Christmas Season - 1972

Sam Tyson


December 18, 1972 - Castle Air Force Base, Winton, Ca. Established as a textbook case of non-violent direct action using pre-notice, openness adequate time for planning, friendly approach.

Castle AFB was a Strategic Air Command(SAC) facility used to train B-52 crews as well as transport crews. Location: Near Winton in Merced County, eastern Merced County was in the normal turn pattern for the touch-down training.

Early in 1972 Castle was informed that the Modesto Peace Center planned to leaflet the base in May, on Armed Forces Day. An Air Force officer came to the old Peace Center 15 & G in Modesto and wanted to be filled in with information. We declined his help, no, we would come down and visit. An invitation to tour the Base was accepted and Kate Palmer and I rode around with the base Commander all nice open and friendly. Don’t recall there was that much discussion at that time.

Come the May date a dozen or so people leafleted and picketed, some from the Peace Center and some from Merced County. We came as we said we would and were leaving. Before the premises were quite vacated here comes the base commander across the Santa Fe railroad tracks to thank us for doing just as was earlier was stated. The response of the leafleting was so-so; we were intruding on their Armed Forces Day.

The next phase was a visitation committee from the Peace Center, all notified and arranged. Six of us went down to chat: Catherine Bruner, Friend and senior citizen; Kate, a Downey High Schooler; Dave McCracken, pastor, College Ave. Congregational Church; Gary Massoni, a newly ordained pastor, Father Conrad Gruber, Catholic, in black habit, then in Modesto; and myself, also a Friend.

There were six of us so there had to be seven Air Force officers around the conference table. Rather than attempt a formal joint statement, each person had their say - much more powerful that way. The Catholic priest had to be a stunner for them, as officers often tended to come with that background. They tried to encourage us to believe that no one would really cross the yet to be pointed wide yellow arrest line. No assurances on this were forth coming.

Original plans called for the action on November 11 to restore some of the Armistice Day meaning to that day. However, the Nixon government made peace dove noises about Vietnam in October. To give Washington the benefit of the doubt, action was postponed and thereby probably lost a lot of het-up bodies, it being election time. Non-violent theory gives all chance to the opponent to shape up and walk right.

Since plans had been sent out through Friends circles, a meeting was called for December 17, 1972 at Castle. Catherine Bruner had gained permission for the use of Castle Park, an area controlled by Castle but off base. Dozens attended this Friends meeting from the Bay area as well as people from Stockton and Modesto. Weather was that light rain, so common in December. Work done, all went home and mostly stayed. Dave was only one non-local who showed up for the Monday finale.

Monday, December 18, 1972 came with more drizzly weather. Five years earlier on Dec. 18, 1967, I was sitting on a San Francisco Chronicle on a wet street in Oakland, near the Draft Board. Mel Harvey was along on that venture. So now there is a nice fresh wide yellow line to demark the arrest potential. Kate Palmer had created very large signs from cardboard packing cases. Do believe we may have been infiltrated by a young couple from Stanislaus State College. They were to get the cardboard but disappeared instead, maybe just cold feet after all. We did know that some of us were in a file at the local recruiter’s.

Gray, wet, cold the weather was for the support group with leaflet or signs. Sandy Sample with Stephen on her back; Dan Onorato; Terry Manzoni and a group of high school students. Not an overwhelming force to cope with.

Around mid-afternoon seemed a good time to cross the line. Fred Moore is carries his sign. Part way to the guard gate we are intercepted by a black lieutenant colonel whose job it is to read all the regulations we were violating, penalties too I guess. He walked in front of me. I side stepped and so we waltzed up to the nitty-gritty, a shoulder to shoulder line of armed M.P.s. Stymied, there are not going to let us in. We stand, they stand. Of course, traffic is getting all messed up behind us. After a while the Colonel ordered us removed and said, "Treat them gently." The M.P. in front of me was a little bigger than I but also black. He put his hands on my upper arms to move my body. I’m pretty sure he was shaking, not me. To remove the pressure from him I went limp and slumped to the dark wet street. Fred followed suit. We sat there a bit. Then were carried out of the way to the right of the entrance and deposited again on the wet black top. I heard the Colonel say, "Get Mr. Tyson a chair," and then sotto voce "but probably he won’t use it." A chair arrived, none for Fred; it was not used.

Fred did try the line once more and was repulsed. A third try was contemplated but he was dissuaded to desist. We sat wet until around 5 p.m. when it was quite dark. Kidney’s floating, it was called a long day.

Did the blocking work? Certainly. The base had more people on the line than we did e and they successfully blocked it. Remember the politics of 1972 when supposedly the Nixon White House supposedly ignored the protesters outside.

Some of us were a bit euphoric. Christmas in jail as expected had dissipated. Dinner at Lock Yuens on Yosemite seemed a good way to end the day.

Fred Moore left very high, a demonstration in which there was no negative physical contact. He went east to a peacemakers conference in Ohio and talked it up so folks there made more than one attempt to enter an Air Force base; again there were no arrests.

Only years later did it sink in why there were no arrests at Castle or Dayton. The administration wanted no more anti-war publicity which arrest and court would have produced.

Castle AF Base did close in 1995 as part of the numerous base closings which have brought little in the way of peace dividend, with an oversized military budget

bar.gif (3918 bytes)

from Roots and Fruits, a publication of the Stanislaus Peace-Life Center and the Stanislaus Safe Energy Committee

forward.gif (1527 bytes) back to Connections' home page         forward.gif (1527 bytes) to Roots and Fruits Table of Contents