Warfield Used Firmness, Respect to Control Student Unrest

  • Published
  • By Capt. Wayde Minami
  • 175th Wing Public Affairs
Part Two of a Two-Part Series

When the 1970 University of Maryland student riots began, Maj. Gen. Edwin T. Warfield III, the adjutant general, had been in office less than three months.

The previous adjutant general, Army Maj. Gen. George M. Gelston, who had led the Maryland Guard through the Cambridge riots of 1963 and the Baltimore riots of 1968, had passed away after a long illness.

General Warfield, an Air Guard fighter pilot with 26 years of experience, including combat in the Pacific theater during World War II, was widely respected within the Guard. He was also a 1952 University of Maryland graduate. Over the ensuing weeks he would earn praise from many at his alma matter.

Trouble began on May 1, when student militants broke into the Air Force ROTC building on campus and vandalized it. Soon after, a large body of students moved onto U.S. Route 1, which passes through the campus, and blocked it.

Maryland state police responding to the unrest were pelted with rocks, bottles, and insults. The crowd was ultimately dispersed with tear gas, but not before 28 people were arrested and at least 20 - half of them police officers - were injured.

Although calm was restored, tensions remained high, and on May 4 - the same day that Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire on students at Kent State, killing four - the Guard was deployed to maintain order on campus. The Guardsmen reinforced a contingent of state police trying to clear Route 1 of students who were attempting to block the road, then swept through the campus enforcing a curfew.

From the start, General Warfield sought to balance the need to enforce order with treating students with dignity and respect.

He personally went from dormitory to dormitory explaining the curfew to students. General Warfield later noted that "there was a great deal of cooperation from some individual students" and that "students who acted like sane and sensible individuals were treated as such."

Although the Guard was withdrawn on May 6, continued unrest led to its being deployed to nearby Greenbelt Armory six days later with orders to stand by. Student displeasure with the invasion of Cambodia and the imposition of a more stringent grading system turned violent May 14.

Soon thousands of students were again blocking Route 1. General Warfield sought to defuse tensions by discussing the situation with student protesters, but was unable to get them to clear the road.

When orders to disperse were ignored, tear gas was fired. Unfortunately, wind blowing from the south made the gas ineffective, and students began attacking police and Guardsmen with stones, steel pipes and bottles.

After a lengthy battle, the campus was again secured, although a substantial number of police officers and Guardsmen were injured. Guardsmen were especially vulnerable, having neither face shields nor flak jackets. Their only protection from the onslaught came from their standard G.I. steel helmets.

Nightly curfews were instated, with loudspeaker-equipped U-10 aircraft from Maryland's 135th Special Operations Group broadcasting instructions and information to students in the area.

General Warfield also used his authority to prohibit individuals suspected of violent behavior from entering campus, including faculty members, students and a number of individuals not affiliated with the university. Those barred from campus could appeal the decision to a special committee.

Although 500 National Guard troops remained on standby at the Greenbelt Armory, the Guard kept a low profile thereafter, using small contingents of troops in jeeps to patrol the campus.

While force was ultimately necessary to restore and maintain the peace, many observers credited General Warfield's personal style with helping to restore calm.

"He listened and talked to students who felt they were being dismissed like so many naughty children," Stephen McKerrow, editor of the university's student newspaper at the time of the disturbances, wrote in a 1979 retrospective. Mr. McKerrow credited Warfield's "commanding presence, sense of humor, and willingness to listen" with helping to contain the violence.