By Jim Regan
There have been lots of times in the last year or so that I mentioned a fellow named J.B. Parker. He was my section leader in the 81 mm Mortar Section of the Weapons Platoon, after I had served my time in hell as: a driver, loader, assistant gunner, gunner and finally Squad Leader in the 106 Recoilless Rifle (RR) section. As I told you before, the Platoon Sergeant, MSG Benjamin Manns, had a schedule as far as moving everybody thru the different positions/jobs in the Weapons Platoon. A guy named Andrew McNeese, taught me all there is to know about the 106 RR. He even taught me how to use it as an artillery piece. WOW. These guys had a lot of patience with me. (I later taught a crusty ol' Vietnamese Ranger Sergeant Major how to repair/disassemble, employ a 106RR.)
Here we go down to Mississippi (we had no idea where we were going), this fine Monday morning, to help out the MPs from the 82nd Airborne, and the U.S. Marshals. (Old' Miss/James Meredith). We, the Company/Battle Group, move out on an unannounced deployment!!! It was payday. Oh Gawd!! We load up on C-130s, don't know anything, and see all this ammo etc. being loaded on the ramps. No parachutes! Hey! What's going on???? Don't know, but we're going somewhere!
We arrive at Memphis Naval Air station. The Crew Chief says, "Stay to the rear of the aircraft, another bird will pick you up." We una_ _ed the bird, and sure enough, there sit a couple of C-7A Caribou's. Newly brought on board by the US Army. We load up, Crew Chief tucks us in and we take off again. We had been Flying" for several hours and still nobody knew where we were going or what we were going to do. We got nervous, tugged on our web gear, checked our M-1s with nothing in them, and hoped for the best.
On short final for an airfield, unknown location, we all brace for the landing. As we slow, almost to stall speed, we feel the aircraft suddenly surge forward, great thrust, and we overshoot the runway! What's going on?! The Crew Chief comes back to the troop compartment and explains. Seems as if the Army Warrant Officer, Pilot, forgot to lower the landing gear and has to make another pass for landing!!!
We off load, happily, and are greeted by a party of folks from the 82 nd Airborne. We follow them to a "Marshalling/Staging" area. The rest of the Company marries up, and soon the Battle Group, 1700 strong, is on the ground. The bivouac area is set up and the briefings begin. Seems as if we are here for "Riot Control" at the Ol' Miss!!
By that evening, we are broken down into; Road Block, Quick Reaction, Traffic Control, etc. We find out really quickly that the "Enemy" is the White Students, and a lot of Segregationist outsiders.
Now for the "Kicker"! The Company/ Battle Group, is "Segregated!" No Colored, we called them colored then, Soldiers were allowed to participate in the Riot Control Duty. Boy did that kick us in the butt! We all looked at each other in amazement! How could such a thing happen? We had trained together, trained to live and die for our buddies! Who could change that?!!
The soldiers, to include; some Platoon Sergeants, many of the Section Leaders, and NCO Leaders, had to "Stay behind" in the Marshaling area. The rest of us felt terrible, as if we had really let our buddies down.
We took on the mission with a new sense of camaraderie. We were not here just to get Meredith into Ol Miss; we were here to beat the segregationists and all their supporters. How dare they separate us from the folks that we were sworn to live or die for??!!
You talk about "No nonsense" road blocks, formations to "break up" gatherings, "Show of Force" to support the Civil authorities!!! We showed those folks what Law and Order was and "WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT STUD!!!???" "Move out!" As we rotated from our duties on the road blocks, the patrols, and generally maintaining Law and Order, we got back to the Marshaling area for breaks and rest/sleep. The Soldiers, without exception, who were not allowed to participate in the Riot Control (The colored soldiers), were there, with "Bells on," when we pulled up in the vehicles. They haled us and grabbed us and just made us feel as if we were long lost brothers. These guys were the KPs and Cooks, and laundry run guys for the Battle Group. They knew that we were not happy 'bout the circumstances and they knew that we still needed them as our fellow Soldiers. It was a really painful time for me. I did not know/live in a segregated society while growing up. I saw it when I went into the service. As far as I was concerned, in the "Squad Bay" we were all equal. Had the same kinds of heart aches and heart breaks. I carried that feeling throughout my career. Didn't have to work hard to evaluate, not judge; Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen on their performance, not their origin!
Final note on this. We got James Meredith into Ol' Miss. He "DROPPED OUT" the following year! What a waste of human effort for what I now see as an undeserving person. Go figure it out! If all that effort had been made for any one of us, we would have died before quitting!
Upon our return to Ft Campbell, our Weapons Platoon and indeed the Battle Group "LOOKED" a little different. If there was ever a separation between the Colored Soldiers and the White Soldiers, that was in the past. We were even more bonded than before because of what we had been thru.
That is a period of our history that I am not proud of. Even today there is segregation. The Army led the way towards Race Relations and Equal Opportunity. The world could learn a lesson from us.
We need some Vietnam War Stories!