Protests: Vietnam, Okinawa and injustice over the years

Anti-war, Occupation and injustice have fueled protests worldwide, nation wide and here in Danville

By Bob Fish — Author: Hornet Plus Three

50 years ago I was involved in a few famous protests, all of which turned to riots. I was however, on the “defender” side of things. In 1968, as a 20 year old NROTC student. This was at the University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson, the author of our Declaration of Independence.

Early that year, the vicious TET offensive occurred in Vietnam, stoking the flames of the anti-war movement in the US. One night, our NROTC drill team was urgently called out to assist the local police in defending our Navy Reserve building from being burned down by a mob, led by few violent members of the Students for a Democratic Society. We succeeded although there was  a mix of people. Some put flowers in our gun barrels while others tried to light Molotov cocktails. A few months later, Dr Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Subsequently, riots broke out across the country and in Charlottesville. Once again, our drill team withstood the test and our building remained unscathed.

Protests against occupation in Okinawa

Having left school at the end of 1968 to join the Marine Corps, most of my service was spent in Okinawa. In 1970, the Okinawan people were unhappy with the huge American military presence and a small car accident turned into the massive Koza riots. My platoon, when not working in the data center, turned out for riot duty.

Bob Fish- Basic military protest or riot tactic training in V formation-Okinawa
This was basic riot tactics training for the military in the1960s. My unit, which ran the USMC data center resupplying the units in Vietnam, was learning how to advance into the Okinawan rioters to force them back in case they breached the gates of our base. our goal was to not shoot anyone, but deliver a “horizontal or vertical butt stroke” to the opponents chest or head if they attacked us (graphics).

Our objective was to turn back large angry mobs trying to storm our base, Camp Smedley D. Butler.  Sometimes, the protestors weren’t the only problem! Once, an Army helicopter was called to disperse the crowd with tear gas, but they forgot to check the wind direction before unleashing the chemical. Everyone in my unit smelled like tear gas for a week afterward and we were involuntarily forced to practice “social distancing” from others when eating at the mess hall.

Protests at Camp Butler in Okinawa
This was one of several entrances to MCB Camp Butler in Okinawa. On the left, the protestors are gathering in an effort to force open the gates by use of mass pushing. This photo is a relatively peaceful scene – just a lot of shouting. Within minutes after this, there was a lot of rock throwing, sign bashing and even cars ramming into the chain link gate to break it open.

50 years later, BLM protests in Danville

So, fast forward to June 3 of this year. Hearing that there were going to be Black Lives Matter protests in Danville I thought it would be very interesting to see things from the “other side”. My college age neighbor and I headed down and joined the group near Crumbs after lunch in 102 degree heat.

 Protesters Bob Fish and Jacqueline Black Lives Matter in Danville, CA
Neighbor Jacqueline (a recent graduate of MVHS) and I headed to downtown Danville and joined up with about 30 protestors at the corner of Hartz Ave and Railroad Ave. Since the temperature was 102 degrees, we staked out a position in the shade of a large tree, and near
a source of water thanks to the supportive owners of Crumbs restaurant.

Only about 30 people had signs. Most were high school age females with a few males and teachers mixed in. They were all in high spirits and committed to the task at hand. We chatted with several people and it was a very interesting response. All were worried about their education going forward, as high school classes and college tests had been disrupted by the coronavirus lockdown. But they also understood it was their civic right, if not duty, to protest against the injustice of George Floyd’s murder and the inequalities faced by people of color in the United States.

Actions speak louder than words

It’s one thing to read about social issues in school. However it is completely different to leave the safe confines of a class room discussion and go out onto the streets to draw public attention to it. Doing something is much better than saying something when it comes to social injustice. Change only comes through activism rather than silence. Just ask the Boston Tea Party patriots!

The “kids” were very respectful yet enthusiastic in getting the message out to their fellow Danvillites in a peaceful way. They had a chance to experience the world from a different perspective – not just on Instagram or Facebook or CNN. It was “tactile”!

Today’s young people offer a brighter future for all Americans

2 hours could not have better spent with a finer group of young people! Surely they will help create a brighter, more equitable and sustainable future for all Americans. What more can we ask of each new generation?

In the words of Thomas Jefferson, a key founder of this country, “The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.”  Danville’s kids eagerly accepted the opportunity to promote that message for a new generation.

Bob Fish is a Danville resident, author of Hornet Plus Three, and a contributing writer for The Valley Sentinel.