Keith Mather’s daughter Megan came back to live with him at the start of November, after an extended visit with her mother in Texas. Megan’s in 11th grade. She now finds herself in a new school, a new city (she grew up mostly around Half Moon Bay) and a month-and-a-half behind her class. She has a lot of strengths and will probably have made most of her adjustments by the time you get your AVA.
Keith was one of the last GIs to do time behind refusing to fight in Vietnam. (His brother Kirk lives in Willets. All of the Mather brothers are in construction, as was their father. The whole family has been with Keith emotionally throughout his long strange anti-war trip.
Back in ’68 Keith was in training at Ft. Lewis when he decided the war was a bad idea for all concerned, declared himself opposed to it, went AWOL and eventually joined an anti-war vigil in the Bay Area. He wound up in the Presidio stockade, which was filling up with potheads and anti-war GIs (along with the usual misfits and rogues). The command was committed to stifling any and all signs of dissent. On October14 a guard shot and killed a pathetic 17-year old named Rusty Bunch, who all the prisoners felt should have gotten a medical discharge. Keith Mather was one of the 27 men who protested Bunch’s killing that afternoon by sitting down in the stockade yard, linking arms and singing “We shall overcome.” The 27 also presented a list of demands for improved stockade conditions to the stockade commander, who promptly charged them with mutiny. The first to be tried would get sentences of 15, 14 and 16 years –eventually reduced on appeal.
On December 24, 1968, Mather and a friend climbed out a stockade window. They ran over the golf course and through the woods to the Haight-Ashbury. Friends drove them to Canada, where Keith spent the next12 years. He married, had two kids and worked as a logger (a faller) and a carpenter in the country north of Vancouver. He split up with his wife at the end of the ’70s and he raised the kids more or less on his own for several years.
He wasn’t eligible for the the Ford-Carter amnesty because he had been sentenced and then escaped; But in 1980, to be closer to his extended family, he returned to the Bay Area. He got a construction job on the Peninsula and began a relationship with a woman who was extremely helpful on the kid front. After a while life seemed normal. He applied for a driver’s license in his real name and got one without setting off any alarm bells. He and Virginia joined Weight Watchers. The kids were good in school, good athletes, “together.”
One night in December, 1984, he went into the San Bruno police station to retrieve his driver’s license, which he had misplaced. A computer had clicked in and he was arrested. He wound up doing four months time in stockades at Fort Ord and Ft Riley, Kansas. For 30 days he was in solitary confinement as an escape risk. Then they let him do shop work. He became a
supervisor and got called “Pops” by the other prisoners (just like Dashiell Hammett!).
Released on April 10 –his sister Paula’s birthday– he no longer had to keep a low political profile and he joined an outfit called The Veterans Speakers Alliance. He went around to high schools explaining why so many of us had opposed the American role in Vietnam. He married Virginia but it didn’t last. His back started going out and, like many a construction worker in his 40s, he began considering his other options. He got involved in mountain biking, passionately (son Reed, now 18, has won some major races) and dreamt of making a living, somehow, selling bike equipment. He pursued the local distribution rights to an all-purpose mountain bike tool, which he planned to sell to retailers.
This summer Reed moved in with a friend in Tahoe, Megan went to check out life with mom in Texas, and Keith moved up to the city, where he’s involved with a woman named Ann who works as a nurse. He heard that the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors was hiring a staff person ($20,000 a year) and he applied. You could not imagine a person better suited to be a CO counselor, by virtue of his biography and his empathetic personality, than Keith Mather. And you’d think the CCCO would feel fortunate to get him. But it’s been a long drawn-out interview process. I asked Keith what he thought his chances were for the gig.
“I don’t know,” he said, not sounding very optimistic. “There’s quite a few people, and probably a lot of them have a lot more conventional counseling experience and educational background, degrees, etc.”
He has taken a part-time job working for the building department in Sunnyvale. A desk job –issuing permits, answering questions for contractors, etc. “My only problem with it,” he says, “is that Lockheed happens to be in Sunnyvale.”
“Oh come off it,” say I. “We’re all working for the man, directly or indirectly. And will be until we take power. All we can do right now is hold our jobs, raise our families and try and tell the truth about conditions.”
We talked about a couple of guys from the Presidio 27 who have been in and out of prison since ’68. Keith said that on Veterans Day he had organized a small get-together at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno. His cousin Ed –killed in Vietnam the same month Keith made it to Canada– is buried there. “Standing at his headstone it was like… What can you say except ‘it wasn’t worth it.”
Among the people who came to the cemetry was Roger Broomfield, a Presidio stockade guard who had been sympathetic to the prisoners. “My mother was really happy to see him,” Keith said. “She remembers his kindness from when she used to visit.” Keith hadn’t seen Broomfield since that Christmas Eve when he made his escape. Broomfield’s a construction worker, too; lives in San Francisco, has a piece of land in Mendocino. “We had a lot to talk about,” Keith says.