Library - Reading Room

Supporting Materials for Sir! No Sir!

Presidio GIs Win And Lose

The largest group of the Presidio 27 to come to trial were not acquitted here -- but you couldn't have told it from the courtroom scene when the light sentences came down.

The GIs first stood stunned, then grabbed one another and whooped. Mothere, wives and supporters hugged defendants, lawyers and each other. Court martial board members streamed down to shake hands with everyone. One helmeted MP cried. Defense attorney Terence Hallinan leaped in the air and spent the next half hour beaming and exchanging congratulations with everyone in the room.

Maybe it was't an acquittal, but it felt like a victory. And you don't see too many of those these days.

The 27 GI's, prisoners in the Presidio stockade, held a sit-down to protest stockade conditions and the murder of inmate Richard Bunch by a stockade guard last October. The short sentences delivered June 7 came as a surprise. Terms ranged from three to 15 months. Charged with mutiny, punishable by death, most of the 14 GIs on trial got only one year and a promise from the president of the court martial board that all would be out by Christmas on his recommendation if they played it cool from now till then.

At the end of the day, 12 GIs were convicted of mutiny and two were found guilty of lesser offenses. Danny Seals, one of "McNamara's hundred thousand" mentally retarded who were drafted, got six months and a bad-conduct discharge for "willfully disobeying a lawful order." And Larry Sales, who talked himself out of commitment to a state mental hospital in order to join the Army, was given three months and who talked himself out of commitment to a state mental hospital in order to join the Army, was given three months and a bad-conduct discharge for "disobeying a direct order."

For the others it looked like this: Privates Michel Marino, Roy Pulley, Stephen Roland and Buddy Shaw, 15 months and dishonorable discharges; Privates Richard Duncan, Alan Rupert, Francis Schiro, Richard Stevens, Ernest Trefethen and Patrick Wright, one year and dishonorable discharges; Danny L. Wilkins, nine months arid a dishonorable discharge; and Richard Lee Gentile, six months and a dishonorable discharge.

The biggest surprise was the light sentence for Gentile. A helicopter doorgujner in a forward reconnaissance unit in Vietnam for one year. Gentile was sent to the stockade ater going AWOL to participate in the GIs and Vets antiwar march in San Francisco last October. Gentile.testified that he learned to oppose the war during "rest and recreation" tours of Vietnam with an interpreter "I found out the majority of those people don't care. if we're there or not. They just want to grow their rice and raise their families," he said.

Hallinan then led him over to the court martial board and had him unbutton his sleeve to reveal the effect of stockade life: a self-inflicted gash from wrist to elbow that had required 144 stitches to close.

As the weekspassed, the picture defense witnesses painted became clear. Somehow, through a maze of prosecution objections and rules of evidence, the story of the Presidio stockade emerged. Hundreds of GIs wire going AOL and winding up in San Francisco, the national dropout capital. Some went for personal reasons, others because it was the easiest way to act on their feelings against the Vietnam war and the Army. A. very high were troubled by more than politics.
Many had serious emotional troubles stemming from broken backgrounds and drugs. As more were caught or turned themselves in, a prison built in 1912 to hold 43 men was forced to hold, by the second week of Oct. 1968, 157 men.

In August 1968, stockade command had fallen to sadistic Sgt. Woodring, who played off the men against one another to "clean this place up and get more stripes on this sleeve."

Guards were overworked and ridiculed in front of prisoners; black prisoners were urged to inform on their brothers to gain tiny privileges. Tension was high. Many of the AWOLs were there for overtly political acts-these included four of the Nine GIs for Peace, who had chained themselves to clergymen in July. Woodring. hated them all.

Living conditions were a scandal. Clogged toilets and short rations were common. Documented suicide attempts - "gestures" said the Army -.were even more common. Prisoners drank shampoo and chrome polish. One slashed his wrists, then tried to hang himself in the bandages. - 2 former prisonera brought in by the prosecution to testify were "two of the biggest kiss-ass dime-droppers in the stockade," they said things had been fine.

Three days before the sitdown demonstration, Richard Bunch vas shot in the back while running (witnesses. say he was skipping) away from a work detail. Everyone in the stockade knew Bunch was insane and should never have been in the Army, let alone in jail. Fear and outrage over what the prisoner saw as cold-blooded murder built up for three days.

Finally they sat down and refused to go to work, reading a list of grievances and singing "We Shall Overcome". They asked for an end to shotgun work details, for psychological testing of guards, for improved sanitation, for an end to racial discrimination. There were 10 demands in all. The press called it a nonviolent sit-down demonstration; the army called it a mutiny.

Three of 8 setences handed down in earlier Presidio 27 trials have been reviewed, and were reduced from 14,15, and 16 years to two years, largely due to mass public protest by GIs and. civilians. There is now hope that these sentences will affect future reviews as well as sentencing for Pvte. Murphy and. Zaino, the last of the "mutineers" who face trial in July.

WE GOT THE brASS (German Edition), no. 1


© 2005 Displaced Films. All Rights Reserved