Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thanksgiving 1970: The Vietnam War comes to Pershing Square

When San Diego writer Joe McCain was looking for a place to hold a consciousness raising performance to draw attention to the plight of prisoners of war like his brother John, he chose Pershing Square, the historic heart of Los Angeles.

On Thanksgiving Day, 1970, throngs gathered around the rough bamboo cage in the center of the park. Inside, the bearded, ragged McCain sat hunched over, his ankles shackled to the floor. As the curious peered in, he used chopsticks to slurp a sad holiday supper of pig fat, soupy rice and pumpkin.

"Is that how my daddy has to eat?" asked a little child, peering between the bars.

Joe McCain's meal in Pershing Square resulted in front page stories nationwide. Then with Pete Nasmyth and Don Rehmann, two other California men with captive brothers, he set out by truck on a cross-country, 12-city tour, carrying a petition seeking improved conditions for all POWs in Vietnam. They arrived in New York on New Years Eve, with 6.5 million signatures, quite a few of them gathered in Pershing Square. The group continued on to Paris, where six tons of mail intended for the POWs was stacked in front of the North Vietnamese delegation offices.

John McCain was captured on October 26, 1967 and released on March 14, 1973. John Nasmyth was captured on September 4, 1966 and released in February 1973. David Rehmann was captured on December 2, 1966 and released on February 12, 1973.   

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