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Training as a black officer...

How to correctly operate a howitzer

Annotation

Hairston was born on May 8th, 1922 in a log cabin just outside of Martinsville, Virginia. The cabin had a dirt floor. He stayed in Virginia for the first two years of his life. His parents got divorced and he moved to Connellsville, Pennsylvania. A product of public schooling, Hairston graduated high school in 1940. He does not remember a lot of discrimination directed at him. The town was small and Hairston and his family actually lived on the white side of town. He did what he could to make money, but in the end he was not getting ahead so he decided to join the Army. The recruiter kept telling him that he was "working on it." He did not realize that the armed forces were segregated and that he would have to wait for the recruiter to find an all black unit for him to join. Hairston wrote to every black unit in the country and every last unit replied in unison with, "no vacancy." The one unit that responded was a cavalry unit stationed at West Point. They were full as well but they knew of an opening in a medical unit. Hairston had expressed a desire to become a doctor before he joined the Army so this seemed like a good opportunity. He was warned that it was a difficult job but he did not care, he packed his bags and headed to West Point for an interview. They gave him a twenty question intelligence test. Hairston got nineteen of the twenty questions correct. From October of 1940 until February of 1941 Hairston stayed with the medical detachment. When the draft was instituted his unit was broken up and dispersed around the country. He ended up in Alexandria, Louisiana. His train ride was interesting. From New York to St. Louis the accommodations were wonderful and they could sit wherever they wanted on the train. In St. Louis they had to switch to a segregated train where the accommodations were not as homely. In Louisiana, Hairston got an education in segregation. As he got off of the train he overheard some white people say, "Well those look like a bunch of goddamn northern niggers, we need to teach them how to act down here." That was Hairston’s introduction to the South. He ended up applying for Officer Candidate School. He only applied for non combat positions. 

Annotation

Hairston ended up going into artillery school. The rest of the Army was segregated however OCS [Annotator’s Note: Officer Candidate School] was not. Halfway through OCS, the commanding officer of the class called him in to let him know that he was "too young" to be a lieutenant. Hairston convinced the man to let him stay in. He made it known to the officer that because of his life experiences he was a lot older than his listed age. Hairston asked a lot of questions since he did not know much about guns. He got through OCS and was assigned to Camp Robinson in Arkansas. October 15, 1942 was the date that he was commissioned second lieutenant of field artillery. He was assigned to the 92nd Infantry Division which was activated the same day. Since they were in the South [Annotator’s Note: the segregated American South] there were four camps in which black soldiers were told to go to. They did not want to have all of the blacks in one camp so they were spread out. That is how Hairston ended up at Camp Robinson. The Army made sure that black units had southern commanders. The ideology behind that was that a southern man would be more familiar with blacks thus he would be a more ideal candidate to lead them. It was policy in the 92nd Division that there would be no black officers who ranked above any other white officer. Hairston struggled with the amount of racism and in his words did not know how to "be servile" to a white population. He went to his commanding officer and that man ended up creating a job for him in the headquarter element of the command in order for Hairston to fit more appropriately into the unit. He remained a second lieutenant for two years and two months. 

Annotation

Hairston ended up at a camp 100 miles south of Tucson [Annotator’s Note: Arizona]. The camp was completely isolated. Just off of the post was a beer hall and a building to house prostitutes. The owner of the beer hall was asked to donate 25 of the rooms in the house for the black soldiers on the base. The beer hall owner was reluctant but gave in after they threatened to throw an off limits tag on the place. Hairston was one of the twenty five who ended up moving into the whorehouse. On one side of the building were 25 prostitutes; on the other side were 25 officers and their wives. One time Hairston was taking a shower and next to him one of the prostitutes was bathing. He makes note of the fact that when you’re 21 or 22, this is very interesting. Eventually the wives of the soldiers got upset and they ended up moving the prostitutes out of the building. Every night the officers got together what they called the, "pussy patrol" to maintain and keep order over the prostitutes. Whe Hairston was in Alexandria [Annotator’s Note: training in Louisiana] he remembers a time when he was walking down the street and everyone was looking at him funny. The only reason they were doing this was because Hairston had his side arm on him and they were not used to seeing a black man armed. He witnessed a fight in Alexandria that was started by a group of black Military Police officers. It was on a street packed with bars. He was near the edge of the crowd and was pushed away. As he fell the police opened fire on the crowd and killed a number of soldiers. Hairston makes note that there was no report to be made and still there is no report to be found on the incident.

Annotation

After the shooting [Annotator’s Note: white officers shooting black soldiers after fight in Louisiana] Hairston ended up going to a movie theater. He was scooped up by some MPs [Annotator’s Note: Military Police] and sent back to base. They were quarantined on the base for thirty days. After training at OCS [Annotator’s Note: Officer Candidate School] they went to Newport News, Virginia to be transported to Italy. Hairston makes note that there were a lot of German prisoners of war (POWs) in the area doing labor. The officers club in Newport News was off limits for black soldiers, yet German POWs were allowed in and out of the quarters. Hairston found it strange that they were being shipped off to kill Germans, yet in the United States a German POW still had higher social standing then blacks.Hairston arrived in Italy in October of 1944 at the port city of Livorno. His battalion, the 599th Field Artillery Battalion was a part of the combat team which included the 371st Infantry Regiment. As the commander of the 371st regiment led the 371st up to the front line to relieve the 370th, the men of the 371st were given the order to lock and load. They could not do so because they were not issued ammunition. Hairston was a forward observer in Italy. He got orders one day to lead a daylight patrol on the side of a mountain which was in full view of the enemy. One of Hairston's best friends was killed on the patrol after he stepped on a landmine. 

Annotation

The goal of the Allies in Italy was to hold up as many German divisions as possible so that they could not be used against the Allies in the invasion of France. On December 24th, 1943 Hairston and his men were briefed on a battle plan that was going to call for an attack. He did not agree with the plan and thought it to be nearly suicidal. He wrote a letter to his wife which he thought was going to be his last. The attack ended up being called off.Hairston was a part of the Battle of Chinqually Canal [Annotator’s Note: spelling unknown]. The Germans had mined both sides of the canal. The engineers were called in to clear the mines so that the tanks could be committed. After 6-8 tanks had come through the Germans opened up and knocked out the first tank. They then knocked out the back tank. Hairston was frustrated with this because of the stupidity of the plan. It was an ill conceived idea to try and drive tanks single file through a minefield with an enemy that held the advantageous high ground and could call in artillery whenever. Hairston provided artillery support for the attack. He makes note of the fact that combat put added stress onto his unit because they did not have replacements. There simply were not enough black soldiers being trained and sent through the pipeline to reinforce the black units.The Nisei regiment was an all Japanese American regiment that served in World War II. Some of these soldiers had family members who were subjected to the internment camps on the West Coast. They came to a mountain which went up on a 45 degree angle with a sheer cliff on the back which led to a stream. The morning of the attack on the mountain the Nisei Regiment snuck around to where the creek was, climbed up the mountain, and when they Germans awoke there was an entire group of men behind them. After that the war moved rather rapidly. 

Annotation

The war ended on May 8th, 1945. Coincidentally it was Hairston's birthday. It was also Truman's [Annotator’s Note: President Harry Truman] birthday. Hairston has great respect for Truman because in World War I Truman commanded artillery in Europe and in World War II, Hairston commanded an artillery battery. Truman knew what it was like to be a combat soldier. He also signed the executive order that desegregated the armed services.After World War II there was pressure all over, particularly fro the NAACP [Annotator’s Note: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] to integrate the armed forces. There was a decorated black officer who was killed in North Carolina by the KKK [Annoator’s Note: Ku Klux Klan]; this upset President Truman so much that he signed the executive order to have the armed forces desegregated. Hairston recognizes that things in the military were a lot different then as opposed to how they are now. When he was in the service segregation and racism abounded. Now, Hairston points out, there are prominent black men in leadership positions all across the armed forces. He believes that World War II helped the desegregation of the armed forces. In 1949 Hairston recalls an incident when he was on occupation duty in Japan. His regiment was about to be called into action in Korea yet numerous commanders tried to say that the 24th division was combat ineffective because they were black. Rules changed, but sometimes attitudes took a little longer to follow suit. Hairston goes on to cite an example of how George Washington was generous and kind to his slaves after he died.

Annotation

Hairston was puzzled how in World War I and World War II, African Americans were labeled as being inefficient soldiers. He goes on to cite numerous examples of blacks being successful in combat roles, most notably the exploits of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment in the Civil War. He also makes the point that today the most integrated part of our society is the military and it is working just fine.Hairston remembers that in the 1960's if you saw a black man walking with a white woman everyone would stare. Nowadays according to him, "Nobody gives a damn." This is where he relives in the glory of what he did and what it meant for the civility of America. Hairston helped to organize the march on Washington for the Civil Rights Movement. One of the big issues was the prevention of violence which would have invariably discredited the entire movement. Hairston organized the marchers into a military style system i.e. squads, battalions, platoons etc... This was to ensure that there was order among all of the people so that there was no violence. All of the commanders were given radios so they could coordinate. Hairston should have gone to Vietnam, but since he was a combat veteran of two wars and he was going to law school he was able to get out of it. He was able to successfully write five letters that described his situation as a student and it kept him from going to Vietnam. When Hairston retired he had a law degree and was halfway through a second degree. He got a job at the IRS [Annotator’s Note: Internal Revenue Service]. Hairston was given the opportunity to interview with various branches of the IRS. He chose to work with the Criminal Tax division because the man in charge fought in World War II as well. He felt comfortable working with a former soldier.

Annotation

When Hairston was in Italy he received and gave favorable treatment from and to the Italians. He felt that the black men who served had no desire to treat anyone how they were treated back in the United States. As a result, the black men treated the Italians with great respect. There were cases however when soldiers would rape and kill locals, but for the most part Hairston and his men tried to do the right thing and most of the time they did. There was a lot of local interaction with the Italians. There were a lot of affairs, hook ups, and relationships that took place. Hairston makes a comment that, "Women fall in love with men, not countries." This was especially true for the women who fell in love with German soldiers. These women were persecuted after the Allies had freed Italy. The women had their hair shaved off. Hairston witnessed an Italian man who had cooperated with the Germans beaten to death with a baseball bat. He stood by helpless because it was not within his jurisdiction. His unit also had a little twelve or thirteen year old boy who tagged along with the unit. He may have been an orphan but either way Hairston and his men embraced the child and even had him run around doing odd jobs for the men. Hairston notes that the same thing happened with Korean children because they really "liked our chocolate."

Annotation

Hairston operated a Howitzer during the war. He notes that artillery is never really precise. There were a lot of factors that contribute to a shell reaching or not reaching its desired target. The atmosphere can even affect shell trajectories. Rain, wind, heat, and other factors come into play when attempting to call in accurate artillery. "Battery Adjust!" is the first call that signifies shooting is about to happen. When the seven men on a gun hear this they ready themselves. The next order lets the men know what kind of shell they are supposed to use. There are smoke shells, high explosive shells, armor piercing, white phosphorous and so forth. Then they are instructed what charge to use, every round has seven charges. If they only need five the instruction goes out to cut two charges. If a soldier in the rush of battle cuts three when he needs to cut two, the round will be short. Depending on the atmosphere and the competency of the crew, not a lot needs to happen in order to mess something up and cause a short round. Attacks usually start with an artillery barrage to soften up the enemy. Hairston enjoyed "Time on Target" missions. These would occur if a large group of soldiers or tanks were spotted. The coordinates get conveyed to the headquarters. If the battalion commander agrees with the orders it moves up the chain of command. The coordinates indicating where the enemy is going to be and at what time, is given to a lot of guns. So as the enemy reaches that target on time they are met with a mass of artillery. Hairston says these missions were a forward observer’s dream. He had two or three ‘time on target’ missions in Italy. Each man on the gun has to be trained and cross trained so that each man knows the responsibilities of everyone on the gun crew. This was important so that everyone would be on the same page. Hairston's number two man scared him. The number two man on a gun crew is responsible for loading the shells into the breach and clos it. His number two man was slightly careless in how he threw the shells in the breech. The men on the gun trusted him so Hairston decided to let it be.

Annotation

Hairston notes that there was a lot of competition between the artillery batteries [Annotator’s Note: during combat in Italy]. When the guns were moved into position they had to be focused in on the general area of the target. When that was done Hairston would yell out, "Charlie battery ready to fire." This would be repeated up and down the line and it turned into a contest of who could get ready the quickest. One time he and his battery were navigating a narrow coastal road. They were under orders to maintain radio silence. As he turned a corner a German battery began to fire on his unit. Hairston broke radio silence and his friend from battery A got the information and provided cover fire so he could escape.When Hairston got back from Italy the 92nd Division was deactivated. It was an interesting dilemma because the Army was still segregated yet these men had combat experience. They were sent to an infantry training center in Alabama. Hairston was assigned to the company but did little work that was directly involved with the company. He was eventually sent to Ft. Knox which used to be a tank post. At Ft. Knox he was not allowed to let his daughter enroll in the elementary school on base because she was black. Hairston complained and had a staff car sent to his house every morning and it would pick his daughter up and take her to school some 30 miles away. In 1946 he got tired of moving around and attempted to enroll in flight school.

Annotation

Hairston was sent to Randolph Field in Texas to learn how to fly [Annotator’s Note: after the end of World War II]. From there he went to Ft. Sill to learn how to be an artillery spotter and flyer. He had trouble getting promoted in air school. In 1951 he saw a poster that was advertising for fighter pilots. He went in to apply to be a fighter pilot. The officer that was expecting him thought he would be white so when Hairston walked in the officer said, "We do not need any more nigger pilots. He applied to be a helicopter pilot. He went through the training and became the first black helicopter pilot. He flew fixed wing and propeller helicopters. He also flew the infamous bubble helicopter that was made famous on M*A*S*H. Hairston evacuated wounded soldiers from the frontline and brought them back to the hospital. He enjoyed this duty because there was good food and American women that, "you could not do anything with but at least you could look at them." Hairston learned how to recognize incoming artillery during his time with the 92nd [Annotator’s Note: 92nd Infantry Division in Italy]. Judging on the sound and the pitch of an incoming shell, he and his men quickly learned to figure out when they were in trouble. He disliked mortars because of their trajectory and the lack of sound they made in the air. His experience in World War II was one of a typical ground soldier, in Korea however Hairston was able to sleep on sheets at night and play poker. They were two vastl different experiences.

Annotation

During the last few days of the war there was very little action. Most of the Germans were figuring out a way to surrender or get away. Every now and then Hairston had to deal with mistrust because he was a black man. White officers would constantly try to double check the credibility of what he was saying. His unit liberated a winery in Italy and got drunk. He did not drink, so he did not partake.Hairston enlisted in 1940 before Pearl Harbor came around. During the attack he was on base in Louisiana. There was a building that had a walkway on it. An officer walked out onto the walkway and asked for silence. He then broke the news to the men that they were at war. As a private it did not mean much to Hairston. They listened to the news but did not realize the significance of being at war. He believes that it is important to study the tactics of wars and apply those lessons to the current conflict. It is important to know what people did in terms of how the future generations go about warfare. Hairston believes that World War II will not be able to provide tactical lessons to future generations because those tactics constantly change.

Annotation

Recently Hairston went to artillery OCS [Annotator’s Note: Officer Candidate School] to learn how today's generations are trained. The first thing they did made him realize how much had changed. He was shown a room where aspiring artillery trainees learned how to operate lasers. In World War II Hairston did not use ear protection once. In today's army soldiers who operate around loud equipment are required to wear ear protection. He believes that it is important to have museums like the World War II Museum because America loves to know where it has been. Since America remembers we are less likely to make the same mistakes twice.

Annotation

People in combat are people in combat. Hairston does not believe in women in combat. He is the father of 4 daughters and 4 granddaughters. His youngest daughter was a Major in the army. He believes that women should not be in combat because of the probability that they would be raped. The nuclear bomb is Armageddon to Hairston. He felt good when the Iron Curtain fell. The threat in Russia was that someone was going to make a mistake and it was all going to come to an end. There are a lot of countries with nuclear weapons now and any misstep is going to end the world. Hairston never trusts his enemies. He hopes his interview serves a purpose. He believes when the armed services were integrated, it kicked off the Civil Rights movement.

Annotation

Hairston ended up going into artillery school. The rest of the Army was segregated however OCS [Annotator’s Note: Officer Candidate School] was not. Halfway through OCS, the commanding officer of the class called him in to let him know that he was "too young" to be a lieutenant. Hairston convinced the man to let him stay in. He made it known to the officer that because of his life experiences he was a lot older than his listed age. Hairston asked a lot of questions since he did not know much about guns. He got through OCS and was assigned to Camp Robinson in Arkansas. October 15, 1942 was the date that he was commissioned second lieutenant of field artillery. He was assigned to the 92nd Infantry Division which was activated the same day. Since they were in the South [Annotator’s Note: the segregated American South] there were four camps in which black soldiers were told to go to. They did not want to have all of the blacks in one camp so they were spread out. That is how Hairston ended up at Camp Robinson. The Army made sure that black units had southern commanders. The ideology behind that was that a southern man would be more familiar with blacks thus he would be a more ideal candidate to lead them. It was policy in the 92nd Division that there would be no black officers who ranked above any other white officer. Hairston struggled with the amount of racism and in his words did not know how to "be servile" to a white population. He went to his commanding officer and that man ended up creating a job for him in the headquarter element of the command in order for Hairston to fit more appropriately into the unit. He remained a second lieutenant for two years and two months. 

Annotation

Hairston operated a Howitzer during the war. He notes that artillery is never really precise. There were a lot of factors that contribute to a shell reaching or not reaching its desired target. The atmosphere can even affect shell trajectories. Rain, wind, heat, and other factors come into play when attempting to call in accurate artillery. "Battery Adjust!" is the first call that signifies shooting is about to happen. When the seven men on a gun hear this they ready themselves. The next order lets the men know what kind of shell they are supposed to use. There are smoke shells, high explosive shells, armor piercing, white phosphorous and so forth. Then they are instructed what charge to use, every round has seven charges. If they only need five the instruction goes out to cut two charges. If a soldier in the rush of battle cuts three when he needs to cut two, the round will be short. Depending on the atmosphere and the competency of the crew, not a lot needs to happen in order to mess something up and cause a short round. Attacks usually start with an artillery barrage to soften up the enemy. Hairston enjoyed "Time on Target" missions. These would occur if a large group of soldiers or tanks were spotted. The coordinates get conveyed to the headquarters. If the battalion commander agrees with the orders it moves up the chain of command. The coordinates indicating where the enemy is going to be and at what time, is given to a lot of guns. So as the enemy reaches that target on time they are met with a mass of artillery. Hairston says these missions were a forward observer’s dream. He had two or three ‘time on target’ missions in Italy. Each man on the gun has to be trained and cross trained so that each man knows the responsibilities of everyone on the gun crew. This was important so that everyone would be on the same page. Hairston's number two man scared him. The number two man on a gun crew is responsible for loading the shells into the breach and clos it. His number two man was slightly careless in how he threw the shells in the breech. The men on the gun trusted him so Hairston decided to let it be.

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