by Walter Michael Harris
In the fall of 1967, with the war in Vietnam raging, a large scale antiwar demonstration was organized at the Pentagon. Many photojournalists were on hand, including Bernie Boston, who took a photo of my brother, George Harris III, age 18, inserting flowers into the rifle barrels of National Guard soldiers in a tense confrontation.
Bernie Boston told Curio Magazine interviewer Alice Ashe in 2005:
“I saw the troops march down into the sea of people, and I was ready for it. One soldier lost his rifle. Another lost his helmet. The rest had their guns pointed out into the crowd, when all of a sudden a young hippie stepped out in front of the action with a bunch of flowers in his left hand. With his right hand he began placing the flowers into the barrels of the soldiers’ guns. He came out of nowhere, and it took me years to find out who he was . . . his name was Harris.”
Boston’s iconic image of my brother George, answering guns with flowers, remains a metaphor for the message of the 1960s youth counterculture movement – that love can overcome political tyranny, unite the human family, break the war machine, and bring peace to the world.
Three months later, at age 16, I was cast in the rock musical HAIR as it was preparing to open on Broadway. HAIR has a reputation as a “hippie musical” but, in fact, it was (and is) a powerful anti-war statement. The show was an overnight sensation, broadcasting the hopes and dreams of the youth counterculture, and an earnest plea to end the war.
Boys from my New York City neighborhood were drafted, went to Vietnam and returned injured, or never came back. Inspired by my brother meeting guns with flowers, I poured my whole self into making my performance in HAIR a deeply personal statement against the Vietnam War. I believe the show’s many first-run productions around the world played a part in ending the war. In modern HAIR productions my brother’s courageous act of protest is reenacted.
Our full story is in the new memoir, Caravan to Oz: a family reinvents itself off-off-Broadway.
To order the book, CLICK HERE.
Photo credits for this blog:
“Flower Power” – Bernie Boston/RIT Archive Collections/Rochester Institute of Technology
HAIR Logo – courtesy Michael Butler