Copyright 2018 by Kathryn Lynch
never forget the contributions that the “greatest
generation” of American GI's made to our country. We think
first of those who died and gave it their “all.” It is
easy to forget the GI's who were mechanics, cooks, supply personnel,
intelligence officers, or others who performed support services for
the soldiers in the trenches. This is a story about my Dad,
a military policeman. His small, enduring contribution to race
relations, is one of my fondest memories.
During the Second World War period, persons in the U.S.
who had dark skin were called negroes. For that reason the story
uses this term which was the one Dad used and knew.
By the time I reached the age of five, the
of the Dads in our neighborhood had been conscripted into the
military for service in World War II. My Dad was one of the ten
million men who served in that War for several years, but he was
lucky because he was never sent overseas to the Eastern or the
Instead, the U.S. Army decided to train him
as part of
the Military Police force at McClellan Army Base in Anniston,
Alabama. Dad was a big man, patient and slow to anger, sympathetic
and hard working. Although he would never acknowledge it in later
years, he was perfect for the job.
For nearly a year, he and another MP were
aircraft patrol. Sabotage of the planes was a continuing concern,
particularly after dark. Every night the pair walked back and forth
among the parked planes. Dad held the rifle and grenades, while the
other MP who was a canine officer, handled the dog. The dog was a
vicious beast who responded to attack training by searching for
anyone he could tear to pieces. Dad always felt the gun and
grenades would never be needed. And they were never used.
The next phase of duty required an MP to
patrol in the
community in order to maintain satisfactory relationships between
neighborhood residents and military inductees. Young soldiers who
had leave time often visited the local bars. If they became too
loud, obnoxious, hassled women, got into fights, or got too drunk, it
fell to the MP to load them into a military jeep for a ride back to
the base. These routines were less stressful than aircraft patrol,
often involving checks into relatively peaceful bars, followed by a
jeep ride to the next stop. For this reason, one MP did the job.
In 1943, while my Dad was assigned to the
he often parked in front of one bar, and walked to the next, in order
to spend more time outside in the neighborhoods. Alabama was
sweltering hot in the Summer and Dad had never been in the South
before. He was young, strong, and curious about his unfamiliar
He was born and raised in the small town of
Saco, Maine. Not one single “Negro” lived in Saco. When he reported
for basic training in Fort Devens Massachusetts, he saw them on the
base in the distance, but negroes were separated in their own units
away from the caucasian soldiers.
So it was, that as afternoon turned into
evening on a
particularly humid day, Dad walked through a “negro
neighborhood” on his way to the next bar. No one bothered the
big soldier as he passed by in full military uniform, wearing a
police badge, a large handgun and a billy club.
He came abreast of a revolving red, white
and blue pole,
the universal (but disappearing) sign of a barber shop. Needing a
haircut, he slipped inside where he was greeted by two white-coated,
nervous looking negro men who had obviously been too old for the
Draft. “Help you, Officer, Sir?”, said the older man.
need a haircut”, responded my Dad.
you is in the WRONG PLACE!”
know how to cut hair, don't you?”
And with that, Dad walked over to one of
chairs and sat down. It was clear that both barbers were sweating,
nervous, reluctant to touch this crazy Soldier Boy, who lay back with
his eyes closed. It was unlikely that either man had ever rendered
services to a white man.
It fell to the older man to do the job,
younger man ran for towels, tools, razors, soap, and drinks. The
service was second to none. They washed and dried Dad's hair before
it was cut. They cooled him down by placing rolled towels around
his head. Next, they gave him a shave with a straight razor, the
cold blade passing back and forth across his neck. Finally, his
fingernails were cut and smoothed with emory boards. It was the
“Pimp Job Special”, they told him, laughing aloud. “Nothing was too
good for a Soldier Boy”.
As the sun began to set, Dad noticed some
the store windows. A half dozen negro children had glued their eyes
to the glass, watching the barbers work on the “white man”. As time
passed, more and more children gathered outside the windows,
vying for the best view of the spectacle within. Just as my Dad had
limited contact with negroes, these children had experienced limited
contact with whites. Now at least thirty sets of eyes watched the
barbers they all knew work on the white soldier-policeman.
When they were done, the men indicated that
chase those little bastards away”. Dad went to the door of the
shop and opened it wide. “Come on in,”, he said, as the
children quickly surrounded him. Several picked up handfuls of his
hair which had fallen to the floor, examining its texture by rubbing
it back and forth between their fingers. A few of the older children
ran the palms of their hands over his newly shaven face, leaning in
close to examine his skin. He showed them his badge, explaining to
them the role of a military policeman. He emphasized the danger of
handguns and the proper use of the billy club.
was no charge. The barbers considered it their part of the war
As Dad left the shop, the children walked
with him and
behind him, much as the Pied Piper of old. Several did not abandon
the jaunt until Dad had reached the bar he was required to check in
the course of his duties.
Epilogue: Even though Dad related this
story often, he never seemed to see the
magnitude of what his efforts may have accomplished that day at the
didn't see it because he was, and he remained,
totally without any negative feelings about persons of another race.
never pass a barber shop without remembering his open and unlimited
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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