'We want peace': The largest political protest in US history, 45 years later

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Vietnam protest 11/15/69
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'We want peace': The largest political protest in US history, 45 years later
Demonstrators march along Pennsylvania Avenue in an anti-Vietnam War protest in Washington, November 15, 1969. (AP Photo)
Anti-war active-duty GI's, forbidden to demonstrate in uniform, marching up Pennsylvania Ave, in support of the moratorium. (Photo by John Olson/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
With the U.S. Capitol in the background, demonstrators march along Pennsylvania Avenue in an anti-Vietnam War protest in Washington, on Moratorium Day, November 15, 1969. (AP Photo)
Draft resisters march at a demonstration organized by the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, Washington DC, November 15, 1969. (Photo by David Fenton/Getty Images)
Opponents of an anti-Vietnam War demonstration set fire to a Viet Cong flag, prior to the start of the march, on November 15, 1969, in Washington. (AP Photo)
A demonstrator waves a Viet Cong flag as he watches a police motor bike burn during a confrontation between antiwar demonstrators and police in Washington, Nov. 14, 1969. (AP Photo)
A crowd of demonstrators gather at the Washington Monument for the Moratorium Day peace rally to protest the Vietnam War on Nov. 15, 1969. The attendance is estimated at 200,000 people. (AP Photo)
Kenneth Williams, 21, of Morristown, Pa., rests in the Students Mobilization Committee to end the War in Vietnam office in Washington Nov. 13, 1969. The cartons behind Williams contain pesters which will be sold during the Vietnam Moratorium activities which begin on November 13 in the nation’s capital. (AP Photo/Bob Daugherty)
WASHINGTON, DC. - NOVEMBER 15: Demonstration Anti-Vietnam on November 15, 1969 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Santi Visalli/Getty Images)
American folk singer and musician Arlo Guthrie, dressed in a fleece-trimmed Afghan coat and cowboy hat, performs at the National Mobilization to End the War, Washington, D.C., November 15, 1969. At the event, hundreds of thousands of peace supporters demonstrated against the war in Vietnam. (Photo by David Fenton/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC. - NOVEMBER 15: Demonstration Anti-Vietnam with Dr. Benjamin Spock on November 15, 1969 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Santi Visalli/Getty Images)
The Moratorium Day peace parade passes along Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol building on Nov. 15, 1969. The peace rally gathered at the Washington Monument to protest the Vietnam War. (AP Photo)
Wearing the name of a serviceman who died in Vietnam, this marcher pauses in front of the White House to shout the name toward the Executive Mansion in Washington Nov. 14, 1969. The “march against Death” began late Thursday from Arlington National cemetery to the Capitol and will continue until Saturday morning when a mass march from the Capitol to the Washington Monument will climax three days of the second moratorium of the pace movement. (AP Photo)
A woman tosses a brick out the broken window of a dress shop in Washington, Nov. 15, 1969 after the outbreak of violence. Police stopped a march of peace protesters from nearing the South Vietnam embassy. (AP Photo)
The West’s march of protest against the Vietnam War moves out from the San Francisco waterfront, Nov. 15, 1969, heading for a rally in Golden Gate Park some seven miles away. The marchers were quiet and somber as they started their long walk to protest the fighting in Vietnam. (AP Photo)
A demonstrator during a confrontation between antiwar demonstrators and police in Washington, Nov. 14, 1969. (AP Photo)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate student Stephen Pace of Salt Lake City, carries a lantern and signs in his knapsack as he prepared to board bus for Washington in Cambridge Thursday, Nov. 13, 1969. Pace was among hundreds of protestors who boarded buses enroute Washington moratorium to protest American involvement in Vietnam. (AP Photo)
J. Paul Getty Jr.'s wife Talitha stands with American author Gore Vidal, wearing dark glasses, in Piazza Navona, in Rome, Nov. 15, 1969, during a rally staged to show support for Moratorium Day and gather petitions demanding an end to the war in Vietnam. (AP Photo)
Supporters of the Vietnam moratorium lie in the Sheep Meadow of New York's Central Park Nov. 14, 1969 as hundreds of black and white balloons float skyward. A spokesman for the moratorium committee said the black balloons represented Americans who died in Vietnam under the Nixon administration, and the white balloons symbolized the number of Americans who would die if the war continued. (AP Photo/J. Spencer Jones)
President Nixon works in the Oval Office in the White House, Nov. 15, 1969, as a Vietnam Day protest parade passes within a block of the Executive Mansion. Nixon maintained his work schedule. (AP Photo)
Police release tear gas in retaliation to a barrage of rocks from a segment of the Vietnam moratorium peace demonstration in Washington, D.C., Nov. 15, 1969. (AP Photo)
A trio of youths sits on a statue near the Capitol in Washington, Nov. 14, 1969 as the “March Against Death” from Arlington Cemetery passed by. The 40-hour-long demonstration is a part of the Vietnam Moratorium in Washington. (AP Photo)
A crowd estimated at over 10,000 wave flags and hold signs during “Freedom Rally” in Washington to support President Nixon’s Vietnam policy in Washington Nov. 12, 1969. The Veterans Day demonstration was held on the grounds of the Washington Monument. (AP Photo)
WASHINGTON, DC. - NOVEMBER 15: Demonstration Pro-Vietnam on November 15, 1969 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Santi Visalli/Getty Images)
Anti-war demonstrators, wearing black armbands, fill the steps of the United States Capitol Building and hold hands on the day of the National Moratorium, on October 15, 1969 in Washington DC, to protest against the continuing war in Vietnam. Millions of Americans took part in peace initiatives across the United States during the Moratorium Day, which is believed to have been the largest demonstration in US history with an estimated two million people involved. (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Young Americans gesture and shout as they protest the war in Vietnam on the steps of the Department of Justice building during the National Mobilization to End the War, Washington, DC, November 15, 1969. (Photo by David Fenton/Getty Images)
A memorial service for the Louisiana war dead is conducted at Loyola University in New Orleans, Oct. 15, 1969. Moratorium Day demonstrations at a number of New Orleans colleges will be climaxed with a march on the Federal Building. (AP Photo)
Anti-war demonstrators march outside the White House, on November 15, 1969 in Washington DC, for the second Moratorium Day, to protest against the continuing war in Vietnam. Millions of Americans took part in peace initiatives across the United States during the Moratorium Day, which is believed to have been the largest demonstration in US history with an estimated two million people involved. (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
American antiwar political activist Jerry Rubin (1938 - 1994), with David Dellinger (1915 - 2004) visible on the right, waves to the crowd at the National Mobilization to End the War rally against the Vietnam War, Washington, DC, November 15, 1969. Rubin holds a banner which reads 'Yippie!' and refers to his mock political party the Youth International Party. (Photo by David Fenton/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON DC - NOVEMBER 15: Students protest the Vietnam war and the trial of the Chicago 7 on November 15 1969 in Washington DC. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON DC - NOVEMBER 15: National Guard troops and police surround an overturned car during anti-Vietnam protests on November 15 1969 in Washington DC. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Young Americans gesture and shout as they protest the war in Vietnam on the steps of the Department of Justice building during the National Mobilization to End the War, Washington, DC, November 15, 1969. (Photo by David Fenton/Getty Images)
Members of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War raise clenched fists after ending their 40-hour occupation of State of Liberty, which can be seen behind them, Dec. 28, 1971. The veterans are protesting the continuation of the Vietnam war and the intensification of United States bombing. (AP Photo/Anthony Camerano)
WASHINGTON, DC. - NOVEMBER 15: Demonstration Anti-Vietnam on November 15, 1969 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Santi Visalli/Getty Images)
Demonstrators lie in the roadway outside the U.S. Embassy in London’s Grosvenor Square, United Kingdom on Nov. 15, 1969 during a show of support for anti-Vietnam War demonstrations taking place simultaneously in Washington. Beside pavement is a mock coffin into which protesters dropped names of U.S. soldiers killed in Vietnam. (AP Photo/Peter Kemp)
WASHINGTON, DC. - NOVEMBER 15: Demonstration Anti-Vietnam on November 15, 1969 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Santi Visalli/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC. - NOVEMBER 15: Demonstration Anti-Vietnam on November 15, 1969 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Santi Visalli/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC. - NOVEMBER 15: Demonstration Anti-Vietnam on November 15, 1969 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Santi Visalli/Getty Images)
College students in New Orleans march to the Federal Building on Moratorium Day, Oct. 15, 1969. (AP Photo)
WASHINGTON, DC. - NOVEMBER 15: Demonstration Anti-Vietnam on November 15, 1969 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Santi Visalli/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC. - NOVEMBER 15: Demonstration Anti-Vietnam on November 15, 1969 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Santi Visalli/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC. - NOVEMBER 15: Demonstration Anti-Vietnam with peace buttons on November 15, 1969 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Santi Visalli/Getty Images)
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By MORGAN WHITAKER

Forty five years ago Saturday, more than a quarter million Americans descended on Washington, D.C., to protest the Vietnam War. Demonstrations and marches were common in this era, whether in opposition to violence or in support of civil rights, but the November 1969 march stood out for one reason: it was the largest political protest in American history.

President Richard Nixon sat comfortably in the White House, reportedly watching college football, as a "vast throng of Americans, predominantly youthful" called for the swift withdrawal of troops from Vietnam within earshot of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Nixon's 1968 election opponent Eugene McCarthy was on hand that day, joining demonstrators at a rally near the Washington Monument. Famous peace activist musicians Peter, Paul and Mary, Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger performed as well, according to New York Times reports, leading the masses in a rendition of John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance."

Ken Whitaker was one of those youthful Americans who traveled to Washington that day to voice his opposition to the war.

Although most of the reports on the event focused on the youthful crowd, he remembers seeing a lot of faces he didn't often come across at anti-war rallies.

"I remember, when seeing how many people were there, thinking that the momentum against the war had changed," he tells AOL.com in a recent interview. "While most of what I had done protesting the war was on campus -- so mainly with young people -- I remember seeing many older people that day."

"It was the first time I remember thinking that it is now something of a middle class movement and not a fringe movement," he adds.

Whitaker was a college student at the time, but he had a unique perspective on the war, having returned from the jungles of Southeast Asia where he served as a Marine. Two years after returning from action, he'd become an active member of his college's chapter of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

"I had fought there and I knew we shouldn't be there," he recalls.

When McCarthy spoke to the throngs of protesters on that Saturday in 1969, he reiterated the importance of learning lessons from the "experience" of history. Whitaker has similar feelings today about the challenges facing America in the Middle East.

"One of my big concerns about leading the fight against ISIS is that in some ways it is like Vietnam. We want to protect Iraq from the terror group that is taking more of Iraq and in Vietnam we were protecting the South from the Viet Cong, both ragtag militias that kept the Iraqi and Vietnamese governments on the ropes," he says.


"If ISIS puts up a good fight against our 'allies,' I believe we will be very likely to put more and more troops in to win," he adds. "There is where I think we have lost the lesson of Vietnam."

"I hope I am wrong."


See some of the compelling images captured during the Vietnam War in the gallery below.

47 PHOTOS
Vietnam War photos
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'We want peace': The largest political protest in US history, 45 years later
A US soldier from the Third Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, mans a gun turret on tank along Route 13, Vietnam, 1967. (Photo Co Rentmeester/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
View from the gun turret of a tank as US troops and vehicles from the Third Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, drive along Route 13, Vietnam, 1967. (Photo Co Rentmeester/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
As part of Operation 'Cedar Falls,' armored personnel carriers (called ¿Zippo Tracks¿) from the 1st squadron 4th Cavalry burn field in the so-called 'Iron Triangle' region, Vietname, January 1967. (Photo by Dick Swanson/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
American TV news correspondent Mike Wallace of CBS News reports from a trench during the Vietnam War, 1967. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
VIET NAM - 1967: American UH-1 Huey helicopter lifting off as personnel on the ground protect themselves from propeller wash somewhere in Vietnam. (Photo by Larry Burrows/Time Magazine/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
U. S. soldiers of 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry on Zippo Tracks armored personnel carriers incinerating Iron Triangle area during Operation Cedar Falls. (Photo by Dick Swanson/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
U. S. soldiers of 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry on Zippo Tracks armored personnel carriers incinerating Iron Triange area during Operation Cedar Falls. (Photo by Dick Swanson/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
U. S. soldiers of 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry on Zippo Tracks armored personnel carriers incinerating Iron Triangle area during Operation Cedar Falls. (Photo by Dick Swanson/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
U. S. soldiers of 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry on Zippo Tracks armored personnel carriers incinerating Iron Triange area during Operation Cedar Falls. (Photo by Dick Swanson/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
Peace demonstrators protesting the Vietnam War around the Washington Monument. (Photo by Dick Swanson/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
Peace demonstrators sitting in protest to the Vietnam War w. military police in riot gear standing by. (Photo by Dick Swanson/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
US Marine teaching Vietnamese villager how to spin-cast. (Photo by Co Rentmeester/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
US Navy Corpsman Robert Miller examining girl in village of Hao Hiep. (Photo by Co Rentmeester/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
US Marines meeting with village chief to discuss problems of village security. (Photo by Co Rentmeester/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
US Marine with S. Vietnamese Soldier checking ID of man in village of Hoa Hiep. (Photo by Co Rentmeester/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Marines of the 1st Battalion 26th fighting near the village of Gia Binh, Vietnam on Sept. 23, 1966. (AP Photo)
A Marine of the First Battalion, 26th Marines holds his rifle out of the water as he sinks under the water in a swampy river after amphibious landing east of Saigon, Vietnam on August 23, 1966. Other Marines pull themselves through the water using rope to steady themselves. Marines were landed in Operation Deck House II from ships of the Seventh Fleet. Plans to move the troops inland by motorized transport were foiled by swamp and the Marines had to push inland on foot. (AP Photo/Horst Faas)
U.S. Marines on a multi-battalion operation only a couple thousand yards south of the demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam, running from a CH46 Sea Knight helicopter, July 19, 1966. (AP Photo/Horst Faas)
2nd March 1966: Viet Cong guerillas patrolling a water zone during the Vietnam War. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
A soldier of the 25th Infantry Division, coated with sweat and grime, patrols thick jungle near the Cambodian border, Nov. 26, 1966. B-52 air strikes had driven out enemy snipers that stalled the unit for three days. (AP Photo/Horst Faas)
U.S. Marines of the 7th Fleet's special landing team, the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines, crouch on a dirt trail with a 3.5 inch rocket launcher about one mile (2000 meters) south of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) as they respond to sniper fire during Operation Prairie against the North Vietnamese 324B Division, September 1966. (AP Photo/Horst Faas)
A U.S. marine carrys a 3.5 inch rocket launcher and ammunition through a monsoon swollen creek in South Vietnam, Oct. 14, 1966. The 2nd battalion of the 5th marines was patrolling the Jungle Mountains south of the demilitarized zone. (AP Photo/Merron)
U.S. Marine “Ontos”-armored track vehicle with six 106mm recoilless rifles and two 50-caliber machineguns stands in front of the “Rockpile” near the demilitarized zone in Vietnam on Oct. 13, 1966. Ontos spearheaded Marine attacks into North Vietnamese-held positions in villages and along the neutral zone. Rockpile was key position that Marine took after heavy fighting. (AP Photo/GR)
Grim-faced U.S. marine fires his m60 machine gun, concealed behind logs and resting in a shallow hole, during the battle against north Vietnamese regulars for hill 484, just south of the demilitarized zone, Oct. 10, 1966. After three weeks of bitter fighting, the 3rd battalion of the 4th marines took the hill the week of October 2. Authorities in Saigon said on October 10 that U.S. military units are being rushed northward to strengthen defenses against bed thrusts across the Six-mile zone. (AP Photo)
Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson (CR) attending meeting on the Vietnam War. (Photo by Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
US Nazi Party ldr., George Lincoln Rockwell, speaking at podium embellished w. swastika w. henchman, & his future alleged assassin, John Patler standing beside him during speech supporting Vietnam War. AT MALL (Photo by Time Life Pictures/Pix Inc./The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
US Army Captain Peter Dawkins, during tour of duty in Vietnam, working as advisor to an Vietnamese Airborne Battalion, 1966. (Photo by Charles Bonnay/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
U.S. Marines wade ashore south of Quang Ngai Jan. 28, 1966 in what was described as the biggest amphibious assault since the landing at Inchon during the Korean War. About 4,000 craft of the U.S. 7th Fleet participated. (AP Photo/George Esper)
U.S. Marines run to their foxholes as North Vietnamese mortars begin zeroing in on their positions during Operation Hastings near the demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam on July 17, 1966. Man at right holds his armored vest, which most GIs in Vietnam wear constantly for protection against mortar shrapnel. (AP Photo/Horst Faas)
Captain Charles S. Robb, President Johnson’s son-law, took over the command of a Marine rifle company in Danang, April 9, 1968. Here former company commander Capt. James R. Reeder (Evansville, Indiana), salutes Captain Robb (facing camera) during the take-over of company. (AP Photo/Eddie Adams)
A wounded U.S. Marine, center, is helped by two comrades, one of whom has his arm in a sling, as they walk through tall grass toward the top of Hill 689 where the wounded are evacuated by helicopter, April 30, 1968. The marines fought North Vietnamese on a ridge, located 2 1/2 miles west of Khe Sanh, in a battle to retrieve the bodies of marines killed previously. (AP Photo)
Marine Capt. Robb walks towards a group of Vietnamese who were being questioned by a Marine interpreter during a company sized operation led by Robb in Danang in May 1968. (AP Photo/Eddie Adams)
Marine company commander with the 7th Marine Regt. 1st Marine Division Capt. Charles Robb (son-in-law of Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson) with his radioman at his side during an operation in Vietnam in May 1968. (AP Photo/Eddie Adams)
U.S. Marines watch supplies float down under parachutes into the drop zone at the Khe Sanh combat base near the demilitarized zone in South Vietnam on March 29, 1968. (AP Photo)
Marines take cover on the edge of their sandbagged bunker, unable to move because of enemy artillery barrage at Khe Sanh, South Vietnam on March 28, 1968. (AP Photo)
White phosphorous bomblets burn in midair to create a smoke screen alongside the Khe Sanh runway to protect planes landing with supplies and reinforcements at the U.S. Marine base near the demilitarized zone in South Vietnam, March 10, 1968 during the Vietnam War. The smoke screen, laid by a lowflying jet, hides the base against snipers, close-by mortars and North Vietnamese artillery. (AP Photo/Robert Ohman)
U.S. Navy boats on the Mekong between Vinh Long and Mytho in Vietnam on March 6, 1968. (AP Photo/Phuc)
U.S. Marine tank guards residential section of Hue in South Vietnam on March 3, 1968 after fighting with the communists had largely died down. (AP Photo)
Lance Cpl. Richard Moyes, 19, of Cincinnati, Ohio, totes a sack of sand to strengthen fortifications in the “V-Ring” of Khe Sanh, Vietnam on Feb. 12, 1968 where a large U.S. Marine force is braced for an expected massive North Vietnamese attack. (AP Photo/John T. Wheeler)
U. S. soldier giving first aid to the wounded in Vietnam in 1968. (AP Photo)
U.S. Marine stands with head bowed as other Marines carry body of comrade through mud of a rice paddy to helicopter evacuation point in Vietnam on Jan. 6, 1968. Scores of Marines were killed and wounded wear Hoi An, 25 miles southwest of Da Nang, South Vietnam. (AP Photo/Kim Ki Sam)
WASHINGTON, D.C. - NOVEMBER 11: Visitors leave flowers at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. for Veterans Day on November 11, 2014. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, D.C. - NOVEMBER 11: Visitors leave flowers at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. for Veterans Day on November 11, 2014. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, D.C. - NOVEMBER 11: United States Park Police Honor Guard stands in front of the Vietnam War Memorial during the Veterans Day Ceremony in Washington, D.C. on November 11, 2014. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
In this March 29, 1973 photo, Camp Alpha, Uncle Sam’s out processing center, was chaos in Saigon. Lines of bored soldiers snaked through customs and briefing rooms. As the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam 40 years ago, angry protesters still awaited them at home. North Vietnamese soldiers took heart from their foes' departure, and South Vietnamese who had helped the Americans feared for the future. While the fall of Saigon two years later — with its indelible images of frantic helicopter evacuations — is remembered as the final day of the Vietnam War, Friday marks an anniversary that holds greater meaning for many who fought, protested or otherwise lived it. (AP Photo)
South Vietnamese forces follow after terrified children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc, center, as they run down Route 1 near Trang Bang after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places on June 8, 1972. A South Vietnamese plane accidentally dropped its flaming napalm on South Vietnamese troops and civilians. The terrified girl had ripped off her burning clothes while fleeing. The children from left to right are: Phan Thanh Tam, younger brother of Kim Phuc, who lost an eye, Phan Thanh Phouc, youngest brother of Kim Phuc, Kim Phuc, and Kim's cousins Ho Van Bon, and Ho Thi Ting. Behind them are soldiers of the Vietnam Army 25th Division. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
South Vietnamese tank attacks Viet Cong and North Vietnamese roadblocks along Route 1 near Trang Bang, on Route 130 M., northwest of Saigon, Jan. 28, 1973 as ceasefire goes into effect. Left, smoke rises from air strikes. Communist-led troops have cut road from Saigon to province town of Tay Ninh, scene of 2 days of heavy fighting. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
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Editor's note: While the November 1969 protest was the largest political protest of its time, the 2013 March for Life exceeded its numbers according to most estimates. The earlier march remains the largest anti-war demonstration in U.S. history. ​
Additionally, this article's author, Morgan Whitaker, happens to also be Ken Whitaker's daughter, and she is thankful to him both for his service and for raising her.

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