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Obituary: Lawrence Ferlinghetti: a veteran for peace

Lifelong poet, author, publisher and activist dies age 101

IN 1962, a group of San Francisco veterans of World War II and the Korean war, knowing that the Vietnam war was looming, marched unofficially at the end of the annual Veterans Day Parade under the banner of “Veterans For Peace.” 

The principal organiser was world-renowned poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who died on February 22 at the age of 101 at 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 an atomic bomb was dropped on the city by his country’s government. 

He was a 26-year-old lieutenant in the US navy, having already seen combat during the invasion of Normandy the year before. 

Among the 40,000 Japanese who were incinerated on the day of August 9 was one who was drinking tea at the time. 

Ferlinghetti picked up that person’s teacup; it had flesh and bone fused into it. The cup has now sat on the mantelpiece of his home for 75-and-a-half years.

He recounted these stories in many of his countless newspaper, TV and radio interviews, poems, essays and books, plus at least two documentary films. 

The 1962 group was not formally established, but in 1985 Veterans For Peace (VFP) was founded as  national organisation by US veterans of the Vietnam 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. 

Ferlinghetti was a lifelong poet, author, publisher and activist who eventually found a love of painting. 

In all his prodigiously creative works, he never missed the opportunity to chastise the absurdity of materialism, the obscenity of war and the soullessness of profit-driven destruction.

Nadya Williams is an active associate member and communications director of Veterans For Peace, San Francisco Chapter 69.

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