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2 “This Is Your Father” My search for my father’s war began long before that Oc­to­ber day in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. It began, perhaps, as long ago as a sultry August day in 1953, with a five-­year-­ old girl perched high on the swing set, her hair tangled and her clothes covered with the red clay of Georgia, holding a rubber knife in her mouth, a wolf-­ child, wild and wide-­ eyed, and with a handsome man in uniform suddenly materializing in her yard. “Come down from there,” he called out. “You might fall.” I just sat there watching him, puzzled and defiant. “Carolyn, come down from there now,” my mother ordered. “Listen to your father!” I hesitated, looked down at the two of them, and took my precious knife out of my mouth. “No, he is not,” I cried out. “My father is in the picture on the mantle in the living room.” Most of my life, my father remained inscrutable. Why was he always leaving, and why was he so deliriously happy when he returned? What did he do in the “war,” a word that had the force for me of a great mystery? Over the years, both as a child and later as an historian trained in the methods of oral history, I asked questions about that war in an attempt to better understand his experience, his world, his war. And these questions led me on a journey: across the southern U.S., to places like Chattanooga, Tennessee; Cartersville, Georgia; and Aiken, South Carolina; but also to Wash­ ing­ ton, D.C.; Ft. Huachuca, Arizona; Carlisle, Pennsylvania ; Magnolia, New Jersey; and to the hill towns and valleys of Tuscany. They also led to the po­ liti­ cal and social landscape of U.S. history, as I explored the ways in which my father’s war was inextricably tied to the lives of the black Buffalo Soldiers and to the fraught terrain of race relations in the United States. Who was Eugene Edwin Johnston? Was he a bigot and racist, mired in the culture of segregation into which he was born? Was he a man of integrity and courage ? A coward? What was his relation to the black Buffalo Soldiers? How was he shaped by that encounter, and how was he remembered? How should he be remembered ? What began as a search for my father’s war has become the story of the Buffalo Soldiers in the Second World War. Like many of the children of the “greatest generation,” I set out to learn, in the 8 / Chapter 2 words of Stuart Yamane, the son of a soldier in the 100th/442nd: “What ordinary men were capable of, and in the context of history they became bigger than life, but their ‘ordinariness’ within that context is what’s truly humbling . . . and in a strange way empowering. I can’t help but wonder (hope?) that whatever it was in them might be in all of us.”1 Yet my father, I would also learn, had an unusual vantage point as one of the three hundred white officers in the only African Ameri­ can division to engage in infantry combat in Europe during World War II. On his dress uniform were his medals: one Combat Infantry Badge, two Combat Medals for Gallantry, a Purple Heart, and a Bronze Star with an Oak Leaf Cluster. His long military career spanned the Italian campaign in World War II; intelligence work to smuggle a German rocket scientist out of Austria; further intelligence work in Eastern Europe during the Cold War; service in Taiwan, Quemoy, and Matsu in the late fifties ; service on a ship going to Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis; and an extended mission in Thailand to prepare a staging base for the Vietnam War. He grew up poor in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and went on to meet Charles Lindberg , Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Chiang Kai-­ Shek, and the king and queen of Thailand. His life intersected with major turning points in U.S. foreign policy of the twentieth century. In this story of an ordinary sol5 . Left to right: Sharon Knox and Carolyn Johnston, Cartersville, Georgia, ca. 1953. Photograph courtesy of Carolyn Johnston. “This Is Your Father” / 9 dier lie all the drama, turmoil, racial conflict, violence, and heroism of the century . But it was his experience in the 92nd Division that set his career in motion and that defined him as...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780817386207
Related ISBN
9780817317683
MARC Record
OCLC
809774624
Pages
228
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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