Pete: The Story of Peter V. Cacchione, New York's First Communist Councilman

By Simon W. Gerson | Go to book overview
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Legends of that march abound. There is, in fact, a whole literature on it. It shattered official complacency and that much overused term, "historic," can truly be applied to it. Washington was facing a new breed -- depression veterans; the heroes of 1917 refused to become the derelicts of 1932.

For Pete it wasn't long-range history. It was right now and his life became a succession of minor triumphs and near disasters that called for all the ingenuity and savvy he had amassed in a decade of work and riding the rods between jobs.

He recalled later the first crisis when he led his contingent to within a block from the 23rd Street ferry. How to cross the Hudson River without paying the nickel fare which would deplete the veterans' slim treasury by thirty dollars? He stopped the group a block away and announced: "We'll tell the station master we're going across free." The vets cheered, but several of the older ones advised: "Don't telegraph your punch." Pete reflected a moment. "O.K.," he said. "We'll rush the ferry when it docks." They got on successfully.

By the time the ferry reached Jersey City, the vets were feeling a sense of power. Pete marched his "army" through the ranks of the massed Jersey City police and into the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad station. Pete, the ex-railroader, demanded that the railroad provide cars for the trip to Washington. The B & O officials, stunned by Pete's blunt demand, hastily consulted with bigwigs of the Central Railroad of New Jersey, and told Pete he could have twelve cars.

The vets boarded the train in high glee but were double-crossed within a half hour. As the train reached the outskirts of Newark the brakes were slammed on and the conductor announced, "Last Stop!" They piled out and paraded to Elizabeth where Pete was able to scrounge trucks for all but fifty-seven men. Pete got the men into the trucks and he marched with the fifty-seven after assuring himself that the "army's" treasurer and the little treasury was safely aboard a truck.

From then on Pete had only fifty-seven men to worry about, and this made for a greater flexibility. They marched into Linden and bedded down in City Hall, the cops apparently offering no objection. The Mayor, aroused from his sleep, rushed over to offer frankfurters and water but pleaded with the veterans not to sleep there because they might spread disease. Pete told him off in colorful language. The group went away hungry despite some grumbling in the ranks.

They finally made it across the Pennsylvania state line and into

-30-

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