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Introductions and Wartime
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My name's Liza, I'm Alex, and today we are interviewing Mr. Ford Dade, January 18th 2006 and we are in San Francisco California.
Can you please introduce yourself.
I'm Floyd Dade. I was born in Texarkana, Texas, raised in Texarkana, Arkansas, and drafted into the US Army my senior year of 1943. I went into an armoured division when I was drafted. I went to Fort Knox, Kentucky to get my tank training. From there, we came to Camp Hood—Fort Hood now—and took our advanced training. I was with the 761st Tank Battalion.
I got discharged after World War II in 1946. I got discharged in California, I got discharged and stayed in California with my sister. I had to finish my schooling. I went to City College and also to Elkhart, Indiana to finish my high school and get my college degree. After that I came back to San Francisco and that's where I started living after I got a job here as a ____ologist.
You were drafted while you were still in school. Did you have any grudge against that? Did you want to continue your education at the time?
Yes, I wanted to continue my education. My father tried to get me out of it until I finished my high school education. But they wouldn't do it because they said too many of the older generation—the men—wasn't passing the physical exams. They had to come and get us kids.
Can you recall any instances of struggle during your childhood with racism or depression?
With racism and depression and to get food on the table—I was a kid. My parents went through all that. I didn't have a chance to experience it because I was in school. What my parents had to do—I didn't have any problems with discrimination, because we had a car and my father had a good job—he worked for the railroad company, and he was paid good. My mother was a housewife, and she raised us and a lot of other kids in the neighborhood. She had gardens and everything—picture gardens—and then she would also feed a lot of the neighbors in the neighborhood. They didn't have welfare, but she took that role in helping the neighbors.
You stated that your dad was told that if he was white he would have been called a master and had a better job. Were you angry at that?
No, I wasn't angry about segregation at all because I didn't know any better. I didn't face it, but the older generation, the older people, they were facing it every day. That was just the way of life. The job that my father had—during the war he did get the job of being master mechanic, he got the title of master mechanic and he got a raise in pay. That was during the war because the foreman that was his supervisor, he got drafted, so he put my dad in charge of the Kansas City Southern Railroad Company. He was what they called an engine watchman, he serviced the steam engine and all that, to make sure they are ready for the rails the next morning.
Can you take us back to when your school was integrated, where you in high school?
No, integration came son in '48. I was in high school in '43. I didn't get a chance to enjoy that , not at that particular time. When I went back to school, they were integrated.
Can you talk about how integration was different from your previous experience?
I went to Washington High School, that was a black school, black teachers and everybody. We had a football team, all black. Then the white school, Arkansas High, they would come to our football games and we would go to theirs. When I went to the integrated school, we practiced football together and got on the same teams. As a matter of fact, the Army was integrated in '46, right after the war and I played football on an all white football team. Also, when I came to the states in '45, to reenlist, I played football at Fort Bliss, Texas. I was the only black on the team. So I just went in there and integrated myself. I was good enough, so they excepted me and I played.
It sounds like that would be unusual to be on the Army football team. Is that what you said?
The Army football team, yes.
You were the only black man on that team?
Yes, the post team. At Fort Hood, they had a team, and I was on that team. And we traveled and played all the other Army bases that had teams.
Tell us more about what it was like being the only back man on an all black team?
I didn't have any indication or no experiences. Just got out there and do your job playing football, "Hit 'em hard, hit 'em high, hit 'em low." You get your respect. Some guys would tell racist slurs or say like they did to Jackie Robinson when he first started playing baseball. But it was nothing like that, and if it was I would just tune it out and did what I had to do. I was pretty good. I played quarterback, halfback, fullback and the old single wing. And then they went into the "T-formation." It was great. I had a lot of nice white friends that I met. After practice, I'd go my way and they'd go theirs. That's the way it was, and that's the way it was when we were fighting, also. It still had that integration. People had to hold their own in different ways after the different battles.
Do you still have any relationships with anyone from the team?
No. We lost touch with each other, except my high school. We have what they call, Booker T Washington High School Alumni Association. My wife, she is the president of that. We stay in touch that way. But the Army guys that I was in the Army with, after the 761st, I haven't gotten in touch with any of those guys. But the fellows with the 761st, I am the president of the Allied Veterans Association. We still have reunions. There's about twenty or thirty of us left. So we are dying off about 15,000 a year. So pretty soon, there are not going to be too many of us left.
In the last interview you stated that you were a "very peaceful fellow." How was the transition going to the base camps in the United States and then going off to war?
That's a very good one. I was already disciplined when I went into the Army. My mother did a good job of that. When someone's in charge, you listen and you do what you're told. That's what I did. I had that theory and I kept it with me as I would go along to train. For some reason, when I went to the courthouse after being drafted, out of 150 men—I was only 18—about three other classmates were there—and I was called to be in charge of those fellows, to make sure they got to the Army base and report to the headquarters intact. That was one of the jobs I had. Evidently, it must have been the notes in my records, because every time I'd be in a troop movement, I would be in charge. So that made me feel good until I got to Camp Hood, to the 761st. I had a little lance with stripes on that they gave me at Fort Knox because I took guys to their classes and see that they got in, and took all their test and scored 100 on all of the exams that I took. I came back to Camp Hood where the 761st was and the first thing they said, "You don't need those stripes here. They are no good." That was some of the sergeants. That didn't make any difference either. I just folded it up, put it in a little pack and sent it home to my mom. When I finished and got out, I went to advanced training, we were training with tank destroyers. The officers were to fight with tanks.
Did you have any pre-war goals or expectations? What did you think the war was going to be like?
When I was in high school we'd read about the war every day. In '41 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, I hadn't thought too much about it then, I was about sixteen or seventeen, we used to read about Patton and Rommel, who they call the Desert Fox. I just loved to read about how they would battle it out. They were good. The German tanks were better than ours. I never had any hankering about being in a tank. I didn't think that would ever be.
We didn't do that—being in a tank battalion but to see one. First, I was like a crybaby. They were putting us in the Army and Navy. They stamped me to be in the Navy. I sat there with tears in my eyes, I told him, "I don't want to be in no Navy." And he saw I was crying, so he said, "Put him in the Army then." So that was that. Then when I came across the Navy again, those "LSTC" that the landing crafts with the tanks, they were taking us across the English Channel. I wished I was in the Navy. They had good chow, they had bunks to sleep in, and a lot of good desserts. So, they said, "Uh uh, Sarge, you got to go!" So that was my experience with the Navy.
You said that when you were drafted you didn't have that much knowledge of the war. How do you think your experience and feelings of being drafted would have changed if you did have that knowledge?
I don't remember saying that but, I did have knowledge of what was going on overseas. That was with the Germans and the Russians fighting, and the Germans bombing England and Poland. They were fighting the Germans and also the Russians. Out of our history books and current events, we were up to par with what was happening overseas.
Did you imagine the physical experiences and conditions you would face prior to going overseas?
No. The experiences of battle and the conditions, no one can imagine what it would be like until you do it yourself when you get there. For instance, there's four of five dead soldiers over there on your right, or your left, all around you. There is a pool of mud and water and dead horses and cows and all that stuff around you. You have to slush around in those conditions. Then while you're there, they open fire on you. So the first thing you do is fall on the ground so you won't get hit. All the mud and muck and everything on you. That was a terrible feeling. Frozen all the time, most of the time. The men had trench foot, feet frozen, frost bitten, very uncomfortable. And we were in that for six months, because we fought 183 days straight without being pulled back, without any hot food or anything like that. We just had to keep moving.
They kept putting different divisions—infantry divisions—up with us to support, to lead into battle. Then they'd pull another one back when this would get dunked out—can't perform anymore—and then we had to lead them into battle. We never got pulled back for rest or anything. When we did come back, when the Germans were changing their fronts on us, we came back and had to circle and go down around Bastogne, in what they call the Ardennes. That was around Belgium, Luxemburg, and Holland, that's when we were fighting near France. We never got a chance to stop. As we went down going to the Ardennes, we put trailers on the end of our tanks and we took supplies and some of the troops would ride on the tanks. It made us like trucks also, because the wheeled vehicles, they couldn't go through that snow in those conditions. The conditions weather-wise were really against us. That was tough. The Germans were heavily fortified in their fighting. They were dug in and fighting us like hell. Then we had to bring supplies with these trailers and fight as we were going along. Then we got down to what they call Battle of the Bulge down in Bastogne. But the name of it, before that even came out, it was the battle of the Ardennes that covered the whole section.
Did you ever complain while you overseas, and if so to who?
I complained to the chaplin. I told him I wanted to go home. He said, "When you find a way young man, let me know." No, you couldn't complain, sweetheart. No use. When you get that comradship—these guys need you, you train to fight together. If you would go back, you would leave somebody else vulnerable. Because you'd be missed, your job not being carried out.