In 1969 the Vietnam War was taking a terrible toll on young military fliers, and US Navy flight training had been compressed to help replenish the ranks of ensigns and lieutenants who were being shot down in Asia. As is probably true of all wars, the temper of military flight training was heavily laced with the emotions of young men just back from or about to go over to the combat zone. Thus, one day early in our training to become naval flight officers, I and three classmates found ourselves aboard an elderly, ex-US Air Force UC-45J (the Navy SNB), outbound from Sherman Field on a navigation training flight. As the aircraft struggled aloft and we four busied ourselves at our little training nav tables, the pilot, a JG just several years older than we, announced a change in plans. We soon landed at a nameless, deserted, small airport in eastern Alabama, bordering Florida by just several miles at the tip of the Panhandle. As soon as the props had stopped turning, the pilot announced that he had some "business" in town and that we were to wait and “talk about navigation. “ Then he was gone in a cloud of hot, dusty air and hormones.
We four new ensigns stood next to the aircraft for a moment, uncertain of what to do next. It was my first trip to Alabama and it was hot. The air shimmered with heat, dust, whirling insects, a sour smell, and a mugginess that reminded me of the Massachusetts coast in August. In our Nomex flight gear and heavy, steel-toed boots we were already soaked through with sweat, thirsty, confused, and more than a little pissed-off at out instructor pilot who was already, we were certain, snuggling-up to some honey he knew. We had nothing to drink at the deserted and locked airport and had not brought box lunches on what was to have been a short, four hour nav trainer.
We straggled down the length of the dusty gravel runway to the fence, which bordered a quiet, narrow street lined by small frame buildings. There was no traffic and since it was only 0930 and the Sun was just rising, we knew if we didn’t find some shade and something to drink we’d all be in the hurt locker by the time LTJG Romeo reappeared.
Down the street from the airport fence we could just see a rusty Coca Cola sign hanging from the front porch of a small white building with peeling paint and a generally gray and grubby exterior. Wordlessly we agreed that that was our destination and set out, our heavy flight boots stirring a cloud of choking dust, the Sun hammering our heads and shoulders. Within a hundred feet our fore-and-aft caps were soaked through and beginning to sag under the weight of the loads of sweat they were accumulating.
We reached the Coke sign and climbed the rickety front steps onto the porch. And, next to the hand-painted sign that said “Bar,” there they were. Two scabby doors stood perhaps 15 feet apart, down from the bar’s screen door entrance. “White” and “Colored.” Outside each door was a rusty drinking fountain, each with its own smaller sign, “White” and “Colored.” I had heard of such things, safe and far away in Boston or Amherst. I had heard people talking about it. But here it was, made solid by proximity. All four of us stared for a moment and had nothing appropriate to say. With a look among us we continued into the bar itself, our heavy boots clumping loudly across the scarred wooden floor as we passed though the doorway. The torn screen door slammed behind us.
Out of the Sun, the interior of the bar was marginally cooler. A small fan tried in vain to move the oppressive air. We must have made quite a sight, four guys in military flight gear moving into the small group of locals in overalls standing at or near the bar. They stared wordlessly as we ordered four Cokes, sweat streaming down our faces onto our already soaked flight suit collars. Small drops of sweat dripped onto the floor, each making an audible *Pat* as it hit the boards among the silence. We nursed our Cokes, reluctant to again go out into that ruthless Sun, uncertain when our pilot would return. We made small talk among ourselves as the locals stared wordlessly at us between their own conversations. And the entire time we felt like we each had signs on our itchy backs saying “Outsider” or “Rich White Boy” (if they only knew how poor we were). There were no blacks anywhere in sight.
After nursing our drinks until they were gone we left the bar without a word. Several of us had to use the head and I felt definitely strange opening one of two bathroom doors separated by just 15 feet, one word, and hundreds of years of bad history. We then shuffled back up the street to the airstrip and, with resignation, sat-down next to the airplane in the small shade it provided. Sitting inside wasn’t an option; the airless interior of the UC-45J easily reached 130 degrees in the Sun. We sat in silence, occasionally coughing or moving out butts, which were soaked with sweat and being assaulted by the gravel upon which we sat.
Eventually, our pilot returned, smiling and looking crisp and sexually satisfied. We reboarded the aircraft in silent resentment, completed or preflights, and the two old radial engines rumbled to life. Soon we were blessedly airborne and the cool breeze at 5,000 feet coming through the vents felt wonderful. By the time we landed in Pensacola, our flight suits were half dry.
I remembered this experience vividly recently when Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton clawed at one another in a sort of half-genteel, gloves-on match on TV during which the moderators, for the first time in 15 months, actually asked Sen. Obama some questions about his past and his current affiliations. In response to what were rather mild, generic questions, Mr. Obama replied in an angry, petulant way, scolding the moderators for even asking the questions while talking in his singular style during which he says, at length, absolutely nothing. I thought of those two doors, “White” and “Colored,” and of a bar long ago and far away, where a black man would have had to be supernaturally brave just to enter and ask for a drink. Where black Americans were just getting to their feet in the fight for the rights every American should expect while knowing that deadly violence was a real possibility every time they spoke or marched. Where, 45 years later, the struggle for civil rights would degenerate into a Twilight Zone episode in which black Americans would cling to the political party that so forcefully fought them every step of the way and in which Liberal black Americans would had soured into a surly, snarly mob that expects special treatment and deference based upon past wrongs perpetrated by people long dead. Where the press, a now wholly owned subsidiary of the anti-American Left, would throw-down its note pads and pencils and instead spend its time throwing 5-gallon cans of gasoline on the fire of politics, instead of simply doing a competent job of reporting. Where even today at the New York Times Building there are two bathroom doors, although one is labeled “Right-thinking Liberals” and the other, in the alley, signed, “Hateful Conservatives, Soldiers, and Dogs.” In 2008 America where the soul of black America has fallen so far from “We Shall Overcome” in 1963 to “How Dare You Ask Me That Question?” in 2008. The tragic disintegration of Liberalism and its political putrefaction in gruesome detail.
As a Jew I know what it’s like to step out of school at the end of the day, hear someone yell, “Get the Kike!” and have several kids jump you and beat you, sometimes to unconsciousness. That black America has taken the Democratic Party’s lead and settled into a bad-tempered, simmering resentment of white society is a tragedy from which black America may never successfully extricate itself. This campaign season we are seeing two of the Democrats’ noisiest and nastiest special interest groups at one another’s throats. Whatever the outcome of the Democrat nominating process, the bad feelings that fall out of it may never be healed. “White” and “Colored” indeed.