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Letters to the Editor
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Black Soldiers in the US Army
an account of an alarming experience in Heidelberg in 1970, from John Hamilton of Madison, Wisconsin
9th October 2002
I am in the process of writing an analysis of groupthink and bureaucratic thinking, and am using as a basis the experience I had on July 4, 1970 in Heidelberg, Germany. I did a Google search on the words and found your website. (How did Participation in America's Wars affect Black Americans?) You may be interested in what almost happened that day.
I was an enlisted man, serving in the 503d Transportation Company, Patton Barracks, Heidelberg. It was a truck and jeep company with the wartime mission of moving the U.S. Army headquarters.
During the spring of 1970 our unit was trained in riot control, consisting of marching forward in a V formation with our rifles (with sheathed bayonets) at port arms, with the rifles angled forward in front of us.
We were placed on riot alert a couple of times that spring because of German students protesting at Campbell Barracks, the U.S. Army Europe Headquarters. I don't remember if our unit was ever called out, but if they were, I wasn't part of it, and no incident ever took place.
On July 4 of 1970, black soldiers from all over Germany came to Heidelberg for a rally sponsored by students from the university. Our unit was placed on riot alert at 6 a.m. (0600 hrs), and we drew helmets, web gear, and rifles. We were not given bayonets, as was usually the case. We were told that for that day it would be "live ammo," and were sent to the training room to sit and wait, with no talking. The alert lasted until 7:30 p.m. (1930 hrs).
I was a clerk, so I didn't have to sit in the room all day. They needed someone in the company office (orderly room) to answer phones and relay messages. It was a very strange day. I spent enough time in the training room that the enormity of the impending trouble affected me as it did everyone else. Because we had so much time to sit and think about what we may have had to do, a strange energy pervaded the room by the end of the day. If we had been sent out, I have no doubt a bloodbath would have taken place.
We were released at 7:30, and many of us went downtown to see the castle illumination. The city of Heidelberg had fireworks displays four times a year, and July 4, American Independence Day, was one of them. We managed to imbibe great quantities of various mind altering substances, and in general do everything we could to take our minds off what almost transpired.
There were a lot of blacks downtown, but in groups no larger than 3. They wore berets and denim jackets, and walked "cool," leaning slightly backward. But they caused no trouble whatsoever. They must have had some idea of what the Army had in store for them.
This is the most negative of the many negative experiences I had in the three years spent in the Army. Now, as our country is embarking on another excursion into madness, these memories come to the fore, and I feel the need to tell this story. If it is a help to anyone's research, I would be glad to tell more.
will go home
Erica Fail, who was born in Germany during WW2, has written this response to the situation in Iraq from Grand Junction, Colorado
1st May 2003
I was born and raised in Germany and I was seven years old when WWII ended. We had no food, our homes were bombed, we had nothing. When school finally resumed again, it was the American Army that came daily to all the schools at noon and fed the kids one warm meal a day and we always got either a Hershey bar or Chiclets or Life Savers. I have never forgotten that kindness. Yes, we were occupied by the Americans, English, French and Russian, but the Americans never treated us bad. They had a heart as big as the State of Texas. I finally came to the United States in 1959, became an American Citizen and am very proud of my adopted home. I am more proud of our troops fighting for freedom in Iraq. We know what freedom is and we also know that every person on this Earth deserves to be living free. Freedom always comes with a price and we are so sorry for all the lives lost - American, English, Kurd and Iraqi.
Please, let your Iraqi readers know that we prayed for their safety as much as we prayed for the safety of our troops.
My heart breaks when I hear now that the Iraqi people want the American troops to get the heck out of Dodge. Why are they so afraid that we will 'occupy' them? I know America has no interest in doing so. Saddam is gone - hopefully - and now it is a matter of getting Iraq up and running again and a leadership established, not an American one, but one by the Iraqi people.
Our troops must just be so saddened by the fact that - okay, you got rid of the Saddam regime - Yankee, now go home.
Please know that our troops all have families and loved ones in the USA they want to go home too as soon as possible. They have no intentions of being in Iraq any longer than need be. They are no threat to Iraq and it's new found freedom. They fought for the freedom of this depressed nation and now they want to bring order and than leave. Please, be kind to them, they only have your best interest in mind.
We are so happy that Iraq is liberated. Just give the USA a chance to do right by you and bring you to the point where you can govern yourselves with leaders you choose. Once everything is on track, our troops are more than happy to head for home.
Good luck for your future and cherish your freedom.
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