By two o’clock the parade was moving—the band, the Boy Scouts, the color bearers, the Elks wearing their jaunty blue caps, a contingent of ex-marines and sailors, the Chehalis Legionnaires and finally the Centralia unit with Lt. Warren Grimm marching at the head. At the end, behind the Legionnaires, were several open cars carrying nurses, Red Cross workers, and citizens who just wanted to be in the parade.
A hand held high. A shouted order. These set in motion the tragedy of Armistice Day, 1919, in Centralia. All of the parade was past the Wobbly hall except the Centralia contingent and several cars bringing up the rear. The Centralia group had fallen behind and a wide gap separated it from the Chehalis Legionnaires marching ahead. But when he reached the intersection of Tower and Second, with the men he led directly in front of the hall, Warren Grimm turned, held up his arm, and called out: “Halt, close up ranks!” The rest of the parade was moving on and the space between them and the Chehalis marchers was widening rapidly.
Because of what happened within seconds after the order was given, the intent of the halt seemed to be to give the Centralians a chance to drop out of the parade, make a quick assault on the Wobbly hall, then resume the march, perhaps catching up with the rest of the parade before it reached the reviewing stand.
Some of the men talked about a raid as they marched south on Tower. One of these was Dr. Frank Bickford, at forty-nine a mature and respected medical doctor who was in the front ranks. When the order to halt was given, he decided that right then was a good time to do something about the Wobblies. He turned to others near him, volunteered to take the lead, and started for the hall. When he looked back and saw no one was following him, he hesitated. Then he heard “a commotion and hollering among the platoons in the rear.” Bickford moved on and saw others from the ranks just opposite the hall running ahead of him. They reached the hall’s entrance before he did. Faulkner, standing at the window inside the hall, heard shouts of, “Let’s go get them! Grab them! At them—get them!”
“A man at my right put his foot against the door,” Bickford later testified, “and pushed it partly open.” The gunfire from the hall signaled the other defenders. Davis from the second-story vantage point in the Avalon took aim. With his first shot, probably, he picked off Warren Grimm.
The three men stationed on Seminary Hill heard the popping of gunfire below and began to shoot. O.C. Bland, in the Arnold, didn’t get into the action. As men ran toward the hall, Bland jumped up from his seat on the bed and shoved his rifle through a window, and a piece of glass slashed a cut in the back of his hand so deep his friend Lamb was sickened by the sight.
The ex-soldiers who stormed into the hall found the front part of it empty. The firing, done only by Everest and Becker, while intense and rapid, was brief.