Below are the wartime thoughts of David
Parks, a Black man, who served in Vietnam. They are taken from
Young and Black in America published in 1970 by Random
House. This book contains essays by among others Malcolm X,
Daisy Bates, Richard Wright and Harry Edwards. It is my
intention, God willing, to place all these essays on our
website. This, of course, will take some time. But, in light of
the current military conflict with Iraqi, I thought that the
essay by Brother Parks should be presented first.
The Introduction by Julius
Lester to David Parks' Letters
In every war in which America has engaged,
blacks have been willing soldiers. During the Revolutionary War,
blacks fought at Bunker Hill, Yorktown, and every other famous
battle site. Blacks crossed the Delaware with Washington and when
Paul Revere rode through the streets yelling “The British are
coming!” he woke up black Minutemen as well as white.
Blacks fought and died in the War of 1812. They
fought with Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans, and
Jackson afterwards maintained that the city would have been lost
except for black troops. They fought in the Civil War, and after
that war there were black cavalry regiments who fought Indians in
the West. Black soldiers ran up San Juan Hill ahead of Theodore
Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in the Spanish American War and were
highly praised by him afterwards. World War I, World War II, the
Korean War, and the War in Vietnam all saw the participation in
great numbers of black soldiers, who--almost without exception--fought
well, fought hard, and fought long.
Yet blacks have always participated in
America’s wars with mixed feelings. At home they were
discriminated against. To many it seemed contradictory that they
should fight and risk their lives to insure the freedom of a
country that allowed them no freedom. But they also thought if
they proved themselves willing to defend such a country, it would
be more difficult to discriminate against blacks. How could
America refuse to extend all the rights and privileges of
citizenship to a people who fought for the country?
With the war in Vietnam, the thinking of many
young black men changed. David Parks was one of them. The son of a
distinguished black writer-photographer-composer, Gordon Parks,
David grew up differently from most blacks. His father was famous
and affluent. David knew no poverty and hardly any discrimination.
When he was drafted at the age of twenty-one, he went without the
slightest hesitation. He was aware that there were many blacks
calling the war in Vietnam a “white man’s war.” He knew that
blacks had been shot down in the streets of American cities by
policemen and National Guardsmen during the urban rebellions. But
went, because he was an American and believed in America.
His two-year tour of duty in Vietnam changed
the way David looked at himself and America. On the battlefields
of Vietnam, fighting alongside white soldiers, he learned about
racism and discrimination. It was everywhere, even in the very
fact of the war itself!
David kept a diary of his Army life. When he
was discharged from the service in 1967, at the suggestion of his
father he used the diary as the basis for a short, intense book.
G.I. Diary was published the following year. In the selection
reprinted here, David describes the treatment he and other black
soldiers suffered at the hands of white soldiers and officers and
his reactions to it. It seems ironic that it was while he was
fighting for the alleged freedom of the South Vietnamese that he
learned just how little freedom he himself had.
* * * * *
David’s Diary Letters
January 31, 1967
The FO’s* job is one of the hairiest in a mortar platoon.
He’s on more patrols because an FO is required to be with the
patrolling squads at all times, and there are only three FO’s to
cover sixteen squads. The odds are against him. Sgt. Paulson
hand-picks men for the job. So far he’s fingered only Negroes
and Puerto Ricans for this job. I think he’s trying to tell us
something. I do known he gives me a sour look every times he sees
me at the FDC** controls. Every time he comes around I get the
feeling that I should have been born white. It’s a bitch. If
only the Souls*** and Puerto Ricans could tell the world what
really happens to them in this man’s army. We do receive more
than our share of the shit.
*Forward Observer—Many Black Vietnam
soldiers said that the term stood for Fucked Over.—Amin Sharif
** Fire Direction
*** Souls -reference to Soul Brothers!
* * * * *
February 2, 1967
The biggest laugh I’ve had lately was when I
was on radio watch the other night and Paulson thought he’s
sneak up on the radio tent and catch me napping. I heard a grunt
and thud and looked out to see Paulson spread-eagled on the
ground. I knew just what he was up to and burst out laughing. I
really cracked up. Paulson was so ticked off all he did was get up
and walk away. Paulson really is an ass. He’s always telling me
that Negroes are lazy and won’t help themselves, etc. I tell him
he’s full of shit and end up filling sandbags.
Whitey is the same throughout this whole damn
organization. Somehow I though it would be different this time.
Especially over here, where survival is the thing. But that seems
to cut no ice with Mister Pale. All souls in the platoon are
beginning to gripe, but not enough as far as I’m concerned. Lt.
Alden, the platoon leader, usually calls us Negroes “you
people.” Zerman, a Jewish cat from New York is hip to what is
happening, but he’s got his own problems. Sgt. Golas changes
with the weather. Sometimes he’s human. At other times he
treats Souls like dirt. What the hell. Maybe it’s the pressure.
Ten more months of this crap. These guys bug me
more than Charlie. I’m learning one hell of a lesson in here.
Whitey’s a good teacher.
The handwriting is definitely on the wall.
Paulson says I’m not figuring the FDC data fast enough. Getting
my walking boots ready.
* * *
February 9, 1967
Just got kicked out of my beautiful FDC job.
The good Sgt. Paulson strikes again. He gave me the news with a
smile. I am now Forward Observer Parks, attached to the First
Platoon command track. On mission our platoon has to dismount and
go after Charlie on foot. And I’m carrying that fucking
telephone with the antenna, which makes a beautiful target. It’s
a sergeant’s job, but Paulson’s not going to promote me. The
* * * * *
May 25, 1967
Rain has brought everything to a standstill,
and Bravo is under about ten feet of water. Sometimes I would
prefer action to sitting around listening to these officers beat
their gums. It’s either how many battles they’ve won or how
many broads they’ve laid. At times they act like children the
way they demand attention. And you’d better jump if you don’t
want your ass out on the firing line. The only way to keep cool
with them is to lie quiet. Show the slightest sign of intelligence
and you’ve had it. Especially if you’re a Negro. Pratt and
Gurney are pretty bright souls. But every time you see them they
are pulling shit detail while the white cats lie in their bunks
enjoying life. A couple of white guys got so ashamed that they
came to the old man today and complained about Pratt and Gurney
getting all the shit. I hope it does some good, but I doubt it.
Sgt. Paulson is detail boss. Capt. Thomas is a
good officer and most of the time he treats me OK, probably
because I am his RTO ( Radio Telephone Operator). But sometimes he
forgets himself. I made the mistake of showing him a clipping
Deedee sent about Martin Luther King’s denouncing the war.
“Who the hell does he think he is? Just because he got a Noble
Prize he thinks he can run the fucking world.” He went on,
ripping King apart. I said I thought King was a man who believed
in justice for all people. Then I shut my big mouth. I wasn’t in
the mood for a night patrol.
* * * * *
Wow! Got a letter from Ken Gillman today. Liz
told him I’ve been accepted at RIT. Hope it’s true.
Why doesn’t pop write?
For the past ten days we have been operating in
the Tan An area, just south of Saigon. We got two kills the other
day that will be hard to forget. The choppers spotted them as they
were trying to get away and their gunner riddled them. We finished
them off with the 50’s. It was just bloody raw meat mixed with
mud. Not a very pretty picture. Passmore’s the other RTO, got
sick and let go on the old man’s boots. He still isn’t used to
it after six months. I didn’t get sick. But I didn’t want ant
steak dinner after that either.
* * * * *
June 8, 1967
Well it’s true. I’ve been accepted. Got
letters from RIT and Pops this afternoon. This should push me up
eighty days earlier.
Can’t wait. Damned tired of living in dirt, taking orders and
being called names by my superiors. Paulson insults Negro soldiers
just for kicks, I’m sure. Pratt hates his guts. “I going to
mistake that son-of a-bitch for Charlie one of these days,
baby,” he said, after pulling night patrol for the third
I’ve got 250 missions under my belt and over
25 major operations. That’s good enough for a full tour already.
But the scuttlebutt is that we’re headed for the DMZ. Hope not.
Could be true. We’ve killed a lot of VC around the Delta region.
We have a good fighting record. Some of the villagers have come to
think of us as murderers of civilians. That’s one of the main
tragedies of the war, so many innocent people getting hurt or
killed. Some of the guys have indulged in some raping too. They
even brag about it.
Jones a Negro guy who joined us recently,
killed a civilian the other day, and in front of his three kids.
We’d taken the civilian into custody because he didn’t have an
identification card.* We put him in a hut together with his wife
and kids, while we waited for the local police to come and
identify him. The man tried to get out of the hut a couple of
times, but each time Jones ordered him back. Jones and I chewed
the fat for a while, then I went outside and sat against the wall
of the hut for a nap. Suddenly, an M-16 went off, so close I
thought I’d been hit. I rushed back to see Jones standing over
the guy, who was trying to get to his feet. Blood was pumping out
of his back like a fountain. Jones stood there sweating and
shaking. He said the guy ran for the door and he had to shoot. The
kids were crying and holding on to one another, and his wife was
kneeling over him, kind of moaning. A medic came and tried to save
the guy, but he was gone. I could tell by the way the medic shook
his head from side to side. A little later the local police
arrived and said that the man was clean--he wasn’t a VC. Too bad
they didn’t arrive a little earlier.
That night the wife complained to the
Vietnamese authorities, because the next morning an MP came out to
investigate. The CO told Jones not to worry, that he was doing his
I still don’t know what made that gut try to
get out of the hut. The awful thing is that if we had tied him up
as we should have he wouldn’t have tried to escape, and then he
wouldn’t have gotten shot. The only reason we didn’t tie him
up was because his family was there and we thought it would make
them feel bad. I can’t stop thinking about the kids. They’ll
hate us for the rest of their lives. And who can blame them?
* All Vietnamese civilians carry an
identification card issued by the Government of the Republic of
* * *
July 24, 1967
A strange change has come over the CO. He’s
suddenly begun to think of himself as a great killer of men, brags
about and laughs about the Charlies he’s killed. I’ve always
respected him more than most of the other officers, and when
he’s under pressure I try to help him. Sometimes he’s
buddy-buddy, but other times he treats me like a flunky. A couple
of weeks ago we were sitting around in a rice paddy waiting for
orders and the old man decided to get in some practice with his
.45. He had me sloshing around in the mud setting up C-ration cans
as targets for half an hour, like a pin boy. And the other day he
dropped his rifle in the muck and asked me to pick it up. I knew
he was expecting me to clean it off, but I just handed it to him
and walked off. He was really pissed. Passmore’s his boy for
that kind of thing. I think he ended up cleaning the rifle, too.
I’ve been through too much shit to take any from Thomas at this
Just received the operation order for
tomorrow’s mission. It will be a three-day mission, and my
twenty-third airmobile lift. The monsoons are still with us. I
miss our tracks.
* * * * *
August 1, 1967
On Operation Lansing to clear Highway 4 from
the Delta to the capitol.
Charlie woke up at 2 A.M., a couple of mornings
ago and we been catching hell ever since. We were to go out on
operation against him in a few hours, but he caught us off guard.
He throw rocket and mortar fire at us and everything else he had
in his arsenal. We scrambled around in the darkness grabbing
things we needed to survive and kill with. We finally got onto our
tracks and were moving out of base camp when I suddenly realized
that this was my last operation. I thought about Harris, Gurney,
and all the other short-timers. And I began praying I’d make it.
I kept praying as we headed for the battle zone where the VC had
fired from. And I kept counting the operations and missions I had
been on over and over, trying like hell to keep my cool.
We had already called the choppers in when the
landing zone unit called saying we were being hit. Thomas gave the
word, and we dismounted and moved over to help them. Then bullets
started coming from every direction, even from friendly positions.
We crawled as we fired, to keep out of the way of our own support.
And I was awful thankful for all that crawling they put us through
back at Riley. By now the landing zone was in bad trouble and
Thomas took us on a short cut through the swamp. Muck was waist
deep, but we kept on firing as we went.
Then suddenly I was stuck, sinking in. Each
time I tried pulling out I went in deeper. The other guys were
leaving me behind, going ahead blasting into the wood line. It was
useless for me to yell for help. No one could have heard me in the
noise. The VC was still pouring it into us. Suddenly I felt tired,
so tired I wasn’t scared any more. I suppose I was giving up.
Short-time had caught up with me. Then someone came splashing
past. It was that bastard Paulson. Now he looked like an angel as
he extended his rifle, butt first, and hauled me out of that hole.
We both kept of moving forward.
By dawn we had the VC surrounded, but they
wouldn’t give up. There are over two thousand of them in the
area and they fought all day. They tired to break through by
pounding Charlie Company that evening. A Med Evac chopper had been
shot down in the Charlie Company area and ten guys died trying to
secure it. The VC knew that this was the weak spot to try and get
through, but artillery wouldn’t let them. We listened to the
artillery rounds pounding the VC escape route all last night.
Charlie broke through at one point but
couldn’t escape. We’re still on his tail. But he knows this
country well, and there are plenty of places for him to hide.
Right now things have quieted down. The army’s set up showers in
a little town nearby and guys have gone, I on radio watch in the
* * * * *
September 9, 1967
I take off for home day after tomorrow. Yowie!
Just got back from Bravo. The guys were out on
the wood line patrolling, so I didn’t see them. Several guys got
it while I was on R[est] and R[ecreation]. Don’t know exactly
who they are. Did see Passmore, who is being transferred to
headquarters company. I never like that guy, but when he walked me
to the chopper that was taking me out, I couldn’t help but feel
some kinship with him. We’ve been through a lot together. I
wished him the best and meant it. He said he hoped he’d see me
on the other side and didn’t mean it. I could do without that
The chopper ride back to Zulu is probably the
last one I take in Nam. Looking down over the rice paddies I knew
so well made me wonder if I had a right to be there. When I came
into the army I had no questions, but I am leaving with some. Back
in basic they told us over and over again that these people needed
help, that they were poor and don’t know how to solve their own
problems, that we promised them our help, and that we couldn’t
go back on them. Well, there were times when it seemed to me we
were doing them more harm than good.
I never felt that I was fighting for any
particular cause. I fought to stay alive, and killed to keep from
being killed. Now that it’s all over there is a funny feeling
running through my stomach, when I think of what could have
happened to me. When you’re in the middle of fighting you become
strong and do things you didn’t think possible. You only think
about it afterwards. It’s hard for me to believe I’m all here
and in one piece. Somebody up there is with me after all.
* * * * *
September 13, 1967
Went across on the thirteenth and going home on the thirteenth.
Must be my lucky number. The white guy who sold me my ticket at
the airport gave me some really dirty looks. He pitched my ticket
at me like I was dirt. There is nothing like the army to make you
conscious of such things. The ticket seller reminded me of how
some white officers treated me. Well, I’m a Negro and I’m back
home where color makes the difference. I was feeling good on the
plane from Namsville. Thought I’d left all my problems behind.
Hell, the new ones will just have to wait. I’m going to enjoy
myself for a few days--just knowing Charlie won’t be around to
wake me up in the morning.
and Black in America (Random House, 1970)
Julius Lester, once a forceful advocate of
the black militant movement, is the author of
Whitey! Black Power's Goin' get Your Mama;
Be A Slave;
for the New Land; The Seventh Son; The Thought and
Writings of W.E.B. DuBois;
Long Journey Home: Stories
from Black History;
Two Love Stories;
High Man and Other Tales, and Who I Am.
Be A Slave (1968) was the 1968
Newberry Medal runner-up. His writings have appeared in The
Village Voice, The Guardian, The Movement, Broadsides,
Liberator, and Sing Out. In addition, Lester has
records for Vanguard Records. His reviews appeared frequently in
the pages of the New York Times. His biography,
All Is Well,
was published in 1970.
Strange New Feeling
(1982) is a
compilation of stories of newly freed slaves.
(1982) by David Parks
GI Diary follows a black GI's struggle with American racism,
both at home and abroad, during the Vietnam War. David Parks
gives the reader a running account of the life in the Vietnam
War over a two-year period, portraying the fear and insanity,
the insensitivity and brutality.
posted 9 November 2007
* * *
* * * * *
Day of Tears
By Julius Lester
This powerful and engaging historical
novel is told in dialogue and through
monologues. It also moves around in
time, from the period when the story
takes place to "interludes," in which
the various characters look back on
these events years later. It begins with
a factual event—the largest slave
auction in United States history that
took place in 1859 on Pierce Butler's
plantation in Georgia. The book
introduces Butler, his abolitionist
ex-wife Fanny Kemble, their two
daughters, the auctioneer, and a number
of slaves sold to pay off Butler's
gambling debts. Emma, a fictional house
slave, is the centerpiece of the novel.
She cares for the master's daughters and
has been promised that she will never be
sold. On the last day of the auction,
Butler impulsively sells her to a woman
from Kentucky. There she marries, runs
away, and eventually gains her freedom
in Canada. Lester has done an admirable
job of portraying the simmering anger
and aching sadness that the slaves must
have felt. Each character is well drawn
and believable. Both blacks and whites
liberally use the word "nigger," which
will be jarring to modern-day students.
The text itself is easy to read and flows nicely.
Different typefaces distinguish the characters'
monologues, their dialogues with one another, and
their memories. Still, middle school readers may
have some difficulty following the plot until they
get used to the unusual format. Altogether this
novel does a superb job of showing the inhumanity of
slavery. It begs to be read aloud, and it could be
used in sections to produce some stunning reader's
theatre.—School Library Journal
* * * * *
Aké: The Years of Childhood
By Wole Soyinka
Aké: The Years of Childhood is a
memoir of stunning beauty, humor, and
lyrical account of one boy's attempt to
grasp the often irrational and
hypocritical world of adults that
equally repels and seduces him. Soyinka
elevates brief anecdotes into history
lessons, conversations into morality
plays, memories into awakenings. Various
cultures, religions, and languages
mingled freely in the Aké of his youth,
fostering endless contradictions and
personalized hybrids, particularly when
it comes to religion. Christian
teachings, the wisdom of the ogboni, or
ruling elders, and the power of
alternately terrify and inspire him
carried equal metaphysical weight.
Surrounded by such a collage, he notes
that "God had a habit of either not
answering one's prayers at all, or
answering them in a way that was not
In writing from a child's perspective,
Soyinka expresses youthful idealism and
unfiltered honesty while escaping the
adult snares of cynicism and
intolerance. His stinging indictment of
colonialism takes on added power owing
to the elegance of his attack.
* * *
By Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie
Somebody has to tell the truth sometime, whatever that truth may be. In this, her début full collection, Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie offers up a body of work that bears its scars proudly, firm in the knowledge that each is evidence of a wound survived. These are songs of life in all its violent difficulty and beauty; songs of fury, songs of love. 'Karma's Footsteps' brims with things that must be said and turns the volume up, loud, giving silence its last rites. "Ekere Tallie's new work 'Karma's Footsteps' is as fierce with fight songs as it is with love songs. Searing with truths from the modern day world she is unafraid of the twelve foot waves that such honesties always manifest. A poet who "refuses to tiptoe" she enters and exits the page sometimes with short concise imagery, sometimes in the arms of delicate memoir. Her words pull the forgotten among us back into the lightning of our eyes.—Nikky Finney /
Ekere Tallie Table
Her Voice /
Mother Nature: Thoughts on Nourishing Your
Body, Mind, and Spirit During Pregnancy and Beyond www.ekeretallie.com
* * * * *
Ancient, Ancient: Short Fiction
By Kiini Ibura Salaam
Ancient, Ancient collects the short fiction by Kiini Ibura Salaam, of which acclaimed author and critic Nalo Hopkinson writes, ''Salaam treats words like the seductive weapons they are. She wields them to weave fierce, gorgeous stories that stroke your sensibilities, challenge your preconceptions, and leave you breathless with their beauty.'' Indeed, Ms. Salaam's stories are so permeated with sensuality that in her introduction to
Ancient, Ancient, Nisi Shawl, author of the award-winning Filter House, writes, ''Sexuality-cum-sensuality is the experiential link between mind and matter, the vivid and eternal refutation of the alleged dichotomy between them. This understanding is the foundation of my 2004 pronouncement on the burgeoning sexuality implicit in sf's Afro-diasporization. It is the core of many African-based philosophies. And it is the throbbing, glistening heart of Kiini's body of work. This book is alive. Be not afraid.''
* * * * *
Salvage the Bones
A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake.
She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—
* * * * *
The New Jim Crow
Mass Incarceration in the Age of
By Michele Alexander
Contrary to the
rosy picture of race embodied in Barack
Obama's political success and Oprah
Winfrey's financial success, legal
scholar Alexander argues vigorously and
persuasively that [w]e have not ended
racial caste in America; we have merely
redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial
segregation has been replaced by mass
incarceration as a system of social
control (More African Americans are
under correctional control today... than
were enslaved in 1850). Alexander
reviews American racial history from the
colonies to the Clinton administration,
delineating its transformation into the
war on drugs. She offers an acute
analysis of the effect of this mass
incarceration upon former inmates who
will be discriminated against, legally,
for the rest of their lives, denied
employment, housing, education, and
Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action
may blur our vision of injustice: most
Americans know and don't know the truth
about mass incarceration—but her
carefully researched, deeply engaging,
and thoroughly readable book should
* * *
Life on Mars
By Tracy K. Smith
Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly noted the collection's "lyric brilliance" and "political impulses [that] never falter." A New York Times review stated, "Smith is quick to suggest that the important thing is not to discover whether or not we're alone in the universe; it's to accept—or at least endure—the universe's mystery. . . . Religion, science, art: we turn to them for answers, but the questions persist, especially in times of grief. Smith's pairing of the philosophically minded poems in the book’s first section with the long elegy for her father in the second is brilliant." Life on Mars follows Smith's 2007 collection, Duende, which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet's second book, and the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans.
The Body’s Question (2003) was her first published collection. Smith said Life on Mars, published by small Minnesota press Graywolf, was inspired in part by her father, who was an engineer on the Hubble space telescope and died in 2008.
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
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Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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update 30 July 2012