[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he year was 1960 and I was a 17 year old teenager just getting ready to enter my freshman year of college. The United States wasn’t at war in Vietnam then, but as we used to say, there was Chaos in Laos and we all knew that a war was on its way. I wasn’t sure what was in my future then, but many of us wanted to serve our country. The National Guard offered young men a program that consisted of 6 months of active duty, then a commitment of 6 years service in the reserves. Today the National Guard requires an 8 year commitment and you can read about their current programs here.
To me and my family this program seemed like a great way for me and my older brother Alan to serve our country and prevent being drafted. We both decided to join the New York National Guard, for me during my freshman year of college. One benefit for me joining at my age was a shorter reserve service contract, offered to those under 18 years of age. My older brother Alan was now twenty-one years old and had recently graduated from college and was already working. We both knew that the United States might be at war soon and it was time to join the reserves now, before all of their openings were filled.
We called all the local National Guard units in our area and found one that had some open slots. It was a transportation unit headquartered in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York. We knew it would be a great unit to join because we might end up being truck drivers if our unit was recalled to active duty. For decades Bed Stuy was considered a cultural center for Brooklyn‘s black population. Their historic Armory was built in 1894 for the World War I, 13th Infantry Regiment of the New York National Guard and in 1971 the armory was converted to a men’s shelter.
This unit was 98% African American when I joined and most of the personnel had served in World War II, many in the Army Transportation Corp. This Battalion was part of the New York National Guard’s 42nd Infantry or Rainbow Division.
We never realized what these soldiers had to endure while serving in World War II. In addition to fighting our nations enemies, these men were treated with prejudice and disdain that all men of color had to endure at that time. In the 1940’s the racial tensions not only existed in the civilian population, but were far worse in the armed services. These brave men and women gave up their lives fighting for their countries freedoms, something their country was still not willing to give them.
Despite a high enlistment rate in the U.S. Army, African Americans were not treated equally. Racial tensions existed. At parades, church services, in transportation and canteens the races were kept separate.
Many soldiers of color served their country with distinction during World War II. There were 125,000 African Americans who were overseas in World War II. Famous segregated units, such as theTuskegee Airmen and 761st Tank Battalion proved their value in combat, leading to desegregation of all U.S. Armed Forces by order of President Harry S. Truman in July 1948 via Executive Order 9981. 
It was strange, I am sure, for these old timers to see young, racially mixed men, now joining their ranks. For years, this National Guard unit had become a private men’s club for the local population in Bed Stuy. Now new blood from other neighborhoods were joining their ranks and going off to their 6 months of active duty. How would the these seasoned vets deal with the new recruits, especially so many coming from different ethnic backgrounds and neighborhoods?
It was a truly a great program for young men. We would attend a weekly meeting at the armory one night each month. In the summer, we would go to Camp Drum in Watertown, NY (now it is Fort Drum) for two weeks to play war games and freshen our skills. When their were New York state emergencies, that the police couldn’t handle on their own, we would be called up to help in those situations too.
It was a great way to serve our country and avoid the draft, but we never gave a thought to our unit and other National Guard and Army reserve units being activated and shipped over to Vietnam, but this was certainly going to happen as the war progressed. The average age of the members of this unit must have been mid-40’s, after all, they served in WWII which took place in the early 1940’s. Little did we all know that things at this “Men’s Club” were about to change as our country entered the war in Viet Nam.
[box_light]Fort Dix, New Jersey – My 6 Months Training[/box_light]
I had to take a leave from college to attend my six months of active duty training at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Basic training was certainly not easy, but I was young and was really into the macho stuff in those days and in pretty good physical condition. They separated me and my brother into different basic training companies.
In basic training they selected me to become a squad leader and gave me a blue armband with two stripes on it. I think I began to learn how to be responsible then and I started to develop my ability to work with others that in this case were many years my senior. At the conclusion of basic training we were all given our orders to attend Specialist Training Schools. Many of my basic training friends received their orders to go to Advanced Infantry Training (AIT), which was not fun. AIT was two more months of basic training, only worse.
My brother Alan was headed for Cook School and I was going to the Army’s driver training school, Yipee! You see, I was smart to join my National Guard unit which was a transportation unit. I had a feeling I would end up with a great MOS or Military Occupational Specialty. What could be better then that of a Light Vehicle Driver. My brother got the short end of the stick and believe me, cook school was no bargain back then.
Now remember, I was only 17 years old and only learned how to drive my dad’s car a year before, so for me it was a exciting to be trained to drive all sorts of military vehicles. I didn’t know how to drive standard or “stick” then, but learned how in the Army school. I also learned how to tie knots, do maintenance on my vehicle and drive on all sorts of terrain. I never drove a “deuce and a half ” ( 2 1/2 ton truck), which was one of those large military trucks we often see filled with troops, but I was eager to learn.
Specialist training was not easy either, there was the physical aspects to deal with and the long days of training in the field and class rooms, but this was certainly better for me then all the other guys that went to AIT or Cook School. While they were in the mud and dodging live ammo, or peeling spuds in a hot mess hall, I was in a Jeep, a 3/4 ton truck and driving up hills and obstacles in the big 2 1/2 ton truck.
[box_light]Working For Colonel Maliszewski[/box_light]
After specialist training, we were all sent to serve in various companies on the base. They called this final two months of training OJT or on-the-job-training. Again, unlike others I met who told me “never volunteer for anything”, I did the opposite. An announcement was made that they needed a qualified jeep driver with a military drivers license, that was me. I ended up becoming our Battalion’s “Inspector General’s” jeep driver. Colonel George Maliszewski was a decorated commander during the Korean war. At the Battle of Pork Chop Hill he sustained serious wounds when a Chinese grenade exploded under him, blowing off his right foot. Read his heroic story here.
As his driver, I no longer had to serve in the kitchen (KP) or pull Guard Duty, how great is that. I was required to have all my uniforms tapered so I would look sharp as the Colonel’s driver. I would go to pick up his Jeep in the morning at the motor pool and drive it over to pick him up each day and then go out to inspect the various companies as they trained in the field. It was the best job in the world, all the non-commissioned officers would come over to me to see what kind of mood he was in or ask when he might be coming out to inspect them in the field. Being the top man’s driver is not a bad job when you are in the army or for that matter anywhere.
As we drove through the base, soldiers would salute our “Battalion XO” marked, hard top jeep and he would return their salutes. Even when I was alone in the jeep, usually returning it to the motor pool at night, I would get saluted as well. I loved this job and loved the Army, but it was peace time and I knew I would soon return to my civilian life. My recollections of basic and advanced training in Ft. Dix were all good ones.
I had a great opportunity there to learn my skills as a photographer . I took photos every chance I had. I would take photos of my friends our officers and our base when I could . I would then go to the Arts and Crafts Center on base where they had a wonderful darkroom where they taught me how to develop and print my photos. I even won an award there for making some leather sandals there too, it was a great way to clear my head from the rigorous training. The six months I spent at Ft. Dix, wasn’t easy physically or mentally. When I was released from training, I truly felt I had learned a great deal, not only about fighting for my country, but about photography, myself and my physical and mental abilities.
Religiously, Jewish boys become responsible for their actions upon reaching the anniversary of their 13 birthday. It is called Bar Mitzvah. For some reason at 13 years of age, I really didn’t feel like a man. To me, graduating from Basic Training was my military Bar Mitzvah and I truly felt now, I was a man.
[box_light]Returning Home From Ft. Dix[/box_light]
We returned home after training and joined one of our companies back at the Armory. Our unit had now changed their designation from a transportation unit to an Armored Personnel Carrier unit. So now I would learn how to drive an APC. My first summer home, I went to Camp Drum with the others in our battalion. Sometime during that next winter I was pulled from the ranks by our company commander . He asked me if I would like to attend Leadership School in Peekskill, NY at Camp Smith AKA ESMA (Empire State Military Academy) the following summer. This would replace my two weeks of training at Camp Drum with our unit. He explained that Leadership School would put me on the fast track for future advancement and higher pay, so I agreed to go. During the next year, things began to heat up and we were now at war in Vietnam.
[quote]I was promoted to an E-5 Sergeant (three stripes) which gave me one of the qualification necessary to attend OCS. Apparently my company and battalion commander had a future planned for me that they weren’t ready to reveal to me[/quote].
[box_light]Called To The Battalion Commanders Office[/box_light]
Some time in late 1962, my Battalion commander asked to see me in his office, I still remember that day. He explained that I had shown leadership qualities and now that I had the rank of E-5, I should go the next step and consider attending the Reserve Officers Candidate School in Fort Benning, Georgia. He told me that this battalion’s officers and non-coms (non-commissioned officers) were all African American and had cultural and background differences from the new recruits coming into their unit. He admitted they didn’t know how to deal with their new personnel. They needed to get a better ethnic mix of officers, and I suppose, I was the chosen one to become their first token white officer.
There was a large mixed population now with many middle class white jewish recruits that became part of this battalion and they wanted me to be their liaison of sorts in dealing with these men. He said I would be better suited to understand and talk to these new recruits in their own language. Looking back, it seemed funny that I was the one token jewish officer in my battalion. I was only 19 years old then, this was a lot to deal with at that time.
Many young men rushed to join a reserve six month active duty program at that time to avoid the two year draft. Once in the reserves, some claimed they couldn’t attend certain meetings because of their religious beliefs or holidays. Of course the officers in our unit had no idea if these stories were true or not and my job was to decide which stories had merit and which were BS. I was the hired gun to keep these guys in line. I didn’t really mind and my men didn’t either, because they respected me, my abilities and the great classes I used to run during our meetings.
The officers in my unit were all so serious about me going to OCS and they finally convinced me to go for it. I suppose the big perk for me was the uniform allowance they told me I would get and the custom tailor they would send me to to get my very sharp officers uniforms. I loved the dress blues they issued at that time and couldn’t wait to get mine. I still have them in my closet, unfortunately, I can’t seem to get them on now, they must have shrunk a bit over the years.
There was one condition I made in order to go to O.C.S. I wanted my brother Alan to go with me. Although he really didn’t qualify and was a cook in our unit, they agreed to promote him to the rank of Sargent too and complete their papers to send him as well. I remember talking my brother into going with me and convincing him how cool it would be to be officers. Needless to say, they agreed and Alan and I were both headed for Columbus, Georgie and OCS at the “Home of the Infantry” Fort Benning.
[box_light]Next Stop OCS and Fort Benning, Georgia[/box_light]
- Received my commission June 17, 1963, find out my class standing.
- Promoted to company commander on return to the National Guard unit and commanded 250+ men in that company…discover what they called me
- Was asked to join Company E, 16th Special Forces in Riverhead, NY, find out if I joined them.
Read the 1963 NY State Annual Report for the states National Guard. It talks about many of the units I have mentioned in this article and is a great look back in the history of the National Guard at that time. Nelson Rockefeller was our governor then.
[box_light]Three Rapoport’s Serve In The Armed Forces[/box_light]
Each one of us served our country in a different ways. Me and my brother Alan were lucky and were able to serve in the National Guard and do it at home. My younger brother Philip, who is 5 years younger then I am and 9 years younger then my brother Alan, was drafted into the Army. At that time our country was in the thick of the war in 1968. He was about my age when I joined the National Guard then and soon would be on his way to fight a war in Vietnam. Teenagers serving our country, while others enjoyed the college life or began their careers.
Phil’s story will hopefully be told in another article and I am sure his will be more interesting then mine. Phil wrote us that he volunteered to go to Dog Training School in Malaysia. What, he volunteered as I had, didn’t he hear that you never volunteer for anything in the Army? Hopefully I can convince him to write about some of his experiences for IMPress.
[box_light]A Salute To All Those That Are Now and Have Served and Their Families[/box_light]
No one can really understand what our men on active duty must endure, unless they have served or are family members of those that have served. Being in the military myself and also being part of a family who had a brother in Vietnam, I can relate to all those that have served before and after we did.
Families wait each day for some word about their loved ones safety. Back in the 1960’s we didn’t have Skype, cell phones, computers, email and our only means of communication with our brother was through the mail or through an exchange of audio cassettes we would send to each other.
Sometimes, not knowing is worse then being able to contact a loved one who is in the service where you can at least understand and support what they are doing and share family experiences from thousands of miles away. In previous wars one can only imagine the days we would wait and worry about our brother.
Never knowing if he was alive or dead and waiting each day for a letter in the mail. For me, when I was on active duty, letters were the one thing all of us looked forward to each day. Once a week we were able to make a call back home and being alone for the first time for many of us, is a bit different then leaving the nest to go off to college.
Germany, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, wars are all the same, people die horrible deaths, young men are mentally scarred for life and those that do survive, well, are at a disadvantage when they return home and try to catch up to the rest of the world. Over the years the weapons and tactics may change, but the terror our young men and women must face must be unbearable. My brother still prefers not to discuss his experiences in Nam, not even to his family.
September 11th has brought the horrible realities of war to our shores. All of our lives have changed and we all feel less secure now. There are camera’s everywhere and eyes watch us from far out in space, yet it is the dedication of our military, police, fire personnel, EMT’s and many others that we must depend on now, to keep us all safe and secure. These are very troubled times. Homeland security has taken our top priority now and all of us must be especially vigilant.
Although this article was meant to share some of my memories with you, I also wrote it to pay tribute to all the men and women that have served our country in war and in peace. To my brothers and sisters in the military, thank you all for your selfless service to our country. Politicians will come and go. There will always be wars to fight and many may not make any sense. We can all be assured, that no matter what the challenge or what the odds, our men and women in the armed forces, will be here to defend our country and the freedoms we enjoy, from all enemies both foreign and domestic.
[box_light]Philip Only A Boy Fighting A Man’s War[/box_light]
My baby brother Phil with some of his buddies in Nam. Although in his 60’s now, he continues to serve as a volunteer EMT in his home town of Atlantic Beach, New York. He continues his service to those in his community as he did for his country in Viet Nam. I am proud of him and glad he has found a group of others that also believe in giving back to their communities.