Michael David "Sandy" MacMechan, January 20th, 2016
WW: Hello my name is William Winkel. Today is January 20, 2016. We are in Detroit Michigan and I’m interviewing Sandy MacMechan for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 1967 Oral History Project. Thank you for sitting down with me today.
SM: You’re welcome. Thank you for inviting me.
WW: My pleasure. Can you first start off by telling me where and when you were born?
SM: I was born November 24, 1938, and it happened to be Thanksgiving Day. I grew up in Grosse Pointe and I’ve been in Grosse Pointe all my life. I’m in the house that I grew up in. We moved from University Place over to Lincoln and we’ve been in Lincoln since 1946.
WW: Can you tell me a little bit about your childhood in Grosse Pointe?
SM: Childhood in Grosse Pointe was pretty typical of that era, 1938 through 1957, when I graduated from Grosse Pointe High School, which is now known as Grosse Pointe South. Back then it was known as the “Thei” T-H-E-I, with the Gabriel Richard Elementary School. Of course it was part of the World War II situation. My father worked for the Ordinance Tank Automotive Command, which is a purchasing supervisor, so we were involved in the war so to speak from that stand point, since he was purchasing equipment and materials for the war effort, working for the government. Pretty basically, that’s it. I had friends all up and down the block and continued all the way through high school.
WW: Growing up what where your perceptions of the city of Detroit?
SM: Loved it. Loved it. Typical of many people of my peer group, [I went] down to Hudson’s on a regular basis. Down to Hudson’s for Thanksgiving Day parade, Christmas. Lunches with my mother downtown. My orthodontist was in the David Whitney Building so I would go down practically every other week or every three weeks to get my braces, you know, fixed, and I’d go to the David Whitney building, one of my friends would accompany me and we would go to breakfast downtown and then over to the Hudson’s Building. Enjoyed the Guardian Building, toured the Fisher Building, GM Building. My folks were very active within the Detroit community as far as being down here, so, it opened a lot of pathways for me as far as exploration and that sort of thing. Truly enjoyed it, enjoyed it.
WW: What did you do after high school?
SM: After High School I went to Hillsdale College, graduated in 1961. Bachelors of Arts degree in English, and Economics [was] my minor.
WW: When did you join the National Guard?
SM: 1961 was the year of the Berlin crisis and I had a couple of choices which were somewhat not on my top priority [laughter]. I wanted to get a job, that was number one, but I could not get a job until I fulfilled my service obligation. So I was either going to be drafted and I was going to either take the easy path which would be the Michigan Air National Guard or join the US Marines, and I joined the Michigan Air National Guard out at Battle Creek, which is around the corner from Hillsdale College. Metropolitan Airport had a Michigan Air Guard unit there but it was completely filled. So 1961, September 1961, I became what was known as an eight week wonder down at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, did my basic training down there and came back an Air Policeman.
[later addition: My basic training, at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio Texas, consisted of a total of eight weeks; we were known as "Eight Week Wonders!" There was no specialized training so upon return to Battle Creek I was assigned to the Air Police Unit.]
WW: How long where you in the National Guard for?
SM: Seven years, as was the obligation. Meetings once a month down at the Kellogg Field.
WW: Where’s that?
SM: Kellogg Field is in Battle Creek, and [we had] two weeks summer camp. One year it was at Kellogg Field, the other years it was up at the Alpena Air Force Base up there, which I cannot remember the name at the moment. [Phelps Field]
WW: No worries. Were you still living in Battle Creek during these seven years?
SM: No, no, I was living in Grosse Pointe.
SM: Was married and had a child, children.
WW: What were you doing for work then?
SM: I was in advertising. I was working for Campbell Ewald advertising agency, I became an art representative and – just a number of jobs.
WW: You were still living in the same house in 1967 correct?
SM: 1967, I was living with my wife and we were living in Grosse Pointe.
SM: My folks were living in 745 Lincoln.
WW: Leading up to that week in July, did you sense any extraordinary tensions, because you said you loved coming down to the city when you were little? [Talking over each other]
SM: No, no I did not. I mean I was traveling to Detroit on a regular basis, ballpark, both Lions and Tigers. At Olympia for Red Wings. I did not attend any — unfortunately, I did not attend any Pistons games which were played at Olympia at the time. Belle Isle as I mentioned before, my folks, we were over at Belle Isle probably once a month. Sundays with friends of theirs, for picnics in the morning, picnics in the afternoon, picnics at night, so – I was down in Detroit all the time. Leading up to 1967, July 24, I was in Alpena on the two weeks summer bivouac, which was known as summer camp. We shared the base with the Indiana Air National Guard, one of their units out of Fort Wayne, I think it was. It also happened to be the Detroit-to-Mackinac [sailboat] race. So the priority of the base was based upon who reached the base first, and Indiana had, so in a paper transaction they bought the base so we had to adhere to their orders and I had the first week off. So a friend and I went up to Mackinac and we spent just about the whole week on Mackinac Island, watching the boats come in and celebrating. We came back that Friday or Saturday when I was on guard duty and then Sunday, which would be the 23, I heard the situation happening here in Detroit.
WW: Did you hear it through your superiors?
SM: No, I heard it through the radio. We had the radio, I was on guard duty at the front gate to the base and we of course always had a radio going because here we were in the middle of July, and you've got to keep awake, quite frankly, and it just kept getting worse and worse and of course the background on it starting Saturday night and moving into Sunday morning and moving further and further deeper into Detroit and becoming more widespread. I had tried to reach my wife at the time and I could not reach her and I found out she was with friends in Port Huron, and when they got back they knew nothing of what had taken place. Of course my folks, again, were living on Lincoln, had been listening to the radio and watching TV so they were alerted to the situation.
WW: When was your unit first deployed to the city?
SM: I’m sorry?
WW: Was your unit deployed to the city?
SM: My unit, which was Air Police, was deployed to the city Monday mid-afternoon; at that point, the governor had said we want everybody on board downtown. So we flew by “MATs” which is Military Air Transport down to Detroit Metropolitan Airport. To my remembering correctly, I was the only one from Detroit. Although, there were a couple people who had lived or had gone to school in Detroit. But most of them were from the Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, St. Joes, Greenville, Wyoming, Michigan area and they had absolutely no idea where we were, what was going on and what lay ahead. So I was trying to assuage their fears and that things were going to be okay, not knowing myself if they were gonna be okay [laughter].
WW: When your unit was deployed were you armed?
SM: I had an M14 rifle with 120 rounds. The M14s were given to us probably six to seven, eight months before the veterans in Vietnam had them, which was certainly a misstep on the part of the government. I was picked up at the airport approximately between eight and nine o’clock that night by some friends, he and his wife, and my wife, and he drove from the airport back to our house and dropped us off. I think there is probably maybe 12 cars on the express way. We never were stopped by the police, state police or any of the Romulus police, or Wayne County Sheriff’s Police, or anybody. We just kept right on driving, so—
WW: Was your entire unit armed?
SM: No, just the Air Police.
SM: This was the 172nd Tactical Squadron out of Battle Creek.
WW: Where were you posted in the city?
SM: Posted at the First Precinct. Rode with the two man vice squad for approximately ten days.
WW: How long were your shifts?
SM: Shifts ran eight to ten hours.
WW: Do you have any particular experiences or memories from this time?
SM: Yes, I have many.
WW: Would you like to share a couple?
SM: Yes, I’d be glad to share with you numerous. What I have here, and I will turn these over to you, are notes that I have made in regards to my experiences during the riots, and you asked if I would classify it as an insurrection or a riot and it was a riot. I have an official documented profile of the riots as written by the 172nd Squadron history. Reported to duty July — what did I say? 28, it wasn’t, it was the 25.
[Reading from his notes] I was assigned, as I said before, to a two man Detroit Police vice patrol. The first night we broke in to an after-hours blind pig, although authorized to arrest people we sent all our participants on their way. All alcohol was confiscated. An hours curfew had been ordered and established, as well as a ban on all alcohol, purchasing, consuming and possession.
Days and nights were filled with roving the assigned territory the police were allowed to travel to and within. Many times you exceeded these limits, mostly traveled in the immediate downtown area. As far as the Fisher Building, one day we went over to Fourteenth Street which was out of their boundaries, because it was not the First Precinct’s boundaries, and noticed what had been going on there. But mostly we stayed in the downtown area, over where the ballpark—Comerica Park is now, where the I-75 expressway was being built at that time.
Never paid for a day or nighttime meal. All was welcome by restaurants large and or small by the owners. Always received whatever we order plus take outs. The meals were served at the fire station at the corner of Larned and Washington Blvd. It was catered by the late Chuck Muer from his restaurant inside the Pontchartrain Hotel. Many of the takeout meals were eaten in the police car down below Cobo Hall. At that time, the Joe had not been built and all the truckers, and I’m talking about highway type trucks, would park down there and we would slide in between the trucks and parked trailers and there would be numerous others police cars there and we’d be eating our meals down there. This is an area of trucks, trailers were here and you met with other patrol cars at any time who were doing the same.
One afternoon we approached two black men who were wandering suspiciously around the Masonic Temple area. We chased them to a closed abandoned area, got out of the car and ordered them to stop. One did with his hands up and came to the car where he was handcuffed, the other continued to run and police said to shoot him. I did not want to do that so I ordered for him to stop or I would shoot him. He took a glance over his shoulder and saw the uniform and that I was aiming at him and he surrendered immediately. We released the first man, upon his giving full identification, and the reason he ran was because he was scared. The second man was put in the backseat when one of the policemen identified him as have broken probation, and taking him to be booked at the First Precinct, he was asked where he had been on such and such day at such and such time. He said he had gone to the movies, they asked where and he mentioned the theater. Communication with the First Precinct identified the man as a possible suspect for a sexual assault on a woman in the theater at that time. He was booked at the First Precinct for breaking probation, evading the police and suspicion of sexual assault.
At night we traveled throughout the downtown area checking people who were wandering around after curfew hours. This included hassling the hookers, pimps and general curfew breakers. In one instance we asked a young black man what he was doing and he said he was going home and we said, “Then go straight home.” Five minutes later we encountered him rounding a corner several streets from where we had initially met him. We told him to get home or he was going to be arrested. This time we followed him for a couple of blocks until he went into an apartment building. Obviously, he didn’t believe that we meant for him to go home, and what he was doing we could never figure out. I think he was somewhere in his twenties or something around that, whatever.
Another night we saw three black men standing somewhere around the Fox Theater, behind the Fox Theater. They were drinking and making noise. The police asked for the bottles of alcohol and they refused. We then requested back up. Two of the men turned over their bottles and it turned out that one of them had a small pistol. He was handcuffed and placed in the car. The third man continued with his back talk and refusal to relinquish his bottle. Just then the backup arrived and I heard a very large ‘whack’ sound, and I quickly turned around to see the black man holding the side of his head where he received a large thump from the blackjack blowing into one of the policeman. The man was then handcuffed and placed in the car and the alcohol was confiscated.
Late one afternoon we noticed a car traveling slowly down the street, I think this was over by the John R area, moving towards what is now Comerica Park. We pulled alongside and saw the backseat piled with beer cases. The car was stopped and the driver explained [ruffling through papers] that he purchased the beer and bottles of liquor in Toledo. He said because he had bought the goods in Toledo it was okay. “No,” said the police, and all the beer and liquor was confiscated and placed in the car, [chuckling] which was kind of scrunched in between everything. It was distributed among the other policeman back at the First Precinct.
Talking with somebody last night, I had forgotten one of the biggest events of being involved in it. The longest day of my working the riots occurred when I was assigned to escort approximately 50 prisoners to Jackson State Prison in Jackson, Michigan. A number of us were taken to Belle Isle where several hundred detainees had been arrested and being held in a makeshift enclosed camp. Fortunately I teamed with one of my fellow Air policemen, who was also a very good friend from our days at Hillsdale College. Jim Ryan was my friend’s name and his father a federal judge in Kalamazoo. We loaded about 50 prisoners onto a bus and ordered all windows shut and locked. Obviously we were afraid some might attempt to escape through a window. The day was hot, the trip miserably hot, about two miles short of Jack-town a tire blew making a gunshot type of noise, every person jumped to their feet and we immediately restored order. We continued to travel to the prison. Upon entering the prison gates, we were met by the prison guards who assisted us in getting the prisoners off the bus. At that point Jim and I were personally met by the Prison Warden, who had heard from Jim’s dad that we were bringing in the prisoners. Jim and I were escorted into the prison cafeteria where we were waited on by a prisoner on good behavior. After cooling down we asked the young prisoner how long he had before his release and he said, "Oh I’m just a short timer here, I just have four more years to go." Jim and I looked at each other and said,"Yeah, right," we moved quickly to the front door and the day ended.
WW: Thank you for sharing those stories.
SM: I’ll finish up here.
I believe I worked through the weekend and was told on Monday the 31 that my active duty had ended. I was honorably discharged from the Air National Guard 172nd Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron in September.
WW: Do you feel like the National Guard were prepared for what was going on in Detroit?
WW: Not at all?
SM: Barely, that’s why the 102nd [101st] and 82nd Airborne was brought in.
WW: Do you have any memories that will backup that the National Guard weren’t prepared? Do you just recall that you didn’t receive training on how to deal with this type of environment?
SM: Well, backing up to my basic training, when I came back to Kellogg Field they went through my test scores. Quite frankly I’m not mechanically or electrically minded or handy craft oriented, so my scores were quite low. But on the other end as far as clerical or reading comprehension or intelligence level on the other end I was very high. So they just assigned myself to be an Air Policeman as they did with Jim Ryan who was an attorney. So it was rather common. I never received any Air Police training, okay. And fellow Air Policemen from the Metropolitan Air National Guard group, I think very few of them had any basic Air Police training. As far as the Army National Guard, who was also here, I cannot speak for them but based upon history I would say most likely they were not prepared as well and again that’s the reason why the 101st and 82nd Airborne Army were brought in here.
WW: Do you believe that the city changed after 1967?
SM: I think that everybody on both, African American and Caucasian side, were quite scared of this erupting once again and how it was going to be. It brought peace to the city. History shows that the flight from the city occurred immediately following the riots. Of course it was devastating to downtown Detroit, very sad. I think it obviously made a major negative impact on the city.
WW: And you’ve stayed in the Metro area ever since then, right?
SM: Yes, basically yes.
WW: What’s made you stay?
SM: I love Michigan, I love Detroit. I’m glad to see things have – that everybody has reconsidered their stance and rebuilding and I think it’s phenomenal all that has been done here. I’m very positive about it and I’ve always been a Detroiter and things have worked out that way so far.
WW: That’s awesome.
WW: Do you have any other things you wish to share with us today?
SM: Not unless you have some other questions.
WW: Nope, I’m pretty sure I’m set. Alright, thank you very much, Sandy, for sitting down with me today.
SM: You’re welcome.
WW: I’m glad we were finally able to make this work.
SM: Yes, right, thank you very much for your patience.**