It was no cold-stormy-rainy-night with the wind whistling through the trees. It wasn’t night or cold. It was just time to take a break from 1967 and get the heck out of Vietnam for a moment. So I’ll make any excuse or write about any subject, however controversial, to delay getting into the nitty-gritty of combat for a while.
As I began writing this book, there was lots of news about the “Me Too Movement,” as was the issue of “Racism.” An overwhelming 87 percent of African-Americans say Black people face lots of discrimination in the U.S., and 49 percent of white Americans agree!*
The February 2018 poll was conducted before the Roseanne tweet, which no doubt further inflamed the issue. I’m pissed at her (Roseanne) for two main reasons. First, I liked the show, which I won’t be seeing again, and Second, I’m disappointed; she does indeed sound like a racist. Thanks for flaming the fire, Rose.
Last subject first. By now, no doubt, you know that I’m from Mississippi. “To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi,” said William Faulkner, the renowned writer from the state named after that river. Then LBJ (not my favorite President) opined, “There’s America, There’s the South, then there’s Mississippi.”
In his book Tell About the South, Fred Hobson said, “The Southerner, more than any other American, has felt he has something to explain, to justify, to defend or affirm.” Guess he was mostly talking about white folk. John Grisham believes, “Suffering that has been self-inflicted by slavery, war, poverty, injustice, intolerance. Great conflict produces great art, and Mississippi has its share of both.” But Malcolm X said, “As far as I’m concerned, Mississippi is anywhere south of the Canadian border.”
On the plus side, Mississippi, in the last few decades, has attracted dozens of writers and aspiring ones (including African Americans) from around the world to Oxford and the Delta. The renowned William Faulkner compiled his immense catalog of works in Oxford. He and John Grisham graduated from the University of Mississippi in the city, where a popular and respected course is offered on Creative Writing. There’s a writing club in Oxford, numbering several dozen, and an eclectic bookstore, Square Books. Authors from the area, who established successful careers elsewhere, have returned to the Oxford area to live and continue writing.
As for me, I can only speak about the people I know who live in the state. My amazing brother Dale, age 83, cared for his invalid wife for twenty years and, for many years, provided for the well-being of our elderly Momma and Daddy. He is a well-respected member of the community and continues to help people. Dale has lived in Mississippi his entire life and resides less than two miles from the old place, the house where he was born. All his children, grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren live within a few miles of him. Point: He’s a really good man, and no racist, who happens to live in Mississippi.
Many of my high school classmate friends happily reside in, and love, the Magnolia State. Although I have not seen or visited them for several years, they are among my most avid readers. I have rekindled my friendship with Loyd and Boyd Pearson, twins from our high school days; they both still live in the area where they grew up: Hatley and Amory, Mississippi. With another classmate, Joe Howell, I have done the same. All have provided me with inspiration. I would not have remained friends with any of them if I thought they were racist.
I’m not writing, however, to someone or for someone. Instead, I’m writing honestly about myself, my feelings, and my life experiences.
Living in the über liberal state of California, I do not advertise that I’m from Mississippi. I’ve come to that conclusion after extensive travel, interacting with other races, religions, and nationalities, and my experiences in the U.S. Army active duty, U. S. Air Force Civil Service, as a major market Disc Jockey, a University Lecturer, Newspaper Editor, and many other adventures. “Hey there, I’m from Mississippi,” would need to be followed by, “But don’t think for a second, I’m a racist.” It is a counterproductive and time-consuming effort. It’s best for me, initially, left unsaid.
Once I have known someone for a while, my Mississippi heritage is not an issue, and I’m not ashamed of it. If I met someone of African-American descent for the first time and desired to make an acquaintance, I would not consider yelling, “Nice to meet you; I’m Don from Miss-cippi.” If we became friends and, after a while, he determined I was a decent guy and not a racist, fine.
Crunch all the data you wish, and Mississippi will be at the top or near the top as the most racist state in the U.S. (Thank goodness for Texas and Louisiana.) Mississippi is usually at number one as the poorest as well. (Thank goodness for West Virginia and Arkansas.) That is reality.
I, like many writers, may never be able to shake my conscience free of the place because, in Mississippi, nothing is ever escaped.
As for people in Northern states, they are far from angelic on the issue of race, based on my experience and the data that support it. (I’m looking at you, Detroit.) Although I cannot defend Mississippi’s stigma of racism — that many consider indefensible — it doesn’t mean I’m ashamed of my past while living in the state from birth to age 17. Here is what I remember from my personal experiences there.
Growing up in the early to Mid-60s with segregation, race relations, for all the white people I knew and me, was simple, there were no relations — good or bad. That made it easy for me.
Although it was not uncommon to hear the “N-word” in the community at large, I rarely heard it at home. I never heard my Daddy or my brother Dale say the “N-word,” and the few times I heard Momma use it was in the context of “He’s been working like an ‘N.’” It was hardly meant as an insult, but of course, insensitive to express.
And I never heard her or anyone in my family put down Black people or warn me about “Colored” folk. Momma was a good Christian woman. Would she have advocated inviting Blacks to attend Hatley Missionary Baptist church? Of course not, nor would they have accepted.
My family was not part of any effort to punish Black folk, and although we had heard of people being in the Klan, our family and friends never considered joining such a group. Of course, one didn’t have to be a KKK member to be racist.
I never thought of our family or anyone we were close to being racists, but in the purest sense of the definition, who knows? And one can be a racist while thinking they are not. None of our ancestors (in our family tree of several generations) were ever enslavers; we were and had been farmers, including dirt-poor sharecroppers, many years ago.
Our genealogy, in fact, revealed that a distant relative (not living in Mississippi) served in the Union Navy. Continuing Slavery was of no benefit whatsoever to any of my relatives past, some of whom died fighting in the Confederate Army, and a few who made it home returned to nothing.
That said, how I’ve treated African-Americans at work,** play, and in my community leaves me without any White Guilt.
Iconic scene from Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia. The eight-day battle in May 1864 resulted in 32,000 casualties. Deaths, in the Civil War, are most often quoted to be 623,026 about 2 percent of the U.S. population then, in today’s numbers, that would be the equivalent of more than 6 million! It claimed more fatalities, by far than any other single war or conflict in the Nation’s history! (Art Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
Unquestionably, African-Americans have suffered incalculably at the hand of Anglo-Saxons and some of their African brothers, who sold them into slavery. Although the vile behavior and language still exist today toward Blacks sixty years past the sixties, I would never have considered saying or even have thoughts about some of the things I’ve heard — most certainly not now. Approaching the third decade of the 21st Century, such behavior is more disgraceful and despicable than ever.
The persecution of one’s ancestors, of course, does not provide license today for any unlawful or repulsive behavior against the mores of the society at large. That I grew up and came out of the Deep South in the early to Mid-60s with negligible animus toward African-Americans is noteworthy and a source of pride.
(My sometimes Editor — gorgeous wife Cheri — thought that last sentence was self-serving, self-righteous and unnecessary.) For the Record: I am and have for many years been a registered Independent.
Last-minute update: Recently, a NASCAR Cup driver uttered the “N-word” on his team radio. He was a young man who got his break, getting into racing, as part-Asian, through NASCAR’s diversity program! Insensitive behavior, and slurs like this, especially from a young person, continue to astonish me. (Did he hear African American artists who sometimes use such words in rap songs, and it just slipped out?) I’m not excusing his behavior if that were the case, and no, I’m not blaming rap for white people’s insensitive remarks.
Now for the “Me Too Moment.” I doubt you’ll hear of me caught up in that thing. First, I’m too insignificant, and Second, I never asked a girl/woman on a date more than once. Thirdly, I was brought up to respect and honor women and do. Finally, I raised twin girls and taught them to recognize and stand up for themselves on the issue of sexual harassment.
You may remember from earlier chapters when I dated more than one lady at a time, and I may have been guilty of behavior like “leading women on.” However, that was in my very young years, and I never cheated on a partner when in a committed relationship or marriage. Also, note my apology to Mary in Chapter ten.
I’m wondering if this break was such a good idea. This chapter has been the most difficult to write so far. But the chapters ahead, on Vietnam, will be even more arduous.
Do you ever get tired of people telling you to “Have a nice day”? (No, thanks, I have other plans.) They don’t mean it, do they? If you really want me to have a nice day, then quit telling me to have one. “No, Mr. Swan, your insurance will not cover that. Is there anything else I can’t help you with? OK then, Have a nice day.” Maybe I am getting a little edgy. Now that I’ve insulted everyone who utters that cheerful greeting, back to Vietnam.
*Public Religion Research Institute, reported by CNN.
**My record as a USAF General Manager in promotion and hiring practices support that claim.
One thought on “Chapter 14: A Break From Vietnam”
I think the break is for the best. What little writing I have done required me to be inspired to focus on the subject so that I could concentrate for enough detail and to make it have some kind of flow about it. I missed the Vietnam horror since I failed my physical. Most that I know about it is from movies and some friends that made it through and lived to tell about it. However, most did not want to talk about the experiences that haunted them and instead would talk about the few fun times that they had.
I admit what caught my attention in your first few chapters was the insight into your teenage years that carried me back to what was going on around us then. Most all of us had issues that we had to work through unknown to others. At one of our reunions I told Jimmy Lynn that I had wanted to be more like him in school and he said that he thought the same of me. Another said that he wanted to be as confident as I was in school and I was thinking that I was riddled with insecurites then. In fact, when I was about 16 I had what the Dr. called a nervous stomach. In certain social situations I would be nauseous to the point that I could not eat. In fact it was unusual if I did not throw up before each football or basketball game. No wonder that I only weighed about 150 pounds. It took years for me to get over that.
My guess is that others like me that follow your posts are more interested in you, your life experiences, your thoughts and feelings during those times, how you were able to handle raising twins, your marriages, how you met Cheri. You have actually touched on these in your Chapter 19: A Break From Vietnam. Anyway, I like what you said, “I’m writing honestly about myself, my feelings and my life experiences.”