March 24, 1919 – February 22, 2021

by Nadya Williams

In 1962 a group of San Francisco veterans of World War II and Korea—knowing the Viet Nam war was looming—marched unofficially at the end of the annual Veterans Day Parade under the banner of “Veterans For Peace.” The principle organizer was world-renowned poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti who died on February 22nd at 101 years old in his home in North Beach, the literary heart of San Francisco.

The turning point in Ferlinghetti’s life came in late September, 1945 as he walked the streets of Nagasaki, Japan six weeks after the atomic bomb was dropped there by his country. He was a 26-year-old lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, having already seen combat in the Invasion of Normandy the year before. Among the 40,000 Japanese that were incinerated on the day of August 9th was one who was drinking a cup tea. Ferlinghetti picked up that tea cup; it had flesh and bone fused into it. The cup has now sat on the mantelpiece of his home for 75½ years.

These stories have been recounted by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in many of the countless newspaper, TV and radio interviews, poems, essays and books by him, plus at least two documentary films. The 1962 group was not formally established, and in 1985 the national organization of Veterans For Peace was created by American veterans of the Viet Nam War. VFP now has over 100 chapters nationally and internationally, Ferlinghetti being an Honorary Member of San Francisco Chapter 69.

A true Renaissance man, he co-established City Lights Bookstore in 1953, which grew to be a major publishing house of so-called “Beat” literature – but so much more. Lawrence Ferlinghetti was a lifelong poet, publisher, author and activist, who eventually found his love of painting. In all his prodigious creative works, he never missed the opportunity to rail against the absurdity of materialism, the obscenity of war and the soullessness of profit-driven destruction.

Nadya Williams is an active associate member and Director of Communications of Veterans For Peace, San Francisco Chapter 69; and Board Member, VFP Viet Nam Chapter 160.