War protest banner reflects Wilton in the 60s

There’s a saying that if you can remember the 1960s, you weren’t really there.

But veiled references to mind-altering conditions aside, what if you can’t remember something you did in the 60s? Something that was part of a big national movement and protest?

That’s the issue the Wilton Historical Society is having with one of the items on display in its exhibition “Bullets, Bonds, and Butter: Wilton Responds to War.”

The item in question is a large canvas banner from 1969, measuring 44 inches tall and 93 inches wide and signed by more than 400 Wilton residents in protest of the Vietnam War. The banner supports a Vietnam Moratorium that was held Oct. 15, 1969, when people across the country held massive peace demonstrations and protests calling for an end to the war.

Protests were held everywhere that day, at colleges, schools, Wall Street, and even Major League Baseball games.

A month later, a quarter-million people attended the Moratorium march to the White House in Washington, D.C, led by Coretta Scott King. The march gathered the attention of President Richard Nixon, who publicly said the protest meant nothing and his day was “business as usual.”

But privately, Nixon was reportedly very angry that protestors had undermined his policy of winning “peace with honor” in Vietnam. To that end, he delivered a speech, referred to as “the silent majority” speech, asking for the support of the “silent majority” of Americans to keep the war going until North Vietnam ceased trying to overthrow the government of South Vietnam.

He concluded the speech by saying, “North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that.”

The speech served to further polarize the country, which was already torn over whether the United States should be fighting in Vietnam. It was a bold, loud time in America. A country torn over war and peace.

Students at Wilton High School were part of the Moratorium protests and had a special assembly at 11 a.m. on Oct. 15, 1969. There were also peace vigils held in Wilton Center.

“Over 400 Wilton residents signed this banner in protest of the Vietnam War,” said Exhibit Curator Nick Foster, “displaying the deep concerns that many of our residents had with America’s intervention with a foreign nation, and their commitment to peaceful political activism to create change.”

The banner has been a part of the Wilton Historical Society’s permanent collection since 1997, when it was donated by Diane Margolis.

Foster believes it was likely made by members of the Wilton Committee in Support of the Vietnam Moratorium. However, the names of the organizers who produced the banner remain unknown.

The Wilton Bulletin ran a short story on its front page about the Moratorium on Oct. 15, 1969, saying “many people, including students, businessmen, housewives and clergymen” participated in a protest in Wilton Center wearing “black armbands and peace symbols.”

I signed what?

Fifty years after the 1969 Moratorium, several signatories on the Wilton banner still live in the area, but don’t recall signing it.

“I signed the banner, and my mother Trudy signed it, too,” said Kelly Morron. “But honestly, I don’t remember it.”

Trudy Morron, 89, now lives in Colorado, and she told The Bulletin by phone, that while she can remember intimate details about Pearl Harbor Day and other historical events, circumstances surrounding the banner elude her.

“I have a vague memory about it. I believe the banner was in the middle of Wilton. I recall going there in support of a friend whose son was in the Green Berets and was killed in the Vietnam War. I remember singing ‘We Shall Overcome.’ I believe others were there to show solidarity for the family, too,” she said.

Laurie (Yoder) Campbell and her brother Ron also signed the banner, but Campbell said, she too, doesn’t recall it. “I have no recollection at all about it,” she said.

I remember it!

But Tom Sinchak, who was 15 when he signed the banner, has a better memory of it. Sinchak still lives on Deacons Lane in Wilton in the house where he grew up.

“It’s a fascinating artifact and it’s wonderful that it was saved,” Sinchak said.

He confirmed the banner was on display in Wilton Center on Oct. 15, 1969.

“I don’t remember what group was presenting it. I was with people from my high school class when we happened upon it. I signed it, and back then, I was glad I did it,” he said.

Comparing the political climate in 1969 to the present, he said, “We look around us today at how horrible things seem, but back then was an incredibly tumultuous period and in a lot of ways we were more divided then, than we are now. Things always seems bad in the moment, but things were bad before.”

“Bullets, Bonds, and Butter: Wilton Responds to War” will be running until Sept. 14 at the Wilton Historical Society, 224 Danbury Road, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. More information at wiltonhistorical.org.