So we were very successful in involving large numbers of Gis in anti-war activities, in demonstrations, in passing out
the newspaper. We at our peak we were running about 10.000 copies of the Free Press and distributing them all on the fort.
Now, just for the record, where was the GI organization? Where was it located?
Initially, there wasn't a place, but then we actually got a place in
Tillicum, which is kind of a Gl slum outside of Ft. Lewis. We had a
little storefront. We'd have functions and we'd have picket lines up in
front of the entrance to the fort. Back then a lot of these people that
were back from Vietnam - what could the military do, throw them out,
court martial (them)? I mean they just didn't really care because
they'd been through something that was worse than anything else that
the military could do to them.
Sort of nothing to lose?
Nothing to lose. And there was a fire rage amongst the Black Gis who
were members of the GI Alliance, (which) was quite an inter-racial
organization. (There were) a number of Black Gis, and Chicano GIs,
active in the GI Alliance and active on fort. We would do things.
Several times around specific instances we had mass meetings on fort.
We would pass by word of mouth and have 50, 60, 100 Gis show up at the
PX and we'd have an anti-war meeting. And just because of the kind of
timing, the military just didn't really want to do anything about it
because it would have been an ugly riot (with) that number of people,
or it would have looked very bad. There was a racist incident in one
company I remember where some non-commissioned officers were treating
the Black Gis in a real racist fashion. We wrote an exposure of it in
the paper. We held a meeting in that barracks, and we leafletted the
barracks. And it really shook things up. It was so counter to the
military, you know a sergeant or a higher officer thinks that they can
just do things. But that wasn't the way it was going to be. People were
What happened (in) that particular incident? Do you remember?
No, I don't. I remember us actually converging on this barracks. I
was kind of along for the ride because the rage of the Black Gis was
just...they were ready to beat the shit out of these officers. And I
think nothing actually happened. But as I remember the conditions
improved. I mean the harassment stopped. I think it shook people up.
They knew that they couldn't do it with impunity. I remember one of our
illegal mass meetings on base, a distinguished, older looking gentleman
showed up and actually sat down next to me and was kind of listening
patiently and then finally said to me, "You know, I know about Lin Piao
and Mao and all these things." And it turned it was the two star
general of the fort, General Bolling. And he never...we kind of
dispersed and he never really said anything. And it was just...you
know, this was gonna be bad PR for them.
Do you think the inaction of the brass at Ft. Lewis was a
reflection of what was going on internationally? It seems like it's got
to be connected. The fear of you representing the rock that they could
drop on their feet.
Well, that's right. I mean they weren't scared of us per se
obviously. But, the US military was getting beaten In Vietnam. This was
now end of 1971, beginning of 1972. Large numbers of Gis were now
feeling rebellious about the war, (if only) on the lowest level of just
being lifers vs. brass. There were a lot of stories and some of them
certainly were true, of enlisted men blowing up or shooting officers or
lifer sergeants who were particularly gung-ho in Vietnam. I never heard
(anybody) directly admitting that they killed somebody, but I heard a
number of stories about it happening in peoples' units overseas. So it
was just an incendiary situation where the military, well at least the
general at our camp, obviously decided that it would be worse to try
and squash us; it would just fan the flames. So they could have
court-martialed me or a couple of others if they caught us doing
something but it would have just been disadvantageous. We tried some of
the other things. They were going to pacify the troops by having a rock
concert on fort. My wife and two wives of some other, actually Vietnam
vets - one of them was a military policeman - went there and grabbed,
during a break, grabbed the microphone and started giving, (this was on
base), an anti-war speech, which was very well received I might say, by
the thousand or so troops that were there, out in the hot sun. The
military, obviously they thought they had to pacify troops by that time
by having rock concerts.
That says something.
But, you know, the military police came and arrested our three wives and Francie [Royce's wife]
was banned from the fort for a while. But then they gave in after
lecturing...they lectured me because they didn't have any power over
her. And then she still was given rights to go to Madigan, the
hospital. I'm not sure if she could go to the PX. But anyway, outside
of that, she wasn't allowed on the fort. And then one time we decided
to challenge this military law that you couldn't distribute
unauthorized literature on fort. During one of my breaks...I was
working in a supply warehouse, so I told my sergeant, I said, "Ok, I'm
out to lunch now. See you in a little bit." And so I whipped up to the
PX and met some of my friends and we had all smuggled some Free Presses
on fort. No, not Free Presses, copies of the Declaration of
What day was this, Mike?
It was just like a Wednesday, or something, middle of the week. So
we started passing out the Declaration of Independence to everybody
busily. Within 5 minutes the MPs came and promptly arrested us
all...actually there weren't that many of us. There were only about 2
of us, but I was one of them. But anyway, they arrested us, and I
remember just as they put me up against the truck and were handcuffing
me I said, "You know, you guys really don't want to do this. This is
not unauthorized literature. This is our Declaration of Independence."
But they were unconvinced. So as I was being hauled away I saw my
sergeant, who I'd just said goodbye to for lunch, drive by and kind of
look at me and his eyes got very big. He was a very sweet guy actually,
a staff sergeant, a lifer, a Black guy from the South. So, obviously I
didn't make it back from lunch. So they take me to Military
Intelligence. They throw me in the jail and I'm saying, "Guys, it's the
Declaration of Independence." Obviously they were talking with other
people about what to do. So after about 4 or 5 hours grilling me about
this unauthorized literature, they just let me go. So I showed up the
next day at work and my sergeant never said a word about it. In fact
none of the other people working there - they were mainly civilians -
none of them (said anything), except one of the women who worked there
whose son had been to Vietnam. She never said anything directly to me
about it, but she knit me a little present or something and brought
this present the next day. Everybody was very nice about it. So that
was my experience with being arrested for passing out the Declaration