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  • An article in Friday's paper awoke a long sleeping memory. It was a report about a decades old civil rights protest written by Melanie Eversley of USA Today. Bear with me while my mind returns me to that time.

    It had to have been the end of my second patrol on the USS John C. Calhoun SSBN630. My best friend and shipmate Tommy Broad and I climbed into his 1964 Chevy Malibu 283 with a power pack (funny how guys remember those sort of things), and headed the 90 miles inland to his home.

    I had gotten to know Tommy after my first patrol when he needed someone to share the cost of gas on his trips home. I was still hurting from my "Dear John" letter and had been spending a lot of time moping and reading in my bunk. Uncharacteristically I said why not?

    I was welcomed into his family like a long lost son. Tommy was my age and next to the youngest of six children. So they really didn't need an extra mouth to feed. Mom and Dad Broad were good people who were just glad their youngest son had friends he could invite home. They were the finest example of "southern hospitality" I have ever witnessed. A couple of years later when Tommy and I were assigned to different boats I still continued to make weekend trips "home" when in port.

    Back to our present trip home. I was driving and as usual was doing about 90 mph in a 70 mph speed zone. I glanced into the rear view mirror and was surprised by what looked like a flying wing of blue flashing lights coming up fast. I barely got my speed down to 80 mph when they blew by me at at least 120 mph. Now I've been smoked and left in the dust at red lights before, but never totally dis'ed like that! What could be so important?

    As we got off at our exit we came to an abrupt halt. We had to.
    There was a tank in the middle of the intersection flanked by jeeps carrying armed National Guardsmen. The guardsmen were interviewing the passengers in each vehicle. Most were turned away and told to get their gas at the next town. Very few were allowed past the road block.

    Even with our military I.D.'s we were questioned suspiciously. Finally we were told to go straight home and stay there. The area was under Martial Law and a curfew would go into effect at nightfall.
    No other explaination, just that and a military escort to the house.

    When we got home, nobody knew any more than we did. There had been a rumor of some kind of protest out at the State College. That's all they knew. We joked that if it was a real emergency they wouldn't have sent the "weekend warriors" and it was probably just that. A weekend drill for the guard.

    About nightfall, we were running low on soda, or "Co'cola" in local parlance so I volunteered to go the the store and get it. It was like a ghost town. I, too late to turn back, remembered the curfew. All the stores were closed so I started putting change into a machine outside a darkened gas station. As I was getting my second soda, I noticed a jeep sitting across the road with it's parking lights on. How long had he been there? Sweat broke out on my forehead as I put in money for the third drink.

    As I returned to my car, a second jeep pulled alongside the first one. Weekend warriors or not, these boys were not fooling around. I slowly put the car in drive and started back home. The two jeeps pulled out behind me, still with only their parking lights on, and escorted me back to the house. Believe me, I stayed put the rest of the night.

    But, like I said, the general population was kept unaware of the true circumstances of the lockdown.
    The date was February 8, 1968.
    The town was Orangeburg, South Carolina.
    The Orangeburg Massacre had occured just before we got there.

    What the hell is that? you ask? Some black students out at the State College had been protesting the "Privately Owned" status of a local bowling alley. That's right folks, they even had "white only" bowling alleys. It is generally believed that someone tossed an object off the roof of a nearby building striking a state trooper. Some 70 state patrolmen and local police opened fire on the crowd. Some 10 seconds later 30 unarmed black students had been shot - 3 fatally. No ambulances came. Did you get that part? NO AMBULANCES CAME! The uninjured dragged the injured to the infirmary.

    This happened two years before the well known Kent State Shootings, but you probably never heard of the Orangeburg Massacre. I didn't. And I was there!
    It marked the first time a student was killed by the police on an american campus for doing nothing wrong. South Carolina - The first state to seceed from the union was the last to accept the changes being imposed by an evolving society.

    Back in the Charleston Naval Shipyard at an unused, abandoned section, away from prying eyes there existed signage left from a previous era. In the boneyard of unwanted anchors and bent steel "White Only" signs still hung forgotten on a bathroom door and above a drinking fountain.
    Not any more.

    When I saw them I confess I tore them down and threw them into a nearby burn barrel. I probably could have been Court Martialed for destroying Government Property. What kind of government has property like that? I'm ashamed to say, "mine did".
    Not any more.
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