The Presidio Mutiny or the Presidio 27 was a protest held by imprisoned soldiers during the Vietnam War at the stockade of the US Army Presidio. Soldiers who did not abide by orders or went AWOL during the Vietnam War were sent to the Presidio Stockade to serve their sentences. The tensions and sanitary conditions were awful within the stockade; when one of the soldiers, Richard Bunch, was killed by a guard, a spontaneous riot ensued. Soon after, an AWOL soldier and anti-war organizer, Randy Rowland, decided to march to the Presidio gate in the G.I. March for Peace, and he too was imprisoned. With prisoners Linden Blake, Keith Mather, and Walter Pawlowski, they created a plan for the prisoners to hold a peaceful sit-down. 27 men broke formation and sat together in the grass of the stockade yard and sang, We Shall Overcome. In retaliation, the Army General charged them with mutiny -- the military's highest charge.
The Presidio Stockade was the building used to imprison AWOL soldiers of the US Army or soldiers who refused orders. At the height of the Vietnam War in 1968, the living conditions within the stockade were unbearable, with the toilet plumbing routinely backing up, and the prisoners' treatment was equally poor. Given the unpopularity of the war, over 140 soldiers were being held, although the stockade was designed to accommodate only 88 people.
On October 11, 1968, one prisoner, Richard Bunch, was shot and killed by one of the guardsmen while he was out on work detail. The reasons are somewhat unclear, but several of the fellow prisoners believed his mental health was declining, and he may have taunted the guard to shoot him if he walked off work detail.
After his murder, the imprisoned soldiers were furious and destroyed anything they could within their cells. Activists in the anti-war movement were enraged outside the stockade as well. The G.I. March for Peace had been planned for October 12, and one AWOL soldier and organizer, Randy Rowland, planned to join the march to the Presidio and symbolically turn himself in. He was indeed arrested and imprisoned in the stockade.
Inside, Randy met other prisoners who were anxious to initiate a response: Linden Blake, Keith Mather, and Walter Pawlowski, each an AWOL solider as well. They began to plan a way to peacefully state their demands for better treatment. It would be a peaceful protest within the stockade yard. On October 14th, some 27 men broke morning formation at morning roll call, and walked across the stockade yard, sat down and linked arms. They began to sing the song “We Shall Overcome,” and requested to read their demands to the Stockade Commander. But the commander urged them to cease immediately and began reading them the articles of mutiny from the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Upon hearing this the protesters only sang louder in order to drown out his words. Military Police ultimately removed them forcibly from their sitdown.
Faced with mounting pressure against the Vietnam War, both in the civilian world and increasingly by Army servicemembers themselves, the US Army sought to set a crushing example. Although the 27 prisoners had clearly violated orders, the Army instead pursued the charge of mutiny, as if they had intended to overthrow the Commander. Mutiny is the highest military charge, and carries a maximum sentence of the death penalty. Over the course of the next year, many of these participants would be convicted to long prison sentences. It would take years and years before their appeals cases finally overturned the charge of mutiny.