Remembering Ray Eurquhart, a Lifelong Activist Radicalized in the MilitaryBreaking News
tags: civil rights, military history, African American history, Vietnam War, desegregation
So the basic training was rough. I said, "Mama, I'm not going to make it." Because I didn't like the way they talked to you. Didn't like the use of the N word. Then again it was structured. The guys who came from Berkeley and other colleges who had had the deferments, they were the guys they called the Red Ropes, squadron leaders and all of that.1 They were certainly a lot more mature.
I learned 30 years later that there was this whole battle in the streets around this whole question of blacks and Latinos being killed in large numbers on the front lines. So people in the street, SNCC, NAACP, CORE, on and on and on, were raising hell about that. That forced the U.S. Department of War or whatever to come up with this plan to integrate the other areas of the military, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines and all that. A lot of folks don't realize that the Marines did not have a lot of color back in that day. So I found out watching PBS this documentary on McNamara, and I think he was the secretary of Defense then, but they had this thing. Came on and said "McNamara's 100,000 morons."2 Something hit me like, ooh that sounds like me there. So I was watching. It was just an experiment that they had in bringing what they would call "strange elements" into these other military forces. Also, what they mean by the strange elements was they were bringing a lot of working class and poor people into a branch of services that had never had people of color in large numbers, period. Then you bring all these working-class and poor elements there. And it wasn't working because they wouldn't take orders. Because this was the time of the black liberation movement, civil rights movement coming together, and folks were just militant. They didn't know their place, and they were constantly carving it out. So now you're confronted with the street violence at the White House forcing you to bring these folks into the Navy, the Marines, the Air Force, and it was total chaos. So, I was part of that.
During basic training would you have had any kind of thoughts on the war at that time?
Already you had had some type of an analysis?
I think I knew I wasn't going over there to fight. We did training with Vietnamese. So, one day we were going to some special training, and the thing kind of hit you and I said, "Whoa." So, I was talking to my trainer. He said "We're Vietnamese. We're getting special training." I said, "Ain't we supposed to be preparing to kill you?" Kind of like that. So, we were friendly. You know the thing. So, then you're in basic training, you don't read the paper. You don't read anything. So, I was like, umm, what is this about? So that was kind of strange that we were going to go over there and fight the Vietnamese, and then we were training the Vietnamese over here who look like the folks we're going to go over there and fight.
So then you know you've got some of these kids from Berkeley and all these other places who are part of the what they call the Free Speech Movement.3 So they're beginning to talk and stuff and you're kind of carving out some ground trying to see through this thing.
You're meeting some activists then?
Well, meeting some people who come out of Berkeley. I don't think they necessarily were activists. But they had exposure to it. You start asking them questions. They've got these ideas and like to talk about them. So, after you come out of basic training, you've got more freedom. You can start reading the papers and keeping up with stuff. But the biggest thing you're dealing with there is the racism of just being a person of color — I think it was about 11 of us of maybe 1,100 people. So, you know that the N word slips out. I was a troublemaker, and I think one night some guys put some sheets over their head and come in there to try to harass me.
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