September 1962 – I was there

September 12th, 2017 by Ken

It was September 1962.   I was a young 19-year old solider stationed with the 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

I had come from the Lilly white Pacific Northwest, and had not even seen a black person until I joined the Army upon high school graduation in 1960.

We had heard about the problems in the South over integration so when the word came down that the 101st Airborne was being sent to Oxford, Mississippi to relieve the Federal Marshals supporting James Meredith’s entry into the University of Mississippi, we weren’t surprised.   Five years previously, the 101st had been sent to Little Rock, Arkansas to help integrate Central High School.

But, this was my first official venture with this historical outfit and so it was with a great deal of excitement as I boarded one of the trucks making the several hundred mile drive from Kentucky to Mississippi.

Our 30-hour trip was marked with new sights, sounds and experiences.  Several of our trucks were stoned as the convoy made its way through the small towns of the South.  One was hit by a Molotov cocktail and set afire.  All along the route, the Confederate battle flag was flying and several car loads of white youths sped in and out of the convoy in an attempt to cause an accident and stop the trucks from getting to their destination.

We drove slowly through Oxford, past the University of Mississippi and out the other side, eventually stopping at what I think was an old national guard post.  There we set up tents and made camp.

The next morning, all of the black soldiers were separated from the white soldiers.  The black soldiers were sent to do KP and other house keeping activities, while the white soldiers drilled in crowd control.  There was much anger and animosity on the part of the black soldiers for being separated, but those in command thought that black soldiers on the front lines might infuriate the white mob even more.

We drilled for several days awaiting our opportunity to head to the campus and to duty, but it never came.  We heard that just the show of strength by armed forces was enough to stop the riot and that political pressure ended the struggle.

We were reunited with the black soldiers and sent back by truck to our home base of Fort Campbell.

But, in less than a month, we would be called back to duty, this time to Florida to get ready to invade Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis – – but that’s another story for another day.

Posted in History, The Real News

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