Themes and Events:
* On 20 February John Glenn Jr. piloted the spacecraft capsule, Friendship 7, into space and orbited the Earth three times.
* Paperback book sales accounted for 31% of the books sold in the U.S., up from 14% in 1961. * Freeze dried foods including peas, pork chops and steaks become a novelty in supermarkets. * There has been a sizable reduction in drug abuse in the country. In 1930 about 1 in 1,070 American’s was addicted, but in 1962 the ratio had dropped to 1 in 4,000. * About 90% of U.S. households have 1 television set, 13% have 2 or more.
* At the beginning of the year there were about 3,200 U.S. soldiers in Vietnam, by the end of the year this number was increased to 11,300 troops.
Promotion to Weapon’s Squad Leader
A few weeks after returning to Ft. Campbell from our training exercise with the cadets at West Point, I was promoted to the rank of Specialist 4th Class, pay grade E-4. My pay increased to $122 regular pay, plus the automatic $55 hazardous duty (parachute) pay, or $177 total per month. This promotion came somewhat as a surprise to me and was achieved in the minimum time allocated since my promotion to Private First Class (Pfc.), pay grade E-3.
The next surprise came a couple months later when I was promoted to the position of Second Platoon’s Weapon’s Squad Leader. Becoming the Weapon’s Squad Leader was an “in house” promotion, not a change in pay grade or rank insignia.
In house pomotions were the manner in which we really rose amongst the ranks. There was an unspoken yet understood condition associated with such promotions: If you demonstrated a continuing ability to handle the job, it would become a permanent assignment and you’d eventually get the official rank, pay and prestige that went with the job. On the other hand, if you failed, you were simply replaced by another upcoming member from the squad. Once in a while, a fellow who was being groomed into a leadership job would lose his position, after which it took a lot of “soldering” on his part to regain favor.
In only a little over a year since my arrived at Ft. Campbell, as a wide eyed “recruit”, I’d moved up in rank, mastering the weapons and tactics of an airborne infantry Weapons Squad, apparently they liked my attitude and bearing.
Assigned to my squad
The Weapon Squad’s normal combat strength included:
• Squad Leader (me, now carrying an M14 rifle)
• Two each 3.5 inch Rocket Launcher Gunners and their Assistants (ammo carriers). (4 men)
• Two each M-60 Machine Gun Gunners, their Assistant Gunners and an Ammo Carrier for each. (6 men)
• Also assigned, for logistical purposes (to receive field rations, daily instructions, etc.) were the Platoon’s Radioman, Medic and ‘Mule’ Driver. (3 men)
The squad included eleven permanent troops and three attachments.
Awarded a semiprivate room
One very nice benefit derived from the promotion was in moving out of the public Platoon bay and into a Team Leaders room. Team Leaders were soldiers who had leadership responsibility, but not the official military rank of Sergeant. Having our own room helped create the small distance of social separation required for more effective leadership. There were four of 2nd Platoon Team Leaders bunked in the room. Although the quarters were more private, there was still considerable in and out traffic. The room contained the same fixtures found in the Platoon bay: each of us had a bunk, one foot locker and two standing lockers. We had no other special frills or privileges. One nice thing, however, was that the lockable door allowed us to sit in the room drinking beer on weekend nights, providing us time to hide our bottles and cans before unlocking the door to whomever might be up and about.
Driving to California with relatives, don’t
While I accumulated time for my fourth Leave, my cousin Jack in Lawton, MI and I began making grandiose plans to drive to Pasadena, California.
In June, on the day my leave began, I flew up to Kalamazoo, Michigan where Jack met me at the airport. We returned to his house in Lawton excited about our imminent trip. As the day passed our travel plans unexpectedly expanded with the inclusion of Grandmother Elsie Pierce; Jack’s mother- my Aunt Julie; and cousin, Bob. All wanted to go on the trip with us to visit my parents.
What started out to be a great trip, with just a couple cousins bumming across country, turned into a monumental, stress filled disaster!
Imagine five people packed in a car going on a 3500 mile ’round trip’, as summer temperatures approached. Since we were running on a tight schedule there was going to be very little stopping along the way.
When the trip began, Jack and I were in the front seat taking turns driving. Grandma, Aunt Julie and cousin Bob were rather tightly packed in the back seat. As the miles passed, Aunt Julie became angry about something or other and nearly deserted us in St. Louis. Everyone did their best to talk her into continuing the trip. She was mollified by a good night’s sleep, so the five of us pushed on the next morning. We continued our hard and fast drive across the Great Plains.
By the second day, our back seat passengers were complaining of the cramped conditions, they were also hot and uncomfortable. Note: There was no automobile airconditioning in those days, you simply rolled down the windows and did the best you could to stay cool.
As Grandma’s 1957 Pontiac climbed into the Rocky Mountains at Estes Park, near Denver, Colorado, Aunt Julie informed us that she was afraid of heights. The trip became a comedy of horrors. Here we were, speeding through the mountains, with a road edge cliff always on one side of the car or the other. Aunt Julie sat with her head tilted back on the back seat, a damp wash cloth over her face moaning aloud with fear every time we rounded a “hairpin” turn in the road. Tempers flared and there was continuous grumbling from one person or another.
We made it to Pasadena
The day after arriving, I took cousins Jack and Bob up into the foothills above Altadena, for a short hike in the mountains. Neither of them had ever been mountainous terrain before so this was a new experience. We walked up Arroyo Seco wash (into lower Eaton Canyon, where I slept alone, under an over hanging ledge only a couple years earlier) a half mile then we climbed up to a ridge. It was not a very difficult climb, however, as we stopped to rest on the ridge line, both Jack and Bob became sick to their stomach and were on the verge of throwing up. I think it was the heat and smog that got to them, not the climb. Southern California’s legendary smog is trapped by the San Gabriel mountains, in which we were climbing and neither cousin had any experience exerting themselves in the smog.
Grandma Elsie and Aunt Julie, spent a couple days visiting with my parents, then we all climbed back in the Pontiac and replayed the earlier ordeal by driving back to Michigan. On the return trip we took the southern route and avoided driving over the high Rocky Mountain passes.
A couple weeks after Leave, I was back at Ft. Campbell and settled in to the daily routine, when I received a letter from cousin Jack. Jack blamed me for all the problems we had on the trip. I was aghast and couldn’t believe Jack would accuse me of being the blame for his Mother’s actions or for our agreeing to take the other family members on what was planned as a fast trip. The initial idea for the trip had been mine, but only so far as Jack and I making the drive. The idea of everyone else coming along was their own desire, but with Jack’s and my agreement. Ha! Besides, most of the contrariness shown on the trip was between Jack and his mother. After the trip, Jack and Aunt Julie must have settled their differences, while the blame was transferred onto me. Jack finished his scathing letter saying he did not want me to write back to him. I honored his wish and to this day (2011) there has never been a word between us. [The following paragraph has been deleted]___
The awakening, the images begin
At nineteen years of age, I became interested in psychology and bought several books on the subject from the PX (post exchange) bookstore. As the months passed I began composing bitter sweet poems. Something was awakening in my mind.
I began to visualize images in a way I never had before, they were more active and symbolic. The new and still small voice and visions sought expression. They were I think, the cries of my own maturing spirit seeking a unique identity, not unlike a baby crying at birth. Inside I cried out for love, for internal strength, for perseverance.
One recurrent imagery sequence: I was frustrated because my way was blocked by a large wall composed of concrete block, or rocks. Every time I imagined this sequence, I struck the wall creating a hole large enough for my passage. Strange.
When some of the other soldiers saw my books they scoffed, real troops weren’t interested in ‘psychology’.
Paratroopers live in a tightly regimented world, conditioned to stress, danger and force. That new voice within me was small, it did not pervade my activities and duties, yet it was available to explore at night or on a weekend afternoon, if I had some private time to myself.
Music [midi, Hallucinations]
Visions and inventions
When I had a lengthy period of quiet time to my self, I occasionally became somewhat dreamy, seeing in my mind’s eye interesting devices. Three such conceptualizations that I drew out on paper were:
1) ROLADE.: Robotic Laser Grenade. The size of a hand grenade. Composed of twelve powerful mini lasers, computer interface and 6 radar (in 2007 probably referred to as proximaty sensors) systems and micro aiming controls. The grenade would be thrown or left in a defensive position. Its radar (proximity sensors) would track (activate as) enemy soldiers as they came into range. At an appropriate distance the weapon would fire a lethal laser burst.
2) The Pierce Electrostatic Wave Generator: Uses oceanic wave energy to generate intermittent electrical power. The device is anchored to the sea floor is shallow water. A rotating armature rises from the anchor to a long rectangular plate which rises a foot or two above sea level. As a wave surges toward the beach, it hits the rectangular plate forcing it backwards and down. As the plate arcs backward, a series of gears on the bottom of the armature turn a generator creating an electric flow. When the water from the spent wave withdraws to the ocean it help pull the plate back into an upright position, spring tension accomplishes the final readjustment before the next wave passes. This idea was developed and drawn while I was Assistant CQ (Charge of Quarters) one twenty four hour period. The CQ and Assistant must remain alert and awake for an entire 24 hour period, watching over the barracks, the men, stored equipment, and a hot line telephone from Division and Battle Group Headquarters. During the long night we periodically patrolled the barracks, checked door locks sat in the company office near the telephone.
3) One Man Reentry Suit: (previously unnamed) The One Man Reentry Suit is emergency gear allowing a person to reenter the atmosphere from space and eventually parachute safely to the ground. The apparatus permits a person to skydive into the atmosphere, by providing rocket assisted breaking force, breathable air with systems harnessed to a lockable rigid and partially shielded frame work. It’s life support is composed of the metal skeletal framework with an air tight helmet, air tank breathing apparatus, deflector shields for the body and feet. Fuel tanks feed a rocket nozzle that is part of the belly and chest deflector shield, to assist in decelerating the fall. The frameworks lockable arms terminate in rigid shielded hand controls which control the rockets firing, air supply, movement of the locked framework and parachute deployment.
West Virginia bound
During July, two Company’s from the 501st Airborne Battle Group were sent to West Virginia to become a training foil against the 7th Special Forces. Concurrent with the prolonged war games, but not part of the action, an episode for a television series was to be made. Orders came down for Company B to provide twelve men to take part in the film. When volunteers were asked for, I immediately raised my hand and was fortunate to be one of those selected.
We had an uneventful flight to Clarksburg, West Virginia aboard a large double deck C-124 troop transport. Our detail was then trucked to Camp Dawson, about thirty five miles east northeast of Clarksburg, not far south of the Pennsylvania state line. Camp Dawson was home of the 7th Special Forces Jungle and Mountain Training and Maneuvering Area. Here the Company’s were divided into various sized aggressor units and immediately trucked out to remote locations where the prolonged war games would occur.
Music [midi, Take Me Home_Country Roads]
‘Twilight War in West Virginia’
We few who had volunteered to make the documentary film, were billeted at Camp Dawson, in a large canvas field tent replete with cots and individual lockers. Due to the war games, we were the only ones at the camp, except for a small office contingent, a cook, his helper and an occasional Army truck driver. The few office personnel and drivers had nothing to do with us “actors”, we only saw them at meal times. Our airborne contingent ranged in rank from Pvt. to Sp4, so no one of us was officially in charge; we were under the directions of the civilians who were making the film.
The Television production crew was headed by Mr. Shapiro, who was working for the Army Pictorial Center. As he informed us, we were going to make a thirty to sixty minute television episode entitled, Twilight War in West Virginia. The film was part of the Armed Forces TV Programming, which had a military adventure on nationwide, prime time television every week.
We paratroopers played the role of a guerrilla warfare unit. We wore scrungy, soiled hats and rather tattered civilian clothes. Occasionally, a couple of us wore ragged bandages, to simulate being wounded. We were armed with PPSH Russian submachine guns and an assortment of other Soviet small arms. When the script called for distant views of the enemy, we also filled those roles, wearing green and red “aggressor” uniforms. As aggressors, we were seen either driving trucks, laying about dead, guarding railroad tunnels, arresting and executing town residents, or some other annonymous role.
While making the film, I wore a beige fedora hat, blue shirt with sleeves rolled up, denim blue jeans, my personal, large Ka-bar hunting knife and Army boots. Although the movie had no “stars” per sae, there were about a dozen of us who shared equal time on screen. [Photograph above right: Filming Twilight War in West Virginia.]
The civilian film crew quit work every day at 3:30 PM, at which time they drove us back to our quarters in Camp Dawson. It only took a couple of days, before we found we were free to come and go as we pleased, with the stipulation that we were available for filming the next scheduled work day. Thereafter, most of us caught a ride into nearby Kingwood, WV for the evening.
Kingwood, with a population of about two thousand eight hundred, is located about fifteen miles south of the Pennsylvania state line or about seventy five miles south southeast of Pittsburgh, PA.
Kingwood was a small, old town, with a grassy, tree lined park in its center. The square, block size park was surrounded on four sides by a paved road which was inturn flanked by the town’s businesses. Kingwood was small, infact, walking a full block in any direction away from the park and you were on the verge of leaving town. I think there was a housing development a few blocks out of town, but we never walked inorder to explore someplace as mundane as a residential area.
After seeing us hitchhiking into town several nights in a row, Mr. Shapiro made arrangements to have a two and a half ton Army truck provide us with late night transportation back to camp. The big, heavy duty, canvas covered truck came rumbling up to the Kingwood town square between 10:00 PM and 10:30 PM. The driver would park then wait about one quarter hour for anyone wishing a ride, before returning to Camp Dawson.
Most of the time, particularly on weekends, there wasn’t really anything to do in town except have a hamburger, sip a couple beers, listen to the juke box, and lounge around while chatting with buddies. Even as mundane as that may sound, it was a world better than sitting on one’s bunk back in the boondocks, at largely deserted Camp Dawson.
While the rest of our Company was out creeping around in the West Virginian mountains, eating C-rations, sleeping on the ground, fighting chiggers and mosquitoes, and trying to defend target installations from the 7th Special Forces, we ‘actors’ almost reverted back to civilian life.
Music [midi, Greensleeves]
While most of the troops sat drinking beer and listening to the juke box, I began spending time in ‘Schwab’s Drug Store and Soda Fountain’. Here, I met a lovely, twenty year old girl named, Jean. I sat for hours talking with Jean while she went about her duties managing the soda fountain. Jean had rather short and curly, auburn ash hair; quiet, deep blue eyes; and a few freckles on her lightly complected, oval shaped face. She stood five foot seven inches tall and had a lithe, good looking, well proportioned form. She was a cheerful person, with a friendly smile, a quick wit and a nice personality. We hit it right off together.
One evening, I asked Jean for a date that coming Friday night. She told me she already had a date Friday, but expected it to end early. If I wanted, she said, we could get together afterwards at the local restaurant for a cup of coffee and talk. I agreed and the date was set.
Friday afternoon after filming, the production crew packed up and left for the weekend. The rest of us bathed, changed our clothes and as was usual, made our way to Kingwood. When I arrived in town, Jean had already gone on her date. Early that evening I lounged around with my buddies, had a hamburger, French fries and a beer whilst killing time, waiting for Jean to return.
The hours ticked by slowly, then the Army truck arrived to take the rest of the fellows back to Camp Dawson. I stayed behind, waiting. Before long, I was the only person stirring around the town square. It was late now and all the business’s were closed. There was literally nothing to do, but walk around the town square, sit on a park bench, then walk some more.
Around midnight, a car pulled into town and stopped infront of the Schwab’s Building. Jean got out and walked over to the offset front entrance, which housed a stairway to several small upstairs apartments. As she went inside, the car slowly pulled away. Her date circled the town square, driving out of town the same way he’d entered a few moments earlier.
Turning back to look at the Schwab’s Building, I saw the lights flick on in Jean’s second story room. I walked across the street, entered the building, went upstairs and knocked on her door. Jean was pleased to see I’d waited and promptly invited me into her room. Since it was late and the restaurant was already closed, she volunteered to make us some coffee. After our coffee, Jean turned on the radio. We danced, our bodies pressed close as the soft music played on. Before long we were stepping on one another’s feet and laughing, becoming rummy from the late hour and our lack of sleep. In only a few hours, Jean was scheduled to work at the soda fountain. Since I no longer had transportation back to camp and was off the next day, Saturday, I asked if it were possible for me to sleep the rest of the night on the couch. She hesitated for a moment, then said, “Ok”.
Jean’s room was an ‘efficiency apartment’ composed of only one room. The room was furnished with a double bed, a couch beyond the foot of the bed, a small table with two chairs set next to the window, a sink, several overhead cabinets, and a small two burner stove. There was a communal bathroom down the hall, that was shared by the other three or four, second floor tenants.
Jean put one of her pillows and a couple blankets on the couch for my use. Little more was said between us as we both climbed partially dressed into our separate beds.
Morning came quickly. We both awoke cheerful, but tired. Jean set a box of cold cereal and milk on the table and brewed a much needed pot of coffee. She seemed quite happy, more so than usual. Her bubbly morning self, might have been attributable to her friendly personality, or I thought, “Maybe she liked the fact that I had been honorable the night before.”, I wasn’t sure. After breakfast, Jean quickly dressed for work, but before leaving inquired whether I’d still be in town after her shift that afternoon. Her question seemed couched in an invitation for us to be together. I agreed that I would be in town all day and could, as a matter of fact, stay the rest of the weekend, until Sunday night.
I lounged about in Jean’s room for an hour, then visited with her in the drug store for awhile. As the day passed, some of my fellow soldiers came straggling into town for the little light entertainment of sipping beer and listening to the juke box. I sat with them for awhile, but still being tired didn’t join the drinking.
Saturday evening Jean and I had supper at a small restaurant a few doors down the street from the Schwab’s Building. When we returned to her room, Jean brought out her spare blankets and made up the couch for me to sleep on again. We kissed, then kissed again. [Several paragraphs have been deleted.]___
One day, Jean gave me a photograph of herself that had been recently taken at a railroad bridge along the tracks near her family’s home. In the photo, she is seen sitting atop the bridge’s concrete side rail, wearing a no sleeve blouse and shorts.
[Next paragraph deleted]___
During the next couple weeks, while we continued filming Twilight War in West Virginia, I worked during the day and lived with Jean at night. After the first night or two, my comrades had the military shuttle truck driver stop below Jean’s window and honk the horn for me. Every night I would open the window and wave them on. On weekdays, an hour before the troops were to be awakened at Camp Dawson, I got up and dressed. Jean made me a cup of coffee, after which we kissed goodbye until evening. I quietly let myself out of the building and commenced jogging through the darkness, approximate three miles back to camp. The route back to Dawson was for the most part downhill along a paved, gently winding mountain road. Fortunately, I was in superior physical condition and had extensive daily experience jogging.
A week later, on Sunday, Jean invited me to her parents home for the afternoon. Sometime during the week, someone had left the family car in town for her use. We drove a few miles out of Kingwood, amongst the wooded hills. Finally, she pointed out her house which sat to the right, just off the road. Although I don’t recall any specifics about the house, I was surprised to find it was an isolated, small, old, one story dwelling that had seen better days.
Inside were three or four teenagers, whom Jean introduced as her brothers and sisters. The interior of the house was dark, cluttered and quite cramped for the number of people it housed. Her father, a coal miner, and one brother were not home at the time. Jean’s mother was doing some clothing repair, hand sewing patches on old clothes at the kitchen table. She was bent over her work and barely looked up as Jean introduced us. Jean showed me through the house and into what had been her shared and cramped bedroom.
Jean’s mother looked much older than I had supposed. She was a thin woman with graying hair and a wrinkled face that looked like it had seen years of adversity. I later wondered if she bore all her children, one immediately after another, and was aged from the biological stress. At any rate, she looked like she’d had a hard life, a life full of semi privation living back in the hills of West Virginia.
Jean and I spent the afternoon walking hand in hand along the forest lined railroad tracks near her house. It was a warm and sunny day, we were young lovers and all was right in the world.
Several days before the film was completed, Jean took time from work and abruptly left with her family to visit an ill Grandmother in Ohio.
Good bye, Larry
A couple days after Jean left, the 501st Airborne Infantry Battle Group, was trucked back to Camp Dawson, their training mission with the Special Forces completed. At the same time, we “actors” finished our filming. The TV crew left for Washington, DC and the 501st flew back to Ft Campbell, Kentucky.
Jean was gone that final week and I’d returned to Kentucky by the time she arrived back in Kingwood.
A week after returning to base, I telephoned Jean. It was good talking to her again, but in the brief time we could talk, she had something important to tell me — she’d missed her menstrual period. I had no qualms about marrying her and told her so. I told her that I could rent housing at the base for us and that I loved her. She said she would wait to see what happened and in the meanwhile would think about what I said.
Another two weeks passed and I phoned Jean again. When I asked what she thought about my plans, she stated, “I finally had my period, so we needn’t worry about that any more.” There was something in her voice, she sounded happy to hear from me, but I sensed a certain indefinable reticence. Only slightly troubled by the imperceptible tone of our telephone conversation, I asked her to write me a letter with the news, whilst hoping to keep our relationship resilient and alive. She agreed to write, then we said our “Good byes”.
As the weeks passed, I once again became wrapped up in the immediacy of military life. For what ever her reasons, Jean didn’t write back, so with time, our ties dissolved.
We never saw one another again.
Music [midi, Dixie]
Race riots at Ole Miss
(See the Note regarding the action at Ole Miss, at the end of this post.)
Here and there across America’s metropolitan areas, disgruntled Negroes were asserting their Civil Rights as never before. Protest marches were becoming more common, angry Negroes were pushing to expand their access to “the system” and the courts were full of Black complaints. In this climate something memorable was bound to happen and it did during September 1962.
At the beginning of the school year, the previously all white, University of Mississippi at Oxford, admitted a Negro named, James Meredith. The locals were angered and a riot ensued. Someone was killed, then a bulldozer was driven through the wall of a campus building. As the story broke across U.S. national news networks, “hot heads” from across Mississippi began pouring into Oxford looking for trouble. With the threat of a large scale riot looming, President John F. Kennedy ordered several Battle Groups from the 101st Airborne Division sent in to quell the unrest.
The 501st Airborne Infantry Battle Group was on alert status at the time the call came down. It was standard procedure that one Airborne Battle Group was always packed and ready to leave within two hours of an emergency call. The high level of preparedness rotated biweekly amongst the divisions five STRAC Battle Groups. When a job called for soldiers and there is absolutely no time to wait for ships and the Marines, Airborne units are moved in to stabilize the problem, or at least contain it until reinforcements arrive .
The airport closest to Oxford was too small for our large C-124 and C-130 troop transport aircraft, so we were shuttled to Mississippi in a squadron of smaller airplanes called, Caribou. There weren’t more than a couple dozen soldiers in each of the small Caribou. As soon as we were off our airplane, it taxied back out onto the runway and took off, returning to Ft. Campbell for more soldiers. There was a steady stream of Caribou landing, unloading and taking off. The men of Company B were among the first contingent of troops to arrive. As soon as we fell into formation, all the Negro soldiers were separated out. It was felt that Black soldiers seen performing riot control would further inflame the already tense situation, leading to unnecessarily increased hostilities among the white residents. The Negro soldiers were to bivouac at the airfield and not take place in any altercations that might follow.
The first wave of Caribou had only brought several hundred of us, mostly troops from Company B. That afternoon we were trucked to the practice football field, directly next to the Ole Miss football stadium. We set up our two man pup tents in several long, neatly spaced rows and stowed our duffel bags inside.
Immediately there after, we were called into formation. Then, arrayed in full battle gear and all carrying rifles, we climbed onto a convoy of perhaps a dozen 2-1/2 ton trucks and were told, “Fix bayonets!” We were instructed to sit somewhat turned in our seat so we could hold our rifles, with their gleaming dangerous looking bayonets, potruding out the side of the truck.
Our convoy left the stadium and slowly proceeded through the streets and into the sleepy small town of Oxford. The trucks moved through Oxford slowly, in a tight convoy. I’m sure that the sight of stern faced paratroopers with bristling bayonets, caused more than a bit of apprehension in the people walking along the sidewalk. It was quite well known that paratroopers were the nations “shock troops”. Everyone stopped their activity to watch as the heavy trucks approached and rumbled down the main street. Here and there people leaned close to speak to one another. There was never any intention of actually using the bayonets, the military was trying to bluff the civilian population with hopes of settling things peacefully.
Over the next few days, the number of military personnel in the area grew. There were groups of soldiers at every corner, jeeps were seen running about, while convoys of soldiers were moved to positions around the county. Some one remarked that Oxford, with a population of seventy five hundred people, had an additional fifteen thousand soldiers.
[Above left: Internet image of 101stAairborne troops in Oxford, MS during the riots.]
One night, about 10:00 o’clock, after we’d settled down in our sleeping bags, there suddenly arose the rapid, staccato sounds of: “BAM! BAM! BAM!…POW!… POW!” Within a couple minutes we were in our battle gear, armed and loaded on the trucks. The trucks started, their lights piercing the darkness beside the Ole Miss stadium. Along side the trucks, sergeants and officers were shouting instructions over the noise to hear one another. Ammunition crates were cracked open and each of us was given several clips of live rifle ammunition. At the same time, we were told not to “lock and load” until so instructed. Looking out from the trucks, we could see the flashing red lights of Military Police jeeps as they combed the neighboring streets. We sat, ready, and waiting to go. Finally, a rumor spread that the explosions had been firecrackers, not gun fire. A while later we were told to disembark from the trucks, turn in our ammunition and go back to our tents. and get some sleep.
The Federal Detention Center
Meanwhile, all the attention given Ole Miss on the national television news, began drawing disgruntled racists and assorted punks in from neighboring states. A handful of Federal Prison Guards and Boarder Patrol Guards were flown into the area to set up a detention center. Before long, the increasing number of arrests overwhelmed the Federal agent’s capabilities. The 101st Airborne Division was asked for assistance in processing the rabble raising outsiders. As luck would have it, my squad was assigned a couple extra soldiers and detailed to assist the Federal Officers.
A makeshift detention center was set up immediately in front of the school bus garage at a local school. The three or four bus size garage bay was located directly behind the rather small brick school building. A row of concertina wire was strung between the sides of the garage then forward to the back side of the school building, creating a holding pen about eighty to one hundred feet wide and eighty feet or so in depth. Outside the compound were two long cafeteria style tables which the Federal Agents were using. A Federal Marshall and several other men were seated at one table interviewing prisoners. The second table had a small collection of confiscated guns, bats and knives laid on top.
When my “reinforced” Weapons Squad arrived, the Federal Agents told my assistant and I what they wanted us to do. [Internet image above right: Federal Marshalls seen holding a group of prisoners. This scene is at a holding location probably on the Ol’ Miss campus and is not at the larger holding pen, with concertina wire and interview tables, where I was working.]
Ever so often a Sheriff’s Jail Bus would pull up next to the school building with five to ten lawbreakers aboard. Members of my squad were assigned to escort the prisoners, two at a time, from the bus to the school’s backside wall, a distance of maybe seventy feet. Here they were ordered to stand spread-eagle and lean forward, their arms outstretched and hands against the wall. Each prisoner was guarded by three troops, two of whom were ready to offer immediate restraint should there be an attempt to flee, the third troop ran a body search for weapons. The searches were conducted in a rough manner, any hesitation, sarcasm or attempted friendliness was met by shoving and or being tripped, or pushed to the ground. We didn’t need to strike any of our temporary charges, they quickly became cooperative.
After being searched, the young men were individually taken to the Marshall’s table for processing and questioning. When the Marshall’s business with each man was complete, the prisoner was put in the holding pen. Each new prisoner was instructed to sit cross-legged with his arms crossed and his hands on his shoulders. They were tightly seated, side by side so there was no movement. The prisoners were not permitted to talk, turn their heads, nor move in any way. Large, stocky, Federal Prison Guards patrolled back and forth amongst the growing rows of inmates. Prisoners who talked or moved were struck hard across the back with a length of rubber hose. Periodically through out the night we’d hear a resounding, “ssSMACK!” as someone learned what it meant to disobey their instructions.
As night progressed, we took turns helping to process the prisoners, two hours ‘on duty’ and two hours off. The night air was chilly, even wearing our field jackets, so it felt good to scoot down in the sleeping bag while still fully dressed. Many of the men who’d been caught during daylight hours, wore only T-shirts covering their upper extremities. It must have been hell for them to sit upright, unmoving and uncomfortable in the cold that night.
During the next couple days and nights, the stack of confiscated weapons on the cafeteria table grew. There were many small bore .22 cal rifles, a few shotguns, a few pistols, a large number and assorted variety of knives, baseball bats, boards with nails driven through one end, chains, etc. By the time we left the detention area, weapons were restacked on the ground in a pile roughly four feet wide, eight feet long and fifteen inches high.
Due to the flood of troops that quickly amassed in the area, the constant heavy patrolling of roads and many subsequent arrests, there were no further incidents of violence at Ole Miss. After a couple week’s duty in the vicinity of Oxford, the 101st Airborne Division was recalled to Ft. Campbell, Kentucky.
The Cuban Missile Crisis
The 501st Infantry Battle Group was on an extended “field problem” (war games), either in Pennsylvania or along the Cumberland River, in Tennessee during mid to late October, when on the 22nd of the month, President Kennedy froze all military discharges.
Our festering relations with Cuba had sunk to a new low. After the U.S. had stopped buying Cuban sugar the previous year, Fidel Castro secretly invited the Soviet Union to install nuclear tipped missle launch facilities on Cuban soil. The Soviets accepted Castro’s invitation and the missles were shipped along with a Russian military unit. High flying U.S. aerial reconnaissance jets photographed the missile site’s construction and crates carrying missles aboard a Soviet ship in Havana harbor. The “cat” was out of the bag.
On October 22nd, President Kennedy dispatched an ultimatum to Soviet Premier Khrushchev stating that the missile sites must be dismantled or they’d be blown out of existence. The next day, a large U.S. Naval fleet deployed about Cuba creating a complete blockade of the island. Air Force and Army units were redeployed to Florida and bases along the southeastern U.S. coast.
With this tense international confrontation, American’s began buying extra canned food, clothing and considering places to hide should a nuclear war develop. For a week or two conditions were extremely dangerous. There was no question that the war would be fought with nuclear missles.
We Troops out in the field weren’t too concerned about being shipped to Florida, or taking part in an invasion of the island. We figured that at the rate the situation was escalating, by the time we got there, Cuba would be a lifeless, radioactive rock sticking out of the water.
Suddenly, the Soviets capitulated: They knew 144 Polaris, 103 Atlas, 105 Thor and Jupiter and 54 Titan thermo-nuclear tipped missiles had been readied to use against them, and that didn’t even count the heavy bombers and other weapons that had been moved to within closer striking distance of Russia and Cuba.
Stranded in Chicago by a snow storm
As the months passed, my old girl friend Shanna and I had maintained infrequent communication by mail. Her family moved from Tempe, Arizona to Salt Lake City, Utah. Not long after arriving in Salt Lake, Louis and stepfather Ray separated and subsequently divorced. Shanna wrote inviting me to come out and visit on my next Leave.
By winter, I had enough time accumulated to take a week’s Leave. Rick, another fellow in our Platoon, was going home on leave to Salt Lake, so we traveled together.
Our first flight began in Nashville on a local service named, Ozark Airlines. The old, twin engine ‘prop job’ was small, about the size of a C-123 troop transport. Our stewardess was as old and decrepit as the airplane, we joked aloud, wondering if the airline even had a maintenance crew. The ‘bucket of bolts’ pitched and bucked its way northward to Chicago, causing us to wish we had parachutes incase it began falling apart.
Arriving at Chicago’s O’Hara airport just after dusk, we found ourselves landing in the midst of a major snowstorm. We had a two hour layover before making connections with the jet that would carry us to Salt Lake City. Killing time, we sat in the terminal looking out the large glass windows, watching the snow swirl down in the illuminated areas outside. Before long we heard an announcement broadcast throughout the terminal, stating that all flights would be delayed one half hour, while snow was cleared from the runways.
Time passed. The initial departure time for our transcontinental jet came and went.
Planes were still backed up waiting flight clearance to taxi out onto the runway. Meanwhile, the storm intensified.
Finally, it was announced that all flights in and out of the O’Hara airport were canceled until at least 2:00AM the next morning. Incoming flights were being diverted to other airports while we passengers at O’Hara were being asked to wait.
Rick and I checked on the status of our flight at the Reservation Desk. We were surprised to find that our ticketing arrangements covered the eventuality of being stranded. Neither of us were even aware we’d paid an extra fee, but were glad we had.
A woman at the Courtesy Desk gave us ‘lodging vouchers’, whereupon we were taken by limousine to a hotel near the airport. The vouchers provided us with a plush double occupancy room, a magnificent dinner in the hotel lounge, breakfast the next morning and round trip limo service. We hadn’t wanted to miss flying out that evening, but the accommodations were the best either of us had ever seen. That evening about 9:00PM we ate in a way neither of us had since entering the Army. First came the soup du jour, followed by a steak and lobster plate, a variety of vegetables and crisp rolls. A business traveler sharing the table with us bought us both a mixed drink to accompany our meal (we were both under the legal drinking age of 21 years). The layover experience was an pleasurable and interesting break from the coarse, Spartan life we lived in the barracks.
The next morning at 9:00AM we left Chicago on our flight to Salt Lake City.
Shanna, her mom and brother lived in a downstairs apartment with windows at ground level, in urban Salt Lake City. I don’t remember much about our four days together except that we took daily walks together and discussed current events in our lives. We still had a ‘sweet spot’ for one another, but neither of us was in a position to do anything about our relationship. I still had a year to go in the Army and Shanna had a year or two to go before finishing high school. Shanna was born in about 1945-46, thus was four years younger than I, about the same age as my sister, Linda.
Music [midi, Gladistor March]
Sergeant Pierce, pay and privilege
On 31 December 1962, I was promoted to the rank of Sergeant, pay grade E-5. I was filled with pride and satisfaction with my ability to progress so far in such a short period of time; I’d only been in the Armed Service for two years and three months and was only twenty years old. Although I’d risen fast through the ranks, I only weighed 155 lb. and stood five foot ten inches, I was a little on the thin side. Occasionally, walking into the Non Commissioned Officer’s Club brought momentary, quiet stares from the other NCOs, because I have always looked younger than my chronological age. At age twenty, I looked about eighteen. At age forty eight years I was estimated to be about forty. At age fifty two, I looked about forty five years old.
After promotion to Sergeant my pay included:
$180.00 monthly E-5 rate with over two years service
$55.00 mo. Hazardous duty/ parachute pay
$4.20 mo. Incentive/ special pay
$30.00 mo. Proficiency pay
$269.20 Total monthly pay.
Along with the rank of Sergeant, came a variety of privileges, the best of which was moving out of my somewhat crowed quarters in the Team Leaders room and into a two man NCO’s (non commissioned officers) quarters. Sgt. Rudolpho, whom I roomed with, left the barracks for parts unknown at every given opportunity, so I usually had the room to myself every night and most weekends.
Beginning at the rank of Sergeant, one acquired legal authority. In the Airborne, a Sergeant’s word is quite literally, the law.
Another privilege enjoyed by NCOs was not having to stand in line at the mess hall. After two years of being required to stand in line for cafeteria style served meals, it was a welcome relief and time saver to walk past the queue of troops, pick up a tray and move directly up to the cafeteria style serving tables.
Music [midi: The Lion Sleeps Tonight]
Gross times in the Company mess hall
The mess hall was a rectangular shaped room with large windows on two sides. At one end was the kitchen. The kitchen was separated from the dining hall by a long serving table. Privates who were pulling KP (kitchen police) duty served ladles of the different foods onto each soldiers divided metal tray. Usually, one could choose between several vegetables or take a smaller portion of each. There were lots of “hot dishes” or combination meals.
There seemed to be a mystery military problem, how to convert something as common, tasty and wholesome as mashed potatoes or scrambled eggs into a palatable dish. About two-thirds of the meals were tolerable, the rest were only a cut above C-rations.
Milk and coffee were available at every meal, fruit juice was additionally available at breakfast.
Usually there was a dessert served with evening meals: an ice-cream cup, brownie, Jell-O, or pudding. Frequently the brownies were hard as rock, while the puddings occasionally had an odd “off taste”. Every Friday evening, the same type of bland boneless fish fillets were served.
Weekend meals were unusually terrible. Breakfasts consisted of cereal and hard toast, or a very heavy form of oatmeal, with milk, juice and coffee. Weekend lunches were usually cold–toasted cheese sandwiches (with toast that always dry and hard) or something related. Given the opportunity, few soldiers remained in the barracks over the weekend.
Next to the kitchen was the main dining room. This area was for the rank and file: privates, Pfc. and Sp4s. The dining room was filled with several rows of round tables, four chairs per table. There was a juke box sitting against one wall.
I don’t think I ever ate a meal where we didn’t have popular rock playing. Some one was always jumping up to walk over and drop in their quarter and select three songs. When the song, The Lion Sleeps Tonight, became popular, the “colored” fellows played it so often they practically drove the rest of us nuts.
The main dining room wasn’t large enough to hold the entire company at one time so a line formed from the Mess Hall stretching back through the Day Room. Platoons were rotated, so that a different unit was “first in line” for breakfast and lunch. The rest of the Platoons followed at ten minute intervals. Because we ate relatively fast and without a great deal of conversation, vacant spots at the tables continuously appeared allowing the “chow line” to edge forward quite rapidly.
Evening and weekend meals were on a “first come first serve” basis, except when our Battle Group, hence our Company, was on STRAC alert status.
Most of the way across the dining room from the serving table, was a three foot high planter, lightly planted with fake plastic plants. The planter separated the main dining room from the NCOs dining area. Another planter separated the officers dining area from the NCOs. The general rank levels were grouped: privates through Sp4s in the main hall, Sergeants behind the first line of planters and officers beyond the next, everyone always ate in their designated areas.
What’s on TV tonight?
1962: During my enlistment in the Army, I watched very little television.
I saw the following movies during the year, all at the Ft Campbell theater:
Barabbas with Anthony Quinn, Silvana Mango, Arthur Kennedy
Dr. No with Sean Connery, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord, Ursula Andress
Light in the Piazza with Vvette Mimieux, Olivia de Havilland, Rossano Brazzi
Lolita with James Mason, Sue Lyon, Shelly Winters, Peter Sellers
Mutiny on the Bounty with Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard, Richard Harris
Rome Adventure with Troy Donahue, Susan Pleshette, Angie Dickinson
Sergeants 3 with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford
Sodom and Gomorrah with Stewart Granger, Stanley Baker, Pier Angeli
The 300 Spartans with Richard Egan, Ralph Richardson, Diane Baker
The 4 Horseman of the Apocalypse with Glenn Ford, Charles Boyer, Lee J. Cobb
The Parent Trap with Hayley Mills (as twins), Maureen O’Hara, Brian Keith
The Ugly American with Marlon Brando, Eiji Okada, Pat Hingle
Walk on the Wild Side with Laurence Harvey, Capucine, Jane Fonda, Anne Baxter
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Forgotten Soldiers of the Integration Fight
By William Doyle (author of An American Insurrection: The Battle of Oxford, MS, 1962)
On October 1, 1962, in the early morning, a force of nearly 30,000 American combat troops raced toward Oxford, MS in a colossal armada of helicopters, transport planes, Jeeps and Army trucks.
Their mission was to save Oxford, the University of Mississippi and a small force of federal marshals from being destroyed by over 2,000 white civilians who were rioting after James Meredith, a black Air Force veteran, arrived to integrate the school.
The troops were National Guardsmen from little towns all over Mississippi, regular Army men from across the United States and paratroopers from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. They had to capture the city quickly; the FBI had intelligence that thousands of Klansmen and segregationists from California to Georgia may have set off for Oxford, many of them armed.
The first troops to reach Oxford found over 100 wounded federal marshals at the center of campus, 27 of them hit by civilian gunfire. Packs of hundreds of rioters swarmed the city, some holding war dances around burning vehicles.
Snipers opened fire on the Army convoys and bricks struck the heads of American soldiers. Black GI’s in one convoy were ambushed by white civilians who tried to decapitate them in their open Jeeps with metal pipes.
The Army troops restored order to the school and the city, block by block. A girl watched a team of infantrymen under attack on the Oxford town square and, according to a reporter at the scene, wondered aloud, “When are they going to shoot back?” Except for a few warning shots, they never did.
Yet when the soldiers left the city a few weeks later, they marched into oblivion. Most were under orders not to talk to the press. The Cuban missile crisis unfolded just weeks later, wiping Oxford from the front pages.
What the troops did in Oxford was so courageous that their commanders nominated them for scores of medals. But an internal Army memo from May 1963 states: “The focus of additional attention on this incident would not be in the best interest of the US Army or the nation . . . decorations should not be awarded for actions involving conflict between US Army units and other Americans.” Memories of what the troops did then faded away.
One response to “Chapter 1962, age 19-20”
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