Letters to the World

As a child
    Our hero was born September 8, 1949 to Willie and Amelia McNealy in Tuskegee, AL. But life didn’t keep the family in the South, when he was four, they moved North to Milwaukee, WI.

    His childhood was like any other boy’s: happy, full of mischief, active. “ I like to think I had a happy childhood,” he said. “I did the things children/adolescents did.”

   High school was no different, Ronald wrestled, going all the way to state for his weight class, and played football. He was, under any other circumstances, what would be called the “All-American” boy. But this was the 1960s, and the North was also steeped with racial prejudice.

    “I was voted most likely to make it in the big leagues,” he said. “I didn’t get the break like a lot of sorry players did.”

    When he was only 19, he was notified that he was to be drafted by the United States Army to fight in Vietnam.

    “Initially I was notified by mail to report to my local draft board,” Ronald said.

    But, as was the case for many, he did not want to go. According to Jack Foner, Blacks had a difficult time qualifying for deferments. Even with the opportunity to apply for conscientious objector status and hardship or dependency deferments, more whites than blacks were able to avoid the draft.

    So Ronald did what others wanted to do but couldn’t; he disappeared. His disappearance was not from the country, but from the eye of the draft board. After arriving at his grandmother’s house in Dadeville, AL, he received some strong words. 
   
    “She pointed out to me that it would be better than in jail,” he said. She knew all about the draft, as her youngest son, Warren, Ronald’s uncle, was already in the army, and his cousin, Sonny Bell, was in an Aviation outfit, and was killed in action.
   
    “Big Mama said she would pray for me,” Ronald said. “So I came on back and went downtown to the board.”
This does not mean that he quietly submitted to the draft. In fact he tried everything he could to disqualify himself.

     
“For a number of months I was failing at meeting the requirements for the draft,” he said. “When I refused to take the oath, I was taken away in cuffs and shackles.”

    Boy     Basic Training     Black in Vietnam     Homecoming     Letters to the World    

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© 2003 Jasmine McNealy