Race – Culture – Diversity – Inclusion -Understanding – Empowerment

The following is one of my true stories.

Though it occurred about fifty years ago it is more relevant today than it was back then based on the multiple recent events in our country.

In 1969 my first assignment after basic training and schooling was at The United States Air Force Clark Air Base in The Philippines. After a twenty six hour flight, with a few stops along the journey, I arrived on my 19th birthday, took a walk around the base and followed towering lights that illuminated a football practice field. Leaning up against a fence I watched until the end of practice and found one of the coaches to whom I spoke about my desire to play. He told me to come back tomorrow night at 7 PM which I did. That resulted in me being given a practice uniform which I used the following night. I was lucky to be stationed in The Philippines where, in addition to being a beautiful country with wonderful people, music, customs, traditions, folklore, history, culture and FOOD, I had the opportunity to learn, grow and prosper with education, awareness and knowledge not available in the traditional learning environment.

I planted myself on the defensive line where I stayed, started and played for two seasons making the all-star team both years. My life at Clark was filled with work, football, cards in the barracks on paydays. a bit of sightseeing and on occasion a visit to Angeles City for a San Miguel, food, music and participation in cultural and social activities. For many GI’s it was the chance to do things that were just reaching the middle class in America and which have always existed in the lower and upper class of the economic strata. Given the chance to go back guys would be lined up for miles to return to indulge in pleasures they probably never told anyone outside of those who had similar experiences.

 

The best part of my entire two seasons was that I was the only White guy on the starting defensive team which was quite spectacular for many reasons. Before each game we would change into our uniforms in a “hut” near the field. As we were changing a bottle of Thunderbird (what’s the word Thunderbird, what’s the price .60 twice) was being passed around by the starting defensive players, of which I was one as previously mentioned. The bottle came to me. All my teammates’ eyes were on me and with their eyes they were saying “Will he”? Without hesitation I lifted the bottle to my mouth and downed a big swig of T-Bird. The guys all cheered and we “high-fived” each other in brotherhood. We had two winning seasons and a few of us made the All-Star Team. We saw no color except our green uniform jerseys. We lived, worked, played and socialized together.  I miss the guys who often told me that “I had more soul than I could control”.  My life was enhanced, enriched and enlightened from the times I spent with the all the guys Black, White and everyone else.

 

The barracks in which I lived had been integrated the year before I arrived at Clark. Before this, the Black guys lived in remote barracks on the fringes of the base. I never saw where they lived but some of the old timers told me stories about the conditions.

 

My barracks was filled with Blacks, Whites, Islanders, Hispanics and two Jews of which I was one. We never had a problem. Even the guys from the South publicly adjusted to showering and sharing bathroom facilities and dining halls with guys unlike them. In private, though, their stories were quite inflammatory but they never let their emotions deter from their job performance and co-habitation with guys with whom they had nothing good to say.

 

In the integrated barracks next to mine there were Black Panther meetings several times a week.  Only the Black guys went and they did not allow their attitudes, feelings, emotions and everything else spread to the public community.

I may be naïve, stupid, ignorant, unaware or just plain old dumb but I never heard about of any violence, property damage or physical altercations during my 18 months on base at Clark.

 

There was an active and profitable Black Market at Clark which was NOT named Black Market because only Black guys were involved. Free Enterprise, Business is Business. For those involved the only color was Green as it is today. We had cigarette and liquor ration vouchers which a few entrepreneurial and enterprising guys used for profit by servicing their customers since in all businesses without customers to service you have no business.

Now customer disservice has trumped customer service and has become more of a customer self service and call 1-800-000-000 if you have a problem, issue or concern. (By the way, when calling 1-800 and prompted to press “1” for English only to wait forever to speak with a human, press “2” for Spanish since all the customer service folks speak English). One would sell their ration vouchers for a fixed price to the guys taking the risk and those guys would deliver the goods off base to downtown contacts who would sell the products to locals who were in the distribution business. Black Market Business just might be the second oldest profession.

 

Downtown Angles City was a divided town. Right outside the main gate was known as The Strip where anybody could roam the streets, participate in various offerings, indulge in the street food, and ride in a beautifully decorated Jeep leftover from MacArthur during World War II.

 

A couple of miles from the Strip was The Block where only the Black guys could congregate for their social interactions. It was well known by all non-Black guys that one did not venture down on The Block since many incidents occurred to those who visited who were not part of the community and culture. Twice I went down on The Block. Both times escorted by my football Black teammates who insured my safety and well being. While walking the streets, eating and drinking I was watched, visually screened and made to feel quite uncomfortable and unsafe by those Americans and locals who did not know my identity. Several times the table I was at with my Black Teammates was approached and my Black Teammates had to explain me. This is probably how Blacks feel when they walk around a store followed by staring eyes waiting for something to happen or Blacks who drive through neighborhoods unlike where they live as they face the onslaught of looks, doubt, concern, worry and fear from the locals.

 

Clark had a movie theater. I went a few times but couldn’t tell you what was showing. I do remember that it was custom, tradition and mandatory to stand at “attention” while the National Anthem was being played. The only guys who did not stand were the Black guys so please do not consider the 2017 protests as something new. Though I did feel awkward and a bit confused from my lack of knowledge I did understand after a few of my Black Teammates explained their plight and provided reasons for their non-involvement in the pre-movie ceremony. They all told me that until I walk in their shoes please do not pass judgment. A little knowledge, insight and wisdom go a long way to understanding. By the way, this was around the same time as the Black Comedy (nothing racial about Black Comedy, Black Ice or Black Friday) movie “MASH” was circulating. It was banned by the leadership at Clark because of its insubordination and inappropriate content which may have caused and influenced behaviors, attitudes and values to change since through the magic words of comedy, satire and mockery rests truth. And we all know truth should set us free but in today’s world it continues to hide and be hidden through manipulated obfuscation.
So, what does all this have to do with anything? Nothing much, if anything, at all. Only, perhaps, if we knew just a little about history, listen twice as much as we speak (two ears, one mouth, get it) and understood our own world we may just have the ability to focus on the important matters such as family, health, education, work, empowerment, critical thinking, communications, understanding, compassion, leadership, life-style, play, fun, laughter and everything else that has become an impediment to our society, culture and overall safety and well being.
By the way, the next time a Charlottesville event is scheduled anywhere in our country let’s have folks bring all the foods of their culture, nationality, ethnicity, religion and race and let the eating begin. Even those filled with hate will enjoy a good meal and leave wanting more of all that good stuff made, with LOVE, by those who they so ignorantly hate.
My solutions are all simple. Simple always works best. This is why folks get along with me since they like the simple things in life. Simply put: excuses explain failure while REASONS define SUCCESS.

Keep It Simple – Keep It Real

POWER UP YOUR POWER ‘CAUSE THE POWER IS IN YOU!!!

Marty

hamp73@gmail.com

 

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