WASHINGTON — From the center of military might to the symbols of political power, thousands of demonstrators strung a ribbon of peace Sunday across downtown Washington, from the Pentagon to the White House to the Capitol, to mark the 40th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and to call for an end to war.
They pieced together 24,000 homemade banners, one by one, 10 by 10, 100 by 100, until they had formed a looping, snaking ribbon that the organizers claimed stretched 15 miles through the heart of the nation's capital on a quiet, sunny, summer afternoon.
There were also ceremonies Sunday in Hiroshima commemorating the first use of an atomic weapon. The anniversary date for the bombing there is Tuesday, while the Nagasaki bomb was dropped 40 years ago next Friday.
Sister Geraldine O'Brien of suburban Virginia, a veteran of two decades of anti-war campaigns, said of the Washington demonstration: "It was a different scene. It was almost a meditative group. There wasn't any of the rah-rah" of earlier, slogan-chanting rallies.
But the symbolic protest left her wondering what it may have achieved, and whether its message would reach the nation's military commanders and President Reagan:
"I don't think it accomplishes anything with this President. He goes to Camp David and he doesn't hear it," she said.
After the demonstration peaked, Reagan flew over the scene aboard his green-and-white Marine Corps helicopter, en route from Camp David to the White House, but he did not see the event, Assistant White House Press Secretary Mark Weinberg said.
The yardlong tapestries came from around the nation. Indeed, there were more banners than demonstrators, and participants were asked to pick up extra pieces to tie them together. Authorities estimated the crowd--youngsters towed by parents, college students and the elderly, with few aging veterans of the 1960s protests in evidence--at 15,000 to 20,000.
By 1 p.m., the demonstrators had looped all the way around the Pentagon, and within an hour, the chain was completed across the Potomac River to the Lincoln Memorial, and hundreds of pastel-colored balloons were released into the sky to signal the achievement.
The program was short on speeches and entertainment.
Fumimaro Maruoka, who was a first-grader in Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, told how he ran back into his school building when the Enola Gay flew overhead and dropped the atomic bomb on his city, how he was knocked unconscious and later climbed out of the debris to walk through the flaming city.
Many years later, the residual effects of the radiation he encountered left him partly paralyzed.
Folk singer Pete Seeger sang an anti-war anthem of the Vietnam era: "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" and actress Joanne Woodward showed up in a chauffeur-driven limousine to join the crowd.
The ribbon was the idea of Justine Merritt, 61, of Denver, gray-haired and tall, who said it was meant to tell the world's leaders "you must find ways of resolving differences between nations other than nuclear weapons."
In swatches of fabric, drawings and embroidery, the banners expressed the theme of peace, or whatever their creators could not bear to think of losing in a nuclear war.