In 1954 after a boat trip across the Pacific and a night flight across the country, we woke up in Ft. Meade, MD. I had been 16 months in Korea and it was good to be home. We had been in the processing center for two days awaiting assignment when they emptied our barracks and marched us down to the base theater. Civil disobedience and riots in Baltimore for the past week had led the Mayor to call a state of emergency and consider calling Federal troops in to help.
“Federal troops”, that was us. We got lectures and films on riot control and crowd management. They issued gas masks, helmets, and vests. If we had to go to they would supply M-1 rifles and live ammo. In three hours we became riot control “experts”.
I was completely confused and conflicted. In Korea, I was on the train going north to the combat lines when the truce was signed. We kept going and I ended up as far north as we could go to the newly established DMZ. We were isolated on a high cliff in a forward Observation Post armed with a spotter scope and binoculars. A Jeep came daily from HQ five miles to the rear food and supplies. I spent nine months in that bunker. The six of us rotated duty 24/7. Once every two weeks it came my turn to ride the food jeep back for a hot shower and a change of clothes. After the nine months, the Army decided we were worthless and pulled us off the hill.
Back at HQ the boredom continued. I got assigned to an Honor Guard. We conducted the morning and evening flag ceremonies. We carried red, white, and blue wooden rifles. I learned to play many different card games, especially Bid Whist.
Back at Ft. Meade, I am now being issued combat gear. I had neither seen nor used any of that stuff since Basic. Other the wooden show pieces, I had never touched a gun since basic, let alone fired one. Now, says the instructor, I might be expected to use one after dark, in the turmoil of a riot. As most veterans know, that is standard military logic. That’s not what bothered me the most. On the DMZ, I knew who was the enemy. If they re-opened the hostilities, shooting would happen. It was simple, in war you shoot the enemy. Now I faced the possibility of shooting fellow Americans on the streets of an American city. It was hardly a happy homecoming to get back from war and find it still raging. Fortunately, the violence of the demonstrations eased off and we were not called to go. Sometimes I wonder – what if we had gone to the streets and I was ordered to shoot, would I have? Thankfully I never had to make that choice, but a Guardsman in Louisville did a few weeks ago. He returned fire and a demonstrator died. It could have been me with my M-1 rifle.