Summer of ‘69
I was an Air Force “Air Police”, now known as the USAF Security Forces, for my four-year enlistment. From late 1968 until my discharge in 1970, I was a member of one of the most unique Military Police Units. It was then known as Hawaii Armed Services Police, or simply HASP.
What made the unit so unique was its makeup, a totally multi-service off-base military police unit. And I mean “multi-service”. The Commanding Officer (CO) was an Army Lieutenant Colonel; the Executive Officer (XO) was a Navy Lieutenant commander; the NCO in Charge (NCOIC) was a Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant; the NCO in charge of investigations/plain clothes was an Air Force Technical Sergeant; all the radio operators were Coast Guardsman; all the medics were Navy. Every shift had an “officer of the watch”, a junior lieutenant from one of the services. See what I mean? Unique
We worked 12 hour shifts, seven days a week, patrolling Waikiki, Hotel street (downtown Honolulu), the Honolulu Airport and Fort DeRussy. Patrols were two-man vehicles with a supervisor for each area, and we always attempted to mix services in each vehicle.
HASP’s duty was to take care of off duty military personal and as much as possible, to keep them out of trouble and out of civilian jail.
We worked closely with the Honolulu Police Department who would turn minor miscreants over to our custody instead of hauling them off to jail. We would then notify the respective command that would in turn dispatch their own MP’s to take the wayward serviceman back to face his commander.
During these years, all installations were running at full strength, there were also hundreds of R and R service personnel in and out of Hawaii every five to ten days. We stayed busy.
All of the personnel were hand selected by the CO and the XO, and they were picky. It was not easy to get selected and it was just as hard to stay in the unit. Complaints were thoroughly investigated and followed up, and if you had a complaint sustained, you were returned to your parent unit. Immediately.
We also trained harder physically, than any military or civilian police unit I have ever worked with. We were trained on take downs, holds, and especially what is now called a rear naked choke. The idea was the quicker you got a suspect under control the less chance that anybody would get seriously hurt.
Remember, we had a lot of dealings with men on R and R; you could be facing a guy that 48 hours ago was in a firefight with the Viet Cong or the NVA. These were guys that were drinking to numb the feelings that nobody really understood, and sometimes it took more drink than they could handle. To use a line from a recent movie, we were often facing men who were trained killers.
Sometimes these men would strike out not so much as to hurt anyone, but to hurt themselves in an attempt to realize they could still feel something.
The civilian police didn’t want to lock these guys up and tried to understand. Sometimes the GI would get loud, abusive, and physical; they would call us. It was our job to take them into custody. And as much as possible, without anyone getting hurt.
Many of the HASP members were career military, and the rest, like myself, planned a career in law enforcement after discharge. This ensured a very professional group of M.P.s.
It was the beginning of the Viet Nam protest era. Young men and women began to think for themselves instead of blindly following their parents or teachers without question. However, they found themselves following the lead of people that were just as one way as they accused everyone else of being.
HASP was always present at the Fort DeRussy R&R center whenever the buses loaded or unloaded. There were often anti-war protesters on the sidewalks with signs and megaphones and their language would get very vile. Many times their filthy comments were directed at the wives or children of the G.I.s who just wanted to spend a few days with their loved one. HASP did its best to keep these people from entering the loading/unloading areas.
In early August 1969 the anti-war movement took a big step forward. A young soldier declared he wasn’t going to return to Viet Nam at the end of his R&R. He entered a small Methodist church near the University of Hawaii and requested “sanctuary”. The Church of the Crossroads in Honolulu suddenly became a focal point in the national anti-war movement.
Within a few days 20 – 24 more servicemen requested sanctuary and a second church, the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu, entered the fray and accepted half of those asking. By the end of the week, there were 24 known A.W.O.L. servicemen in the two churches, literally hundreds of supporters, and nobody seemed to know what to do.
The concept of “Sanctuary” is deeply rooted in common law and until the 17th century was recognized as a legal concept. Today, as well as in 1969, there is no legal standing for church sanctuary, only that of political sanctuary in the embassy of a foreign nation.
What the real problem was, nobody wanted to be responsible for the storm of really bad publicity that would explode against whoever decided not to honor the church sanctuary.
So the generals, admirals, and politicians dithered and blathered and the longer they waited the more public opinion turned against them. There was an update on every news cast, every day.
August turned to September and nothing happened. In the late hours of Thursday September 11th, I received a telephone call from the unit NCOIC. In no uncertain terms I was ordered to report to the station immediately, the uniform of the day would be fatigues, and I was not to tell anyone where I was going.
By 2 am, September 12th everyman assigned to HASP was in the dayroom speculating on what was happening. Everyone was in fatigues instead of the usual khaki or Navy whites we normally wore.
About 2:30 am a two star general walked into the room and we knew this was going to be big.
The general addressed us in a quiet, calm but all business voice. He had been sent to put an end to the sanctuary. The federal court had verified there was no legal standing for the movement and we would be ending it today.
He told us we were about to become part of U.S. military history. He congratulated us, wished us good luck, and walked off.
The unit XO and the Gunny stepped up and began filling in the blanks. We were divided into two groups, one for each church.
Each group would be run by an officer and a senior NCO. Each group would have 2 “paddy” wagons for prisoner transport, and there would be three five man teams for each location. There would be armed NCOs in each of the teams and they would make the arrests. There had been federal warrants issued for the arrest of those identified and several “John Doe” warrants were available.
Both groups would move to a staging area and then launch simultaneous and coordinated “no knock” operation. They then read the names and assignments. I was assigned to the Crossroads team.
Honolulu Police Officers would be advised over their radio to stay clear until we were finished.
As soon as that radio call went out, we got our “GO” signal.
Doors were literally kicked down; people were pulled out of beds and cots, or yanked from sleeping bags and identified.
As soon as the action started the police switchboard lighted up with calls, but they were too late.
By 8:30 am that morning the Hawaii chapter of the Sanctuary Movement was over. A total of 23 servicemen had been apprehended and transported to the HASP station.
Numerous complaints of property damage, excessive use of force, terroristic threatening and about anything else you could think of were filed, but nothing ever happened. It was a different time.
The apprehended servicemen were all removed from Hawaii and faced charges under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice by their commands.
Three or four weeks later, all the HASP participants received letters of commendation from their respective Commanding General.
Later, several more attempts to claim sanctuary were made all over the country but were quickly dealt with by the military authorities. The precedent had been set. No sanctuary.
There were more anti-war protests in Honolulu, including the 1971 burning of the U of H ROTC building. The fire was ruled “arson” but no arrests were made. One of the anti-war movement leaders, a U of H professor, later became a state senator, member of the House, and state Governor.