BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — African- Americans have been serving in the military since the United States was formed but the honor and respect for putting on the uniform weren’t always given to them.
However, bad treatment hasn’t stopped them from choosing to join different branches.
“The thing that helped me get through is the ideals of our nation was in the front of my head. Embrace the ideals of our nation. now the ideals of our nation are bigger than the ideas of individuals,” said retired Air Force Colonel Clint Wallace.
Wallace joined the Air Force in 1974 after getting his degree from Tuskegee University.
He says his inspiration to join the military actually came from the original Tuskegee Airmen.
“For the first semester, ROTC was mandatory. We got into the class and the first week we were there, a couple of the original Tuskegee Airman came by to talk to us and I was sold,” he said.
While there were still racial struggles going on in the country, Wallace said he knew his mind was made up.
“These men had a character that spoke before they opened their mouths and when they started to share their stories, I was 100% in. What I really wanted to do was take advantage of an opportunity to support and continue that legacy.”
Another veteran who also knew the military brought great opportunity is retired Army soldier Darryl Hooks.
He, too, signed up for service after finishing college in 1983. He graduated from Florida A&M University in Tallahassee.
“I looked at is an opportunity out of college. I looked at it as a way to get some employment, some experience, the military teaches you leadership, teaches you responsibility and instills discipline in you,” Hooks said.
Hooks said his father was also in the service and heard stories of bad treatment from him. However, that didn’t deter his decision process.
“My father experienced a whole different experience than I did so my father was a big advocate of me joining the military, even though he had to go through that but he said the military is a good organization son and they treated me good. When I joined the ROTC, he just looked at me and said, that’s the best decision you ever could’ve made. The best decision you ever could’ve made”
While treatment for African- Americans weren’t always equal in communities or military, both of these veterans say their experience was a good one. They do have stories of racial tension in uniform that stick with them to this day.
Wallace says his story comes from a time when the military first started to do active drug testing.
“Every two months or so, I would be randomly selected for drug testing so I went in and told them, I was joking with the technician and said my name must be random because I come up every cycle. He says, ‘sir, I’m going to be honest with you. You’re black, you’re always happy and you always have a smile on your face and nothing that anyone has ever done to you or tried to do to you in terms of supporting you or making it tough for you, seems to impact you so they have concluded that the only way you could be like that is you must be on drugs because that’s what black people do.”
Hooks says his story comes from an equal opportunity course he and the other soldiers had to take when he was at Fort Hohenfels in Germany.
“There were 10 of us in the class and there was a young white soldier from Kentucky, or maybe I think it was Tennessee and the instructor was extremely smart and brilliant. She put on the blackboard ‘I’ and you had to fill that in 10 times. ‘I like sports, I like football.’ His ‘I’ said ‘I don’t like mixed marriages. I don’t mingle with people of other races and ethnicity.’ Obviously, that stirred up a heated discussion and debate but he was giving us his experience of the little small community he grew up in,” Hooks said.
Even though the two men had these experiences, their time in the military shaped them to be the men they are today.
“I was fighting to be the best soldier that I could be because what you do and your performance and consistency over time is the real standard of measure. Excellence will find its own way and as Dr. King said, truth pressed to earth will rise again and with all of these things in my psyche, just kept pressing,” Wallace said.
Wallace retired in 2003 and Hooks retired in 1993.