8. Ripples out of the Presidio

The actions of the 27 and their subsequent mutiny trials made headlines, for months at a time. Their story shocked many Americans. And it put the U.S. Army in the spotlight, in the center of national debate, about dissent in a democratic society.

red mailboxSuggestion: Walk over to the picnic tables, just north of the stockade, where there is a red mailbox, one that would have been here on the post in 1960s. Some of the Presidio 27 and their allies, friends, and family members are here today at the tables and around the firepit, interested in sharing their stories and hearing yours.
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It was years later, and only after great personal hardship and time spent in federal prison, that the military overturned the convictions of those tried and reduced their sentences. In the end, the appeals judge found that rather than intending to “usurp or override lawful military authority” — the requirements for a charge of mutiny — the Presidio 27, by reading their demands to their commanding officers, were actually invoking and asking for help from the very military authority they’d been charged with wanting to overthrow.

There are so many ripples that emanated into history from from the “Mutiny” that day. Here are just four different ways the actions of the Presidio 27 have rippled outward, beyond the walls of the Presidio stockade:

1.

For many GIs -- and even their attorneys -- the story of the Presidio 27 marked a moment of personal transformation, changing some of their core beliefs about justice and about their country.

  • Click to read how one of the defense attorneys described his transformation.

2.

The Presidio 27 sitdown came about at a moment of transformation in the GI movement against the Vietnam War. In 1966 and 1967, most acts of protest came from one person at a time, from individual men and women who were taking a stand for themselves to resist the war, for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways.

The events at the Presidio in October 1968, however, are connected to the “Nine for Peace” protest from that July, which was one of the first collective acts of resistance. Around the same time (August), forty-three African American GIs refused to leave their Texas post for the assignment of riot-control duty at the Democratic National Convention. (They became known as the Fort Hood 43). And then the Presidio 27 refused to accept their treatment inside the stockade. The formation of a movement was underway, its voice becoming louder, and spreading to all branches of the Armed Forces. The civilian anti-war movement gained new energy, coming from those men & women whose lives were most affected by the war.

3.

Fifty years ago TODAY, the Presidio 27 sitdown was rooted in issues that are still relevant today and that our society continues to grapple with:

Mental illness. Racial Injustice. The Presidio 27’s hastily written demands, read aloud at the demonstration, called for action on these issues.

Youth activism. The average age of the Presidio 27 was nineteen.

Nonviolence. From their style of protest, to their demand to be free of shotgun-toting guards, to the peace signs they flashed, the Presidio 27 embodied nonviolence, whether it be about guns, militarism, or war.

Mass Incarceration. The killing of Richard Bunch by a guard and the overcrowded, unsanitary conditions in the stockade pushed the Presidio 27 into action. Their demonstration directly catalyzed improvements to military prisons around the world.

Protest & Dissent. In a time when the country was bitterly divided over the Vietnam War, the Presidio 27 sitdown was one of the mounting expressions of public dissent: marching in the streets, resisting the draft, going AWOL, refusing to deploy to Vietnam.

4.
Your place in this story and how this story has touched you!

Tell us about these ripples we cannot see: Here at the picnic tables, write a note — to the Presidio 27, to the world, to the future. Or tell us your connection to the story, or how this tour made you think and feel.

Video

[WATCH: 1 min] Listen to what Michael Wong, a Vietnam veteran, Chinese American and native San Franciscan, hopes people will take away from the Presidio 27’s story.
After being ROTC in high school, Mike spent time in the Presidio stockade in 1969, a year after the Presidio 27. Once he decided that the Vietnam War was morally wrong he went AWOL and then fled to Canada where he lived in exile for many years.
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