Suppose you were raised in a military town and joining the Army was your ultimate goal. Once of age, you volunteer and are then later picked for specialized training…rumor has it you’ll be leaving for Vietnam soon to utilize this special training, but instead, you find yourself on the steps of the Pentagon during a major demonstration. Read about it here.
By Richard Toops
In attendance, Dr. Benjamin Spock, author Norman Mailer, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Poet Robert Lowell, Clive Jenkins British Labour Party on the militant side. On the Government side at the Pentagon was Robert McNamara, our military leaders, Federal Marshals, Military Police, 6th Armored Cavalry and me, Richard Toops a 19-year-old Private, enlisted with a Regular Army ID # RA16960167.
Norman Mailer wrote a book about his October 1967 experience leading up to the attack on the Pentagon, the actual Pentagon march, and his ultimate arrest in his 1968 book entitled “The Armies of the Night”. Mailer’s book went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. As for me, I went on about my business in the US Army and thankful for another military training experience. Some three years later I was flying a Huey out of Bearcat, Vietnam with the 240th Assault Helicopter Company, nicknamed the Greyhounds.
As a United States Army Private, Fresh out of training, I awoke from a brief nap in the Pentagon’s tunnels. Here I was down under this mammoth and invincible structure, lying on the floor in full dress greens, bloused boots with just a bedroll between me and the hard concrete. Next to me lay my M-14 rifle with scabbard bayonet. Why I was there was still somewhat of a mystery. There were no cell phones, no twitter, no google, no social media back then. So we could only imagine why we were there. But let’s digress a bit.
My goal from a very young age was to be in the Army, I grew up in a military town, and that was going to be my life. I quit college and joined the Army on May 1, 1967, and went to Basic Training at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. My hometown was Waynesville, which was the hang out for GI’s assigned at Ft. Leonard Wood (know as Ft. Lost in The Woods to most). Needless to say, I kept my hometown a secret and hoped no one would look at my files. That worked until the last week before graduation. During the last week, we did clean everything we touched the previous 8 weeks of training. The most important was cleaning our M-14 rifle. During this last week, we were in a more relaxed atmosphere and I let it slip that I was from Waynesville. The biggest mistake I had made in the Army, well at least at this point. Every time I took my freshly cleaned weapon to the arms room for turn-in it was rejected by the young E-5 Assistant Drill Instructors. Not clean, Waynesville boy is what I heard among the nicer comments. Hour after hour of more and more serious cleaning continually proved futile, my efforts were just wasted labor. After about 15 hours, and close to Midnight, and my weapon is the only one remaining of over 200, finally My weapon passed inspection. If there was a silver lining, the E-6 Drill Sergeant told me that my weapon was the cleanest in the arms room. I took it as a compliment then, but I wonder now if his statement was more of a joke that I was just too young and tired to fully comprehend.
Well, on to Leadership Prepatory Course I went, then Advanced Individual Infantry Training at Ft. Ord, California. From there, after graduation, I was assigned to The 6th Armored Cavalry at Ft. Meade, Maryland. I was there for a couple short weeks then sent to Camp Pickett, Va for more field training in Mechanized Training with M-48 Tanks and old WWII Jeeps. Camp Pickett is where we would start some very secretive and special training. We did not know why, but it was ultimately training for our October 21st encounter with America’s hippies at the Pentagon. But at this time we did not know the reason for the special training. All we knew was that it was something very secret. We were told that continually.
About the first week of October we were brought in from our Mechanized training in the forests of Virginia to our old WWII wooden barracks at Camp Pickett, we called garrison, and told we were to undergo some special secret training. We were told to sit down and write our loved ones or head to the telephone booths and call them, stating that we would be undergoing training and would not be in communication with them after today until further notice. After these letters and or call, all having to be completed by 9PM our mail would be held up until our training was complete and we could no longer make any phone calls to our wives, girlfriends or families back home. The payphones were put off-limits (Camp Pickett was a small garrison in 1967 and I don’t think we had more than 20). We all were thinking that our time had come and we were headed to Vietnam with this training having to do with some special mission in mind. So we thought anyway. We would be a special group of soldiers going after the commies in Vietnam. Oh my! the minds of young soldiers.
Well, we started our training, 2-4 hours in the morning and afternoon. It was riot/crowd control training, but at the time it was not called that, to us, it was only something called special training. We learned how to control groups of agitated people, we divided up into good and bad, the bad being the agitated bunch, then commenced to learn every way known at the time to keep the bad controlled. Over and over again the bad would agitate and assault the good until we all learned to act without thinking. My mind kept thinking that this unidentified crowd we were training for was somewhere in Vietnam. And soon we were going to go after them but without holding ourselves back from hurting the bad ones as we did in practice.
On October 18, 1967, we were instructed to put our wool uniforms on (remember its wintertime) and assemble our dress green uniforms, personal overnight hygiene items and check out our M-14 Weapons. That night after dark we were loaded onto several 2 1/2 ton trucks and headed out. At every intersection on our Camp, some of us had to jump out with flashlights and stop traffic, over and over again. When we got to the main roads we had Military Police Cars filled with MPs doing the job for us. Hours later we stopped at, I believe, Camp Hill and then onto Ft. Meade, Maryland. Upon arrival we were told to go sleep, still not knowing where we were going or why. In the morning before daylight, we were instructed to get our dress green uniforms ready, we would have bloused boots, and helmet liner ready to put on, at a time later on that day. All-day we polished our boots, cleaned our weapons and did it all over again. At nightfall after supper we were loaded onto busses and headed out, I could tell we were headed in the direction of Washington DC, a few miles down the road. We pulled into the Pentagon and unloaded the busses and went into what to me was a basement full of long halls. We were told to put our sleeping bags down on the floor and again sleep. At this point, I had had enough sleep I just wanted to know what was happening. I got my wish, within a few hours or so we were told that 100,000 hippies were going to storm the Pentagon and levitate it or some such nonsense. We were going to be going upstairs and surround the Pentagon and keep the hippies at bay.
Now I finally knew what our training was for. Not the Vietcong, but a bunch of pot-smoking hippies. Early the next morning we young soldiers formed a single file and walked through the Halls of the Pentagon, walking by office after office, mostly empty, representing our military establishment, our bosses at the highest level. When we got near the front doors you could feel and smell faint traces of tear gas. We were starting to get a bit apprehensive. You could hear the loudspeakers blaring with anti-Vietnam rhetoric, Jerry Rubin probably. We went out the front door and formed a line behind another line of Military Police (MPs) already in place. Between the two lines were Federal Marshall’s carrying billy clubs, which to this point (billy clubs) I had only seen on old cop shows from the 1950s.
We stood on that defensive line at Parade Rest and occasionally at port arms for 12 straight hours, (halfway through we got a 5-minute break, a few at a time) ready to do our best with our new learned skills. As the time passed, the hippies would at times charge the MPs line of defense and try to break through their line, but all they got when they did at times penetrate the line was a group of Federal Marshal’s beating them with their billy clubs, then dragging them to a bob-tailed truck and thrown into the back. This went on all day long. As we watched the captured hippies in the trucks you could see some were either dazed from Weed or dazed from the billy club knocks on the head. Some would make attempts to escape but were soon met with another billy club swat across the noggin. They never got to our part of the defensive line, we were trained and ready but never got to show off our stuff.
At one point during the day some did manage to penetrate the lines down from us, and actually get in the front door to the Pentagon, (Yes the doors were not locked) it was in vain however as Federal Marshall’s inside threw them out head first. The intruders landed several feet below the entrance only to be grabbed by more Federal Marshall’s beaten with billy clubs and then dragged off across the cement and thrown into the back of one of the trucks.
I have read where in total over 650 were arrested that day. At the end of the day the ones still there were hauled off in busses, given citations and ultimately released. I heard no-one served any time over the march. But trust me they paid a price from those billy clubs.
In all this, I had a perfect place to watch it all, from the entrance to the Pentagon you could look below for several 100 yards in any direction, the mass of humanity. No one got close to our second line of defense. Well, not where I was anyway.
I heard the continual drone of the PA systems the hippies had set up. Telling the world how we were in an immoral war. At times they said we were blind soldiers and were the pawns of the Government and at times it sounded like they even cared about us. Not our fault, the Governments. But then minutes later we were bombarded with comments we were too dumb to know what we were doing, we were brainwashed, we were just tools of the devil. We soldiers were committing crimes against humanity and it had to stop. On and on it went hour after hour. At times I just wanted the hippies to break through the first lines of defense so I could practice some crowd control. We of the 6th Armored Cavalry were trained and ready, and we young soldiers, the age of most of the hippies, took our jobs seriously. We could do the job. At other times I just wanted to sit down and rest my legs. But at no time did I think my part of this crazy weekend was in vain. I was a soldier and proud to be there. I enjoyed seeing history in motion.
At one point during the day, we got word that a group of our MPs had went out to capture Dr. Spock but ended up getting surrounded and was having a hard time returning to our defensive positions. We were alerted we may have to thrust through the throngs of humanity to rescue them. But, in time they made their way back without the elusive Pediatric Doctor. Actually, he had already been arrested, actually turned himself in. I did learn later that all the so-called leaders were arrested, not by the Government actions but by their putting themselves in positions to be arrested for their own publicity and standing as activists. I think Norman Mailer turned himself over to the Police before he got past the parking lot. Norman Mailer’s book “The Armies of the Night”, goes into the radical’s actions in detail, which I won’t address here.
Towards the end of the night as their protest authorization was close to expiring announcements were made by the Government for them to leave. So many of the hippies were tired and hungry they mostly left on their own. All be it a lot were staggering from too much indulging in their brought drugs or the drugs being sold in the crowds. At the magic hour busses were brought in to carry the remaining hippies off the Pentagon grounds. As the busses pulled out of site all you could now see were acres of clothing, trash, bottles, cans, trash, tents, and things I had never seen before. An eerie quiet was now enveloping the entire area. Our job was done. We eventually loaded up, went back to Ft. Meade for a few days, then back to our Mechanized Training at Camp Pickett, Va.
Good story, brother. Thank you for allowing me to share this with my readers. Thank you, too, for your sacrifice and service.
Richard Toops also contributed a second article to this website titled, “The Incident”, in which he describes the mission that caused the death of his best friend and fellow chopper pilot during the Vietnam War. To read it, click on the following link: https://cherrieswriter.com/2020/04/26/the-incident/
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Should you have a question or comment about this article, then scroll down to the comment section below to leave your response.
If you want to learn more about the Vietnam War and its Warriors, then subscribe to this blog and get notified by email or your feed reader every time a new story, picture, video or changes occur on this website – the button is located at the top right of this page.
I‘ve also created a poll to help identify my website audience – before leaving, can you please click HERE and choose the one item best describing you. Thank you in advance!