man000989. 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/d1bk1b404
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THE FORGOTTEN SOLDIER: PART II . BY ROOSEVELT FITZGERALD
When I was a kid growing up in Natchez, Mississippi, there wasn't a whole lot to do. Even at that, I only had access to less than half because everything was segregated and most of the good stuff was off-limits. People like me couldn't go to the parks, bowling alleys, golf clubs, public libraries and places of that sort. We could go to the movies but only in segregated areas.
The movies were a great excape from reality and I went as often as I could. I would sit through double features two or three times. There were detectives, cowboys, comedians and soldiers and they were all white. I'm not sure if I was consciously bothered by the absence of blacks in those films or not. I do remember, however, that in all the films what I saw was so much better and exciting than what I experienced in reality. Even war was great. I dreamed of the day when I would be old enough to "join up" and go off and kill America's enemies. I was not then conscious enough to realize that America's greatest enemies were home grown.
Still, I wondered about my uncles and cousins and others from the neighborhood who had gone off to one war or another. In the newsreels shown at the theaters I never saw black soldiers in actual battles so it was easier for me to accept the absence of blacks in those movies which romanticized war. The films were the same for both World War II and the Korean Conflict. I could always count on seeing John Wayne, kirk douglas, Robert Taylor, George Montgomery, Pat O'Brien, James Cagney and others going to the draft boards, basic training or boot camp, getting one last leave, kissing their girl friends, wives, mothers goodbye, hitting the beaches, hurling grenades, firing off a burst, hiking for miles, liberating some town or other and being welcomed by the townspeople as heroes and, finally, returning home to the
ticker-tape parades and swooning sweethearts.
I'm ashamed to admit it but I blew the entire past Memorial Day weekend viewing war movies on television. Seems as if there was one on some channel during every three-four hour period for the entire duration. I did that because I wanted to be certain that I had not made an error in my recollectionsJ I should say that one of the many films viewed was "The Red Ball Express" and it did show black soldiers as laborers, stevadores and truck drivers who brought supplies up to the "fighting men."
We should all understand that it was fairly easy to exclude black military in the newsreels shown through World War II. Afterall, our armed forces were segregated until President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981 which supposedly ended segregation in the armed forces in 1948. Reporters and cameramen would in fact cover all aspects of those wars, including black involvement, but in the editing process, before those newsreels were shown to movie audiences, that footage which had to do with blacks ended up on the "cutting room floor." We know this happened because in the past few years there have been several special documentaries pertaining to blacks in our nation's wars which have appeared on PBS. Those programs were put together from actual footage shot at the time. We did not see it during the time because somebody did not want the American public to see blacks risking their lives and dying foruour country. Perhaps they realized that it would not have been in the best interest of the country to show its oppressed people fighting in the name of democracy.
By the way, this exclusion applied not only to us but to all those Mexican Americans who have fought on "our" side beginning with the Alamo and all those Japanese Americans who made up.the 442nd "Go For Broke" regiment who fought in Europe even as their families were being imprisoned in concentration camps likes Manzanar or all those Indians who fought and served in the signal corps in the Pacific only to have the lone Ira Hayes of Iwo
Jima fame acknowledged. Even Though we're not talking about those groups
right now, let us be certain that we recognize that we're not the only "invisible" Americans when it comes to valor.
The "Day of Infamy." Pearl Harbor. December 7, 1941. The movie "From Here To Eternity" really lets us know about that day and the days leading up to and following it. I can still see Burt Lancaster making his move on Deborah Kerr on that beach. I can see Montgomery Cliff getting ideas about Donna Reed. I can see Frank Sinartra, Ernest Borgnine and all the rest of them having a ball at that club--singing and dancing and drinking. I can hear the music. Can't you?
There were black soldiers and sailors on that island called Hawaii also. They frequented the "colored" clubs and USOs just as they had been required to do in the states. When they were in training at Montford Point or at Camp Robert Small or as Tuskegee or wherever, they were segregated on base and they were segregated when they got overnight or weekend passes. Those of you who are old enough and who were here in Las Vegas during the war years of the 1940s and 1950s remember that black soldiers from Camp Siebert and other bases in Arizona and California were not allowed on the newly born Strip or in the casinoes on Fremont Street. No. The segregation was to be found every where that we were.
When the planes came in on that December morning at Pearl Harbor, blacks were bombed right along with white soldiers, marines and navy personnel. We were just as frightened and our folks back home were just as worried as Mickey Rooney's folks were. As the bombs fell and the torpedoes came in we did our part. Dorie Miller, mess boy, without any training, siezed the control of a gun and brought down enemy planes. He didn't get lost on the way to the gun, he got lost on the way to the history books.
2.5 million blacks registered for service following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Most were volunteers. No one had to send MPs to force us to go down and take the step forward. We were fighting to fight even though once
we went to basic training we were given the worse equipment, training and housing. At Montford Point where we trained to be Marines, white marines and townspeople called it "Monkey Point." When we shipped out we listened to our countrymen sing "Bye, Bye Blackbird." We were in the 92nd and 93rd Infantry, the 369 Regiment, the 761st Tank Battalion, the 99th Tactical Wing and the 555th Airborne. We were in the Merchant Marine, the Navy and every element of the war. We were at Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima and just about everywhere that there was fighting going on. We didn't get lost on the way to the heat of battle. We got lost on the way to the history books.
Still we were treated as second-class citizens. When the next war started, we once again answered the bell. In Korea, the only thing that we found that made us feel even half-way at home was the pronounciation of Seoul. We know where the 38th Parral 1es is and we found our way to the Valu River and Inchon but, would you believe, we got lost on the way to the history books.
About Vietnam, what can I say. Everyone knows how the Vietnam viet has been treated since returning. Nearly 55,000 died, an unknown number maimed or psychologically wounded for life. Treated as murders and shunned by society they were brought back into the world under a cloak of darkness and ostracized for years. It has been only in recent years that they've been brought out of the closet and are being given some respect and recognition. Perhaps, in another twenty years or so, black Vietnam viets will be similarly acknowledged] They didn't get lost on the Ho Chi Ming or at the Tet. The got lost on the way to the history boo,s, the movies and the videos.