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A Long March: From November 15, 1969 to this night

June 2, 2016

I’m not one given to reflecting. “Don’t plan too far the future, don’t look too close the past, don’t be fooled into thinking the next day will be like the last. . . .”

But in the interest of completing a Toastmasters speech from the Storytellers book, I looked back a few years, to a place that on the few times I return to it, brings me pleasure. And dare I say, fifty years on, not a little insight.

NewM obe 11.16.69

I was in college at Marshall U in November of 1969, a sophomore as was my best friend and (though we knew it not at the time) my bride-to-be. November 15 was the scheduled date of the first of several massive marches on Washington D. C.—the “New Mobilization”—to demand an end to the war in Viet Nam. Some of our friends had already left for the march that Friday, some had rented a U-Haul and traveled en masse in the cargo hold. Karen and I had missed that boat.

“Let’s hitch-hike.” So, on Friday afternoon, in the warmest clothes we owned, with $20.00 in the pockets and a blanket against the weather, we stuck out our thumbs and hit the road. By nightfall we were entering the mountains east of Charleston, W.Va., and a light snow was falling. A few rides and many hours later found us on the onramp to I-81 north. Blanket round our shoulders, thumbs out. A long-haul trucker picked us up, kept us warm to the I-70 junction, and left us on the ramp Saturday morning.

We were innocent, K. and I. Heading for the Capitol, woefully unequipped for a long weekend in a city we did not know. Perhaps that innocence showed as a halo above our heads, but more likely something much larger was going on. A flood of like-minded people were going to that same city, as full as idealistic hopes as we were.

A carful or them, on their way to the march from Indiana, stopped and picked us up early that morning before the sheriff could find us on the ramp. “Are you going to the march?” “Yes, hitch-hiked from Marshall.” “Where are you staying?” “We don’t know. We don’t have a place to stay. We don’t know anyone here.” “Then why don’t you stay with us.”

And so we did. We had a place to stay for the next two nights, communal dinners, a ride to the march and back. With all the rest that cold November 15, we marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, past the White House and the government buildings with armed soldiers, rifles at the ready, atop the government buildings. We lent our two voices to the million-odd out there beneath the Washington Monument, thinking that it all meant something.

Perhaps it did. In time, years afterward, Nixon completed the withdrawal from Viet Nam at the end of his first term in office, bringing an end to the war that he had inherited.

Did our voices matter then? Hard to say, now.

When the march was over, our generous hosts on their way back to Indiana dropped us off at the junction of I-70 west and I-81 south, and we thumbed our way home.

Without the generosity of those folks, all of them, who took pity on these two wayward souls on the road with their $20 and their blanket, we might have frozen, or been lost, or never have made it to that march. “How can we ever thank you?” we asked.

Their answer was this. “Whenever you run across someone who needs your help, you can help them.”

Over the years, I have taken that to heart, and done my best in small and personal ways, to reach out from time to time to those I see in need. This thought has shaped much of my life since then.

They won’t know who I am, and I have no idea the names of those who helped us. It was nearly fifty years ago. I’d like to think that, working from their example, I have shown them the thanks that they earned then.


P.S. Although no longer married, Karen and I remain friends to this day.

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