Thurman P. Woodfork and Anthony W. Pahl

RACISM AND REJECTION
Reminiscences… and Reminders

G’day Woody,

During my youth (after I joined the RAAF but before I went to Vietnam – around mid 1968 to mid 1969) I supplemented my income by working at the local RSL Club (similar to the American VFW) in Windsor as a drink waiter. I had the absolute pleasure of meeting the Drifters, Winifred Atwell, The Platters, and several other famous American singing artists and groups. I recall one of the Drifters (I can’t remember which one) saying to me (remember the year and the fact that I was only 18), that he couldn’t get over how welcome he always felt during his visits and how strange he felt being able to sit at the same bar and use the same toilets as the patrons of the clubs. His words really hit home particularly as it was so soon after the death of Martin Luther King in January 1968. Until then, we Australians really didn’t appreciate the extent to which racism was so ingrained in the America psyche. From that time, I’ve never forgotten the whelming of tears in that bloke’s eyes, and his words, and I think I’m a better person for having heard and witnessed that.

As an aside, it was a terrible fact that before I went to Vietnam, I was welcome as a patron and employee of the RSL Club, but upon return from the “Conflict”, not only could I not join as a full, affiliate, or honorary member, I was barred from entering any club premises, as were most Vietnam Veterans. These days, Vietnam Veterans run the Clubs because the WW2 blokes are too old to do so.

Cheers my friend – Merry Christmas!

I’m reminded of an incident that took place in Mississippi in 1957. I had returned to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, MS to take an advanced radar course. At that time, it was called 7 Level School. Anyway, I had a ‘57 Ford Fairlane 500 two-door hardtop; jet black, with a gold stripe down the side and black and gold upholstery; very tasteful. Actually, it looked a lot better than it sounds; there wasn’t that much gold in the upholstery. One evening, some white friends and I, having managed to get ourselves fairly well smashed on 3.2 beer, decided to go for a drive.

Naturally, somebody got hungry, and we stopped for a hamburger. I, of course, being drunk but not stupid, remained in the car and told them to bring me a hamburger. My friends insisted that I come with them, which I refused to do. As I said, I was drunk, but not stupid. So they decided not to go into the hamburger joint, saying they wouldn’t eat there if I couldn’t. Need I point out that these were Northern boys?

I remember driving down the highway, all of us singing ‘Stouthearted Men’ at the top of our lungs. Lord knows where we were headed, but God looks out for drunks and fools (sometimes). We eventually wound up on Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, where one of the guys was stationed. How we got there in one piece is a miracle, because I also remember doing about 90 mph at one point in our journey with the guy sitting beside me steering the car while I manned the gas and brakes. It was a long, hung-over drive back to Keesler, semi-sober.

We did get the hamburgers – at my friend’s radar site. Ah, Youth.