“My biggest fear—I wouldn’t call a fear. I would call it a reality check. Why am I here? I’m fighting for a freedom here that I don’t even have at home.”
The above words are those of Mitchell Rose, who grew up in Braddock and was no stranger to racism. In the midst of the civil rights movement, many individuals were drafted to fight in Vietnam. However, the 18-year-old Rose enlisted into the service. Rose explained that as a young man he was a car thief and had the option of going to jail or the military. He chose the Marines and served in the 1st Marine Corp Division HQ Comm, getting deployed to Vietnam.
Imagine being an 18-year-old going to fight in a foreign land. When the question was asked about his biggest fear, Rose responded with the words that began this article. War was an experience unlike any other.
He spoke of his experience during Vietnam of living in fear; not because he was afraid to be there, but because he was afraid of what could happen each day. “Vietnam was filled with drugs. It was going on—ambushes, and patrols were high (smoking), because you (during the patrols) had to have a certain frame of mind to do the things you knew you had to do,” Rose said.
When asked what his greatest achievement in the Marines was, Rose responded: “Besides staying alive, getting out with an honorable discharge. They made it almost impossible for me.” Being that he was living in the era of hippies and the Black Panthers, he felt the influences of both and found himself to be a revolutionary. He was not afraid to share his point of view and beliefs with anyone. This is something that he brought home with him after Vietnam.
Upon returning home, Rose, along with many others of the time, felt like Black troops weren’t respected. They weren’t even recognized. It was like it didn’t even matter that they had served their country. Many had endured all kinds of trauma and things unimaginable to anyone who hadn’t served.
When service members came home from Vietnam, they were put back on the streets with no jobs, no treatment for PTSD or their flashbacks. Many were left to deal with it on their own. Rose, being a man of action, was steadfast in seeking the employment in which he knew he deserved. He has been, to this day, a pillar in the community and helps veterans, children, and the community as a whole. Today, Rose continues to be active in the community and has recently served as the Acting Commander and current 1st Vice at The Richard L. Ferguson American Legion Post 527 in Rankin.
David Lanier, at the young age of 17, was sent off to Air Force boot camp in San Antonio, Texas with a parental signature. He was too young to sign for himself to enlist into the Air Force, but was man enough to endure everything that was to come.
Being assigned to Air Force Security, his job was that of a spy and to locate prisoners of war and those who were missing in action. During his stint in the military, Lanier served in Pakistan for the Indian war, to Egypt and Israel for the Six-Day war, and also Vietnam. This was a huge culture shock for Lanier, who was born in the South in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Growing up in Jim Crow, he experienced racism throughout his life. He pondered if things would change now that he was an airman in the United States Air Force.
The answer was no. He would just deal with a separate form of prejudice and racism. Lanier had the task of leading his White counterparts throughout Vietnam, only to see them be promoted while he did twice as much work. They looked to Lanier to survive and yet, they were promoted. These airmen were promoted based on Lanier’s efforts and hard work. The same men who listened to every word coming from Lanier’s mouth would return back to the states and show their true colors. African Americans fighting in Vietnam tell the stories of how they felt like they were fighting two wars—Vietnam and racism.
Lanier tells the story about how he witnessed racism as an airman: “I’ve seen signs in people’s yards that read, ‘N___ers, Airmen, and Dogs Stay Off of Grass.’”
Lanier speaks about how he protested while he was stateside, and he wasn’t fearful of the consequences. “They would just take the signs and tear them up,” he recalled.
This is the country in which he risked his life and fought for since the age of 17.
It didn’t help that service members returning home from Vietnam got the cold shoulder. Lanier spoke about PTSD, racism, and other things that he kept bottled up from serving in Vietnam. “I dealt with it on my own. I thought it was something I could deal with by myself.”
He told a story about how one day he and his wife were standing in line at a casino in West Virginia, and a White gentleman walked up to him and simply said, “Thank you.”
Lanier said, “I just broke down and cried and all the feelings I had for whatever reason just seemed to disappear right there on the spot. I felt really good. Everything just left.”
This gesture of gratitude for his service was something that was long overdue, in his eyes.
Today, David Lanier continues to serve as a Post Commander, and current Adjutant of the Richard L. Ferguson American Legion Post 527 in Rankin.
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