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Chapter 1 My brother's true story of his participation in the peaceful protest known as the Presidio 27, during the Vietnam War and how it changed his life forever. Read or listen.
~ Prologue ~
This is the story of one man who without intent became a small piece of history.
Resistance, protest and change come with collective action … often unplanned.
Rising to the occasion is what it’s about.
Occasions frequently leave wounds.
Some never heal.
This is a story of the infamous Presidio 27.
“Did you see that?” the alarmed woman asked her husband as they drove across the Golden Gate Bridge into the City.
“What?” he questioned.
“Just for a moment, when the headlights pointed uphill toward the forest…..”
She sounded unsure, shaking her head in disbelief.
“I thought I saw a bleeding naked man, running toward the highway.”
Under the glow of a street lamp, surrounded by a wild cacophony of sounds and bodies, a figure crouched down in a glass phone booth, cradling the receiver in one hand while shielding his face with the other.
Early spring of 1969, in Oakland, California, a protest march was underway. As signs waved and chants chorused, throngs of citizens demanded support for twenty-seven men, unjustly charged with mutiny while imprisoned at the Army Presidio. It was a scandal the Army was furiously attempting to sweep under the rug.
“Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday dear Carol… Happy Birthday to you,” a low husky voice serenaded over the phone line.
Carol gasped. “Bro, is it really you?” Always amazed when her brother remembered to phone on her birthday from wherever he was, this call jolted her to the core.
“Yep,” he gleefully snickered quietly into the mouthpiece. “It’s me, Lindy Ragamuffin, the elephant that never forgets, tee hee.”
Shocked but ecstatic, she asked, “But, where are you?”
“Did you hear I escaped?” he asked in a cautious tone.
“Yes,” she answered, asking again, “Where are you?”
“I’m at my own demonstration,” he softly giggled. Lindy, often acted silly as a defense mechanism when people worried about him. Then assuming a more serious tone, he rotated his head from side-to-side scanning faces, and reported, “There are hundreds of people marching and calling the Army out on the radical charges they imposed against me and the others.” Carol could hear strains of muffled voices broadcast from distant megaphones and faint chords of Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind.
“The operator might ask for more clinkies at any time. “Can you accept further charges?”
“Ummmm … yeah, of course. So, Mom’s friend called her to say your name is all over the news in Oakland. Then Mom called to tell me. Aren’t you in danger of being caught?”
“Humph.” He scoffed. “There are armed militia-kinda guys walking all around the phone booth that I’m in right now. They have no idea the object of their attention is right before their eyes. Lotsa anti-war demonstrations going on up here, sis. I’m up to my skinny neck in danger. If I’m caught it’s curtains for me.”
Hunching down in an effort to further shrink his six-foot four-inch frame, he continued, “Gotta girlfriend in a protest group that is helping me out, but I don’t have much time to yak. Just wanted you to know I’m OK and am probably headed for Canada.”
The day before his call, Carol had received a rare long-distance call from their frantic mother in Hawaii.
“He’s out, I don’t know how, but he is,” her voice squeaked over the long distance line. Incredibly, he had escaped from the Presidio’s Military Prison in San Francisco while awaiting sentencing for the charge of mutiny. He was 20 years old.
“So how did you get out?” his sister wanted to know.
“Aha … ’twas a hacksaw,” he teased.
She could just imagine him twisting a phantom Snidley Whiplash mustache.
“Yeah right. No, really?”
“Gotta go,” he interrupted. “Details to follow. The wagons are circling. Look for a letter from Barry Jones, that’s my new name now. Tell Mom I’m okay and that I love her,” he added, silently wondering if he would ever see his mother again.
And with that the phone line went dead before Carol even had time to say “Be careful,” as if his luck depended on her wishes.
Named after his father’s deceased Army buddy, Linden Reid Blake measured 23 inches long. “Now that’s a sure sign your new bundle of joy will grow up to be the stuff of basketball legends”, the attending physician pronounced gaily.
But instead of taking home a lettered jacket in high school, he often took home to his bewildered parents another dreaded note from the principal. Their middle child, rebel status duly recorded, fancied bugs and snakes, not activities involving banging bodies and throwing balls around. Teased relentlessly by his thug-jock classmates, for his lack of aggressive athletic prowess and preference for books and all things creepy and crawly, Lindy, then wimpy but scrappy could only shove them and run. Being summoned to the school about his outlaw behavior became a familiar, and annoying occurrence for his mother.
“You know that your son has a very high IQ”, the principal informed her yet again. “Why can’t he learn to use his words instead of shoving kids?”
“Well,” she would say, coldly looking him in the eye. “The guys he swiped at are bullies.” Same answer, different day. “If there was a sport or activity about ant farming, bee keeping, or watching snakes slither, I’m sure we wouldn’t be having this discussion. You’re wasting time trying to squeeze my square peg son into a round hole.” Getting up to go, she offered, “Maybe, disciplining his hecklers would be another option,” she pleaded, her green eyes noting his smirk and raised eyebrows. Their meetings always ended the same way, with an assurance she would talk to her troublesome son again about reining in his resistance to authority that often triggered his overactive sense of social justice.
It was hard to lecture him about rights and wrongs after suffering a particularly horrific personal experience. His mother would never forget the afternoon her late blooming fourteen-year-old son limped down the pathway to the front door, face bloodied, clothes torn, and shaking with sobs so convulsive he could barely speak. Comforting him until his breathing steadied, he told her what had happened.
“I was walking home from school and took the shortcut behind the houses on Elm Street when I heard a horrible screech. A minute later when I peeked around the corner I could see the same creeps from school that pick on me were holding a wiggling cat upside down by its tail,” he told her, sobbing. “They were sticking something up its butt.” Shivering, he paused before continuing. “Then they took out a book of matches and held it up to its bottom. Oh god, Ma, it caught fire and exploded, sending pieces of the cat flying in all directions. Blood and fur was everywhere, and they just stood there laughing.” He held his stomach fearing he would throw up before continuing.
Horrified and speechless, his mother trembled as she pulled him closer, brushed his cheek and urged him on.
“Backing away, I started yelling that I was going to call the police, and they started after me. There were three of them and I ran with all my might, but they caught me and threw me on the ground and told me if I ever said one word about what I saw they would find me and put a firecracker up my butt too. Then they started punching me really hard and kicking me in the stomach, screaming that I better shut-up if I knew what was good for me.” Closing his eyes, shoulders shaking, he asked, “What should I do? They’re bad guys and they really scare me.”
The next day Lindy’s mother related the story to the school principal, who promised to follow up. When questioned later, she was told the parents warned their sons not to do anything so stupid ever again. It was never known if they were punished. They didn’t miss a day of school and Lindy forever gave them a wide berth when he saw them.
His early experiences of inequality were indelible. The lack of support exhibited by a school authority who clearly championed certain star students was never forgotten. The resulting defensiveness and sense of righteousness colored every decision made thereafter for the rest of his life.
June Blake, held his father, Gene, accountable for the cloud that seemed to shadow Lindy. It was always something. Battling his inner teenage demons, he skipped school to wander the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains or to smoke pot with other outsiders. As a mother, she felt abandoned even with Father Gene still in residence. He hadn’t wanted children at all, and when they came along, he abdicated to her any effort in raising them. Instead of engaging Lindy, offering assurance or insights, his father criticized and belittled him, over and over and over.
June chalked up Gene’s lack of parental skills to the fact he himself was a late in life, much adored only child, doted on for simply existing. In his mind, it was enough to bring in a paycheck, provide a home and to be present. In hers, she believed that it took two to make a child and at least two to raise one. Gene’s communications and interactions with his children were mostly in the form of advice, lectures or rants. He never attended a parent meeting at school, took either of his sons to a ball game or spent any special time alone with them at all. Eventually, after a twenty-year marriage, June figured if she was going to be a solitary parent she might as well be alone to do the job, without criticism.