(Special to the CRIMSON)
WASHINGTON, April 20-Kneeling quietly, their heads bowed and hands folded reverently, over 300 Vietnam Veterans Against the War joined a Gold Star Mother and a vet representative in laying two wreaths today in Arlington National Cemetery.
As Patricia Simon, of Brookline, Mass., and Bob Maland, a veteran wounded twice in Vietnam, symbolically placed the wreaths beneath a newly-blossomed cherry tree, a few feet in front of the grave of World War II General Omar N. Bradley, a lonely taps played in the background for a victim of the war being buried. The only other sound was the whirring of television cameras.
Although the veterans had been denied access to their cemetery yesterday on the grounds that "groups of a political persuasion cannot lay wreathes," John C. Metzler, superintendent of the Cemetery, admitted them today, saying, "as long as they leave their placards outside it's OK with me." The veterans carried no placards, only one sign identifying them as VVAW members.
Metzler claimed that he had been "just inside" the gates Monday when the veterans arrived, but did not admit them because "they were a continuation of a demonstration in town." Pressed by newsmen, he said, "I stand corrected." Many observers here have indicated that yesterday's action was political, perhaps of White House origin.
In an unprecedented move late this afternoon, Chief Justice Warren Burger acted for the Supreme Court and ruled that the veterans may camp on the Capitol Mall tonight, but must disperse by 4 p. m. tomorrow, thereby upholding an earlier court injunction against the camping. The veterans have scheduled a meeting at 10:30 a. m. tomorrow to consider whether or not to obey the Court ruling.
While the 300 laid wreathes, the remainder of the registered contingent of 1100 spread out over the Capitol Hill area performing mock "searchand destroy missions" and lobbying Congressmen.
At 12:30 p. m. today about 75 veterans "took over" the steps of the Capitol. After employing prisoner of war interrogation techniques, the group gathered together on the steps, singing "Bring 'Em Home, Bring Our Brothers Home,"
The vets held their discharge orders in one hand, and their other hand held high in a clenched fist. The protest turned into a spontaneous demonstration as the veterans systematically smashed their plastic M-16 rifles on the steps before the television cameras.
Lobbying action, considered one of the most important activities of the vets, gained some momentum today although results were mixed. They were generally well-received by liberal Congressmen, but hawkish Congressmen were reportedly more often than not "out for the day."
Congressman John T. Myers (R-Ind.) told one delegation Monday "I couldn't possibly be persuaded by people dressed like you," The veterans, wearing tattered camaflouge pants and shirts, said, "Well, this is what we wear in Nam when we kill. Haven't you ever seen a combat soldier before?"
Myers replied that he had; in fact, he said, "I served at the tail end of World War II in France." But an aide said today that Myers didn't see "too much action" there. The vets, who made a special trip back to his office to see him today, only laughed quietly.
Some concern has been voiced over the relatively small number of veterans who have showed up here. Predictions a few weeks ago ranged from a realistic 3000 to a hopeful 5000, but the registration figure was set today at only 1100.
John Kerry, coordinator and one of the leading spokesmen for the VVAW, said tonight that there are a number of reasons for this. One he said, is that a large number of sympathetic veterans have been unable to get off work or leave school. Another is the fact that the Pentagon has refused to supply the VVAW with the names of servicemen leaving Vietnam. As a result of this, he said, "the VVAW is forced to rely solely on word of mouth and the media," "It is really quite hard to get at the vets," he added.
But perhaps more important, Kerry said, is the fact that "to a large degree the only people who see what the war really does are the people who fight it-enlisted infantrymen. And there are not really that large a number of those,"
Tomorrow's activities will include more guerrilla theatre battles and lobbying in Congress.
In addition, approximately 100 veterans will gather at the Supreme Court for three hours to present demands that the Court rule on the constitutionality of the war.