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By Pat Lisi – Southern Utah Vets Aid

Oh sure, I knew plenty of black Marines who huddled together playing their gigantic ‘boom boxes’ and who “diddy-bopped” down the road and had their own “ways” about them, both in attitude and language.  But you know what?  I knew one heck of a lot of “chucks” who were twice as bad, even to the point of malingering and also down right cowards.  In fact, the only Marine I ever knew over there who deserted was white.

 

We were on Operation Taylor Common in January, 1969 up in the Que Son Mountains operating up at around 850 feet.  There had been some activity for a day or two and a helicopter was called in to take out the dead, the wounded, and one bad malaria case.  Just as the bird was lifting off the LZ this white dude jumps up on the platform of the chopper and attempts to clamber aboard.  There was nothing wrong with the guy – he just had had enough of the operation and Vietnam in general and was going to go back to the rear (An Hoa Combat Base) and quit.

 

Our platoon commander, 1st Lt. William Kirkpatrick and the platoon sergeant, Sgt. Bruce Olson went after the chicken-hearted Marine and tossed him out of the helicopter 6 feet to the ground.  The lieutenant and sergeant piled out next and the bird was then airborne.  We had to put a ‘watch’ on the fleeing Marines for the night.  The next day it was time to move off Hill 850 and start patrolling down into the Arizona Valley.  The unmanageable Marine threw all of his gear to the ground (we had already confiscated any and all of his weapons) and simply stated that he wasn’t going anywhere with us.  Of course, his language wasn’t as simple as the way I just told you, but we honored his demand and the company moved out in single file.  I guess he was determined to stay, because no one from the company that I knew of ever saw him again.

 

I’m not going to deny that there was tension between blacks on one side and whites and Latinos on the other.  (Heck, we even had a Marine from Germany.  His name was Deter Vater who ended up KIA on November 3, 1969 as we assaulted a hamlet and walked into a fierce some ambush).  Tensions back in the United States including race riots had an effect on the military when the races were mixed in Vietnam.  I think there was plenty of prejudice from both camps to go around.

 

But, my philosophy was a simple one.  I didn’t care if a Marine was white, black, brown, red (we had Native Americans in the outfit), pink, green with yellow polka dots, blues stripes; hey, the only thing I cared about was, “Can you fight, will you fight, and do you have mine and everyone else’s backs when we go out into the bush and hunt down Charlie?”  Back in the rear, I don’t care if you drink too much beer and do a ‘number’ behind the tent with your buddies.  It was, “How are you gonna’ show in the field” that I was most concerned with.

 

My black buddy was Hiawatha Jackson.  Yes, that’s his real name and no, he wasn’t a Native America (Indian).  He was from Texas (still is).  Most importantly, he was one of my best friends in Vietnam and I’ll tell you why.

 

“Hi” always, and I mean every minute of every day that we spent in the field, had my back.  He was obviously a squared away Marine because he picked up rank fast.  When I met him he was a PFC and within three months he had made Corporal.  The officers liked him and they knew they could count on Hi to lead his fire team and eventually his squad on whatever the mission called for.  He never complained about anything and he treated every Marine on his teams the same, regardless of color.  Hiawatha saved my skin a couple of times.

 

Once, just a couple days after Deter Vater had been killed in November, 1968 our platoon was patrolling through a village when two air force jets roared onto the scene and promptly dropped ‘napes and snakes’ (napalm and bombs) directly onto our company.  It was Hi who instantly had the presence of mind to know which direction would be best for us all to duck for cover and he yelled at the top of his voice, “Ditch. Left!”  To our left was a drainage ditch that smelled like pig dung, full of mud, but well below ground level.  I was a fire team leader like Hiawatha, but his order was so emphatic and deliberate that both our teams unquestionably followed his command and into the crap we jumped!  As it turned out no one from either of our fire teams were injured in the “friendly fire”, but the third fire team of our squad was completely KIA or WIA, mostly from napalm.

 

I spent many a night with Hiawatha next to me in a foxhole.  The battle for Hill 100 back in October, 1968 was a great example of how Hi and I worked together during terribly stressful situations, under attack by a fierce enemy who was determined to kill us all.  Jackson and I pounded back at the NVA as they poured up Hill 100 in waves, tossing grenades into their ranks and using our M-16’s and claymores to keep them out of our fighting position.  Towards the end of the fight we had actually “fixed bayonets”.

 

Hiawatha left Nam a month before I did, as his tour of duty was up (July 1969).  He went back to Texas and we promised to keep in touch.  Of course, that fell by the wayside because both of us became kind of wandering souls for a few years after the war.  By pure chance his wife, Marcia, was going through the internet one night in early 2012 and she ran across my website: www.southernutahvetsaid.org  She opened up some of the stories in there and found one that talked about her husband, Hiawatha Jackson.  She called me on the phone to see if I knew her husband and the rest is history.  We reunited in Quantico VA in October, 2012 at an Echo Company gathering.  We now keep track of each other and in fact will all be together (with our wives) in Las Vegas in July.  It turns out Hi and Marcia has a condo there and has been using it for several years.

 

It saddens and irks me to hear people use the “N” word, because of the way I know Hiawatha Jackson.  That’s why I started this story the way I did.  There are good and not so good Negroes and there are good and not so good Caucasians in this world.  But I have to be very honest with you about something; I wouldn’t use the “N” word even when talking about a “black” who I think is a terrible Marine and a horrible person.  And I don’t even know a disparaging  expression to use when I think of a terrible white person; so why would I use one when talking about a black one?

 

When I hear people use the “N” word I think of how ignorant they are; I think about what it must have been like for them to grow up with a hatred in their heart for someone just because they don’t have the same color skin as them; I think of the backwards education they must have had and how they must have never been exposed to people from different cultures or diversities who were absolutely model Marines and citizens.

 

I know for a fact there are people in this great country of ours who hate President Obama simply because he is black.  Not everyone of course; some simply believe he has not been a good leader. The ones I’m talking about who hate the man due to his skin color are the ones who I hear using the “N” word as if it’s just part of their everyday vocabulary.  I’ve heard the “N” word used many times in Saint George and it sickens me.

 

Bottom line:  I would have gladly and without hesitation given my life for Hiawatha Jackson back in Vietnam, equally as much as I would have done for any of my white buddies or for any of my other black friends who were just like Hiawatha.  For the most part the malingerers and the cowards that I knew stayed back in An Hoa with all sorts of excuses and that was actually just fine with us.  The true warriors came to the field and fought together.  Prejudice was beat out of us with every firefight and with every sudden explosion when a booby trap would go off.  We patched each other’s wounds and solemnly prayed for our dead buddies back in An Hoa at memorial services.  It didn’t matter the color of the fallen Marines’ skin.

 

Hiawatha Jackson eventually became a minister in a small town near Houston, Texas.  He retired his ‘collar’ in 2010 after suffering a debilitating stroke.  He is a hero to me.

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