March Against Death
Wearing the name of a serviceman who died in Vietnam, a marcher pauses in front of the White House on Nov. 14, 1969 AP Images

Why Were Activists 45 Years Ago Protesting 'Against Death?'

Nov 13, 2014

On the night of Thursday, Nov. 13, 1969, the "March Against Death" began. By the time that weekend was over, Washington, D.C., had seen more protesters than any single event in its history had drawn. Attendance was higher, by tens of thousands, than at the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington. And despite a name that, 45 years later, may seem overblown or vague, the march was actually about something very specific.

The deaths they were protesting were those of soldiers and civilians in Vietnam.

As TIME reported in the Nov. 21, 1969, issue:

Disciplined in organization, friendly in mood, [the march] started at Arlington National Cemetery, went past the front of the White House and on to the west side of the Capitol. Walking single file and grouped by states, the protesters carried devotional candles and 24-in. by 8-in. cardboard signs, each bearing the name of a man killed in action or a Vietnamese village destroyed by the war. The candles flickering in the wind, the funereal rolling of drums, the hush over most of the line of march—but above all, the endless recitation of names of dead servicemen and gutted villages as each marcher passed the White House —were impressive drama: "Jay Dee Richter" . . . "Milford Togazzini" . . . "Vinh Linh, North Viet Nam" . . . "Joseph Y. Ramirez." At the Capitol, each sign was solemnly deposited in one of several coffins, later conveyed back up Pennsylvania Avenue in the Saturday march.

Mrs. Judy Droz, 23, of Columbia, Mo., was chosen to walk first in the March Against Death. Her husband, a Navy officer, died in Viet Nam last spring. "I have come to Washington to cry out for liberty, for freedom, for peace," she said. The New Mobe [New Mobilization Committee to End the War in Viet Nam] organizers had recruited others who had lost loved ones in the war, but some gold-star families wanted none of it. In Philadelphia and Dallas, groups of mothers and widows of G.I.s killed in combat obtained court orders to bar use of the men's names by the protesters.

Another march took place that Saturday, capped by speeches and musical performances watched by at least 250,000 people. A connected event in San Francisco also drew record crowds for that city.

Read the full story here, in TIME's archives: Parades for Peace and Patriotism

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