UCSD quad protest 1969-70

Anti-Vietnam war protest at UCSD, circa 1969-70 in Revelle Plaza.


The War in Vietnam Formally Ended 40 Years Ago Today

By Frank Gormlie

There is a direct connection between the OB Rag and the Vietnam War – which formally ended 40 years ago today when the National Liberation Front finally captured Saigon – the then-name of the capital.

Or I should say, there’s a direct connection between the OB Rag and the anti-war movement against the Vietnam War.  I was a militant member of the anti-war movement on my campus at UCSD from 1968 to 1970 when I graduated – along with hundreds and even thousands of other students.

precisepobragcoverrapeobBack then, the Vietnam war was tearing the country apart. Thousands of college students – and others – across the nation had risen up and created the largest anti-war movement in history, and by time President Nixon had invaded Cambodia in late April 1970, the campuses exploded – bringing hundreds of colleges and universities to a halt that May during the national Student Strike.

It was during that nation-wide student strike that demonstrating students were killed at Kent State in Ohio and Jackson State in Mississippi.

UCSD – and most if not the other college campuses in San Diego –  had joined the strike, and radicalized students had brought all teaching to a halt. Even conservative students and faculty had joined the strike. All California state campuses came down likewise during that period.  Sit-ins were held, research was done that connected the university to what we called “the war machine” through Defense and military contracts, recruiters were blocked from attempts to rope in neophytes.

UCSD students joined several thousands of others from City College, San Diego State and other campuses and non-violently blocked traffic on Catalina Boulevard for hours to prevent “business as usual” at the Navy’s electronic labs in Point Loma. This was one of the most militant protests by San Diego students in history – and there were no arrests – as police – outnumbered 100 to 1, could only stand by and watch.

UCSD May 1070 geo Winne memorial editDuring that heady May of 1970, George Winne, a student at UCSD, fatally-immolated himself in protest of the war. And today there is a memorial to his act.

But even that May rebellion which involved 4 million college and high school students and a million faculty across American didn’t end the war.

So, in the summer of 1970, I left UCSD and headed back to Ocean Beach – where I had lived earlier –  disheartened by the inability of college students to bring a halt to the slaughter and violence our government was perpetrating thousands of miles away in Southeast Asia.

College students were by nature too transitory, I thought, too easily removed from their campus bases – as then-Governor Reagan had accomplished with his order to close all the UC and state university schools in a successful effort to cut protests.

If we’ll going to end the war, I thought, we have to build an anti-war movement in the communities of our nation – only then would enough pressure be brought to bear to end the war.

It was then I decided to go back to OB and do community organizing – to work in the community around local issues and through that process help to radicalize people and get them to realize that the war was not in their or our interest – or in the interest of the Vietnamese for that matter.

I also decided that the best tool for community organizing was a grassroots alternative or “underground” newspaper to spread the anti-war gospel. And that’s how the OB People’s Rag was born.

ob rag OBTC 1972 v2n08p01A small group of us – mostly refugees from the UC anti-war movement – lived on Etiwanda Street in northeast OB and began printing our newspaper – at first  a few pages stapled together – and began distributing them around Ocean Beach. We stood in front of markets and on corners handing out our broadsheets – asking for a quarter donation in return. We would hand them out even if somebody didn’t have the money.

And gradually, the OB Rag gained enough supporters among the village and recruited enough others to contribute as writers to allow it to evolve into a newspaper format.

We would write articles about local issues, and then also pieces about the war, racism, women’s liberation, gay rights, environmental militancy.  The Rag got to a stage where we were printing 5,000 to 10,000 issues every couple of weeks.

Yet the war continued to rage. There were more outbursts in opposition – particularly in Ocean Beach during the Collier Park Riot in late March of 1971 and in May 1972 – but also across the city and country. I had joined a quarter of a million demonstrators marching against the war in San Francisco. In another more local action that Spring of ’72, hundreds of protesters in downtown San Diego walked out onto the freeway in protest of the war, blocking traffic. Scores were arrested. In another action, scores of protesters attempted to block a train carrying war supplies up in Del Mar.

The country had turned against the war so much that by 1973, the draft was ended and American involvement in the fighting began to wind down.  During this conflict, we had seen such outrages as the My Lai Massacre in 1968 and the Christmas bombing of Hanoi in 1972.

My Lai was the mass killing of between 347 and 504 unarmed civilians in southern Vietnam on March 16, 1968,  committed by U.S. Army soldiers. The victims included men, women, children, and infants, and where some of the women had been gang-raped and their bodies mutilated by our American soldiers.

Called “the most shocking episode of the Vietnam War”, the massacre torn the veil off  any moral superiority that Americans felt during the war. (26 soldiers were charged with criminal offenses, but only Lieutenant William Calley Jr., a platoon leader, was convicted. Calley was found guilty, given a life sentence, but served less than 4 years under under house arrest.)

The Christmas bombing of 1972 was the most expanded bombing campaign of the war by US B-52 aircraft when the US dropped at least 20,000 tons of explosives on the north in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. killing more than 1,000 Vietnamese. What a Christian act.

These were just some of the horrible excesses our country perpetrated against the Vietnamese.  But they resulted in the mass revulsion of the American people, and enough pressure was applied that the US government signed a peace treaty in Paris.

It took another couple of years for the corrupt government in the south of Vietnam to fall, and for all the cities to be liberated – including the capital in Saigon.

By time Saigon was turned over to the victorious forces, the American anti-war movement had wound down. Without a draft to galvanize young men and their supporters, much of the mass base of the anti-war movement had faded away.

ob rag Oct 2003 vv7n2p1In all truth then, by time the war ended 40 years ago today, it had already ended for many of us within the anti-war movement. I did take part in a joyous parade in Berkeley on May 1, 1975, celebrating the end to our most inglorious involvement in a war we should never been a part of. 58,000 Americans died, and an estimated 2 million plus Vietnamese perished during the conflict.

One of the greatest legacies of the war, was something called “the Vietnam Syndrome” – an attitude among Americans against sending our soldiers off to invade foreign nations that lasted for decades. But the legacy was proven dead by time George Bush lied to us and started the Iraq war nearly 30 years after Vietnam.

Back to the OB Rag: the original newspaper version went on until 1976 – until burn-out had crippled the volunteer staff, and the young student base of the staff began melting into careers and other priorities.

OB Rag laptop -smThe OB People’s Rag had its own legacy, however, as other community activists used part of the name for their projects, such as the OB People’s Free School and the OB People’s Food Co-op (which of course is still around).

Another legacy of the original OB Rag was born in 2001, when a group of activists from the OB Grassroots Organization, printed off several issues of a new OB Rag.  And then in late 2007, the online version of the OB Rag became a reality. Once again, the OB Rag emerged as part of a new anti-war movement – this one against the war in Iraq.

OB Rag Homepage -edNearly 8 years later, the online version of the OB Rag continues. In fact three years ago, the OB Rag initiated a spin-off, the San Diego Free Press – and it remains our online media partner.

And this my friends, is the connection between the Vietnam War and the online OB Rag version you’re reading today.


Please see Anna Daniel’s article at the San Diego Free Press

entitled The 40th Anniversary of the Fall of Saigon: How San Diego Brought the Vietnam War Home

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Marc Snelling April 30, 2015 at 10:23 am

Slight correction – the new OB Rag was born in 2001.

Also the OB Rag had an online presence from 2001-2005 as scanned copies of the original Rag were featured on the OB Grassroots Organization website.


Frank Gormlie April 30, 2015 at 10:39 am

Marc, thanks dude for the clarification. I was hoping you’d come on and as the editor of that version give us a better date.


mjt April 30, 2015 at 11:45 am

The Vietnam War was my obsession. I attended every major peace demonstration in NYC and Washington DC from 1965 to 1969.
I would read the NYT from front to back and anything else I could find for information concerning the war.
But only in the last couple of years have I learned of the extent of involvement the Vatican had in the war.

In the seventeen hundreds a French Jesuit priest established a stronghold in Vietnam, he acquired an army of 2000 to protect his interests.

I was annoyed with Cardinal Spellman’s support of the war, but never knew the truth of his involvement.
Some would call it Spelly’s War. He made several visits to Vietnam, calling our troops “the soldiers of Christ” fighting the Pope’s Crusade, against “Godless Jew Communism”

Two flags flew in the south, the South Vietnamese and the Vatican’s.
The Vatican was the largest landowner in South Vietnam.

These days the Christians and Jews have teamed up to kill Muslims.
It is all very depressing.

Without the Jews, there would never have been the protest movement that we witnessed during Vietnam. They were our leaders and I looked up to them.
Today, not so much.


Goatskull May 1, 2015 at 10:01 am

“These days the Christians and Jews have teamed up to kill Muslims.
It is all very depressing.

Without the Jews, there would never have been the protest movement that we witnessed during Vietnam. They were our leaders and I looked up to them.
Today, not so much.”

Perhaps it would be better to say the U.S. and Israel rather than Christians and Jews. That being said, shouldn’t Israel have a right to defend itself? do a Google search and you find plenty of articles and photos of bomb and missile scares on an almost daily occurrence. There is the famous photo of people having to get out of their vehicles on a highway in or around Tel Aviv so the can get down in the fetal position due to explosions going on around them.


mjt May 1, 2015 at 2:31 pm

This time around it is the Baptist Fundamentalist Christians who has teamed up with Israel. Before the Iraq War started a Baptist Convention endorsed the invasion into Iraq.
When Adelson gave Newt Gingrich 5 million for his presidential run, that was payoff for support of Israel.
My intention was to criticize the Vatican and one thought led to another.

Spelly may have said the war was against “Godless Jew Communism”, but it was against Buddhism, because in the seventeen hundreds Communism did not exist.


Frank Gormlie May 2, 2015 at 11:54 am

I just added this:
In another action, scores of protesters attempted to block a train carrying war supplies up in Del Mar.


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