Library - Reading Room
Supporting Materials for Sir! No Sir!
Fort Hood 43 Revisited
On the. night of Aug. 23rd over a. hundred black GIs at Fort Hood, Tex., gathered at a main intersection of the Fort to protest being sent on the so called "riot control" duty to Chicago where the Demootatic convention was being held.
After an all-night assembly of protest (during which the general of the division (1st Armored) came out to plead with them to disperse) 43 were arrested.
Most were given trials by special courts-martial (maximum sentence 6 months). A group of those considered leaders were given general courts-maartial with possible sentences of 5 years.
"No matter what happens tomorrow, remember to let the readers know that our morale was high."
These were the words of Tolley Royal the evening before he and five of his black brothers were to face sentencing at a general court-martial which resulted from the brave and defiant refusal of 43 black GIs to take part in riot control duty on August 24.
The six were singled out of the forty-three for harsher punishment because they were said to have played a leading role, although the Brass did not try to prove this at their trials.
The American Serviceman's Union had retained Michael Kennedy of the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee for defense counsel, and the Union requested that a Bond reporter and a member of the Committee for GI Rights accompany them to the trial.
The courts-martial building on October 22 was packed with civilian and GI supporters, including a correspondent from the New York Times and an editor of Life Magazine. The Brass were particularly pissed off at GI supporters. Under the direction of an MP Lieutenant named Baker; a white GI was DRed while attempting to pull his car (seating two other white supporters) into a drive alongside of the building. He was charged with obstructing the road and all three were told to report back to their units. A black GI in civilian clothes who was processing out of the Army that same day was arrested on the steps of the building for failing to salute the flag at retreat. He gave his black brothers a clenched fist as the pigs drove him away. It was returned.
Inside the building the men were being specifically charged with disobeying a legal order to disperse from the area at which they had chosen to protest riot control and their possible shipment to Chicago during the convention. The defense showed that no such order had been given, but on the third day, four of the six were convicted. Sp/4 Albert Henry, who was wounded twice in Viet Nam, told the court, "what is going on at Fort Hood is not right and my conviction won't stop anything."
PFC Guy Smith faced his seventeen puppet judges, of which the lowest rank was an E-6, and said, "I demonstrated against Army policy here and in Viet Nam. There is racism and prejudice here. General Boles said that he would do something about it, but nothing has been done. There are clubs in Killeen (the base town) that black GIs can't go. The black man has been held back because of his color. Your convictions add to the injustice."
Two of the judges, one major and a lieutenant, dozed off during the mitigation. It was apparent, however, with MPs lining the street and armed guards in each doorway of the building, that the Brass were uptight and scared. They a also had reason to fear widespread rage if they imposed the hanging sentences that courts-martials are infamous for. The maximum could have been five years hard labor.
On the fourth day of the trial, October 26, Sp/4 Tolley Royal and Sp/4 Albert Henry received 3 months hard labor. Royal's sentence did not include confinement. Henry was confined to the stockade. Ernest Fredrick and PFC Guy Smith were given bad conduct discharges. The remaining two, Sgt. Rucker and PFC Bess, were acquitted earlier in the trial.
No one was looking for any justice at the trial. If there was any justice for the enlisted men, there would have been no trial at all.
Instead there was a triumphant show of solidarity and courage. PFC Smith said as he left the courtroom that he would continue fighting for GI rights after his discharge. The most impressive thing all day came when all of the former defendents including their GI and civilian supporters gathered around the jeep which was taking Albert Henry to the stockade and exchanged words of confidence and support. The GIs promised that they will be waiting for him when he is released.
Fun Travel Adventure, no. 6