If you’d asked the Presidio 27 about the tenor of their treatment in the months they awaited hearings and trials, they would have told you that the overcrowding diminished, and painting and repairs commenced. But that the stockade officials and staff also instituted a regime of increasingly harsh and vindictive discipline. It included a barrage of ever-changing rules and the practice of sending prisoners to the notoriously brutal Marine Corps brig on Treasure Island, where daily beatings were reputedly the norm.
The highest-ranking officers in the Sixth Army’s Judge Advocate Corps (JAG) appointed Capt. Richard H. Millard to conduct an Article 32 hearing — which is basically an impartial pre-trial investigation — to determine the appropriate charges.
Millard’s investigation found that the key elements of the crime of mutiny were not present at the protest, and he recommended lesser charges. Yet by the time his report reached Gen. Larsen, Millard’s recommendation was buried under the contradictory advice of three higher-ranking officers to pursue the charge of mutiny.
Howard Denike of the Neighborhood Legal Services Office declared that the mutiny charge was “a calculated attempt by Larsen to show other Army people how to handle demonstrations, and to show the whole country — which is very confused about how to cope with dissent — that the Army has a simple, effective way: crush it.”
Most of the defense lawyers felt that Larsen had been misled, and not fully informed of Capt. Millard’s findings.
“If the conditions at the Stockade were a scandal,” Capt. Brendan Sullivan said, “then the Sixth Army has two scandals on its hands: the stockade and the way military justice is applied here. ...In these proceedings it’s been captains trying to enforce the [actual meanings in the] code against the wishes of majors, colonels, and at least one General. Whom do you think the odds favor?”
Terence Hallinan, who represented 17 of the men, said: “The Army is watching to see if the American people will stand for it. They could call off this travesty of justice with a snap of the fingers.... They want to see if it’ll go over. And just wait: if they can railroad these twenty-seven kids, all GIs can kiss their rights of free speech and free assembly good-bye.”
Facing the official charge of mutiny
Protest vigils at the Presidio gates lasted for months, and major press coverage and public attendance at the trials, even when they were moved Fort Ord near Monterey and Fort Lewis in Washington state, let the 27 know that they were not alone.
The 27 GIs came to the agreement that if one of them could manage to escape, he should go for it: with all of them facing long prison sentences, getting out was not something to feel guilty about.
Discipline and order in the stockade remained chaotic and disorganized so there were several successful but short-lived escapes. In late October, Harold Swanson, Buddy Shaw and Richard Gentile escaped through a door left open by Sgt. Woodring. They joined a detail about to leave, then fled. They were picked up a couple of days later.
Only Keith, Walter, and Lindy made successful escapes. Keith and Walter were recognizable “ringleaders” of the sitdown, and they were already facing many, many years in prison for their earlier acts of resistance.
Randy Rowland decided to stay behind. He had been counseled by his contacts in the GI movement to remain in prison to support the others.