(Special to the CRIMSON)
WASHINGTON, D. C., April 23-Several hundred Vietnam veterans ended the most hectic day of their four-day Washington encampment last night with an impressive two-mile candlelight parade around the Capitol and the front door of the White House, pausing only for a short service honoring war dead on the Capitol steps.
Holding candles flickering in a chilly wind, the veterans marched silently in pairs. The toy M-16s and "torture sticks" of daylight search and destroy missions had been left at the campsite. Led by five vets in wheelchairs, the march proceeded behind an upside-down American flag connoting distress.
Only a handful of Congressmen have come down to the Mall campsite this week to visit or talk with the veterans. More than half of Congress has been conveniently absent when soldiers and veterans combed through their offices trying to offer personal accounts of war crimes.
The veterans are both somber, as their march last night indicated, and raucous, but they can never be found on that middle ground of nonchalance. They are disciplined beyond all possible belief yet shun rigid commands.
A typical day begins with lobbying at 8 p.m., includes at least one long march, and ends with beer and folksinging until past midnight. The cold weather has not made camping any easier. Without exception, however, the vets have shunned all offers for shelter in Con-gressional offices and private homes.
At a meeting Wednesday afternoon to decide whether to defy the now defunct count order, they huddled in small state delegations to discuss the ramifications of non-compliance.
The meetings were the essence of a new kind of hip democracy. In the Wisconsin delegation, veterans passed joints and debated questions of tactics.
In a very unlaughable way, these veterans have come to Washington to save the country. They will, in all probability, leave after a frustrating experience in non-communication believing the country doesn't want to be saved.
In the many hours of Congressional visits, the veterans have spoken to anyone they could find. Several of the hawk Congressmen have been put off by the blunt assertiveness of the lobbying groups. These are the men with the audacity to, in one breath, advise the vets that their protest would be more effective if they looked more respectable, and in the next breath assert their unwavering, unwaverable support for President Nixon.
It is to these men that the veterans have taken their cause. They came to Washington to seek Congressmen of their own districts. Most come from poor urban areas of the East or rural districts in the Midweek and South.
In the political dialectic it can be said that the veterans are unsophisticated. They are the movement's hard-hats. They speak against the war not from their heads but from their guts.
To answer the bombastic Congressmen the veterans simply hold up their mangled legs, stump arms and valorous decorations. They say cogently. "We once believed all that. We went and fought a fucking war for it, and now we're back to tell you you're wrong." In so doing, they have talked back to the Middle American mentality as peacen??ks and students never could. They have taken the movement's cause into a new kind of reality, perhaps a cryptic reality of the grotesque.