Library - Reading Room

Supporting Materials for Sir! No Sir!

Presidio Murder Sparks GI Protest

Pvt. Bunch spent his first year in the Army with no problems. Then he was transferred to Ft. Lewis and somethlng went wrong. He went AWOL, lived In the San Francisco Ray Area, and did a lot of drugs. This summer he turned up at his mother's home in Ohio. He babbled that he had twice died and been reincarnated as a warlock, could walk through walls, and so on. His mother sought to have him hospitalized for psychiatric care but no hospital would take him due to his AWOL status.

In desperation she resorted to the Army. She secured a written promise from the Assistant Adjutant General at Ft. Meade, Maryland, that her son would be given psychiatric care. Instead he was thrown into the stockade at that post with no treatment whatsoever. Then he was transferred to Presidio stockade and went untreated there also.

At Presidio he talked to himself, carried on conversations with non-exlstant friends, had screaming nightmares, and finally left suicide notes and ran from the detail.

Just before the "escape attempt" he asked the guard, "if I run will you shout me?" The guard replied, "You'll have to run to find out." Bunch requested to be shot In the head and immediately took off. He got less than 25 feet before the shotgun pellets tore into his brain.

The guard then pointed his weapon at the three other prisoners he had been In charge of and screamed, "Get down or I'll kill you, too. Christ, why did I do that? I didn't want to kill anybody." He had not yelled halt nor fired a warning shot, yet the brass said the killing was justifled.

Stockade guards are under a lot of pressure from both sides in the Presidio stockade. The brass demand smooth operation and good order. At the same time they expect the guards to enforce policies and practices which make smooth operation and good order impossible.

The stockade was built for 49 prisoners, yet 110 are consistently squeezed in. As an ex-inmate of that stockade, this writer can attest to the tension brought on by being unable to move without dodging other prisoners; by wading through backed up water and filth on the latrine floor where the old, overstressed plumbing constantly breaks down; by the verbal abuse of a few guards who act like tin gods; and by seeing friends attempt suicide only to be revived and thrown in the hole with no psychiatric care. For two weeks prior to the demonstration, rations for 104 men had been served to 140 after feeding the guards and cooks.

Many of the prisoners are completely unwilling or unable to make the smallest adjustment to Army life, yet they are confined for long periods and often get repeated imprisonments before discharge. The Army would be better off without them and has said as much, yet they will kill or maaim priissoners who try to get away. . Pvt. Hemphill was seriously wounded in his fourth escaqpe attempt in less than 24 hours of confinement. Like Bunch he had been imprisoned for AWOL and was shot before calls to halt or a warning shot. He was cut down with a .45 at point blank range even though other guards were in a position to block all escape routres.

There have been 34 suicide attempts by 24 prisoners in recent months. Through the summer there have been several riots of the window smashing and trash throwing variety. There have been scores of escape attempts. The brass was so sure that more trouble was brewing that they read the mutiny regulation to the prisoners three times in the week preceding the demonstration. They took no action to remedy the intolerable conditions, whitewashed their responsibility for Bunch's death, and sought to keep the lid on by intimidation. It didn't work.

During roll call the morning of the 14th the 27 prisoners sat down in a group and requested to see the Correction Officer to present and discuss their grievances and tell the public what the witnesses among them knew of the shooting of Bunch. While waiting for the CO to arrive they sang songs of protest. An Army photographer, called in to take pictures for evidence, described it as a very moving demonstration." When the CO arrived he refused to even talk to the men. Instead he had the mutiny article read to them again. Witnesses testified that it was inaudible due to feedback on the PA system, In any case, the 27 were totally nonviolent and made no attempt to take over the stockade, essential elements to any just mutiny convictions. After the reading the CO ordered the guards to put the men back in the cellblock. This was done with no abuse of the demonstrators,

Requests to have a press conference, submitted on the 12th and 14th of October, were returned disapproved. Although the preliminary Investigation of the demonstration was not completed until the 22nd, the base 'commander's office wrote on the requests on the 17th-"These mutineers will have ample opportunity to talk to the press at their General Courts Martial."

The formal decision to prosecute the men for mutiny has not yet been made. Informally it appears to have been made before they ever staged their demonstration. There is some evidence that the CO had been tipped off in advance and yet did nothing to avert it. And the OIC of the preliminary investigation has demonstrated such ignorance of the events as to invite speculation that he was acting on orders rather than reacting to evidence when he filed the preliminary charges.

The men have excellent representation by San Francisco attorneys but even if the mutiny charges are dropped the men could face lesser charges. The brass want to keep the lid on their stockade and repression is the only method they know. But repression will not keep the stockade cool any more than killing Bunch intimidated the 27.

The Ally, no. 12

 

© 2005 Displaced Films. All Rights Reserved