man001062. Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers, 1890-1996. MS-01082. Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada. http://n2t.net/ark:/62930/d11r6rf2x
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BILLY BOB AND LEROY BY ROOSEVELT FITZGERALD
Billy Bob O'Reilly graduated from high school last spring. He was one of five children and he was the middle child. The two who were older than he were boys, there was one girl and the youngest child, Bobby Joe, will be fifteen in March.
Billy's oldest brothers had been among the casualties in Viet Nam, his father had gotten a Purple Heart in Korea and his grandfather had lost a leg at Bastione with MacAuliff. Billy's father and mother met on a Red Cross ship where she served as a WAVE and her oldest sister had flown planes to Europe for the Allies during World War II.
All of his life, Billy had heard his father and mother and grandfather and uncles and other family members speak of the wars they had been in, the danger and exhaustion, the battles fought and the wounds received. In those conversations he had also heard them speak of patriotism and he could sense their/love of their country and the need to defend it and the Constitution.
The family had migrated from east Texas back in the 1930s because of the incompatibility of their views with many of their neighbors' on the subject of race relations. Eiey believed that the Constitution was written for every American and that no one, not even the governor, Congress or the President had the right or the power to violate anyone's rights. More than that, they felt that recognized authority had the obligation to protect all of its citizens.
Having such radical ideas in that area and at that time was a guaranteed way of having trouble with the hooded defenders of the "American way of 1ife" — the KKK. So Bobby's grandfather left the land of his roots, where he had been born and where his family had been viewed as "communists," or something akin to it—even before there was such a thing as communists--al1 the way back to the years of the Civil War when the men had left home, gone north, joined
the Union army and fought against the Confederacy in order to preserve the
the nation. As difficult as it might be to believe, all of "those people" down there were not mean, no-good, low-down, dirty, yellow-bellied, racist sapsuckers.
The family never fit in because they didn't act right. They didn't hate their fellow man or love him based on the color of his skin. They were strong people—people of real courage. .They did that which was right whether it was popular or not and their presence caused others to have to constantly come face to face with their principles.
Leroy Jackson was at Da Nang and a few other places in Nam. He always had to take the point and he got the point right away. After graduating from a small black college down south, he volunteered for the Marines. He had seen their ad; "We're Looking For A Few Good Men" and Leroy felt that he was as good as anyone even though his home state would strongly disagree. He did basic at the Island and, like the song "Yankee Doodle Dandy" says, he went "over there."
His family all understood and were proud of his decision. He could have gotten a deferment and safely sat out the war as many other college graduates did. He never gave that option a thought. His father had been killed at the Battle of the Bulge just three months after his arrival to the European Theater of War in 1944. One of his uncles was shel1-shocked at Anzio. His grandfather had received the Croix de Guerre from the French Government in 1918 for heroism in the Oise-Aisne Offensive in 1918, his youngest uncle had been one of 3200 Americans who formed the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and fought alongside 37,000 other men and women from around the world in the Spanish Revolution in 1937. Hemingway did not glorify men of such hue in his writings on that heroic effort to save Spain from Fascism. His maternal grandfather had been part of that brave group of black soldiers who rescued Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders when they had gotten hemmed in during their
charge up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War of 1898. His mother and two aunts had served in the WACS and as nurses during World War II and his hometown newspaper had printed an editorial which read; "They will be a great comfort to the negro sodiers" as though, if there were no black WACS or nurses or others around, no one would care for the wounded if they were negro— maybe not.
Well, all the wars have ended--the official wars at least and the years have moved forward with the same determination and deliberation as the tides. Billy's family moved to Nevada and Leroy came because of job opportunities. Billy grew up here--he was seven when they arrived. Leroy moved toward middleage here—he was twenty seven when he arrived and was forty-five last year. He loved his country in spite of how it treated him. He always stood when the National Anthem was played and he acturlly knew alffl of the words. He put a flag out on Flag Day and Memorial Day and Veterans Day and so did the O'Reillys. Still, Leroy was an angry man. He was angry each time he would see something about Viet Nam Vets and there would not be any black vets included. He would be angry each time he saw a Veterans Day parade and there would be no black soldiers in the parade. He would be angered each time he saw an advertisement on television about some insurance for vets being advertised by Roger Staubach, Glenn Ford, Jimmy Stewart and others and there would never be any black people shown among those veterans and their families who had already signed up. He would be angered by seeing black vets not getting juicy jobs on their retirement from the service as would others. Lately, he's been getting more and more angered by news of those who want to murder people who look like him on sight. All those other things he could live with but he could not live with anyone questioning his right to live a decent, honest, hard-working life simply because he is black. That really angered him and he became almost obsessed with the thought that there might be someone out there stalking him.
His obsession turned to paranoia when he read of the black man being murdered in front of his sister's home in Reno by a group of terrorists. Every sound alarmed him. He became afraid of the night. He took to sleeping with one eye open when he would sleep at all. He became a nervous wreck-- drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, drinking Old Fitzgerald straight out of the bottle—a bottle a day. He was a mess. He would sit and recall how he had risked his life to make this country safe and now some group of terrorists had come along and proclaimed, in effect, that he did not deserve to live. It was almost as though he was mentally rewound to the mentality of the jungles and rice paddies of southeast Asia two decades ago—survival at all costs.
So Billy Bob graduated in June. Like so many others in his family had done, he went to the induction center and off to basic training at the end of summer and after doing a few other things. You know what happens there; the haircut, the training and all the rest. A letter home each week he wrote his moter--Dear Mom. A letter a week she wrote to him--Dear Son. Training ms over. Home for the first time. His hair is still really short--1 ike a...
He's out and about seeing a few old friends. Leroy is out and about and keeping his eyes open. There's something about a lot of people who've been in the service--they don't seem to mind walking. Billy Bob is walking south on Main Street toward Fremont near Odgen. Leroy is walking west on Stewart. They've never met before. Billy Bob is in Ci vies for the first time in a long time. Leroy is in readiness. They'll probably meet at the corner.
Woe is us.
TO BE CONTINUED