1. Introduction

In 1776, Spanish Captain Juan Bautista de Anza led 240 settler-soldiers to the San Francisco Bay. The Anza expedition established their fort, El Presidio de San Francisco, less than half a mile from the native Ohlone village of Petlenuc in what is now the Presidio of San Francisco.

Ever since, the history of the Presidio has been connected to the most distinguished, as well as the darkest, chapters in the militaries of the three countries who claimed this land and flew their flags over it: Spain, Mexico, and the United States.

Today’s tour is tied to a story of military service: in this context, we will travel back in time to the Presidio of San Francisco in 1968, during the Vietnam War. What happened here, during three eventful days in October, became a defining moment in a growing movement of GIs taking action against the war. The story of the Presidio 27 demonstrates that there are many ways people can serve their country, and more than one way that people are called to defend the values of our nation.

To travel back to the Presidio in 1968, we must begin to remember the Vietnam War (Nov. 1, 1955 – Apr. 30, 1975). This war pitted the army of South Vietnam – supported by its principal ally, the United States – against the communist regime of North Vietnam and its southern affiliates, known as the Viet Cong – who were supported by the Soviet Union and China. The divisive and devastating war, increasingly unpopular on the U.S. home front, ended with the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 1973 and the unification of Vietnam under communist control in 1975. More than three million people, including 58,000 Americans, died in the conflict.

1968 was a turning point.

The American public was growing increasingly disillusioned as more casualties were reported from Vietnam on every nightly newscast, even while U.S. commanders demanded more troops. Under the draft system, as many as 40,000 young men were called into service every month, fueling antiwar sentiment.

We are now 50 years
back in time... to
October 1968

Domestic politics in the United States are more polarized than ever. This is the social and political climate that swirls around you, right where you are standing, here at the Presidio Stockade. The Presidio is just one in a ring of military bases that encircles the Bay Area. It is mostly an administrative hub, headquarters of the Sixth Army. Not far away in the Haight-Ashbury, the 1967 Summer of Love has popularized a counterculture of “tune in, turn on, and drop out.” The Black Civil Rights Movement has launched huge social changes in America. In April, Martin Luther King is assassinated, shocking the nation and calling into question the idea of nonviolent protest.

Morale is deeply shaken in the Armed Services. The number of AWOLs is equivalent to fifteen combat divisions and is more than 5X the number of men volunteering for Vietnam duty. Just in the Army alone, this means someone is leaving every three minutes!