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Introductions and Before Europe
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My name is Alex, I am Alexander, my name is Irau, my name is Lindsey, my name is Sarah, and we are the Urban School and we are interviewing Floyd Dade on Wednesday May 12th in San Francisco.
Can you please state and spell your name?
Floyd Dade, F-L-O-Y-D, Floyd, D-A-D-E, Dade.
What was your name at the time of birth?
Floyd Dade, Jr.
What is your birthday and how old are you now?
I'm 80 years old now. My birthday's May 5, 1924.
What was the city and country of your birth?
USA. Texarkana, Texas.
What is your earliest memory?
I guess the third grade. We were playing in the schoolyard, and some kid urinated behind a tree and he told the teacher that I did it. I got a spanking. I remember that very good, I didn't do that.
Do you remember anything else about your early school life and friends?
Elementary school–I was a good softball player. I loved to play softball and do the other sports when I was in the sixth grade and higher. Then I went on to be an excellent football player in high school, and baseball and softball.
What was your family life like when you were a child?
Family life? It was great. My mother and father—down south, he had a good job during the Depression—he worked with KCS Railroad. He had a lot of money coming in, about twenty-five dollars a week, and that was a lot of money. My mother was a farm girl. She kept the gardens. We had plenty fresh vegetables and everything. She fed the whole neighborhood when people ran short on groceries and so forth.
Did you have any siblings?
Yes. I had a sister, and a half brother.
What were their names?
Williola Dade and William Pearce Dade.
Did you get along with them?
Oh yes. The mother was the one I didn't get along with.
What else can you tell us about your mother?
About my mother? She did all of the licking, as a matter of fact she did all of the discipline. My father, he worked all the time, so she wasn't like the rest of the families: "I'll tell your father when he get home." She took care of the situation, "Johnnie-on-the-spot."
Do you have any specific memories about your mother, things she might have done for you that were memorable?
Yes, my mother she was a great lady. She didn't only raise us, she raised the neighborhood kids also. What she did at that time during the Depression, there was a lot of poor people, they weren’t as fortunate as we were. So my mother would make sure that they had plenty of food to eat. She'd make sure that they had clothing on their backs, and she made sure that they had a place to stay. I will say this, at her funeral, there was an old lady about ninety years of age—my mother died at seventy-five—she said, "This lady is my mother." She said, "What she did—I got tired of her coming by—I didn't get tired of her coming by, but she always wanted to know if I had enough groceries. She would get out of her truck, she'd come in the house and she would look in my cabinets and see what did I need and she would bring it to me, that she thought that I would need." So she had a mother figure, that lady at that age.
She had recreation for all of the high school kids—that we'd call hay rides and dances. She would sell ice cream and hot dogs and hamburgers. Nobody had the nickel or dime for the hamburgers or ice cream, but everybody ate ice cream and hamburgers.
What else can you tell us about the Depression and how it influenced your early life?
Being a kid, the Depression, it didn't affect my early life in a way that I remember because as a kid, all you know is your full every night and some people didn't have that privilege. We had nice clothing, the mother, she was able to sew. That was just about it.
Can you describe your high school?
My high school–the transition from elementary to high school–the kids are bigger when you go there with larger kids. You always have someone there, what they call "the bully." We had old Jake. We would fight our bully. He was trying to protect his territory and then we are coming in on his territory was a guy called Chuck. They would fight every morning going to school. On campus, everybody get together for the fight. But Chuck, he finally won. Jake, he stayed in the fifth grade I guess, about six years. That’s when they had, the old saying said, the reason they put him out in fifth grade because he wouldn't shave.
I went on to high school. Then I learned how to play football, baseball. The math and everything was getting a little bit tough, and the English and everything. But those black teachers, they really made us study hard. They didn't take any foolishness, like the kids do nowadays in school. Those black professors and teachers—the old principal, he'd put his foot in your behind, and if you didn't like it, you'd go home and tell you mother, then she would get on you. So you'd just keep your mouth shut and go and do what you had to do.
We didn't have telephones a lot. But if something happened on your way home from school, I don't know but your mother knew about it before you got there.
Did you enjoy school?
Did you have a favorite class?
My favorite class was lunch. We had Miss Grant, she was the math teacher. We had her from the fourth grade all the way up to the eighth. Miss England, she was the history teacher. Triggy Jones was the football coach and our biology teacher, and he was a role model. Mr. Grundy, he was also the English teacher. Those were the teachers that we all wanted to be like when we grew up because we had a role model at school.
When the school became integrated, the black students, they lost all that image because they laid off a lot of the black teachers, then they integrated. The white teachers didn't know how to handle those black students.
How did segregation affect your high school experience?
Equal but separate. That meant we got all of the second hand books when the white schools had used them. Then when they were upgraded, the white students would get the new books, and we would get the used books. That went all the way down the line. If that's separate but equal, I don't think so. Like our football uniforms and everything, we got the used ones from the white schools because we wasn't able to buy our own uniforms. But yet still we put out a lot of good football players and basketball, and other players like that.
Did you play against white schools?
Not officially. The white kids in the neighborhood—we were surrounded. I'll say this for example: we're down by the tracks, and they were up on the hills, they would come down, the kids—kids are wonderful—and we'd come down and we would play football and basketball and baseball. Over at this grocery store on Dudley, about eight or ten old white men would sit there chewing tobacco, watching us playing and spitting and going on. Then when we got to be around thirteen or fourteen, they said, "Well, you boys can't play like that anymore. You got to cut it out." So we didn't know what it meant, just figured they didn't want us to play, but the kids were doing wonderfully.
We would go to their football games and the white school would play. And then we would have a football game the teenagers, they would come over and watch us play, the boys would.
Were there any tensions or anything unique about playing against white kids?
No. We just played harder. They were tough and we were tough. We all was equal, we were just kids playing having a lot of fun. And you come out with a bloody nose, all you do is get up and rub it and smile and go back and try it again. And we got along very good. Kind of like when we was fighting, you know. We fought together, we died together and everything. I mean we could do everything together. I don't know where they got this prejudice from.
Was there a time where you did have a problem or a fight with a white kid because you guys were different races?
No, I was a peaceful fellow. I never had a fight with a white kid or black kid.
Were you drafted?
How old were you?
What grade were you in?
What was your reaction when you found out you were being drafted?
Reaction? I didn't like it because I wanted to finish high school. And my dad, he tried to ease my pain a little bit by saying, "Well, World War I, you won't have to go any place because when I was drafted in World War I, I thought I had to leave, but the war was over before I got there." That was the only thing that I had to try and console me a little bit until I got the final notice to bring enough clothes for three days. I knew that was it.
Were you scared?
Well, I was just curious to find out and see what it was like in the Army. Matter of fact, I didn't want miss my mother's cooking. The only thing I worried about most when I got in was where I was going to sleep and eat. That was the main thing that I worried about. When I went in, the first thing I found out was where was the mess hall and where I was going to sleep, and that was it.
Did you have prior knowledge about the war in Europe before you were drafted?
No. The only knowledge I had about the war when I was drafted, we got a magazine that every week during our history class—current events, I would say—we would read about it, and we'd get this magazine, and we'd discuss it. The only thing I knew about was General Patton and Rommel fighting in South Africa, those tanks and all of that, that was the only knowledge I had and I'd just sit there and put my hand under my chin and just daydream, you know, just wondering what it was like. In the desert fighting, it was kind of rough. We’d run out of water and our engines were water-cooled. But the German tanks, they were air-cooled, so they didn't have to worry about water as we did in our vehicles. That was the only knowledge that I had about the Army.
Were many of your friends drafted with you?
One. No, three. Two other guys in my class and one had graduated the year before.
Was that a comforting feeling?
Yes it was. We had one kid, Fulton Walker, he lost his appetite. I sat next to him, so every morning I had extra milk and eggs and toast. What the kids said about me was all around the hill, "Well, Floyd, I don't know if you lost your appetite or not, but one thing, you didn't lose your appetite, but it sure didn't affect you." The third day he told us—he called me Big Dade then—"I got to eat." I said, "OK." So I had to go back for seconds.
Was there a reason why only four of you were drafted?
Well, that was the ones that I knew. There were one hundred and fifty of us in that group that left from Texarkana. When we were drafted, we went to the courthouse...
We are all African American when I say "we." Because the whites, they drafted them in a separate group. When we came, they had a group for whites, and I was in with the blacks. So the whites over here, and the blacks over here.
I heard him call my name. I was, "What the heck did I do?" He said, "Floyd Dade, Jr." I said, "Yeah." He says, "Come up here." I went up there and he said," You're in charge of these men, you're going to Camp Robertson, Arkansas. He said, "You take this envelope, and you take it to the post commander when you get there." He gave me the meal tickets. He said, "Make sure that give them lunch when you get to Little Rock. And then you report to camp." So I did, and I guess they put that in my jacket, that I was in charge of the guys. When I went to Fort Knox I had to do the same thing. I was in charge of that group all the way through until we got to the 761st Tank Battalion in Camp Hood.
What did you do in Camp Hood?
That’s where the 761st Tank battalion was. That's where we joined them to get combat training.
Tell us more about what training was like.
I'm glad you asked that question. When we came to Camp Hood, we had our own tanks. At Fort Knox, we had tanks that everybody on the post would use. Like the whites that were training in the tanks, they would use them first thing in the morning while we would be doing other training, like policing up the area, picking up cigarette butts, and cleaning up the post, and cutting the grass and the weeds. Sometimes we'd have classes, what they'd call "skull practice," simulating war in the simulators. Then, when the white troops got through with the tanks, they would bring them in back to the post. Then they would do what we did except policing of the area. We had to service the tanks, repair the one that was broken, and clean then every night and take care of them when the whites were finished with them.
So we learned, and that was extra learning that we did, because in combat, when you had to do these things to your tanks, we knew how to do it in the dark, we got that good. We learned how to assemble and disassemble our guns and cannons in the dark also. They put us in the back camps down in Louisiana where it was swampy, and that was the combat conditions that which we fought in, was in that mud and muck and snow and everything, the conditions.
That was one thing that helped us so much in our combat experience, because we knew what to do when we were bogged down in the mud and rain and in those situations. When the terrain wasn't fit for you to fight in or travel in, we knew how to do it, maneuver in it.
Can you think of another example of the different jobs and treatment of the black soldiers in the Army before gong to Europe?
The only job that blacks had, they were menial jobs. Now my father, he, as I told you, he was what they call an engine watchman, they had oil burners, and coal burners. He was making good money. His supervisor told him—I'd say his boss when we call him, his name was Buster Johnson—he went and got drafted and went into the Army also. He was in the railroad battalion. I was hoping I could have gotten in touch with him and got into his battalion, but I wasn't all that fortunate enough to do that.
He told my dad, he said, "If you were white, you would be what they would call a master mechanic, and you would make ten times the money that you were making." He said, "But I'm going to put you in the union." The AFL-CIO; it was the firemen and oilers' union that the railroads had. No blacks could get in that. But he said, "I'm going to get you in it. They don't know who you are, don't show it to anybody but here's your card, so if anything ever happens, you'd be covered, but don't let them know you're black." He worked with another black man, Charlie King, he would always put it under Charlie's nose like he had something he didn't have. They kidded a lot.