These powerful photos document the Dayton area’s history of Vietnam protests

The Vietnam War, the 10-part PBS documentary from filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick airing this week, inspired a look back into the Dayton Daily News archives for this area's history related to Vietnam.

“Protests Erupt Across Nation,” read one front-page headline published during the midst of the war. Local stories and photographs told the same story in the Miami Valley.

A dramatic photograph, taken April 15, 1972, captures anti-war demonstrators at Gate I-C at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

“Guards drove the protesters away with clubs and mace. Then the four men sat down in front of the gate blocking traffic and were joined by about seven more protesters,” the newspaper reported.

A second photograph from the event shows the demonstrators seated in the roadway with firetrucks parked in the background. The story quotes a base spokesman as saying the trucks were a “security measure” in case the demonstrators tried to get on the base.

The gates were reopened when a spokesman for the demonstrators and two base officials agreed to talk. Among the topics the men discussed, according to the newspaper, were the role of the Air Force base in the Vietnam War and the base commander’s refusal to let airmen circulate an anti-military newspaper, the “Star Spangled Bummer,” on base.

Days later, another demonstration at the base resulted in 125 arrests.

It was estimated 500 anti-war protestors blocked two gates onto the base to clog early morning traffic.

“There are five gates out there and two of those gates are blocked by bodies,” reported a police dispatcher.

Sherriff’s deputies, billy-clubs hanging from their belts, drug protestors away and charged them with failure to obey a police order. Only two people resisted arrest, according to the newspaper’s reporting.

The first major anti-war demonstration held in downtown Dayton, on May 6, 1972, drew 300 people.

The peaceful march, held a week after Dolf M. Droge, a special assistant to Henry Kissinger, was pelted by catsup and tomatoes and driven from a stage at Wright State University, started at Cooper Park and ended at the Old Courthouse.

Speakers from a variety of groups took turns addressing the downtown crowd. Peter Stanford, an Antioch College student, said when the administration speaks of a “just peace” it means “when your brother gets a draft notice, he’s a dead man.”

And Joan Psihountas of the Revolutionary Union said only industrialists want the war to continue.

“We have nothing to gain from the war,” she said. “Just ask any Vietnam veteran who has worn out shoe leather looking for a job.”

About the Author