A Different Kind of 1960's War Demonstration
The Hawks in May: A Day to Remember
By Joe Flaherty
On Saturday afternoon past, with the war gods supplying sunshine to heat their passions, the Legions of Decency and Death paraded down Fifth Avenue. Like all war machines they moved smoothly and with good reason. Their oil, in the form of thousands of empty beer cans and whiskey bottles, littered the side streets of the assembly areas off Fifth Avenue.
The day belonged to the "good Americans."
If your hair was slightly too long, your chin foliated, your dress too hippy, or your heritage Asiatic, you were best south of the 62nd Street parallel of New York City. And as the day got blurrier the patriots found it harder to distinguish friend from foe. Any intelligent chop suey joint proprietor had a padlock on his door. Even Jewish women in their wedgies sporting too much yellow from the Miami sun were suspect that their politics were more slanted than straight.
The parade organizer, Raymond W. Gimmler, a fire captain, demonstrated he was a master of incendiary happenings. Not only was the parade labeled under the baptism of fire "Support Our Boys in Vietnam," but it was publicized by posters of demonstrators burning the American flag. The posters in black bold type stated "If this makes you mad march in support of Our Boys." So in one imaginative swoop everybody from the New Left to Senators Fulbright and Kennedy, to the Reverend Martin Luther King and Dr. Spock, to Pope Paul VI (who was shilling for the Reds in Fatima), fell under the totalitarian mushroom of long-haired, bearded, draft card-burning, pro-Vietcong, Communist.
...As in all such national endeavors, God was much in evidence. Priests (ignoring their Pope's simultaneous pleas for peace in Fatima) marched with longshoremen bearing signs to drop a a little sanctifying grace on Haiphong and Hanoi. Nuns acting out their roles as fraudulent mothers led a contingent of lay mothers who offered "an alternative instead of a criticism." Conceptually you could remain a pill and insist on bombing Hanoi or alternatively you fight communism by "Praying the Rosary to Convert Russia" as one banner suggested. There were other spiritual pleas like "Draft Martin Luther King" and "Kill a Commie for Christ."
One of the first labor unions to march was the ILA. Leading the group was a grinning, thin-lipped, skinny 14-year-old girl dressed in silver sequins, looking like a straight razor. As the group turned on to Fifth Avenue a Negro woman held a sign stating "No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger." As the marchers began to shout at her "There's no home relief over there," a man in his 30s, dressed in an American Legion uniform, yanked the sign from her hands and punched her in the face. The marchers broke ranks and rushed toward the skirmish. To come to the aid of a lady? Not quite. About 20 started to throw punches and kicks at the woman...
...Perhaps the most significant counterpoint of the day was when four Hell's Angels (the clean-shaven variety) pulled up on their bikes at 86th Street. They had American flags embroidered on their jackets and carried a large flag. They wore German helmets with swastikas decalled on the sides. They were warmly cheered as they joined the parade.
Perhaps it was prophetic.
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]