A book whose time has come again “No, I’ve never heard of the Red Ball Express,” answered the confident yet soft spoken Lt. Colonel.
Should I have been surprised? I wasn’t sure. By the time the Red Ball Express trucks began their most dangerous and crucial supply runs to General Patton’s quickly advancing troops in Europe, our victory was dependent on their delivery of essential war materiel. That was August 21, 1944.
Eighty-two days later the Red Ball mission ended. 75% of its drivers had been Afro Americans, men whose patience with America and bravery under fire as they drove their trucks non stop 24 hours a day was proven again and again.
I’ve had the good fortune to meet one of the Red Ball drivers as a result of a random conversation we had while he was shopping at my store. He admitted how frightened he was at times, especially when bombs were falling and wreckage blocked the roads. How I wished we could have videoed our conversation!
Or the one I had with the Lt. Colonel. He’d returned home from his second or third tour in Iraq. After his son’s wedding in September, he will return to help direct our troops’ exit. He and I talked about that too.
As he was leaving, I asked if he would come to my Humanities class on Friday, in uniform if possible. Chances are that he will. Although I asked him to speak about America’s role in Iraq, he indicated that he might be interested in listening to my lecture about Islam although I warned him that our State Department might not agree with my politically incorrect remarks.
Not until near the end of my work day was I distracted from thoughts about my presentation on Friday. On that slow business day, one customer’s comment to me that he “needed a few new suits” snapped me back to my job as salesman.
At sixty five, and about 6‘ 2”, my customer, an associate minister, appeared athletic and broad shouldered. Friendly and talkative, Rev. Culley and I quickly discovered a common interest: golf. I knew how good he was for two reasons; he’d parred the professional course at Goodyear and he’d played with many of the other Afro American golfers I’d come to revere.
“Ever play with Tyrone Robertson?” I asked, the longest hitter I’ve ever known.
“Oh yeh,” he said, then named a few of the other stellar black golfers he’d linked with. “I used to caddy at Tuscarora,” he told me. “They’d let us play on Mondays.”
Long ago, despite being the only private course in Danville that admitted Jews, Tuscarora was segregated. “I fought against that,” I told the reverend. “Whenever there was a member guest tournament, I’d get Tyrone to be on my team. All of the Tuscarora members knew him and respected him. Why they were and are segregated I still can’t comprehend.”
He just laughed about that. I asked whether he remembered another minister, Rev. Doyle Thomas.
“Reverend Thomas and I decided to integrate Tuscarora,” I told Culley. “When I found a share of stock for sale, I bought it, then sold it to him. That meant he was automatically a member.”
Culley seemed surprised.
“But when the execs at the club found out, they quickly held a meeting to change the by-laws. Owning a share of stock no longer meant someone was a member. They had to be voted in. The value of each member’s stock plummeted.”
We laughed about that since it seemed so long ago. Neither Culley nor I played much anymore. “I hit a bucket of balls now and then at the driving range at Goodyear,” he told me.
He’d retired from there, his day job, not long ago.
“Tyrone works in the pro shop,” he said.
“I’d love to see him,” I said. “Maybe you’ll call me when you want to hit some balls. I’d love that.”
“Me too,” he said, as I handed him my card.
That was yesterday, not Yesterday as in decades ago, but just a few dozen hours ago. It mattered to me that there was still much to be done to finish the process of integration although the golf course issue was of much less concern now. Private courses that held on to their exclusionary rules had lost membership; their greens were dying. Public courses, much more affordable, were just as appealing and much less expensive.
Culley knew that, just as the Lt. Colonel knew that America no longer held back its black soldiers. I felt good being around those men. I told both of them about my encounter with the most perverse segregation, that of our schools during the Civil Rights era.
“I wrote a book about it, No Gold Stars, based on my memoir, when I integrated the school system in Greenville, SC, at Rev. Jesse Jackson’s alma mater. There’s a signed testimonial from him on the back cover. And it’s available from Amazon books.”
They wanted to buy a copy. I thanked each of them for that.
“After you’ve read it,“ I suggested, “let’s compare notes.”
They liked that idea too. All of us agreed that nothing beats a good read.