ODE TO THE
by Clay Coppedge
Fort Hood and Bell County was not considered a hotbed of anti-war
activity during the Vietnam War there existed in Killeen,
from 1968-72, a coffeehouse known as the Oleo Strut. It was named
for a shock absorber in a helicopter's landing gear.
its namesake, the Oleo Strut was meant to soften the blow for GIs
returning home from Vietnam. The coffeehouse and an anti-war newspaper
published there became a center for what was known as the GI Movement,
an antiwar group made up of current and former soldiers.
The coffeehouse and its newspaper might be better known today than
it was in its heyday because of a recent documentary film called,
"Sir! No Sir!" that focuses the GI Movement. The film is produced
and directed by David Zieger, who worked at the Oleo Strut back in
the day and helped put out an anti-war newspaper called the Fatigue
interviews since the movie's 2006 release Zieger has described the
old coffeehouse as "a wild place." He booked live music from well-known
folk singers like Pete Seeger, who played to a packed house at the
Oleo Strut in 1971, Country Joe McDonald and Phil Ochs. Jazz singer
Barbara Dane, who doubled as a folk singer in coffee houses like the
Oleo Strut, visited the place two weeks after it opened in 1968. She
wrote about it in an article for the July 1968 issue of The Guardian.
"I arrived on Wednesday afternoon to find the place already bustling,"
she wrote. "When I left on Monday, I had yet to see the place quiet.
"It's easy to get down to serious talk with anyone, They are full
of puzzling thoughts, unresolved conflicts, loneliness."
Not everyone was so enamored of the Oleo Strut, which was located
at 101 Avenue D in Killeen.
Zieger said in an interview with a Californianewspaper that the coffeehouse
was the target of several attacks from locals.
"They'd come and try to bust the place up. And every time we'd put
the sign up, someone would come and throw red paint on it. The coffeehouse
building has been changed into an office complex, but there's still
red paint on the sidewalk," Zieger said.
said that Fort Hood served as sort of a "holding center" for Vietnam
veterans who had more than 90 days left to serve.
In the summer of 1968, not long after the Oleo Strut opened, Fort
Hood troops were assigned to Chicago to serve as reinforcements for
the Chicago Police at the Democratic National Convention.
The soldiers refused to go. Court martials followed.
"We came home from fighting Vietcong and now they want us to fight
Americans," one dissenter said.
Zieger said the soldiers' refusal to go to Chicago had an effect on
what happened at the '68 Democratic Convention.
"Governments do not put troops into the street they cannot depend
on completely," he said. "Thus, the troops stayed on the Great Lakes
Naval Training Center, and the Chicago PD knew they had no back-up.
The Great Chicago Police Riot at the Democratic Convention was the
of "Sir! No Sir" centers on activities at the Oleo Strut, and a couple
of added features with the DVD version include footage of the old
coffeehouse. Zieger has said that one of the acts he booked at the
Oleo Strut was a blues band from Austin that featured a pretty teenage
guitarist by the name of Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Though a fairly thorough biography of Vaughan by Bill Crawford and
Joe Nick Patoski makes no mention of it, Zieger's recollections of
Vaughan were vivid in his interview with that California paper.
young teenager with a good blues band drove up from Austin to convince
me he should be hired," Zieger said.
"The band sounded good and they were willing to work for the peanuts
I could pay. The GIs loved them and they became regulars.
Stevie Ray Vaughan came over to me at the US Film Festival in Dallas
and told his friends how I was the first guy to ever offer him a paying
gig - he was that kid 18 years previous. Who knew?"
1972, the Oleo Strut, like most of the old 1960s coffeehouses, was
Even today, I imagine the mention of it, like the mention of almost
anything from the 1960s, triggers strong emotions that run the gamut
from nostalgic to indignant.
The same can
be said of the 1960s and the movement represented by the Oleo Strut
and others of its ilk.
© Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas"
September 3, 2007 Column