Ten years ago this Thursday George Mische and eight other Roman Catholics, including the Revs. Philip and Daniel Berrigan, stormed into a draft board office just outside Baltimore.
They seized nearly 400 1-A draft files, raced into a nearby parking lot and burned them with homemade napalm to protest the Vietnam War.
The group, saying they took the action to "make it harder for men to kill one another," quickly became known as the Catonsville 9 and in October 1968, at a trial attended by hundreds of demonstrating supporters from around the country, they were convicted of injuring government property and interfering with the Selective Service Act of 1967.
A play depicting their story appeared on Broadway and the Catonsville 9 remain in many minds today as a major catalyst in the war protest.
Today George Mische, 40 years old, a little beefier than he was in 1968, stands behind the bar of a tavern he and his wife operate in this central Minnesota city of 40,000 and serves up beer and sandwiches. On weekends he brings in bluegrass and folk bands to play in the bar's basement.
His face is clean-shaven and his hair neatly trimmed.
But ask him what ever happened to the "Catholic left," those Roman Catholics who broke with the church hierarchy to oppose the Vietnam War and who went to jail for it, and Mische cracks a broad smile.
"Well," he says, "one of them just got elected to the city council."
With his first plunge into elective politics, Miche in April was narrowly elected to the seven-member council of this fact-growing, politically conservative, heavily Catholic city 70 miles northwest of Minneapolis. And May 7 he was elected as a delegate from the sixth congressional district Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party to attend the National Democratic Party midterm conference this December in Tennessee.
Mische, who has lost none of the zeal of the antiwar movement, said after his election that his ideas and ideas have changed not a whit in 10 years.
He eschews the label "Catholic left," as he did then.
"I'm one of the most conservative guys I know," Mische says."I've clearly said I'm against abortion all long, for example. I'm a progressive conservative."
What has changed, he says, is the country and the way it can be changed.
"I think the key right now is local government, grass roots. I felt the town was ready for it," he says.
Of his eight companions in Catonsville, Mische, who keeps in touch with some notes that one has been killed in an auto accident, another never served the prison term and, as far as he knows, is still underground.
Daniel Berrigan is still a Jesuit priest, teaching in New York, but his brother Philip married an exoun, lives in Baltimore and is still active in opposition to arms buildup.
Others are teaching and working with community development projects around the country.
St. Cloud is Mische's home town - he graduated from a Catholic high school here in 1953 but left soon afterward to join the Army. He later worked with inner-city community projects on the East Coast and traveled to Latin America, working for President Kennedy's Allinace for Progress.
But he quit in disgust over American support for several military dictatorships and soon bent his activities toward the war protest, eventally spending 23 months in federal prison in Lewisburg, Pa.
Upon his release he headed a prison reform group in Washington, D.C., but two years ago packed up with his wife and four children and returned to St. Cloud.
His ensuing campaign for the city council was one of the most flamboyant the city has seen.
"Every liability that a candidate could have, I had," he says.
Among those liabilities he counts the bar he operates, his past political activities and "the fact that I was standing up to a mayor with a strong VFW background."
St. Cloud Mayor AI Loehr was not up for reelection this year, but the former Minnesota commissioner of veterans affairs bore the brunt of Mische's criticism of past city policies in traffic planning, land development and responsiveness to voters.
Mische upset many civic leaders with his charges that new hotel developments were bringing prostitution and drugs to St. Cloud and with his suggestions that a prominent local attorney stood to gain financially if voters did not rescind a council decision on a local bridge placed on the ballot.
One city council member, whose term did not expire this year, publicly charged just a few days before the election that Mische was "unfit for public office," adding that his campaign brought a "new low" to St. Cloud politics.
With a burst of energy, Mische spent weeks before the election walking the streets, knocking at thousands of houses, not missing a chance to argue that he was a "candidate of the people."
The council member whose seat Mische was seeking had declined to file for reelection but, after seeing who was running, changed his mind and ran a strong write-in campaign, losing to Mische by barely 1 percent of the nearly 10,000 votes cast.
Mayor Loehr, who has been involved in state and city politics for nearly 20 years, at times became so exasperated at Mische's charges that he simply would refuse to mention his name.
But when the returns came in, he was quick to credit Mische.
"He hit the sidewalks and he made the one-on-one contact," Loehr said. "That's a true-blooded political person who meets the people."
St. Cloud is the seat of Stearns County, a predominantly rural county which earlier this century was the home of social critic and novelist Sinclair Lewis.
Says Mische: "Stearns County people have been insulted throughout the country with Sinclair Lewis and other things but I've always liked St. Cloud and I've stayed in touch."
Of his victory, Mische says simply: "I was stunned.
"I think St. Cloud is unique, it has very sophisticated voters," he says of a city many thought would reject out of hand a man so heavily involved in the antiwar politics that, outside of the evening news, were nearly unknown here.
"People are seeing through labels and I think that's really good," he says. "They looked at where we were at this point in time and they voted that way.
"This is a precedent. This is the vanguard of a trend for the country where people can see through the fuzz of the '50s and the '60s."