scholar. She draws parallels between the Lexington protest in 1971 and Henry David Thoreau's Essay on Civil Disobedience. It is vital, she says, that we remember our history -- all of it, not only already sanctioned history such as the Battle Green events of 1775.
Where the Selectmen in 1971 saw a local issue, she saw a national one. At that moment, she says, they were unable to view dissent as part of our tradition, or see the Vietnam veterans as honorable or brave in making their protest against the war.
The 1971 arrest, she reminds us, was the largest mass arrest in Massachusetts' history. Yet it is dismissively mentioned in Lexington's Annual Report for 1971 -- the only official record, up to now. To remedy that omission, she attempted to organize a small exhibit in Cary Memorial Library in 1991. Because the Gulf War had just begun, the library withdrew permission as it felt it was 'inappropriate' at that time to celebrate dissent.
- Allan Kenney
- Allan Kenney was a member of the Board of Selectmen in 1971. He describes having been elected even though was a relative newcomer to town. Politically, however, he places himself with the more established group rather than the numerous "liberal" newcomers who were settling in Lexington at about that time. As he served, Board Chairman Robert Cataldo earned his deep regard.
Selectman Kenney voted against the VVAW's initial request to camp overnight in Lexington. Describing the vote, he says the Board offered the VVAW no alternative site. When they heard later in the week the VVAW planned to camp nonetheless, the Board realized the possibility of a confrontation was looming.
He describes the Selectmen's decision to seek an injunction against the VVAW's plan to camp on the Green and the steps taken to implement their decision. He also recalls his unsuccessful efforts to find and get support for an alternative to making arrests.
- Lucille Longview
- At the time of the event on the Green, Lucille Longview was just beginning to talk openly about how she felt about the Vietnam War. The topic was a divisive one in her family because of her husband's work at NASA. Nonetheless, she notes, he did accompany her to the Green and stayed with her through the night -- and the arrests.
Still new to Lexington in 1971, she joined with the group of women who marched in the Patriot's Day parade in April of that year. One of their banners read, "1775 British Go Home" and "1971 Yankees Come Home."
She had become interested in the peace movement and the feminist movement at about the same time and found them both personally eye-opening and empowering.
- Jack Maguire
- At the time of the protest on the Lexington Battle Green, Memorial Day 1971, Jack Maguire was Chairman of the Lexington School Committee.
Although he had been active in protests that took place at Boston College and elsewhere in Boston, he was concerned about being arrested he thought it might harm him professionally or politically and decided not to be among those arrested, a choice he has regretted ever since.
It was this event, he says, that deterred him from a possible political career that at the time he had just been beginning to pursue. Earlier he had been defeated in a contest for State Senator, but continued to be involved in Democratic politics.
He discusses his many disagreements with Selectman Robert Cataldo on numerous town issues, although he says he had much regard for him as a person.
- Norma Norland
- A member of Citizens for Participation Politics, Norma Norland talks about her involvement with the veterans. As Chairman of its Lexington chapter she was asked by the VVAW to help make arrangements for their march through town. An innocent request, she thought at the time -- but that was only the beginning.
She was surprised at the lengths town officials were prepared to go -- arresting hundreds of townspeople and ex-soldiers -- to prevent the veterans and their supporters from staying on the Green. A series of hateful anonymous phone calls the day of the march were evidence of the real anger that existed.
She and her husband were among those arrested. It was, she recalls, a moment fraught with emotion, yet lighthearted in many ways. She says she felt confidence about how the arrests would be conducted ? this was, after all, a nice suburban community. Meanwhile, her parents were babysitting their children, but they were not nearly so confident. She recalls their distress, imagining terrible things could be happening, thinking about what occurs in other countries when people protest, or perhaps remembering what had recently happened at Kent State.
- Paul Plasse
- Paul Plasse came to Lexington in the mid-1950's because of its good school system. He soon became an avid campaigner on local housing issues, and was elected as a Town Meeting member. Trained as a chemist, he worked for the Arthur D. Little corporation for many years.
He was a soldier in World War II, a conflict in which he lost a brother.
He was opposed to protests against the Vietnam War because he felt this was a betrayal of those who were still in Vietnam. He believes anti-war protesters were "deceived," and the Vietnam veterans "used."
People don't generally understand the Asian mentality, he says, especially their diffidence. Now, well after the Vietnam War, there are many Asians living in Lexington but not, he feels, participating in local politics.
- Ted Polumbaum
- As a photojournalist for such national publications as Time and Life magazines, and The New York Times, Ted Polumbaum visited Vietnam early in the 1960?s. What he observed in South Vietnam made him no friend of the Vietnam War. He returned, he said, a "peacenik."
He talks about the demonstrations against the war that he covered during the following years, most notably when students (and the SDS) took over the administration building at Harvard, another demonstration in Harvard Square that turned violent because of the actions of the police, and finally, the protest on the Lexington Battle Green. This latter protest he describes as lighthearted for the most part, the police, polite.
He took many photos of demonstrators and scenes on the Green, where he stayed until 3 AM. He asked to be arrested, but the police said they had arrested enough people. So he and his wife went home to Lincoln.
- Gary Rafferty
- Gary Rafferty is a Vietnam veteran. He talks of his traumatic experiences there, many of them at once tragic and darkly comic. It was an alienating experience. Since so little of it made sense, he says, your focus became your own survival. Like the other soldiers in this war, he left for Vietnam alone on an ordinary commercial flight and returned the same way.
It was not long after he returned that he joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War. The understanding and fellowship it offered meant a great deal to him. He was suffering from post-traumatic stress, but didn't recognize the symptoms until years later. Post-traumatic stress, he states, was one of the hidden costs of the Vietnam War, and afflicted thousands.
He talks about how the VVAW organized events like the Lexington protest, making sure they had good relations with the local police, and remembers how he was arrested, without rancor. He was greatly impressed with the support they received from the local people.
At the end of the interview he reads a number of poems he wrote about his Vietnam experiences.
- Anne Scigliano
- As editor of the Lexington Minuteman in 1971, Anne Scigliano knew town officials and town affairs very well. Being editor, she says, was more a reporter-editor position than it is now. She covered School Committee meetings, Selectmen's meetings, and checked the police blotter, writing stories about all of them.
Although she was away the weekend of the protest, she and others at the paper did nothing but "eat, sleep and drink" the big event for weeks afterward. She wrote an editorial in which she characterized the Selectmen as having gained in stature as a result of their actions they had "the courage to uphold the law" while many of the townspeople lost theirs.
The newspaper, she states, did an outstanding job of responding to the community by deciding to publish all the letters to the editor concerning the events of Memorial Day 1971, no matter what view they took. It seemed, she recalls, that there was a greater number in opposition to the Selectmen and the actions they took.
She discusses how the town and the newspaper have changed. Now the town is more diverse, and the paper less a community paper.
- Mary Shunney
- Mary Shunney grew up in Lexington. Her children were the fourth generation of her family to attend the Lexington schools. She has fond memories of the town when she was young, especially the days at her grandfather's East Lexington dairy farm.
Both she and her husband served as Town Meeting Members for many years, and she became Chairman of the Housing Authority. New people moving into Lexington in the 1960's and 1970's were bringing with them more liberal ideas that she says changed the town.
The actions of the Vietnam veterans and their supporters on the Green were something she was vigorously opposed to. Laws, she felt, must be obeyed, and therefore she spoke out in support of the Selectmen.
She chose not to go to the Battle Green on Memorial Day and so did not see or participate in any of the events that occurred. Many people she knew, like herself, were very upset about the protest.
- Edgar Smith
- Edgar Smith remembers working with the Fair Housing Commission when he and his family moved into Lexington in the mid-1960's. It wasn't easy, he says, for black people to find housing at that time, and he describes some of the racism he encountered.
He and his family came to enjoy living in Lexington. By the time of the May 1971 protest he w as active in the Lexington Civil Rights Committee and METCO, a program that makes it possible for inner city students to study in Lexington. He had worked with several of the Selectmen in his civil rights efforts.
The Selectmen's vote to deny Vietnam veterans the right to camp on the Green and their decision to arrest the protesters made him very angry. He describes his impressions of the scene at the Green and the Public Works facility after the arrests.
- Julian Soshnik
- Attorney Julian Soshnick was invited to help out during Memorial Day weekend by one of the supporters of the VVAW by handling whatever legal concerns might arise in the case of mass arrests or other problems connected with the demonstration on the Battle Green.
Soshnick recalls the preparation on the part of local officials who had done advance work before the protest actually happened to prepare complaints for violating the town?s by-laws and for disorderly conduct. He also describes the conduct of the Concord District Court judge who handled the sudden and immense caseload with grace and skill.
He talks about the importance of the right of free speech for him personally, and how this belief was ingrained in him by his immigrant father, grateful to live in a society where he could say and believe what he chose.
- Pat Swanson
- Pat Swanson ran for Town Meeting Member the first time when she found a notice for an SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) meeting in her son's pocket -- a person at the meeting was running for Town Meeting so she and a neighbor set out to run against him. He lost, and they won.
In 1971 she was a member of the School Committee. From this vantage point she became aware of a polarization on educational and financial issues that was occurring between liberals and conservatives well before the issue of the Vietnam veterans staying on the Green arose.
What happened to the veterans on the Green on Memorial Day weekend in 1971 and the status of the Vietnam War?neither was an important issue for the town, but, she says, the polarization was. The Selectmen were right not to allow the veterans to stay on the Green. Perhaps an alternative should have been offered, but the Green was an inappropriate place for such activity.
Included as PDF files are excerpts from town records of four meetings of the Lexington Board of Selectmen. At each of these meetings the events of Memorial Day Weekend, 1971, and the Vietnam Veterans Against the War are discussed and debated. Attendees include Chairman Robert Cataldo, Fred Bailey, Al Busa, Allan Kenney, Natalie Riffin, town manager Walter O?Connell, and clerk Mrs. McCurdy.
- Monday, May 24, 1971, Regular Selectmen meeting
- Discussion concerns the town's response to a letter from Marvin Gross on behalf of the VVAW describing their plans for a symbolic march through the town on Saturday, May 29. Mr. Gross is present at the meeting. The VVAW request permission to leaflet, conduct guerilla theater, and bivouac at either the Battle Green or Tower Park. Board members ask Mr. Gross about organization, security, and sanitary issues. They vote to allow leafleting but deny permission for guerilla theater and the bivouac.
- Thursday, May 27, 1971, Special meeting of the Board of Selectmen
- This meeting is called at the behest of two members of the Board (Natalie Riffin and Fred Bailey) specifically to reconsider the vote of May 24 regarding a bivouac site. The possibility of confrontation is talked about. A motion to offer an alternative bivouac site is made but voted down, 3-2.
- Wednesday, June 2, 1971, Regular Selectmen meeting
- A motion is made by Ms. Riffin that the Selectmen drop a lawsuit against the VVAW. [There is no other mention of this lawsuit in town records; it had apparently been planned and discussed at some other time.] It succeeds 3-2. A petition and requests from citizens who would like to express their feelings to the Board about the past weekend's events are discussed. A meeting will be set up for this purpose.
- Monday, June 7, 1971, Special Selectmen meeting
- The meeting arranged on June 2 takes place in Cary Hall and citizens voice their opinions of the Selectmen's actions. The clerk summarizes the meeting by quoting an article written on June 10th by Minuteman editor Anne Scigliano. Most of the speakers are described merely as "in favor" or "in opposition."
Several documentary films were created by the staff of LOHP, or made possible by their work.All are available for viewing at the Cary Memorial Library in Lexington.
- Unfinished Symphony: Democracy and Dissent.
- This hour-long documentary, made possible by the work of the LOHP, was co-produced by Northern Lights Productions of Boston, MA. Founded in 1982 by independent documentary filmmaker and Vietnam veteran Bestor Cram, Northern Light Productions has produced over 30 award-winning documentary, dramatic, educational, and corporate films which have been distributed and broadcast widely, such as "Mary Baker Eddy: A Heart in Protest," the story of the spiritual life of the founder of one of America's most controversial religions, "The Old State House" which won a prize in the Columbus International Film and Video Festival in 1992, "How Far From Home: Veterans After Vietnam," broadcast nationally on PBS, a series of short subjects for Sesame Street, and "Midnight Ramble," produced for the PBS series "The American Experience."
"Unfinished Symphony" was chosen for the 2001 Sundance Film Festival and won the top prize of the 2001 New England Film Festival. It was seen at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and screened for Lexington residents in May, 2001.
- Struggle for the Green: Democracy and Dissent.
- A 17-minute documentary made by staff of LOHP. It tells the story of what happened on the Green in May 1971 using videoclips from interviews. The film was edited by Kay Bell, and produced by Lenore Fenn and Eva Gordon.
- Democracy and Dissent on the Lexington Battle Green.
- Part 1 The Veterans' Request: An Introduction to Vietnam Veterans Against the War
Part 2 The Clergy Respond
Part 3 The Selectmen's Decision
Part 4 Protesters Support the Veterans
A series of four short (15 minute) films made by staff of LOHP, notably Lenore Fenn and Eva Gordon, based upon interview videos of VVAW members (Part 1), Clergy (Part 2), Selectmen (Part 3), and a number of the protesters (Part 4).