Veterans' Issues

Returning Veteran Attitudes

Those That Served >> Veterans' Issues >> Returning Veteran Attitudes
Search Tips

"Minority Veterans." In Source Material on the Vietnam Era Veteran. Congress. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, 173-236. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1974. Committee Print 26.

Part 3: Minority Veterans.

As Negro Veterans Come Home - Stabilizing Force? / U.S. News and World Report. (p. 182-185). (Originally published in U.S. News and World Report, February 5, 1968.)

SuDoc No.: Y4.V64/4:V67/6

This article also notes the possibility of armed and angry veterans returning home from Vietnam. But here too the article takes an optimistic view, noting several advantages for African-American veterans. For one thing, most African-Americans who served in Vietnam were better educated and were more likely to receive a better salary than their civilian counterparts. New programs were set up to help veterans find work. Project Transition, one example of these programs, was instituted to help with veterans' employment needs by bringing private industry onto military bases to provide technical training designed for the civilian work force. Another interesting program, proposed by the Johnson Administration, would have recruited teachers "who [were] able to speak the language of Negro slum areas," providing instruction to inner city populations.


[From U.S. News & World Report, Feb. 5, 1968]

As Negro Veterans Come Home – Stabilizing Force?

Between 60,000 and 70,000 Negro veterans of the Vietnam war will finish their military service at a steadily increasing rate in 1968 and return to life on the "outside."

Now the attitudes and background of these men are getting official attention.

Are Negroes steaming out of the armed forces likely to become intemperate "black power" advocates – or a force for moderation in race relations?

Many Negroes are combat-tested GI's, exposed to battlefield violence and trained in guerrilla warfare. Will these men bring added violence to the cities – or are they more likely to bring a fresh sense of maturity to solving race problems?

Those questions are being studied not only in the Pentagon, but in other agencies of Government.

A "typical" veteran. A close look at these new veterans, as seen by the U.S. official concerned, gives some idea of what sort of men they are.

From the latest Pentagon, Labor Department and Veterans Administration reports, you get this composite picture:

The Negro veteran of Vietnam is about 22 years old, usually a high-school graduate, and has a war record described as "at least as good as that of his white counterpart."

Most Negro ex-servicemen, unlike most white veterans, now take advantage of the education and vocational-training programs of the current GI Bill. About 53 percent of the Negroes are reported to be going back to school, compared with 45 per cent of the whites.

  • The typical Negro veteran already is better-educated than most male Negroes. He has had an average of about 10 years of schooling, compared with about 8 1/2 years for Negro men in general.

  • Those who entered military service in recent years, moreover, are in the top 40 per cent of all Negroes of draft age, mentally and physically. Only 2 out of 5 Negroes qualify for military service under current standards, most of the rest failing the mental portion of the armed forces' qualification test.

  • Few of the new veterans have had much civilian job experience. U.S. employment official estimate that 8 out of 10 could benefit from more education or training before seeking jobs.

  • Soon after they become civilians, today's Negro veterans usually earn substantially higher incomes than other Negroes. The median income of families headed by a Negro ex-serviceman is given at $4,557, while families headed by a male Negro who is not a veteran earn an average of $3,610.

  • Most Negro veterans of this war have had little trouble getting civilian jobs, whether or not they have taken further training. One manpower official explains it this way:

    "Employers are hungry now for premium manpower, and these men, by and large, are considered premium manpower. Their problem is not so much how to get a job, but whether to take time for further training and education in order to qualify for a better job."
Question: war's effect. The image that emerges from these recent reports is that a group of young men in their early 20's, better educated, better qualified and better motivated than most of their fellow Negroes. The big unanswered questions about these new veterans concern their experiences during the Vietnam war, and how it has affected their attitudes.

U.S. officials who have dealt with the returning Negro GI's thus far discount speculation that a "home-front war" may be brewing between whites and Negro veterans. Most, instead, are now taking a strongly optimistic view.

Typical is this comment by Marshall C. Miller, assistant chief of the Labor Department's Veterans Employment Service:

"If given the opportunity, the young Negro veterans who are now starting to come back from Vietnam will be a major constructive influence in the Negro community, at a time when such an influence is badly needed.

"They are returning from this war with experience in leadership, and with attitudes and skills that are most lacking in the 'ghettos' from which many of them came.

"More important, they can speak the language of those 'ghettos' and can communicate with the people who live there."

Another federal administrator makes this point:

"These new veterans will have a direct influence on their fellow Negroes in the crucial period ahead. People do still look up to returning veterans, those coming back from this war as from previous wars.

"There is no question that these young men are tomorrow's Negro leaders. And, fortunately, they are the cream of the crop, not the psychopaths that some of today's leaders seem to be."

Within the armed services, senior officers who have dealt with Negro troops in Vietnam appear to be equally optimistic about the war's effect.

"Best thing that happened?" An Army general just returned from Vietnam puts it this way:

"This war in Vietnam, bad as it is, may turn out to be the best thing that ever happened as far as the Negro race is concerned.

"Over there, often for the first time, thousands of young Negroes are doing an important job and know they are doing it well.

"They are experiencing what it is like to be treated on an equal basis with whites. In the process, they are learning the two things that they need the most to get ahead – self-discipline and self-confidence."

As a result, the general says:

"Negro veterans of this war, who will soon be returned to civilian life in large numbers, will produce more than their share of responsible leaders in civilian life.

"Anything that they might have learned in the Army is a bonus. The important thing gained by these young men is the experience of living under some degree of discipline, of getting along with whites on a man-to-man basis, and of earning some self-assurance."

Focus of attention. As interest in the returning Negro GI mounts, a rash of studies and plans is appearing, in and outside the Government, focused directly on these veterans. For example –

A major study is being made by a Labor Department group of the employment needs of Negro veterans returning from Vietnam – what they are qualified to do, and what training they need. This is to provide some basic facts in the near future. Sometime in mid-summer, other studies are to completed in more detail by the Pentagon, the Veterans Administration and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Within the armed services, a program is being started to provide some job training for GI's who are near the end of their enlistment periods. Known as Project Transition, this effort was aimed primarily at Negroes in need of civilian job skills, but includes large numbers of white servicemen as well. Courses started in January at the first of 86 major military posts.

A White House plan, in turn, is aimed at making some Negro veterans into teachers who can be used effectively in "ghetto" schools. President Johnson reported recently that he plans to ask Congress for a bill to provide teaching instruction for Vietnam veterans who are able to speak the language of Negro slum areas.

Federal employment offices, meanwhile, have begun getting in touch with all Negro veterans as they leave military service. Each man who wants a civilian job is being offered the services of a federal-State employment office in his locality, his case followed through by a "minority group" specialist.

Veterans' organizations, too, are starting or expanding programs aimed at helping Negro veterans of this war. The American Legion, for one, now offers them rehabilitation aid – in getting a civilian job, filing for GI benefits, and coping with discrimination where it exists – through some 16,500 local posts scattered across the U.S. Other major veterans' groups report that they have similar programs.

Pressure from extremists. Extremist racial groups also are aiming campaigns at the returning Negro veterans. Most, if not all, of these Vietnam veterans are being approached when they return home by representatives of such groups, and urged to participate in coming racial ferment.

Over all, there appears to be widespread agreement that the big increase in Negro ex-servicemen back from Vietnam this year – two years after the major U.S. build-up there – will have a profound influence on racial problems at home this summer.

The indications so far are that this crop of veterans is more likely to provide a source of responsible leadership than a rash of warlike violence.

Return to list

Send feedback or questions to
Kief Schladweiler
Librarian, NYC

Free Speech Online Blue Ribbon Campaign