A National Guardsman who held the line

From Bernie Lebowitz, Rockville, Maryland: Civil disturbances were nothing new to the men of the 163rd Military Police Regiment of the DC National Guard. Mayday 1971 offered a different type of challenge for this outfit. On May 3rd, thousands of antiwar protesters were coming to Washington with the intention of shutting down the federal government. It was well known that police were given authority to indiscriminately make arrests which climbed to over 12,000 by the end of the day. My unit’s first assignment was patrolling around the fence of a makeshift detention area located on a former Redskins practice field. As more and more detainees arrived, the conditions on the field became worse.

Later in the day, a new location became available, the Washington Coliseum; a 5,500 seat arena was switched from an entertainment stage to a holding site. I became part of the squad that was assigned to provide security for police and assist in controlling detainees who were stretched along the cement floor of the arena. About 10 guardsmen, each with only a plastic helmet and a small billy club, stood as a dividing line between police and those arrested. While officers continued to process detainees without much success, about 500 protesters staged an antiwar rally in front of the National Guard line. Despite threats, chants, and overt hostility, the line of the guardsmen remained strong.

A similar situation marred the next day as police in some cases used force to clear the arena of detainees. In a small way I was a witness to the events of Mayday 1971.

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