The Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament, the cross-continental walk that began with 1,200 participants on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall 8 1/2 months ago, came to its end here Saturday with crowds that finally reached 5,000 and more--the number organizers had hoped would set off in the beginning.
Hundreds of fresh and enthusiastic supporters joined the 1,800 marchers who had first arrived in the city Friday to walk the last few miles to a final rally at the Lincoln Memorial.
For about 400 of those in the march who had come the entire distance, the memorial represented mile 3,701.4.
"We made it! They said it couldn't be done, but we did it!" marcher Timothy Trujillo of Los Angeles called out as the march wound into Lafayette Park for the second of the day's three rallies. "And just as they say we can't have a world without nuclear weapons, we will!"
Greeted by Supporters
Moments earlier, the marchers had been greeted by hundreds of cheering supporters singing "This Land Is Your Land," led by folk singer Pete Seeger.
At the three-hour rally in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, the marchers were congratulated and urged to further action by a host of well-known peace activists, including Carl Sagan, baby doctor Benjamin Spock, Daniel Ellsberg and Eleanor Smeal, president of the National Organization for Women, who said: "We are in awe of your great determination."
Sen. Tom Harkin, (D-Iowa), who had first addressed the march in Iowa City, now urged the marchers to work for a new strategy for the country, "strength through peace."
The crowd seemed most moved, however, by a somber message from one not so well-known, Lynn Bylow, 32, daughter of an "atomic veteran" who died in 1982, she said, of radiation sickness.
Bylow, who waited in a wheelchair until it was time to speak and then walked with a cane to the microphone, told them she had undergone 57 operations since she was 15 as a result of the radiation to which her father had been exposed at Bikini Atoll in 1946.
"I am the reason you are marching," she told them. "Forget the politics. Forget the parades. This is the untold story, the dirty part. . . . You have to know this is an obscene, disgusting holocaust we are going through."
In recent weeks, with the end in sight, many of the marchers who set out from Los Angeles on March 1 had said that they had been feeling jubilant at their accomplishment and distressed that the weapons they marched against are still in place.
And their happiness at completing the trek was tempered by sadness at having a great adventure end. Almost all of them were confessing "separation anxiety."
It was a day of mixed emotions, of bear hugs, tender "this is the last time" embraces, triumphant yelps, congratulations and reunions with relatives, friends and former marchers, many of whom had come from all over the country to be here for the finish.
Among them was former marcher John Gordon, 74, of Walnut Creek, Calif., who had left the march in May in Glenwood Springs, Colo., when he was diagnosed as having inoperable pancreatic cancer. He had told the marchers that he hoped that he could hang on long enough to see them make it to Washington. He rejoined them Thursday in Beltsville, Md.
"The doctor gave me 30 days to put my affairs in order, and now here I am," he said while waiting to deliver a speech at the day's first rally at Malcolm X Park. Looking gaunt but rugged, with the bronzed, outdoor look of the marchers, he said that, although he was undergoing chemotherapy, "I feel great. (The marchers') prayers and energy sustained me across my own Death Valley."
Many of the 1,800 marchers who entered the city Friday had joined during the last two months. Early Saturday, chartered buses with additional marchers started arriving at their campsite near Catholic University of America in the northeast section of the city.
Hundreds more answered the "walk with us--the last mile is yours" invitation that the marchers had issued. About 200 had flown in from California, and others came from Iowa, Ohio and states all along the Eastern Seaboard. Most arrived in groups from churches and peace organizations.
Some, however, came alone, simply drawn, like Joel Rubin, to the march. He had left his home in Wantagh, N.Y., at 3 a.m. and driven all night "because I just wanted to lend my presence."
Rubin said he thought that the march was a good idea the first time he heard of it and had tracked its progress ever since, convinced, as were many at times, including marchers themselves, that the beleaguered undertaking would never make it.
Originally envisioned as a well-equipped, high-tech operation for 5,000 marchers, the march left Los Angeles with 1,200, undersupplied and in debt.
The sponsoring organization, PROPeace (People Reaching Out for Peace), collapsed two weeks later, leaving the marchers stranded in Barstow. About 500 of them regrouped as the Great Peace March and proceeded as a grass-roots band, poorly supplied and always broke.
The precarious state of the march along most of its long route explained much of the high emotion of the marchers at the end.
"I feel like a bride," Mary Jane Jones of Los Angeles said Saturday morning. Looking around at her companions of the last eight months, she said: "Everyone's high as a kite."
At the finish the marchers took up a collection, with their financial officer, Evan Conroy, making the plea to help them break even. Conroy said the march, which originally was supposed to cost more than $20 million, actually had spent less than $900,000.
A crowd of perhaps 10,000 attended the day's final rally at the Lincoln Memorial to hear consumer advocate Ralph Nader, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, disc jockey Casey Kasem and singer Holly Near, and to take part in a closing candlelight ceremony around the reflecting pool on the Washington Mall.