One of the most catalytic anti-war actions of the Vietnam War happened at 1010 Frederick Road in Catonsville in 1968, but most people wouldn't know it by looking at the building today. Not even two people who were there.
"I didn't recognize it at all. It's changed somewhat," said Margarita Melville.
She and her husband, Tom Melville, were in Maryland last week for an event at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, commemorating the 45th anniversary of the day, May 17, 1968, when they and seven other peace activists raided the Selective Service office on Frederick Road.
Standing outside what is now the Knights of Columbus building, where they used homemade napalm to burn what Margarita estimates to be about 70 draft files in the parking lot, the two members of what would later be called "The Catonsville 9" said the spot was unfamiliar now.
"We chose the site because it had this nice, open parking lot where we could use napalm and burn all the files without any danger to anything around it," said Margarita Melville, now 83. "Other than that, it was just a site."
She and her husband were later arrested and put in federal prison for two and three years, respectively.
"If I had returned in a helicopter and they dropped me down right in front of this building, and I got out of the helicopter and they'd say, 'Do you know where you're at?' I'd say, 'No'," Tom Melville, 82, said. "Looking at it today, I couldn't make it out," he said.
Friday's visit was the first time the couple, who now live in Baja California, Mexico, had returned to Catonsville since "the action." That event would go down in history as the first in a series of draft board raids protesting the Vietnam War throughout the country.
The couple was in town for a special reception and panel discussion at UMBC. More than 70 people viewed screenings of Lynne Sachs' 2001 film, "Investigation of Flame," and clips of Joe Tropea and Skizz Cyzyk's new film, "Hit and Stay," which made its East Coast premiere May 9 at the Maryland Film Festival.
The panel discussion also included sociologist Karin Aguilar-San Juan, and Sachs and Tropea participated in a question-and-answer session with audience members.
"I thought The Nine made a decision that came with so many risks," Sachs said.
"It seems like an impulse that only a few people are given, and they take it," Sachs said.
During the panel discussion, Tom Melville, who wore a black baseball hat with the number 9 on it, said people always ask him if he regrets his decision to burn the draft files, one that would earn him three years in federal prison.
"There's no way that I'm sorry," he said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun