93-year-old Dickson veteran served amid wars, military integration: ‘Never really thought about color’ – The Tennessean

Posted: November 19, 2021 at 5:27 pm

Mack Adams walked into the Dickson Senior Center and greeted the staff Wednesday. Adams, age 93, had meals to pick up for some of his eight grown children and tenants of his rental properties.

Its a near daily ritual. Adams drives to the center, says hello and picks up the lunches.

If they want whats on the menu, yes, I get lunch for them, said Adams, smiling. Sometimes I get up to eight or 10 meals down there.

Adams, who was the grand marshal in the 2021 Dickson Veterans Day Parade, had moments earlier explained why in 1942 he wanted to serve his country at age 14. Americas involvement in World War II had just begun.

Listening to all the publicity going on, the encouragement for people to support the military, at that time, Adams said. I was enthused by it.

Adams has been thefamily patriarch and leader inDickson for decades, a man people admire, particularly amid thisholiday seasonthat celebratesmilitary service and family. How he achieved thisdespite being a "shy person," and especially his experiences in both theNavy and Army, isa story Adams eagerly and easily recallseven as he nears 100 years old.

Adams mom initially didnt sign the military paperwork.

Later, he read in the newspaper that the Merchant Marines took recruits at age 15. Without his mothers knowledge, he traveled from their Dickson home to=

took a bus to Atlanta, without his mothers knowledge. While sitting in the back of the segregated vehicle, he overheard other African-American passengers pointing to the cotton fields and talking about where they picked cotton.

When he arrived at the courthouse to sign up for duty, Adams was denied.

The man told me they dont take colored people in the Merchant Marines, Adams. I said, OK. I caught the bus and came on back home.

It didnt bother me one bit, Adams added. At that time, what you were told, thats what it was. We werent familiar with integration, segregation, discrimination. I didnt know enough to have any qualms about it.

He told his mom what happened. She said when he turned 17, she would sign the papers.

Most of the newsreels I saw were ships. So I wanted to join the Navy, Adams said.

Thats what she did in 1945. He was transported to Maryland for Navy basic training.

He said there was segregation at the military facilities.

Also, while there, he saw the large Black communities and businesses in Baltimore.

Once on a PCE ship at sea, Adams job was a stewards mate. War World II had ended at this point.

My job was taking care of the 3-4 officers on the ship, Adams said. I was the only Black person on the ship.

Adams wanted to be a Boatsman Mate, who train, direct, and supervise personnel for the ship's maintenance.

I didnt know at the time I couldnt be one, Adams said.

After taking care of the officers, Adams would do maintenance work. He was told he wasnt supposed to be doing the work. He only realized later it was because of skin color.

Around 1947, he was moved to an APA transport ship. During these 60-day trips carrying various passengers, Adams was able to explore some areas of Guam, Japan, Hawaii, China, and more.

He actually earned his driver license while stationed in Hawaii. He would drive around the island when he had time.

I am driving out here and I see this green field for miles and miles, Adams said. I thought, They sure grow a whole lot of peas or something over here. I saw a big sign that said pineapple manufacturer.

In 1948, he recalled being in China to pick up civilian passengers.

You would look up in the mountains and here, Boom and flashes, Adams said.

The locals would say Thats just the communists up there. A year later, the communist would take over in The Chinese Revolution.

In 1949, Adams, now age 21, returned to Dickson as part of the inactive reserves. A year later, Adams received a notice when the Korean War started. A short time later he was at base in Charleston, S.C.

That was my first experience of feeling the effects of discrimination. I dont know why it affected me like it did. That hit me, Adams said. We had the same thing here (in Dickson). But it didnt have any effect on me. But for some reason that (Charleston base) rubbed me.

Before returning to Dickson in 1952, Adams recalled being on an icebreaker ship in Greenland and seeing the Northern Lights.

In 1953, now back in Dickson, Adams had graduated from Dicksons all-Black Hampton High School. A year later, after working as a cab driver, he and a friend, who served in the Army, decided it was time to enlist in the Air Force.

The recruiter said if they wanted to be in an airplane, they could join the Army and be in the Airborne division and stationed in nearby FortCampbell, Ky. and get $55 a month extra for jumping out of airplanes.

I said, Thats just like being in Dickson. We going in the Army, said Adams, laughing.

In 1954, Adams had to go Armys basic training in FortJackson, S.C. while his friend went directly to Airborne training.

Adams said he was in a mixed race company now in the Army. He recalls the drill sergeant telling the white soldiers that if you dont feel like you can have a Black person sleeping over you or below you, or eat at the same table as you, you need to step forward now.

He said none of the other soldiers stepped forward.

Adams noted that it was one of the first integrated companies in basic training at the base.

Later, he said three busloads of soldiers loaded a bus to travel to FortCampbell and stopped in Nashville on the way. They stopped at a large restaurant where food had been cooked for all the men. The restaurant owner told the sergeant the Black soldiers would have to eat at another restaurant.

The sergeant said to the owner, You have dinner fixed for these 300 people here, dont you? You want to eat it all?

All the men ate there that day.

Adams was stationed in Korea from 1958 to 1959 before returning to Fort Campbell.

From 1967 to 1968, Adams served as a platoon sergeant during his first tour in the Vietnam War. After that tour, he returned to Fort Campbell was the drill sergeant for basic training.

A lot of the guys around Dickson now went through basic training there. I see them around here now. They still jump on me about it, said Adams about his stern ways in that role. They all respected it.

Once promoted to the rank of first sergeant, Adams was sent back to Vietnam as part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade stationed.

Adams said they were a search and destroy operation and their enemies were the Viet Cong communist revolutionaries.

We had some good firefights over there, Adams said. We looked for trails and things leading to (Viet Cong) base camps.

You knew (an ambush) was also a possibility, Adams added.

Adams vividly remembers a conversation that summarized his feelings on teamwork in the military. Adams, as squad leader, corrected a soldier during an inspection.

He said, Sgt. Adams, do you know you are the only Black person in this platoon? Adams said.

Adams pointed to the U.S. Army badge on his uniform and said, You see that right there? Thats all I need.

I never really thought about color anyway, Adams added.

Adams retired from the Army in 1971 and began the next stage of his life.

He opened a TV repair business with two other partners in 1972, and opened a used car business in 1980. In 1980, he also opened a real estate business.

Adams was also a Dickson magistrate for decades. A magistrate is a person who works with the law enforcement and remains on call through odd hours and issues arrest warrants, sign misdemeanor citations, and more.

Adams has been married to wife Irene for 64 years.

It was our anniversary yesterday. We didnt know it, said Adams, laughing again.

Their children have been involved in politics and community service of all types in Dickson County for decades. Adams said it was not an intentional way they raised their children. But they might have set an example.

Ever since Ive retired, Ive been part of the community, Adams said. (Their children) may have observed it or it was a natural thing thats come up with them. We have always been public people and do what we could.

Adams and Irene have also been involved in Meals on Wheels and Habitat for Humanity. Their reason for volunteer work is simple.

For the needs of helping out and being involved and helping the people in the community, Adams said.

Originally posted here:

93-year-old Dickson veteran served amid wars, military integration: 'Never really thought about color' - The Tennessean

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