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October 26, 1967, Vol. XIII, No. 2
Vigil at the Battery: Backing Up the Troops
by Joe Flaherty
Apart from the ugly slogans on the signs, the scene at the Battery Park on Saturday was reminiscent of old photos depicting band concerts at the turn of the century. Kids wrestled on the grass, school bands played patriotic tunes, and flags flapped in the mid-day breezes.
The occasion was a rally for those who “Support Our Armed Forces and Respect Law and Order.” The event was staged by the Committee for Responsible Patriotism under direction of George Mast, vice commander of the American Legion, and Raymond Gimmler who staged the “Support Our Boys” parade in May. To keep the patriotic stew boiling, the group this time decided to add some black meat for extra flavor. Their thinly veiled “Respect for Law and Order” phrase was understood by the audience. One youth held a sign declaring, “Sink Martin Luther Cong.”
Other domestic art works on display were: “Sock Spock,” “Stop Trade with Commie Nations,” “Lynch Draft Card Burners,” and in the spirit of ecumenism, “Greenwich Village Supports the Bombing of Communist Warmongers.” The latter was the work of Jeff Lo Baito, who in following the works of Mao is trying to start a war of liberation in his native Greenwich Village. Mr. Lo Baito’s army seemed flimsy to say the least (one girl), but what can one expect when one tries to recruit decadent anti-capitalistic, peace-loving integrationists. Mr. Lo Baito conveyed his wishes to his counterparts demonstrating in Washington: “I hope every one of them get shot on the Pentagon steps — they’re all commies anyway.”
Another prominent rightist in attendance was Jim Reilly, the Boy Wonder of the young arch-Conservatives. As Queens D.A. Thomas Mackell on the dais was asking for “doves and hawks to join together in total victory,” Reilly sneered: “Mackell is a perfect example of a Queens clubhouse hack. He is afraid of losing a vote so he won’t offend anyone. Doves and hawks, liberals and conservatives, Jews, niggers, Irish gangsters and priests — he wants everybody’s fucking vote.” At this point Thomas Mackell, district attorney of all the people, sat down.
The afternoon was an exercise more in nostalgia than vituperation. Unlike the pro-war parade last spring, Saturday’s demonstration seemed to lack fire. The parade had an awesome militancy about it; it was tightly organized and the turnout was frightening. This time only about 1000 people gathered, and they seemed confused and without purpose. The proceedings in the park were billed as a vigil, and perhaps the humble religious terminology is what kept the crowd down. George Mast urged the crowd to tell their neighbors to drive with their headlights on during the daytime hours to symbolize their support of our troops. He asked that one light be kept on at all times in every home during the weekend for freedom. And while he was making his plea the Lady of Liberty stood in the harbor holding her dead torch.
The mood of the demonstration was best captured by a legionnaire named Jimmy McWiggen. As he stood on the dais he was flanked by a lady dressed as Betsy Ross and a veteran of the Spanish-American War. McWiggin spoke of his lost America. “When I was a boy, law and order began in the kitchen with the back of my mother’s hand or in school with the Christian Brothers giving you a whack on the rump.” Pointing at the meadow he talked of how he and his boss used to come out at lunchtime and throw a football around. “And this man,” he said, “was a millionaire, yet he’d come down and catch ball with one of his workers.” The crowd lovingly cheered those days when everyone kept his place. “We all took baths,” he said, “and were clean-shaven, too — not like these hippies. Those people are filthy — both mentally and physically.” He said America was where a man settled his arguments with his dukes and “played some ball with his boss on a summer afternoon.”
And as Jimmy McWiggin is trying to recall his innocent America, the kids he hates are shunning the modern world, running free stores, setting up tribal soup kitchens, trying to plant trees where progress has laid cement. As Fitzgerald wrote of our search for our lost innocence, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
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