A Veteran's Message
Profilers: Cindy Barrios, Yu Li Huang, Bryen Irving, & Clayton Michael
Acceptance and Understanding
Question: Could you introduce yourself please?
Mr. Irving: My name is Edward Irving. And I was born in the state of Texas, in 1939. And I grew up partly in Texas, partly in Nevada, in the Las Vegas area. In 1960 I ended up going to college in the Los Angeles area. And I was there for just short of three years, and I ended up in the military. Enlisted into the United States Army in 1962. And I served in the army from 1962 to 1965. I was trained at that particular time, at Fort Ord, in the northern California area.
Question: The 1960s was a turbulent time because of civil rights issues, did you ever face discrimination in the army as an African American soldier?
Mr. Irving: It was, pressure, being a soldier in the US, and especially being a black soldier. For instance, I was some states during the time, doing the training, where, with some of the guys I was training with, and we wanted to go to a particular- I won’t say the name- but we wanted to go to a particular restaurant to have some food, and they said, “no he can’t” – there was three blacks in the crowd and they said, “No, they can’t come in, they can’t be here.” And that’s sort of hard to swallow because you’re saying, “Hey I’m here willing to my life on the line for you, and you mean-you won’t even serve me a piece of bread?” I know all of the guys that were there, they could’ve gone into the restaurant and had could have eaten, but they said, “No man, if they can’t come in, we’re not coming in.” So that was the attitude, they even come to support me and I would come to support them, and we became family because of learning who you really are, and not what I hear about you.
Question: Did your experiences affect your view towards the United States?
Mr. Irving: Yes, we had some problems but the teeth and tongue have problems, sometimes you bite your tongue but the tongue stays, doesn’t leave. Sooner or later things smooth out and the tongue is well and things are better. There were a lot of things that went on that I didn’t particularly care for, but it was still the country that I lived in and I wanted to do the very best I could for my country and for myself.
Question: Do you still keep in contact with any of your fellow soldiers?
Mr. Irving: I sure do. Yeah, we’ve become lifetime friends. That was what I was saying, again, I know some guys that were from states that where black and white really did not get along at all. But by the time we ended up coming out of the service we became great friends, and we’re still in contact, and some of those very people were people who, at that particular time, “Man, I don’t want nothing to do with you,” but we’re really good friends now. So it really broke down some barriers on both sides.
Question: What would you say is your biggest take away from your time in service?
Mr. Irving: Don’t judge people on what they do, try to understand. You know, come out as a stronger person, say, “Hey, I’m not saying that’s wrong, it may not be the right thing that I would choose to do where I am, but maybe if I were in your shoes where you are, I would do it identically the way you are doing it. So, be able to open your mind just say, hey my way isn’t the only way. It’s not.”
Question: Regarding your experience, do you have a message you would like to share with people our age?
Mr. Irving: The message that I would offer to youngsters, or younger people in the world today, is to: First of all, don’t be so quick to draw conclusions from a situation. Try to evaluate it; try to get information about the situation; try to understand the situation and why particular things happen. We could have better respect for each other because we are all human beings and we are all on this planet. We need to be able to live together. Doesn’t matter where we are , you understand? So, just try to be a little slower to draw conclusions. Close your eyes and listen. Hear, hear that person. Try to receive that person from where they are. That would be the message.
Transitioning After the War
Question: Did you have any difficulties transitioning back to civilian life?
Mr. Irving: I did when I was first discharged from the military because I guess its the tension and being in that environment for the period of time. I noticed that …. Once I got out of service and got home how protective I was. I mean, I would hear a sound and would just wake up automatically. You don’t think that you would, but when you hear a sound that’s not the sound that you should hear your body is just conditioned to react to it, to do something, to wake up. I think that was all from the military, it’s like you hear an unfamiliar sound; it’s like your buddy could walk into the area where you are and you’re sleeping and you knew his sound. You knew that sound and that it was ok, that’s ok, but there was some things, a strange person could walk in and there would always be something a little different; you become sensitive to sound and your body is conditioned, to not only hear, but to react to it. When I got out of the military, I was home and even certain things could happen around the house and I would wake up for a second and forget what was going on. Then you realize that everything was alright. So yes, you go through some changes.
I wondered at one particular time if I was gonna stay like that for the rest of my life. But it started to subside, and you start to go back to a norm where you were, but you are a little bit more sensitive than you were originally just because that’s in you. But you sort of come back down, it takes a while. I even used to tell my wife, don’t walk up on me suddenly.
Question: How about your fellow soldiers, did they have a difficult time transitioning to civilian life?
Mr. Irving: Yeah, I know one friend of mine actually killed himself. You know, and he… As he went along, he kept on saying the war really messed him up. He blamed it on what happened there. I can understand that there were something that possibly happened that could have affected him very seriously and very deeply. But, I think he got into a place where he couldn’t… into a hole in a sense, where he couldn’t come out. You know, it left him there. He didn’t figure out how… He is down in a well, and there is a rope or a ladder on this side, but he just never found that rope or ladder. So he ended up dying in that well. That’s the way I look at it. But yeah, there are some who just seem to get worse when they come out of the service. And I do feel that’s the reason: they were just never able to dig out of the hole that they got into. That’s my own summation of the situation. That’s how I feel about it.
Universal War Experiences
Question: As a Korean War Veteran, do you know if Korean War and Vietnam War experiences were similar or different?
Mr. Irving: Basically, with different people, some [experiences] were good some were bad. I know people that say they hated people because of where they were, and because of some of the things that happened in life, you know what I’m saying. But, this is the way I look at it: sometimes people do things that have to do to survive. You know, it may not be exactly what I want to do, but I may have to do a particular thing to survive.
So, I know with Vietnam, there were things that were going on that I felt, as a person myself, really didn’t affect me and I shouldn’t be there. But there were also other reasons why I felt that we needed to be there. So there were both sides. So what you have to do is you take them and balance and say: there is good here, even though this is negative, there are some good things and good qualities here, too. So what you have to do is balance. It’s something that people have to do.
I’ve heard people say that “I hate, man, I hate Vietnamese, and I hate them.” Why? Because! Something happened to create that, but it didn’t happen to everybody. Did you do what you had to do or what you have done or what you had to do if you were in their place. You understand? You have to really take a real true look at the situation. What would you do if it were you? So, you can’t just judge a person. Ohhh that’s bad! Because he shot somebody! What if you were out there and somebody rushed up on you? You don’t who it is. What would you do?
I felt like I learned that even though we don’t always agree, with everything we do and the customs that we have, you still have a right to be who you are, and do the things you do even though I disagree with you. But you have that right and I have to respect the fact that you have the right to choose your life for what you feel is the best for you to do. So, with some people that did come out of service and I know they had negative attitude, I would always say try to say something positive. Basically all I can do is say something, [if] you do receive it, there is nothing I can do about it. But I try not to leave them in that place where,… well, they are gonna say, “Yeah I agree with you, I agree with you.” I would say “what would you do if you were in the same situation?” You have to evaluate and think about it: what would I do? Would I do that?
Nobody… I felt like, nobody really want to be in a war. But if it comes down to that, you are, then you have to do what you have to do. So that’s the way I feel about it. Even though somethings I don’t agree with, customs of other countries. For instance, right now, I would say for instance I don’t totally agree with the nuclear things concerned with what North Korea is doing right now. I don’t agree, but does that mean they don’t have the right to pursuit what they think is best for them? We don’t have to agree, but you have the right. I’m just hoping that the thing you choose to do is not harmful to me. That’s the way I look at it.