Studio 360 tonight (Public Radio) is about the autobiography of Malcomb X.
It turns out he is a hero of mine.
He was introduced to me by another hero of mine.
I wrote about that in Saigon 1967.
Here is that chapter.
“One of the enlisted men in 7AF DITD shared my outlook on the war effort. He had no use for it. Like me he was too proud to not do the work, but like me, he was willing to let anyone who was around him know that he thought it was stupid waste of time. As he let people know that, he did the work in a superior manner. He must have been consistent in his superior manner of doing things since the beginning of his enlistment because, still in his first term of enlistment, he had already made E4. That was not unheard of but it was only heard of in the case of consistently superior performers.
One of the maddening characteristics of the “war effort” was that there could be large expanses of time requiring little or no “effort”. In the midst of one of the high-level-visitor-from-somewhere-probably-Washington DC goat rodeos it was hard to remember that we weren’t always required to work fast, long and intently – on really stupid things. But there were times, sometimes seemingly most times, when there just wasn’t much to do. Even officers could run out of OPREP 4s to code or Certificates of Destruction to sign.
In those times I usually went to the Officers Club. So did most of the other officers in 7AF DITD.
But enlisted men, since they actually were the ones that knew how to do things, didn’t have that privilege. They had to stay behind, nose to the grindstone, even though many times there was no grindstone. One never knew when the grindstone would appear in the blink of an eye, and in such an eye blink, enlisted competence would be needed the moment the eye blink and accompanying grindstone appearance might occur.
There was a benefit to the enlisted men in this arrangement, however. That was that when things got quiet and sans grindstone, and the officers all disappeared, the enlisted men could do whatever they wanted until either the officers or a grindstone or both reappeared. That sort of equity made time go much faster, I was told in confidence by several sergeants in whom I had complete trust for accuracy and candor.
One day I was too lost in writing a letter to Ruth - my second or third for the day - that I hadn’t noticed the recent exodus of all my fellow officers. That left me there alone, the only source of potential irritation to the enlisted men in their otherwise officerless span of control of the war effort.
When I came up for air, psychologically speaking, I looked around and found myself alone with the massive enlisted corps.
“What the fuck” I thought to myself, and went back to writing.
That apparently marked me – to all the enlisted guys – as a nonconforming officer. But the one who apparently took special note was T. L. Davis, the guy that I mentioned at the outset of this story. I say he took special note, because, unlike the other men, he waited for me to come out of my letter writing coma again and started a conversation.
I don’t remember what we talked about. It must have been somewhat interesting, because I do remember talking with him for quite some time. And that first time set a pattern.
Whenever I found myself in need of a break from coding OPREP4s I either read a book, wrote a letter or talked to T.L. He was a really interesting person.
T.L. stood for Toussaint Louverture.
T.L. was from New York. He claimed to know Adam Clayton Powell. In the course of our conversations he recommended that I read a couple of books. They were both biographies. One was of Sammy Davis Jr. the other was of Malcolm X. Both were good books. The Malcolm X autobiography was life changing for me. Or at least it changed my mind completely about one utterly misrepresented human being and caused me to question the validity of most of what made up the body of fact that we all were brought up to know and accept as cornerstone truths.
T.L. was a singer.
He entered some sort of theatre wide armed forces talent contest and won in popular vocal and took second in classical vocal. It appeared to me the race card had been in play in the classical award. But who knew?
T.L. had a DEROS much before mine so after a time I lost a valuable conversation partner.
I got his address and sent him a letter a few weeks after he left, but I never heard back.
I had thought we were friends of some sort, but I guess that hadn’t been the case.”