THOSE WHO, LIKE ME, are charmed by the hillsides of downtown Tacoma might easily place the setting of our “Then” photo. But the activity bespeaks chaos, not charm.
The image looks west up 11th Street across Pacific Avenue in the late afternoon of Friday, July 12, 1935. Nonunion men, desperate for Depression-era work and returning from tideflat lumber mills across the 11th Street Bridge, were confronted by an angry crowd of hundreds who fueled the famed, summerlong Great Lumber Strike of 1935, a fractious, voluminously documented chapter in state labor history.
To preserve order, Gov. Clarence Martin called in part-time citizen soldiers of the Washington National Guard, who traveled 13 miles north from their Camp Murray headquarters, outfitted with rifles and bayonets and wearing World War I uniforms. Strikers jeered them as “tin hats.”
The photo captures guardsmen deploying tear gas. As thousands watched, a few from behind upper windows, some strikers hurled smoking canisters back at the guardsmen, who wore no masks and faced a stiff easterly wind that blew the acrid chemicals into their eyes. Despite the turmoil, the four-hour uproar produced only a few injuries. No shots were fired. No one died.
The 1935 scene evokes memories of my own — and, I suspect, many others — of a vastly different time and circumstance, when an ill-trained and ill-led Ohio National Guard used tear gas and opened fire during a 1970 anti-war protest at Kent State University, killing four students.
Such infamy, however, does not reside in the track record of this state’s guard, one of 54 such organizations in U.S. states and territories, say authors of a new book. The three — Andy Leneweaver, Rick Patterson and Bill Woodward — embody a combined 96 years of local guard service.
In their plain-titled “Washington National Guard,” the trio uses 200 photos to spin stories spanning a century and a half. They cover a wide swath of guard service, from protecting Chinese citizens during Seattle’s anti-Chinese riots in 1886 to providing police backup — without using tear gas — during the 1999 World Trade Organization protests, again in Seattle. The photos also depict deeply appreciated disaster relief, such as when the fabled 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption enfolded guard soldiers in air and road patrols, search-and-rescue and ash cleanup.
The book does not overlook the guard’s many international military missions, and the authors and their 8,000 peers around the state remain fighters. Their slogan — “always ready, always there” — fits.
“We’re trained to go to war and support the national emergencies,” Patterson says. “But we’re also Washingtonians who care real deeply about our communities. When there’s floods and fires and quakes and volcanoes, we’re ready to jump on board, and we really feel proud about that.”