David N. Rich - San Francisco to Moscow - Walk for Peace
1960 - 1961

Dave Rich in Moscow.
Dave, with lollypop sign, in Moscow.

Why had mankind fought more than 17,000 wars in recorded history, basically each to end the need for another war? (Harvard historian, 1950's) Were Christians really following the command to "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good."? (Romans 12:21)

In pondering that (and more) I became a Conscientious Objector (1-O) and joined the Committee for Nonviolent Action. Now mind, I have a tremendous respect for people in the military who want to use force to defend our country and the values that we both love; I just don't find their methods effective, principled or lasting.

We (CNVA) demonstrated against our country's dependence on military power. We were told: "Go tell it to the Russians!" It was 1960 in the middle of the Cold War. How to do that? A long protest walk that got international press attention might work. We set out to try.

I can't begin to tell the whole story here, but here are a few personal reminiscences.
A couple of books have been published.*

I suspect that the reasons I was chosen for this project include my modest knowledge of the U.S. Constitution, the Bible, orienteering and hiking as well as my convictions. I carried copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the New Testament with me on the walk.

Walking 20 - 35 miles a day gives you a lot of time for conversation. We were a very diverse group which led to great debates, learning a lot, and occasional arguments - wonderful memories. The walk was hard on the feet. I started with the best hiking boots, but was much happier when I converted to donated Converse sneakers (wore out 6 pair). Learned a lot from doctors and chiropractors along the way. Carried a first aid kit and "treated" a lot of blisters, sores and aches along the way. The other essential was the maps.

San Francisco to Moscow walk team in Indiana. There were confrontations. A gang of mostly students accosted us in the southwest. We broke up into individual small groups and turned the talk more personal, religious and constitutional. Worked pretty well. A Midwestern sheriff demanded that we walk around his town. Gently insisting on the basics of our nonviolence and of the American Constitution resulted in his relenting.

How exciting it was to hear President Eisenhower, in his farewell address, warn the nation of the dangers posed by the military - industrial complex.

Many times we were allowed to sleep in church basements. Amazing how comfortable only a sleeping bag between you and a cement floor can become over time. I particularly remember going up into the church sanctuaries and refreshing my soul in the quiet darkness of beautiful places of worship.

Food varied from very low budget meals to most sumptuous banquets thrown by Quaker, Mennonite, Bretheren and other communities. At one Bretheren community I got to sit on a porch for an hour or so with Norman Thomas, the Socialist presidential candidate. I'm more free enterprise than he, but we shared many goals, so a very spirited and enlightening conversation ensued. What a fine gentleman he was.

In the desert, only a couple of us were on the road with our signs. In cities; like Chicago (where I got to see a play); Washington, D.C.; New York; and London (where I got to see a play); we were joined by hundreds, even thousands. In small towns and cities we generally got to speak to one or more modest groups. In larger cities we often broke up to speak to many groups. Most places had news and radio reporters and/or TV crews covering our arrival. Many did a good job of relating our purpose; some mashed it up amazingly. Our advance team did a great job of making arrangements.

We flew to London, had a gigantic rally in Trafalgar Square, walked to Southampton to the ferry to Le Havre, France. Long story, but ... We were refused entry because of disturbances in France. We chose to commit civil disobedience in protest - jumped ship and swam into the awaiting arms of the battalion of gendarmes that were sent to stop us - briefly went to jail and were deported to England.

Dave, winter in Illinois. Click to enlarge. We went to Belgium where we met some people who had walked in our stead and continued through West Germany and into East Germany. On August 12, 1961 we were in the town of Mühlenbeck, about 2 miles north of East Berlin. That's the day East Germany closed the Berlin border and started erecting the wall. No one really knew what was going on. We expected them to hold to their walk agreements. They wanted us to go on a bus. We refused, committing civil disobedience. They put us on a bus and deposited us in no-mans-land between the West & East Germanys. We were fortunate to later get a bus that took us to Poland and on to Moscow.

One of my favorite memories was in a small Polish town where a fellow walker and I were taking an after supper stroll. A man recognized us as walkers and invited us into his home. It was an extremely modest, two or three room unpainted building. We sat by a window and they overwhelmed us with sweets and snaps. They spoke no English, we no Polish. Between us we knew a tiny bit of German, French and Russian. But, there was paper and pencil. We shared a few words in common, drew maps, made pictures of our work places and our families, and illustrated war and peace. A crowd of neighbors gathered in the kitchen and outside the window. The pieces of paper were eagerly passed around. We were overwhelmed by the warmth of this reception by those humble, poor folks.

A great treat: The Soviet Peace Committee arranged for us to see a ballet in the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. Standing room only.

After the walk, I was exhausted and decided to take advantage of being there to see a bit of Europe. I owe a major debt of gratitude to the folks who put me up (put up with me), especially in Berlin, Helsinki and Antwerp. It is sad that I get caught up so thoroughly in what I am doing in the present that I fail to keep in contact with those wonderful people.

Probably my favorite memory of that time was of being in Berlin, just after the wall, when east-west communication was really impossible. As an American, I was able to go back and forth from West and East Berlin unimpeded. Berlin friends gave me clothing (sometimes two or three layers) and letters to bring to their friends. I was able to bring comforting messages to and from friends and relatives who were worried after being so suddenly and rudely cut off from one another.

And now it's a memory.


A few personal excerpts from Brad Little's book You Come With Naked Hands, published by Greenleaf Books in 1966:

"With Scott out, only Dave Rich had walked all the way from San Francisco. Dave had suffered greatly but his feet were finally well and he had reduced care of them and his body to a science. He was ready to accomplish a stupendous walking feat." (pg. 31)

Our lead sign in the Smithsonian, Washington, DC in 1985. "Meanwhile, at a rest stop five minutes out of Allentown, Pa., ... a newscaster of WMBS ... Asking for a spokesperson, he taped a five minute interview with David Rich, the only Team member who's walked all the way, and the coordinator of the walkers. ... The interviewer asked very fair and intelligent questions ... very intelligent and comprehensive. ... Dave answered very well, very smoothly, and couldn't have represented us any better. ... At the 6 o'clock newscast .. we heard the taped interview with Dave Rich. He sounded much older." (pgs. 48-49)

In Russia we were given a new, demanding schedule of 40 miles a day.
Dave, Ed, Johan and Nils were constituted a committee to work out a detailed schedule on this basis." (pg. 167)

"We passed through the outskirts of Ivatsevichi at 4 PM. A crowd of 300 inundated the highway and a police car had to clear a path for traffic. Phil spoke to about 200. While the majority were friendly, some tore up our leaflets. At 4:30, Dave Rich announced that he could walk no further. he had said he would walk until he dropped. Finally the fatigue, sun, and added strain of the forced march and digestive and intestinal troubles had become too much.
"Dave's personal accomplishment was prodigious. Since December 1, 1960 he had walked every step of the March for a total distance of 5,126 miles. While others had developed cramps, he suffered only from swollen joints; and when pneumonia and diarrhea laid the giants low, his occasional sicknesses never stopped him. Watching him walk with painful joints, blisters and in illness, we developed a profound admiration for his determination and willpower. His gentle spirit also helped make him a great soldier for nonviolent action. The marchers were moved, and gathered around him and shook his hand before he climbed into the bus. (pg. 188)
"Dave was transferred to a hospital in Minsk. His ailment was diagnosed as severe dysentery. He spent 13 days at the Minsk hospital, then was flown to Moscow where he walked with us October 3 as we entered the capital." (pg. 189)

Dave Rich led the March into the city. He had returned that morning after two weeks' absence in the hospital. He was enervated and shaky from dysentery but as usual held the pace and did not complain or quit." (pg. 210)

How did my folks, long time Eisenhower republicans, feel about my undertaking? Click here for an article published in their then hometown newspaper.

* You Come with Naked Hands - the San Francisco to Moscow walk for peace By Bradford Lyttle, Greenleaf Books, 1966
* We Walked to Moscow by Jerry Lehmann, Greenleaf Books, 1966

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