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Returning Veteran Attitudes

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"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.

Back from War, Black Veterans Ignored and Bitter / Acel Moore and Gerald McKelvey. (p. 213-215). (Originally published in The Philadelphia Enquirer, February 7, 1971.)

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

A brief article detailing the problems of Philadelphia area African-American veterans. Dr. Napoleon N. Vaughn, an African-American clinical psychologist who helped many returning veterans saw the many problems that they were facing. Returning home with little or no skills that were transferrable to civilian life, and with little or no help to find a job, many African-Americans became deeply disillusioned. This disillusionment caused many veterans to see their enemy not as the Vietcong in Vietnam but the white establishment in the United States.


[From The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 7, 1971]

Back From War, Black Veterans Ignored And Bitter

(By Acel Moore and Gerald McKelvey)

The next social thrust – for good or ill – in this country will come from black military veterans who have served in Vietnam.

So contends Dr. Napoleon N. Vaughn, a black clinical psychologist who has been working with the readjustment problems of returning veterans for the past few years.

Heads Developers

"The one group in this country that has the most potential for good or destruction is the black Vietnam veteran," Dr. Vaughn said in an interview last week at his 4627 Spruce St. office. Dr. Vaughn heads the Urban Market Developers Inc., which specializes in market research and other studies in the black community.

"The sad thing is that these men are being ignored by both the white and black communities."

Dr. Vaughn outlined these problems as being peculiar to black Vietnam veterans:

They feel alienated because they have put their lives on the line only to return home and find social conditions the same as when they left.

There is no market for the skills they have learned in the military.

Many did not even receive rudimentary skills training. Because they were considered underachievers, they were put in combat units.

"The military becomes the average ghetto youth's 'college'," said Dr. Vaughn. "They enlisted because they could not find a job or because they were getting into trouble.

Social Significance

"But because they were underachievers, many were put into combat units and trained to kill. There is no market for these skills in civilian life," he said.

Because the veterans have served together. Dr. Vaughn feels that bond could have broad significance.

"These veterans are an individual mesh of men whose energies can go to help the system and their brothers – or destroy both," he said.

"The full impact of the returning black veteran has not yet been felt by our society," he said.

"There has been little research but I believe that a crash withdrawal of troops from Vietnam will dramatically increase the numbers of black veterans who will be returning home with expectations that cannot be met," said Dr. Vaughn.

300 A Week

The Veterans Administration says that some 300 veterans return home to Philadelphia each week. Although exact statistics are not available, a "large percentage" are black.

Dr. Vaughn's theories seemed to be borne out in interviews with nine black GIs at a VA-approved school and at the VA center at 5000 Wisahicken Ave.

  • All but two of the nine had dropped out of high school to enlist.

  • All had a negative attitude about the war in Vietnam and felt the black man should not be fighting it.

  • A strong sense of racial pride was expressed by all and they talked of wanting to better conditions in their neighborhood.

  • All are jobless. Six are in job-training programs.

  • All expressed disenchantment with conditions they found at home on their return.
Needed A Change

This is what some of the nine had to say.

Howard W. Barbour is 22 and lives at 2131 Mountain St. in South Philadelphia. He dropped out of Benjamin Franklin High School in the 11th grade and spent a year in the Neighborhood Youth Corps before enlisting at 18.

"I needed a change from hanging around on the corner," said Barbour, explaining why he joined the Army.

Barbour had one tour of duty in Vietnam, with the 9th Infantry Division, and received two Purple Hearts.

2-Way Fight

"I would never advise anyone to go into the Army," he said. "This is not a black man's war. I felt I was fighting two enemies, the Vietcong and the white man who was supposed to be on my side."

He said he had not held a steady job since his discharge. Barbour now is training as a machine tool operator at a VA-sponsored school.

Similar sentiments were echoed by Elijah Lamon Jr., 21, who also served with the 9th Infantry in Vietnam.

Like Barbour, Lamon dropped out of high school and enlisted. His service team isn't remembered with affection.

"Fighting Two Wars"

"When I was in 'Nam, it was like fighting two wars, one with the man who was supposed to be your friend and the other with the enemy. This is not our war. If the black man can't get what is his in this country, then he shouldn't fight over there."

The others interviewed expressed similar views.

The VA says that the general resentment among Vietnam veterans is not restricted to blacks.

Lack Patience

In a recent report, the VA characterized the Vietnam veteran as having "impatience with authority and an attitude of questioning and even challenging of authority."

The differences between the veterans of World War II and Vietnam are marked, says Lawrence Cochrane, chief of the city's VA contact division.

"In June of 1970, there were about 55,000 Vietnam veterans in the Philadelphia area. They are younger than the World War II vets and they are not using the GI education bill as the older veterans did.

Unrealistic Views

"Something like 30 percent of the Vietnam vets take advantage of the GI bill," said Cochrane. "About 50 percent of the World War II and Korean vets used theirs."

The average Vietnam veteran is about 20, said Cochrane. He said many of them have unrealistic views of employment potential.

"They think we should start them at $3.50-an-hour jobs. They can get up to $65 a week unemployment compensation and that gives them some independence. 'Why should we work for $65 a week when we can get it from the state?' is how many of them feel," said Cochrane.

The VA has started to become an employment agency as well as a counselor. In the past two years, it has set up 14,000 job interviews, through which 1700 men were placed.

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