By Claude Jones
On January 5, 1968, fourteen young men met to catch the Gulf Transport Bus at Clem Henry’s Sinclair Service Station on Main Street in Pontotoc, Mississippi. Clem Henry’s Sinclair Service Station doubled as the bus stop in Pontotoc. I was one of the fourteen, and we had been drafted into the United States Army.
The morning was warm and sunny, and most of us did not wear jackets. We had been directed by the draft notice to bring no luggage; none would be needed.
Twelve of us were white. We knew each other by name. Some of us were longtime friends. The two who were black we did not know. They had gone to different schools, used different bathrooms, drank out of different fountains, ate at different diners and lived in different neighborhoods.
We had been told we would go to the Veterans Hospital in Memphis for an extensive physical and, assuming we passed (we all did), we’d be sent on to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, for Basic Army Training. We could not know then that one of us would be killed in combat or that two would be seriously wounded. One of the wounded would live life barely able to walk and unable to hold a job available to one his color. Two would bring home demons in their minds that would haunt them the rest of their lives. All who went to the war zone would be forever changed.
The Tet Offensive by the North Vietnamese had begun. This was a massive invasion of South Vietnam and spread the war into Cambodia and Laos. The United States was increasing troop levels in Vietnam, and the draft was expanded to include any male 18-25 years old not enrolled in colleges.
A few, whose parents had enough influence to get their sons in the National Guard, also were not drafted. This was the only time I remember when Negros weren’t excluded by the racial prejudice that prevailed in Mississippi and throughout the South.
In spite of my opposition to the war, I was now in the Army and would dedicate myself to being a good soldier; it was my duty and I would do my duty. I took advantage of every opportunity to be tested for special duties and assignments. I did well on all the tests given by the Army. I was one of only two chosen from my company to attend Warrant Officer Flight Training to become a helicopter pilot. I had never flown or even been in an airplane. I knew helicopters were flying dangerous missions in Vietnam every day and many were being shot down, but what an opportunity I was to have!
Just as I was about to begin flight training I was called into the Captain’s office, and he said, “Do you know a Dr. Dessasuer in Memphis?”
I said, “Yes sir, when I had epilepsy he was my doctor.”
“Why did you not declare that you had epilepsy?” he demanded.
“I have had no seizures since I was 12. I was told I was safer from epilepsy than a person who had never had seizures.”
The Captain pulled a shiny silver fountain pen from his breast pocket and marked a jagged slash across my packet. He pushed it toward me and said, “Well, that is right, but you can’t fly helicopters; you are going home.”
“But I have gone through all this training and I want to become a helicopter pilot.”
I had no doubt the Vietnam War was wrong. I still have no doubts about that war being wrong. Most of those who stepped on the green and silver Gulf Transport bus that January morning are real heroes. They served their country bravely and efficiently. They were good soldiers. They gave much.
I came home to resume my life, unscarred. I did not stop the war. I did not stop the pain of my fellow draftees. I did not eliminate the discrimination faced by so many. I tried. I could have done more and wish that I had. The scars of war reside in all of us.
Who Has The Edge?
Two Poems - II
Nose or Bat?
Young Dreams and Old Realities
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