04 April 2014

GI Coffee Houses

Uncommon Grounds by Mark Pendergrast, 1999, Excerpt

Coffee drinking became a competitive activity within branches of the military, with the US Marines claiming the highest consumption level. The American soldier became so closely identified with his coffee that GI Joe gave his name to the brew, a “cuppa Joe.”

Gardner had the idea to set up coffeehouses in army towns “for hippies who couldn’t avoid the military service.” In the fall of 1967, Gardner opened the first GI coffeehouse in Columbia, South Carolina, named the UFO – a play on USO, the United Servicemen’s Organization, located one block away. On the walls they tacked up portraits of counterculture heroes such as Cassius Clay, Bob Dylan, Stokely Carmichael, Humphrey Bogart, and Marilyn Monroe.

Soon after the UFO opened its doors hundreds of soldiers found the new integrated hangout, where they could drink coffee, read, listen to music, play chess or cards, meet local college students, dance, flirt, and talk about the war. The coffeehouse was a magnet for antimilitary GIs.

Over two dozen GI coffeehouses sprang up outside army bases across the country. By October 1971 the coffeehouses had attracted the attention of Congress. “The coffeehouses serve as centers for radical organizing among servicemen.” The authorities tried to shut them down through intimidation and legal maneuvers. In several cases arsonists burned the coffeehouses. The KKK targeted one, while others were riddled with gunfire. The surviving establishments eventually disbanded, but not before leaving their mark on American history.

The Oleo Strut was a coffeehouse in Killeen, Texas, from 1968 to 1972. Like its namesake, a shock absorber in helicopter landing gear, the Oleo Strut’s purpose was to help GIs land softly. Upon returning from Vietnam to Fort Hood, shell-shocked soldiers found solace amongst the Strut’s regulars, mostly fellow soldiers and a few civilian sympathizers. But it didn’t take long before shell shock turned into anger, and that anger into action. The GIs turned the Oleo Strut into one of Texas’s anti-war headquarters, publishing an underground anti-war newspaper, organizing boycotts, setting up a legal office, and leading peace marches.

Under The Hood Cafe has been called the "reincarnation" of The Oleo Strut
Crazy Horse Saloon, 904 S Hwy 89, Chino Valley, AZ
Say hello to my sisters and brother-in-laws.

In 1969, I was a 6th grader at Fort Hood, and my dad was a battalion commander. Watched a lot of field parades. Took a picture of this missile field parade finale with tanks in the foreground.

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