|Lt. Carey in his government-|
issued glasses, Vietnam '67
Just shy of a year in Vietnam, Charley arrived at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, to brief generals and colonels about his helicopter rescue unit that picked up pilots who'd been shot down throughout Southeast Asia. After several days, he arrived at Travis Air Force Base in San Francisco.
He'd been forewarned that anti-war protests were at their height on campuses throughout the U.S. Although there was no debriefing or counseling available for returning servicemen in '67, word spread quickly among them that they should take off their uniforms before they reached their final destination or they might have rotten eggs, tomatoes, etc., thrown at them. Charley flew to New York City in civilian clothes.
In '67, Lester Maddox was the Governor of Georgia, wielding an ax in front of his Atlanta store to keep black customers out. Having just finished graduate school at Columbia Teachers College, I had obtained a teaching position in a middle school in Warner Robins, where we'd been assigned. It was the first year the schools had been integrated. A gigantic wooden paddle hung in the assistant principal's office for use on the backsides of unruly students. I refused to send any of my students for paddling!
There was no curriculum guide for English teachers in that school district in '67. I spent several months on a committee which wrote Warner Robin's first guide for English teachers, grades 7-12. Each of my students received one literature anthology for the year. With the help of my students, I organized car washes and bake sales to buy paperback novels and collections of poetry for each pupil.
|Correcting student papers|
The year 1968 was deadly for our Allies and Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon during the Tet Offensive. Without front lines, many support troops (as Charley had been) saw combat. The men in the field, however, saw the full horrors on a daily basis: suffocating heat, months of tropical downpours and flooding, rocket and mortar attacks, booby traps, terrorism, sandbag details, bad or no food, loneliness, boredom, fatigue, lost purpose, and lost comrades.
At home, '68 was a traumatic year for our country, with protests and political unrest, riots, the chaotic Democratic convention in Chicago, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy.
Charley was sitting in his office on base and heard thunderous cheering and whistles coming from the troops in the warehouse early on June 6, '68. He went to investigate. "What's going on?" he said to one of his enlisted men.
"That son-of-a-bitch Robert F. Kennedy got shot last night, Captain!" the man said. The clapping continued while Charley retreated to his office.
At one party, Charley and I made the mistake of engaging in a political debate with law students from a university in Macon. Within a short time, the students yelled at us, "Yankee, go home!"
It was not uncommon for my white students to cross the street if they saw a black student from their class coming toward them on the sidewalk. Laundromats had become a target for protests.
It was our habit to do our laundry on weekends. Since we only had one car, Charley would drop me off with my basket of soiled clothes and linens at the end of the strip mall. Then he'd proceed to do errands or go to the base to catch up on paperwork or calls from his helicopter unit in Vietnam.
One afternoon he parked directly in front of the laundromat and stormed in to get me. "Why are you using this laundromat?" he blurted out. "Don't you see what's on the window?"
The front window read, "WHITES ONLY."
"Yes, I saw it," I said, "but I only bring my white laundry here!"
And that is a true story.