Can you imagine putting your life on the line in situations of combat and facing blatant discrimination during service and/or upon return? For the next five days, we will share some experiences of African-American soldiers from War World II and Vietnam on the disrespect they were shown.
Decatur Davis, who came home in the middle of his service due to a health emergency with his father, discusses his indignation and anger.
“My father…had a stroke…I went to this little restaurant and it was 1968….I went inside the door, the lady told me, “You cannot come in here.” I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “I cannot wait on you. The window for y’all is outside.”…And, I already just left Vietnam fighting a war for these folks, but I was told that….Now, I’m in Vietnam fighting for my country, then I come home on leave and can’t even get a sandwich unless I go to the window around back. The White folks come inside, but Blacks couldn’t come in.”
Rallis Jones, Jr., who fought in Vietnam, on the paradox of fighting in the name of freedom for a nation that denied you, on the basis of your race, basic freedoms at home.
“In the military I did a two year term from ’67 to ’69…I can remember when I was away in the war I would get letters or get messages saying how the demonstrations were still going on in the United States. And we felt, most of the soldiers, felt real, real bad being over in Vietnam fighting a war, fighting the Vietnamese and Black people were back in the United States being fought by White people and it wasn’t a real good taste at all. We constantly thought about that.”
Louis Purnell, who received the Distinguished Flying Cross, on the experience of being a Tuskegee bomber pilot during War World II:
[During a period of rest and rehabilitation there was an incident.] One night some soldiers from the front came to our recreation room or dance hall and found that were dancing with the white Italian girls….They started shooting their guns and we didn’t know whether they were going to level them off because those guys – some of them were just combat crazy. So we called the American MPs. The MPs came and they seemed to join in with these White guys from the front. We called the British MPs and in a few minutes the British MPs had the area cleared of the white American MPs and the guys from the front. That was objectionable.
[Another incident occurred when I came across a letter that had been written by a white Sergeant, who with other bomber pilots had been] forced to land at our field [due to bad weather for three days during which time] they wrote…letters. I opened this letter, ‘Dear Starling, Christmas is approaching, this is Tommy, when I should really be with you. I’m not even at my own air field. I’m at a Nigger field, sleeping in Nigger beds and eating Nigger food.’….that hurt me for the longest time.”
“We were so busy flying and at that age, weighty decisions and current events don’t concern you. It wasn’t until I got out that I found out why they denied entry. It all came about because after World War I there was a study made concerning the employment of Blacks in the Army at war time. This study was completed by October 30, 1925 and was forwarded to the War Department…the gist of the report was the fact that they found out in the study, or came to the conclusion that, blacks were cowards. They would run in time of danger. This is written. That they were okay as far as menial jobs were concerned, but not technical jobs. That the blacks were lazy. They are stupid. Their morals were low and that the cranial capacity of the Negro – his brain cage was so many cubic centimeters less than that of a Caucasian’s brain cage. This is written. This is where it started."
Reuben Davis was drafted into the Navy in 1944
“I wanted to be a naval officer. And, I felt I was eligible for that. I had 4.0 conduct and I was willing to take training. First, the Secretary of the Navy, whose name was Knox, I shall never forget it. There was pressure from all over the country to have…a B-12 program where Blacks could go into to become naval officers. But Secretary Knox stated that before he would allow any Black man to become a naval officer, they would fly the flag at half-mast. And, they did that. After that, they began to have Black naval officers. I never did get a chance to get into that area, because I had some serious problems and from that I had a strange experience of hatred that built in my heart.