General Larsen was known as confident military man, and he had a track record of boldly challenging higher ups about military strategy. Before taking command of the Presidio, he had been chief of all Army forces in South Vietnam. General Westmoreland, then commander of all U.S. forces, was his immediate superior there and a close personal friend.
Capt. Lamont was not entirely indifferent to the tension mounting inside the stockade. Captain Richard Millard, the officer who later conducted the pre-trial investigation of the 27, said that Lamont had told him that he had gone to his superiors and “begged…for help” to get some prisoners transferred out to ease the crowding. He asked, at least, for aides who had proper training in dealing with prisoners. But Presidio Command would not provide any assistance. They told him instead to familiarize himself with the articles of mutiny in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Lamont also had advisors who gave him an alternate view of the inmates’ psychological problems. The stockade’s physician considered the rampant suicide attempts among the prisoners as “suicide gestures” — meaning that prisoners had no real intent to kill themselves, but rather were trying to call attention to their conditions or obtain a discharge.
Back at the highest levels of command,
Gen. Larsen and others were very aware of the widespread desertion problem facing the U.S. Army. It was unprecedented that so many GIs were refusing orders to depart for war. Or that so many in the lowest ranks in the chain of command were questioning the very war they were tasked with fighting.
When Gen. Larsen made sure the “Nine for Peace” were charged with desertion, this was throwing the maximum charge at what might normally be handled as a case of being AWOL. These five GIs — Keith Mather, George Dounis, Chuck Jones, Jim Seymour, and Sunny Anderson — were immediately transported to the Presidio stockade. (You will meet and hear from Keith, who became one of the Presidio 27, throughout this tour)
No government can afford to lose command of its armed forces. Gen. Larsen saw these AWOL actions as reaching a crisis point. Was “the revolution” really coming? It certainly was threatening to unravel the Army. So a line had to be drawn: in the summer of 1968, absolutely no one was to be discharged from the Presidio stockade.