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4 Years After Start of War, Anger Reigns
After a night of rain, sleet and snow, the day began with bright sunshine but low temperatures. Marchers assembled at first in relatively sparse numbers on a muddy playing field at 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue NW.
Organizers, who had predicted tens of thousands of marchers would demonstrate, gave estimates ranging from 15,000 to 30,000. Police no longer provide official estimates of crowd size but informally put it at 10,000 to 20,000, with a smaller but sizable contingent of counter-protesters.
War protest leaders said a large winter storm that hit the Northeast hurt turnout. More than 60 bus loads of protesters who had been scheduled to come from the region canceled their trips Friday night, according to Brian Becker, national coordinator for the Answer Coalition, the event's main sponsor.
It was quickly apparent that the weather had not prevented counter-demonstrators, many in black leather motorcycle jackets, from showing up in force and surrounding all sides of the Wall.
At one point before the march started, counter-demonstrators formed a gantlet along an asphalt walkway on Constitution Avenue and heaped verbal abuse at protesters who walked through on their way to the assembly area. One Vietnam veteran in a wheelchair yelled obscenities at demonstrators, including some with children.
Some demonstrators supporting the war effort engaged in good-natured banter with war protesters. But others blocked paths and prevented marchers from getting near the Wall, particularly anyone carrying a sign. District resident Eric Anderson, 47, had his sign ripped from his hands and thrown in the mud.
Bob Anders, 60, an Iowa banker who said he served with the 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam and rode a bus from Iowa to protest the war, had his heart set on seeing the memorial but turned around after seeing the situation. "I've never seen the memorial, and I wanted to see it in a spirit of protest," he said.
After speeches from antiwar activists including Cindy Sheehan, the first marchers took off across the bridge shortly before 1 p.m. The marchers began arriving at the Pentagon about 1:45, some gathering in front of the stage in the north parking lot and others perched on a hill by a Route 27 overpass.
About 2:10, a group of several hundred young people continued past the rally point and marched down Route 27 toward the south parking lot until they confronted a police barricade. Some youths who carried traffic barrels cut in half and painted red and black as shields and wore scarves over their faces pressed forward as Pentagon police, backed by Virginia state troopers in riot gear, stood two layers deep, trying to push them back. When that failed, the police donned gas masks. One of the protesters threw a firecracker, and many people ran off.
About 70 to 80 people sat down and were threatened with arrest. Protesters chanted, "The whole world is watching." Then protesters took a vote and opted to back off.
Yet, many demonstrators showed respect toward police and the military.