A few years back, when I was working as lead counsel on the hazing case involving the death of Florida A&M University Drum Major Robert Champion, I received an amazing email about my father one morning from a white woman whose father, Charles Haywood, had seen my name in Atlanta Journal-Constitution articles about the hazing case and wondered whether I was related to an old Army buddy of his named Chuck Hobbs.
To my delight, when I responded that the original Chuck was my dad, the daughter, Amy, copied me into an email with her father, U.S. Army Captain Haywood, who then shared memories of serving as a young Army officer with my father.
Captain Haywood had attended Ole Miss during the same period in which some whites were looting, rioting and killing to prevent James Meredith, a black man, from enrolling. Despite this fact, it was during Army Ranger School that he struck up a friendship with my dad, a graduate of then all black Florida A&M University, where many of his fellow students were at the vanguard of challenging Jim Crow laws in Tallahassee.
Neither Captain Haywood nor my father completed Ranger School, something that my extremely proud father never discussed in detail with me. To my surprise, Captain Haywood provided the reason why and by so doing, helped me understand why my dad was ADAMANT that I learned how to swim when I was a boy, as you will soon read.
(Dad, third from the left on the front row in both pictures, with battalion commander and fellow staff officers at Long Binh, Vietnam circa 1968)
Both Captain Haywood and then Captain Chuck Hobbs would later serve their nation honorably in Vietnam–serving during a time when other men their age, including three of the last four Presidents of the United States (Clinton, “W”, Trump) avoided service for myriad reasons.
While lengthy, I find the following a worthy read if for no other reason than to show that with respect to race relations, while we still have much further to go, we are better than we once were as a nation. Said Captain Haywood:
It is my honor to meet you by e-mail. My daughter Amy is very determined to
do what she has done in connecting us.
I am sorry for the premature death of your dad. Sometimes, we don’t
understand why events are as they are, but we must keep our faith in Jesus
that all things work to good for those who are His children. How do you
explain the deaths of very talented some soldiers(generic) who are brave and happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. My best friend died a
week before his tour in Vietnam was complete. I was very lucky and suffered no wounds even though people on both sides of me died in firefights.
What she has told you is a little embellished. I was reading the AJC story
about the Fla A&M Band hazing and your name jumped out at me. I remembered that I had a Ranger Buddy named Chuck Hobbs.
I knew your father as my Ranger buddy for about 4-5 days in the fall of
1963. Each of us had a RA Commission and had attended Officers Basic at Ft
Benning. There were two classes running concurrently and they included West Point and ROTC RA officers. We were a cocky lot. So I met your dad at the beginning of Ranger School when they assigned us our buddies. We did PT
together and orientation for three or four days and then we were told to
prepare for the swimming and PT tests. I wasn’t worried about the PT since
I had just finished Airborne School, as had your dad.
I am struggling to get my story correct. Memory is not great after 49
years. The night before the swimming test your dad told me that he was not
a good swimmer. I told him I would help. As I remember, we had our gear on and jumped into a very cold December swimming pool and were supposed to swim the length of the pool. We jumped and I started to swim, but quickly
realized that your dad was spending more time under water than on top of the water. He was not drowning. I swam over to help him and the Drill Instructor (DI) said to let him make it on his own. Well, I decided that your dad needed my help and I continued to help him. I got chewed on a little after we finished.
The next morning was the PT test and on the 40 yard low crawl, the DI kept
sending me back to the starting line and after restarting three times, I did
not crawl fast enough to pass that portion. In addition, the run followed
the crawl and I had left my strength at the crawl.
Your dad whipped through the PT test as you would expect a well trained
football player. After we got back to the barracks, he was really worried
about being booted. I remember trying to encourage him because I did not
think they would boot a guy with his physical ability. I knew I had problems
because of the PT test, but I hoped for a retest.
At formation the next morning, your dad and I and some others were told to
fall out and report to the First Sergeant. We were sent over to HQ and were
interviewed by a superior officer. We were booted. He went on to his first
unit and I sat around Ft Benning for two months awaiting concurrent travel
for my wife and I. An interesting sidebar about the officer who interviewed us was that he and my brother had gone through Ranger School together in 1951.
The swimming test was a new requirement because some Ranger students had drowned the previous spring while doing a river crossing.
I never discussed this because being booted from Ranger School was always an embarrassment for me. It was a blemish on my record that gnaws at me to this day. I don’t think Amy appreciates the pride factor.
I never saw your dad again, but I was impressed by him and other graduates
of A&M and Howard University. He was friendly and obviously a very
talented officer according to the information Amy has sent to me. Yes, 1963 and 2012 are light years apart. As a people we have progressed much, but we still have more progress to make as individuals and as a country.
Yes, I was a senior when James Meredith was enrolled at Ole Miss. I did not participate in the riots nor did I know anyone who did. I will always
believe that most of the violence was from non students. The National Guard
was activated by the Governor at half-time of the Ole Miss vs Arkansas game on Saturday night. I had friends who were deployed to Oxford on Sat by the
Governor and federalized by the President on Monday morning. It was a stain on our state. But the shame had begun many decades before. As a country we continue to pay for the sins of our forefathers. Men of quality like your dad help to shorten the time required..
I was discharged as a Captain, but I was on the Major’s list for promotion.
I have Parkinson’s and coronary artery disease which have been tied into the
exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. As a result the VA has awarded me a 100
per cent disability for the two diseases and post traumatic stress disorder.
I was very stunned when this disability was awarded.
As I said, I was truly impressed with your dad. I was not an athlete, but I
had a respect for those who were able to play various sports at the
collegiate level. I had to dig deeply to just be average. However, I was a
student of sports and I maintained friendships by trying to play the game
and having an understanding. Even though I was not a high achiever
academically, I was appointed to be in charge of the tutoring program for
the scholarship athletes at Ole Miss my senior year. My degree was a BA in
math and after leaving the military I received an MBA in Accounting from
Georgia State University.
The information that Amy sent me about your dad was descriptive of the man I served alongside. He must have been a high achiever to not only be
promoted from below the zone, but to have had the reputation as possibly
the first General Officer from Fla A&M. He would not only have represented
A&M but also each of us who knew him and served with him at some point. I am
sorry that the dream was not realized but it appears he surrendered his
promotion chances when he answered a higher calling of returning to his alma
mater in order to rebuild their ROTC program. I would be interested in knowing more about your dad’s career.
My son retired as a LTC. He is a West Point graduate but he chose to get
out at 20 years so he could be with his sons as they went thru Scouts and
played youth sports. He was in Special Forces most of his career.
I look forward to getting to know you and I appreciate you reaching out to
Lest we forget…
(Top pic: Dad on picture day before the 1961 National Championship season form tackling future New York Giants star Clarence Childs. Bottom pic: Dad during a brief moment of peace during his tour in Vietnam).