What brought them to Washington, D.C. on July 4, 1970 was an event called “Honor America Day,” with comedian and military favorite Bob Hope and the Rev. Billy Graham as co-hosts to be held outdoors on the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool. It was too good an opportunity to pass up, and so thousands of Yippies and Hippies gathered at the Washington Monument, smoking copious amounts of marijuana, and then marched on the stage, with Yippie! and Viet Cong/NLF/NVA flags flying. When cops blocked them in the aisles, they waded through the Reflecting Pool, some people stripping down for a skinny-dip. Tear gas grenades flew through the air, affecting protesters and “pro-Americans” both. The event degenerated into chaos as arrests were made, fistfights broke out and gas wafted through the night.This ROTC midshipman was at "Honor America Day" with his college friend, Pat, and his family, including his grandmother. We were curious about the smoke-in going on at the monument. We and our dorm buddies had a few of our own smoke-ins since gravitating to each other freshman year at the University of South Carolina. We'd travelled to the Kent State protest in D.C. that spring. And for the Fourth, I'd hitched to D.C. with my ROTC pal Paul. We wore our uniforms, thinking that it was more likely for us short-haired, clean-cut fellows to get rides from Norfolk Naval Base to D.C. with "Honor America Day" people than it would be from hippies or yippies.
We were right. Paul got off in Alexandria to see his girlfriend and I went to the Maryland burbs, where Pat picked me up. Pat was the second son in a large Catholic family. His older brother was Mike, of course. Sister Maureen, Kathleen, etc. Pat's dad was a fed and his mom stayed home with the younger kids. Pat and Mike were both attended military schools and, in college, wanted nothing more to do with uniforms and saluting and Vietnam. Especially Vietnam.
So we all went off to "Honor America Day" and the fireworks, which I was told were "bitchin'." But the fireworks happened much earlier than expected when the D.C. cops let loose with a barrage of tear gas to stem the hippie tide. We had to flee, Pat and I hauling his grandma down monument hill to the parking lot. No word on whether Billy Graham got gassed along with a lot of grandmas and kids and midshipmen. Now, all these years later, it's intriguing to note than I attended one of the red-letter days in pot protest history. Now recreational pot is legal 10 miles away in Colorado. If I lit up in a public park in Cheyenne, I might get arrested. If I lit up in public in Colorado, I might get fined. But probably not tear-gassed. To avoid the trouble, I could just go down to the nearest marijuana market and purchase an infused brownie.
Happy Fourth, wherever you are.