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Tacoma Community History Projects: Featured Project: Michael Royce

A guide to oral history projects compiled by students in Professor Mike Honey's "Doing Community History" course. Projects date from 1991.


Ft. Lewis free press publication, 1971







Note: For the complete version of this project, see call # 1994#05

Michael Royce was born in 1946 into an upper-middle class, intellectually oriented family in Wisconsin. His mother earned a Ph.D. in economics, and later taught at Federal District College in Washington D.C. His father, Henry S. Reuss - Michael changed the spelling of his own last name - was a Harvard trained lawyer who served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and as deputy general counsel for the Marshall Plan in Paris after the war. Henry Reuss was subsequently elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat from Wisconsin in 1954, serving 13 terms until 1983. Michael first became involved in the Civil Rights Movement during the summer of 1965 in Mississippi, and later worked as a VISTA volunteer (the domestic form of the Peace Corps). Although opposed to American involvement in Vietnam, Royce obeyed his draft notice in 1969 in hopes of organizing troops against the war. He became involved with a group of active duty individuals who published the underground anti-war newspaper, the Lewis-McChord Free Press. Royce went on to co-found a successful product liability law firm in Portland, Oregon. In 1997 he started Green Empowerment, a non-profit organization working in developing nations to provide energy and watershed protection. In this excerpt he discusses the charged atmosphere on area military bases during the early 1970s, and describes the various activities of active duty military personnel who chose to speak out against the war.

Section of Michael Royce Interview

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 quite receptive.

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 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 Independence!

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 of Independence.