Larry Gara, historian, writer, and peace activist is a well-known figure around Wilmington, OH, where he lives and works with his wife, Lenna Mae. Both have been anti-war activists for many years. During WW II Larry chose to not register for the draft and was arrested and sent to prison, an experience Larry has written about. Larry and Lenna Mae edited a unique collection of prison memoirs by war resisters, A Few Small Candles: War Resisters of World War II Tell Their Stories (Kent State University Press, 1999). These memoirs include essays by David Dellinger, George Yamada, Lawrence Templin, and Larry’s own essay, among others. A Few Small Candles is an interesting and inspiring counterpoint to the notion that WW II was “the good war,” reminding us that some people refused any label that the U.S. Government chose to apply to pacifists during wartime. The Garas regularly participate in community war protests and are frequently seen around town with their anti-war signs. The Larry and Lenna Mae Gara are living proof that peace is patriotic.
“I started reading history and other material. I read a number of books about World War I and the disillusionment which followed. When I was about eighteen I think it was, I went to a Quaker Sunday School, Firstday School they called it, and of course that sort of cemented my anti-war inclinations. I was always anti-war. I was always anti-killing. I just couldn’t imagine killing anybody. And later, not anything. I became a vegetarian years later.
I was influenced by several things. First of all, the reading I did. I read Richard Gregg’s The Power of Non-Violence. That was a very important book. And then there was a book by an Indian named Krishnalal Shridharani called War Without Violence. That was also about Gandhi and non-violence. And I read Aldous Huxley’s Ends and Means. In addition to reading I was involved in some activism. I spent two summers at volunteer Quaker work camps where we discuss these issues and argued about them and so forth.
"When in college I was at a state teacher’s college 18 miles from my home and I hitchhiked most of that time to that school. There was a food-for-Europe pilgrimage. We walked from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to New York City and the aim of the demonstration was to call attention to the need for foodstuffs and the Low Countries which were occupied by the Nazis then. And of course the U.S. position was we won’t feed them because the Nazis would get it. But we simulated a refugee march, walked all that distance. I walked in every inch of the way, and at the end of it I met A. J. Muste and several other New York pacifists, and also some of the non-registrants.
"When I heard of the union theological non-registrants I immediately knew that that was what I had to do. I mean it was just like sending a message. As soon as I heard that, I said that’s what I’ve got to do instead of going to alternative service camp [CPS].
"There were several reasons why I didn’t choose alternative service camp. One was I wanted to make a maximum contribution against war. And I felt that one should not have to pay to work, it sort of smacked of the idea of Civil War draft were you paid your way out, bought your way out. And I didn’t feel that the work was all that important. I thought it was more important to make the maximum protest, which I did.”
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