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50 Years Ago: Anti-war Protesters Blockaded the Concord Naval Weapons Station

Gar Smith
Friday August 12, 2016 - 05:03:00 PM

50 years ago, in August 1966, anti-war demonstrators blocked gates to the Concord Naval Weapons Station to halt shipments of explosives and napalm bombs destined to be dropped on the people of Viet Nam. The only news organization on the scene reporting on the protests—and the arrests and violence that shadowed the long-running Port Chicago Vigil—was the weekly underground paper, The Berkeley Barb.

The following reports were collected from the online archives of the Barb, now available to the public for the first time, thanks to a major digital scanning project conducted by Independent Voices, an Open Access Collection of the Alternative Press and Reveal Digital.

The following reports can be found on the new website: The online archives offer a word search function and provide both a visual scan of each page of Berkeley's pioneering weekly and text reproductions of the articles on each page. 


Committee for Nonviolent Action-West to March On Napalm Depot  

The Berkeley Barb  

(April 1, 1966)—A three-day anti-war march from UC to Port Chicago, "the main shipping port for napalm, and explosives for Vietnam," will begin in late April, George Kanoun, coordinator of the Port Chicago project of the Committee for Nonviolent Action-West, told BARB this week. "We already have two, people for civil disobedience," Kanoun said. "We might try to stop some trucks. We're not sure right now just what we'll do." 

The project will begin Friday, April 29. After arriving in Port Chicago, the marchers will encamp there. The civil disobedience will occur three weeks later in Port Chicago, Kanoun told BARB. They expect "at least 50 people—probably a hundred," to begin the march, he said, "and at least a dozen people will be at the vigil at all times." There will be "hospitality" for 25 persons at Port Chicago. 

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August 6-9 Actionists Out To Close Port  

'With luck not one truck will pass through the gates of Port Chicago," a spokesman for the Port Chicago march told BARB. Marchers intend to disrupt service to and from the massive munitions dump by vigiling outside the gate and blocking the path of explosives trucks. The action will start with a 1 P.M. rally at Concord. The group will then march to Port Chicago. 

At 5 P.M., those willing to face arrest will leave the main body of vigilers and take up positions outside the gate. Leaders of the demonstration hope that their numbers will be so great that authorities will halt the flow of trucks into and out of the port. Port Chicago handles over 90% of the ammunition and explosives used by American forces in Vietnam. People contemplating taking part in the civil disobedience have been cautioned to expect the maximum penalty for interfering with explosives trucks. This is 6 months in jail and a $500 fine for each offense. 

"The action will be stronger if people refuse bail and defend themselves in court," Bob Meriweather of the Port Chicago Committee told BARB. All recent charges for truck stopping have been misdemeanors, and the participants have been released on their own recognizance. The Berkeley Council for Justice may be contacted for further information on the legal aspects of the demonstration. The rally will be held in the Concord City Plaza, at Willow Pass and Grant St. 

Speakers will include Marlene Samas, mother of one of the three soldiers who refused to fight in Vietnam; the four housewives who were arrested at a napalm plant in San Jose; and Edward Keating, editor of Ramparts and Congressional peace candidate. 

The demonstration, organized by the PCC and the Contra Costa Citizens against the War in Vietnam, was foreshadowed Tuesday at the Federal Bldg, in San Francisco. Leaders of the protest presented Cecil Poole, Federal District Attorney, with a petition demanding that President Johnson cease all bombings of North Vietnam by noon on Aug. 6. Poole said he would transmit the demand to the Birdman. Carpools to Concord will leave Bancroft and Dana at noon Sunday. Another group will start from 4416 18th St., S.F., at 11:30. 

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Protestors Injured 


The Berkeley Barb, Vol. 3, No. 6, Issue 52 

(August 12, 1966)—Dancing, rallies, marches and civil disobedience last weekend illuminated mounting anti-war action throughout the Bay Area. In the past 7 days confrontation has replaced talk. On the eve of the third International Days of Protest, the Berkeley VDC liberated a street off Telegraph during a street-dance rally. The rally passed without incident, although part of the crowd hooted anti-war speeches. 

About 10,000 persons took part in a march in San Francisco the next day, Saturday, Hiroshima Day. More than 40 organizations sponsored the march and subsequent rally at Civic Center. The crowd witnessed speeches and satirical dramas by prominent Bay Area peace activists. Discussion lasted into the evening, as children and grownups found relief from the heat in the city fountain. 

Direct action at the Port Chicago weapons station followed closely the San Francisco rally. Gar Smith was arrested at the ammo dump main gate at 7:10 PM Saturday, after blocking the passage of an explosives truck. 

Smith was the first of a series of truck-stoppers in civil disobedience which continues through BARB press time. Thirty-one protestors had been arrested as of Thursday AM. Among the arrested is BARB staffer Alan Turner. 

BARB reporters and photographers were the only newsmen present during the first group of arrests. BARB alerted the Bay Area news media. 

During the Days of Protest, forces were grouping to fight the House Committee on Un-American Activities. HUAC subpoenaed Bay Area peace activists beginning Friday. Counter-moves by the newly-formed Peace Activists Defense group are gathering momentum throughout the nation as BARB goes to press. 

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Over 30 Hauled Off To Jail 

MT / The Berkeley Barb 

(August 12, 1966) -- Police and the marines brought home the brutality of the Viet Nam war to Port Chicago Monday. A marine waved a truck on as protestors sat down in front of it. 

"Keep coming!" he shouted as the truck's fender rode over Bob Meriwether's back. 

A Contra Costa Sheriff grabbed a man's leg and twisted it, pulling him over the line onto Federal property. 

Marines twisted his arms behind his back and slammed him face forward against a car. Witnesses said about four marines then beat him on his back with their fists. 

Earlier, at 3:15 a.m., three women were yanked out of the path of a truck by one sheriff and thrown down on the pavement by another. One witness said she saw a club swinging down on a woman's back. 

One of the women couldn't move and had to be helped off the road by friends. The cops threatened arrest her if she didn't get up. 

Only one person was arrested at this time. However, while the vigilers regroupd to discuss what had happened, a sheriff arrested Larry Cooper for trespassing on the base. Witnesses said he only stood at the edge of the line, saying goodnight to workers leaving for home. 

At 7:15 a.m. the second scene of major violence occurred. This time, sever persons were arrested, all for "trespassing" on Federal property. Sheriffs dragged three or four of them over the line and handed them to the marines. The rest were pushed over the line by the truck, which was marked "Explosives." 

"Push-pull, what's the difference?" said one angry onlooker. "None of them trespassed voluntarily." 

A half-hour later, three more people stopped a truck, this time, way down the road. A Highway Patrolman handcuffed a girl who went limp. He dragged her 50 yards through sand and gravel by the handcuff on her wrist. 

Later arrests were more calm and dignified. The vigilers applauded each person as [they] was taken into custody. 

The march the previous afternoon was also in sharp contract to the night's violence. 385 people left Concord at 2:30 p.m, in the sizzling heat. U.S. and U.N. flags waved at the beginning and again at the middle of the procession. A majority of the marchers carried signs. 

Before long, shirts and shoes were removed. Many were badly sunburned during the 6-mile trek. Two girls fainted and were taken into cars. 

About 40 young toughs were waiting at Waring's Frosty Freeze a mile out of Concord. Several cops stood between the marchers and the hecklers. 

The hecklers then ran for their cars and cycles. They crusied back and forth along the road, hurling insults at the marchers. 

At 5:30, the march reached the waterfront gate of the U.S. Naval Weapons Station at Port Chicago. It had swelled to about 500 members. They entered a roped-off area between the road and the railroad tracks. 

Facing them on the other side of the road were about 20 cops and 100 hecklers. About 10 marines were stationed inside the gate. 

Meriwether called a meeting of about 30 persons who planned to commit civil disobedience. A group of hecklers crossed the road and surrounded the meeting, continually interrupting it with coughs whistling and talking. 

Then a napalm truck, bombs gleaming in their crates, roared down the road and turned into the base: No one had been ready to stop it. 

Then came the long wait. As it grew dark the hecklers dwindled until only those speeding by in cars were left. 

At about 10 p.m., a delegation was sent to the other gate of the weapons station, because two trucks had been spotted going over the overpass road which came from that entrance. 

As the night grew cold, the vigilers dwindled rapidly. Only about 60 people stayed until morning. A vigil line of never less than10 persons stood all night facing the waterfront gate, holding signs and singing. 

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Arrests at the Gate Followed by Arraignments 

By Elliot Borin & Paula Friedman  

(Waterfront Gate, Port Chicago) -- "Get up, get up, get up! . . . ahhh, fuck you." 4 AM greetings from the S.P. brakeman. 

Six feet from the vigilers' exhausted heads, the sounds of trains compete with the clanking of Navy generators, the wailing of Marine sirens, and the bull-horned madness of amplified police radio calls. 

"I think I'll step across the line. There's a good chance the cells will be heated," says a shivering vigilier to a comrade. The Marines P.A. system announces, "The white line delineates the access and egress points of the Concord Naval Weapons Station." 

It was over this line that eight limp bodies, each held in the clutches of a sheriff's deputy or marine were 'trespassed' (i.e., dragged, Monday morning. 

Aided by a 25-ton explosive truck, which shoveled the bodies to the proximity of the line, the hands of officialdom pulled these eight to the growing pile of arrested anti-war demonstrators. 

Of course, even the police occasionally showed compassion. "Get the hell off the street or you 11 be arrested," one highway patrolman warned a bleeding housewife, Karen Barbena, following her 3:15 AM encounter with a PIE truck and assorted marines. 

"I was able to sleep most the time in jail," one arrestee Tom Voorhees, said-- "except when the regular prisoners in the next cell threw a burning rag into my bunk, scorched my feet, was all. 

On Monday afternoon, arraign the 8 prisoners charged with Federal trespassing occupied the center ring. They were released on their own recognizance. The 22 prisoners remaining were arraigned in Port Chicago's Justice Court. 

"This is not a Federal Court. This is a Municipal Court," said Judge Otto Lichti. "The people in this county have their rights, too. The bail will remain as set." 

Judge Renaghan of Concord Municipal Court first raised the bail for the prisoners under his jurisdiction to $330 and $660: then released all of them on their own recognizance. 

All but three prisoners, Isabel Cerney, Sarrel Brody and Bob Meriweather, who declined to accept bail, have been released. Preliminary hearings on the charges, and sentencing of Meriwether, who entered a plea of nolo contendere for two offenses, have been set for next Monday & Tuesday. 

The Vigil and stoppage of explosive trucks will continue, vigilers declare. Carpools leave daily from 2001 Milvia in Berkeley. 

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Truck-Stopper Tells Where It's At When… 

Alan Turner / The Berkeley Barb 

(August 12, 1966) -- We had kept our vigil through Sunday's cold railroad-terror night. The napalm trucks rested. We waited, keeping silent watch or somnambulistically singing. The day's eye had humbly risen, and had begun to cast his first rays of warmth. 

I leaned, half-sleeping on my picket sign, holding close about my neck the blanket in which I was wrapped. The sign said, "Stop! In the name of love." In an anxious hiss, a truck rose over the ridge. Doubts. Was it napalm, or simply innocent merchandise? Could we stop it? 

A munitions truck coming down the road would have to make a left turn into the gate of the US Naval Weapons Station, opposite which we stood. The station boundary was marked by a white line painted on the pavement. 

The Marine Officer of the Day had warned us of that line many times during our vigil. According to the formal warning that he droned over his loudspeaker, access to the base was controlled and no one was permitted on the grounds without "legitimate purpose and a definite destination." 

The US Code provided, he would continue, for punishment by imprisonment for not more than six months, or a fine of $500, or both. Crossing the white line was a federal case. Also we would be at the mercy of the Marines. 

The oncoming truck was marked "explosives". This meant it was loaded with bombs. People nearer the truck took the first action. Throwing themselves in the path of the speeding vehicle, they forced the driver to slow down. He would not stop, though, but forced them aside. 

Bob Meriwether, forced the truck to a near halt as it began to turn. He was handcuffed by the police and dragged away. 

The rest of us swarmed in front of the death-bearing monster and sat down on the roadway before its bumper. 

The driver still would not come to a halt, but continued moving slowly forward. The truck hit us and still continued forward, pushing us along the ground. 

As inexorably our passive bodies approached the fatal white line, I saw a Marine coming toward is with some of his subordinates. 

He shouted, "Alright, they crossed over!" then pointed to me and ordered, "You take that one!" Before I could draw back my extended legs, a young pfc grabbed 

me by my boot and dragged me across the line onto the base. 

I did not try to resist the Marines. They carried me into the base and threw me inside a prison truck. Shortly, they took me out, photographed and fingerprinted me, then committed me to a cell where I was reunited with some of the other people who were arrested. 

In a buoyant mood, we were carted to the county jail in Martinez, singing, and exulting over the success of the demonstration. I was charged with trespassing on US property. 

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Not Just Any Old Port  

Port Chi Vigilers Brave Fists and Fury  

By Gar Smith / The Berkeley Barb 

(January 1, 1967)—On the Port Chicago vigil line, boredom, constant danger and the sharp friction of a dozen privations wear living down to basics. 

Christmas—a sound montage of Muzak carols, shuffled between broadcast slices of the big beat, the retelling of cold steeple chimes, the tinkling of small tin bells…. Christmas, with its dangle of colored lights, never found Port Chicago's peace vigil. 

The tall pylon along the Industrial Highway which identifies the Concord Naval Weapons Depot matches its illumination against the far flames of the Avon chemical burn-offs, reminding the eye of Seattle's Space Needle and a Vietnamese village dying in Dow's flaming jam. 

The vigilers are gone from the Main Gate: only the hovering cradle of a highway arc-light maintains its vigil, swaying on its tapering aluminum stalk. The vigilers have moved to the waterfront gate, closer to the ships and the workers who load them. 

The vigil has also established itself before the Federal Building in San Francisco, [with support convoys] leaving each afternoon at 5 for the Port Chicago waterfront. 

Often only two people wait out the lonely days and nights before the gate—and, on occasion, one vigiler stands in solitary witness to the war and human conscience. 

Recently over 200 Bay Area professors and their wives, at the insistence of Professor Masao Miyoshi of Berkeley's Faculty Peace Committee, gathered for a rain-dashed Sunday vigil at the weapon station's Main Gate but since that exceptional day, the vigil has survived on the awesome stamina of a very few. 

It has been quiet—relatively—at the vigil of late, but even the calmest night may bristle with sudden violence. 

Last Thursday was a case in point. Eight persons vigiled at the waterfront gate. Most of them were clustered in the rear of Larry Cooper's station wagon, resting from the cold and their fatigue, when a car pulled to a stop and disgorged a know of men who accounted Cooper, who was standing alone. 

Cooper, according to Jenny Milmen, spoke with the men for about half and hour, the abruptly, the mood turned ugly. The vigilers from the car and beaten amid curses. One of the attackers who had previously declared that he was enrolled in Officer Training School, expressed by way of explanation his hostile assessment of peaceful, anti-war vigilers: "You're destroying our country." 

The attackers expressed their patriotic loyalty on the non-resisting pacifists for over five minutes before they left. Miss Milmen, the single girl on the line that night, was the only vigiler left uninjured. 

As they piled back into their auto, one of the attackers paused to announce that the vigil had gone on long enough—the time had come for extinction. "New Year's Eve is going to be the last night of this vigil," he shouted as the car fled. 

The vigilers are not inclined to treat threats with special concern—threats and brutality are the common lot of the Port Chi pacifist—but the New Year's threat seemed somehow inordinately chilling. 

Frenzied calls were made, trying to bring more people to the line on that night, for protection: phone calls to the working press for the same purpose. From the offices of the Sunday Ramparts to the city desks of the Oakland Trib came the same seasonal greetings: "Sorry, but it's New Year; we don't have the staff." 

The morning of January 1st, however, brought this report from Jim Bernard, vigil spokesman: "Nothing but peace and quiet on New Years." Another lonely, anxious and patient night had passed—the 151st

If it is true that the men and youths who hassle the vigil are motivated by back-water boredom as well as misplaced aggression, the festive interlude of "ringing in the new" may have quenched the urge to annihilate those few tenacious reminders of last year's war guilt. There's much sublimation to be had in a brace of bourbon. 

But the hangovers will subside in a day's time and then, perhaps, the vigil will bear the shock of a renews and magnified blitz—the goondas may, in fact, hold the vigilers somehow responsible for the discomfort of their morning after DTs. 

If the (Christmas) spirit is still within you, please be advised that the vigil is in need of food, clothing and funds. Money is now very short and has largely been drawn from the vigilers' private accounts, now almost depleted. 

Most importantly, however, the vigil needs the human participation of dedicate individuals. The car that leaves from the Federal Building at 5 p.m. each weekday will be able to pick up riders, food, dollars, or the Christmas clothing that you were going to have to exchange anyway. 

A phone call to Joanna Barnes on Jim Bernard in Concord the previous day should provide for pick ups.