My guess is that none of the 50,000 people who became the mortar and granite for the wall in Washington died of bone spurs. While the living, at home, were segregated by law and tradition, the dead and the dying in Viet Nam had achieved racial equality, being felled by ordinance that did not discriminate.
I am told, and I accept, that I can never comprehend the daily pain of growing up black in America; empathy can only get you so far. But Brian Howard, aka Baruch Howard, has an ugly story not unlike others who “experienced” Viet Nam, and its color is in no way diminished because of any perceived melanin deficiencies.
Don’t Nobody Get Off the Sidewalk
By B. Howard
Viet Nam 1967 was a shit year.
After enlisting in the US Air Force, I immediately received orders for Viet Nam. I went home on a 30 day leave because it was possibly the last time I would see my family. A month later I arrived at my first duty station: Brookley Air Force Base, in beautiful Mobile, Alabama. American racial tension in those years was horrible and Alabama was a major focal point.
I will never forget while on an afternoon walk, I saw an old black grandpa step completely off the sidewalk into the gutter to let me pass. He kept his head down. I felt a gush of embarrassment and anger, as my mother had taught me to honor the elderly. To see this aged man, step off the sidewalk for a twenty-year-old white man was foreign and despicable.
My unit quickly set about loading equipment for shipment to the war zone. Viet Nam was a very controversial event. Our nation was torn apart by the anti-war protests and thick racial tension. Temperaments were fueled by the death of Malcom X, Governor George Wallace’s, segregation forever speech, murderous upheavals by the KKK, the SLA, and Black Panthers, all of which quickly led to riots in Watts, Chicago, Selma and Montgomery.
In Viet Nam, my closest friends were Kenny from Escondido, California and Oliver from Brooklyn, NY. Kenny and I were white, Oliver was black. We worked side by side together and got along like brothers. The racial disparity was rampant among our own armed forces and moral was very low. Knowing that half of our own country was against us back home was unbearable.
We were finally at the end of our one-year tour of duty with only three days left. We had stashed a fifth of Jack for our “rotate out” to celebrate. Kenny and Oliver were well into the bottle when I met up with them after getting off duty that day. I joined in and it was soon suggested that we all go into Bien Hoa for one last night. I was against it. Being that close to going home — it was too great a risk. Kenny had too much to drink and argued with me. I ended up staying on base while Oliver and Kenny went to town.
That was the last time I saw Kenny alive. He was murdered that night. Gutted from his belly to his throat while walking back onto base. A group of drunk black soldiers surrounded them. Oliver was severely beaten defending Kenny as he watched his insides spill onto the pavement. Oliver flipped out and some Marines found him in the jungle.
The base commanders took immediate action, ordering all units to assemble. Oliver identified the murderers who are now doing life at Fort Leavenworth Military prison.
My buddy Kenny went home in a box.
I do hope you have a story to tell to help us all get a grasp of what has happened to us as a nation. Details are on our landing page.