Cynthia Graae Hiram, Maine and NYC
In the spring of 1967, my husband Steffen Graae (later a DC Superior Court Judge, deceased in 2005) and I lived on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Most nights we went door to door seeking signatures for a petition against the war in Vietnam. Capitol Hill was racially and economically mixed. We canvassers stood out as economically and educationally privileged but were welcomed warmly at most homes we visited.
(I was still canvassing on Capitol Hill only eight hours before our daughter was born in May 1967.) In the autumn of 1967 a group called “Federal Employees Against the War in Vietnam” circulated an antiwar petition among their coworkers. They planned to publish the petition, including an alphabetical list the signatories and their Federal agency affiliations, as a paid newspaper advertisement. The State Department told its employees (where Steffen worked) that although they had a Constitutional right to sign the petition, their agency affiliation could not be published, due to the State Department’s mission. The State Department was the only Federal agency that issued such a prohibition, with the ironic result that the large number of State Department signatories–maybe hundreds of them–was glaringly obvious in the advertisement. The Washington Post refused to publish the advertisement, but the now defunct Washington Star accepted it. I no longer remember how many employees signed the petition, but to the best of my recollection the advertisement, which I haven’t been able to find on the Internet, covered at least two pages and that maybe there were hundreds of State Department signatories. A few months later in his January 1968 State of the Union Address, President Lyndon Johnson announced he would not seek reelection. Many Federal employees believed that the published petition was directly responsible for Johnson’s decision. The signatories were hopeful that the next President would end the War, and later presidential candidate Richard Nixon promised to find a way to “peace with honor.”
For a variety of reasons, including attendance in graduate school, conscientious objector status, and medical conditions (Steffen had a congenital heart defect that later was responsible for his early death), most of the men in the antiwar effort in the DC area had not been drafted. (The women were not subject to the draft.) We were young and naive. Until the Vietnam War Memorial was built on the National Mall, we had little comprehension of the lives of the men who served in Vietnam.
On Veterans’ Day 1982, the memorial was dedicated. Steffen and I and many of our friends went to see it. It documented the deaths of almost 60,000 military who died as a result of their service in Vietnam. We were greatly moved as we found the names of people we had known, watched people trace the names of loved ones, and saw the incredible accumulation of notes, flowers, and other mementos in front of the wall. The Wall did not change our feelings that the United States’ involvement was wrong, but it was healing for us to realize that the people who served in Vietnam were not synonymous with the Government policies that involved us in that war and we began to comprehend the dedication and service to our country that the 60,000 lives represented. Visiting the wall on Veterans’ Day became a tradition for Steffen and me as long as he lived and I resided in Washington, DC.