In 2012, when I was working as counsel on the Robert Champion band hazing manslaughter case, I exchanged emails with an older white man named Charles Haywood, one who had seen my name in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article about the case and wondered whether I was related to an old Army buddy of his named Chuck Hobbs.
To my delight, when I responded that the original was my dad, Captain (Ret.) Haywood shared memories of serving as a young Army officer with my father. Haywood had attended then all-white Ole Miss during the same period in which whites were looting and rioting to prevent James Meredith, a Black man, from enrolling. In Army Ranger School, he struck up a friendship with my dad, a graduate of then all-Black Florida A&M University.
Neither Captain Haywood nor my father completed Ranger School, something that my pride filled father never discussed in any detail with me; Captain Haywood provided the reason why and by so doing, helped me understand why my dad was ADAMANT that I learn how to swim when I was a boy—as you will soon read.
Both men would later serve their nation honorably in Vietnam, fighting during a time when other men their age avoided service for myriad reasons.
While lengthy, I find the following e-mail a worthy read if for no other reason than to show that with regards to race relations, we all must discern character based upon actions, as opposed to drawing conclusions based upon assumptions:
It is my honor to meet you by e-mail. My daughter Amy is very determined to do what she has done in connecting us. I am sorry for the premature death of your dad. Sometimes, we don't understand why events are as they are, but we must keep our faith in Jesus that all things work to good for those who are His children.
How do you explain the deaths of very talented some soldiers (generic) who are brave and happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time? My best friend died a week before his tour was complete. I was very lucky and suffered no wounds even though people on both sides of me died in firefights.
What she has told you is a little embellished. I was reading the AJC story about the Fla A&M Band hazing case and your name jumped out at me. I remembered that I had a Ranger Buddy named Chuck Hobbs. I knew your father as my Ranger buddy for about 4-5 days in the fall of 1963. Each of us had a RA Commission and had attended Officers Basic at Ft. Benning. There were two classes running concurrently and they included West Point and ROTC RA officers. We were a cocky lot!
So I met your dad at the beginning of Ranger School when they assigned us our buddies. We did PT together and orientation for three or four days and then we were told to prepare for the swimming and PT tests. I wasn't worried about the PT since I had just finished Airborne School, as had your dad.
I am struggling to get my story correct. Memory is not great after 49 years. The night before the swimming test your dad told me that he was not a good swimmer. I told him I would help. As I remember, we had our gear on and jumped into a very cold December swimming pool and were supposed to swim the length of the pool. We jumped and I started to swim, but quickly realized that your dad was spending more time under water than on top of the water. He was not drowning. I swam over to help him and the Drill Instructor said to let him make it on his own. Well, I decided that your dad needed my help and I continued to help him. I got chewed on a little after we finished.
The next morning was the PT test and on the 40 yard low crawl, the Drill Instructor kept sending me back to the starting line and after restarting three times, I did not crawl fast enough to pass that portion. In addition, the run followed the crawl and I had left my strength at the crawl.
Your dad whipped through the PT test as you would expect a well trained football player. After we got back to the barracks, he was really worried about being booted. I remember trying to encourage him because I did not think they would boot a guy with his physical ability. I knew I had problems because of the PT test, but I hoped for a retest.
At formation the next morning, your dad and I and some others were told to fall out and report to the First Sergeant. We were sent over to HQ and were interviewed by a superior officer. We were booted. He went on to his first unit and I sat around Ft Benning for two months awaiting concurrent travel for my wife and I. An interesting sidebar about the officer who interviewed us was that he and my brother had gone through Ranger School together in 1951.
So, the swimming test was a new requirement because some Ranger students had drowned the previous spring while doing a river crossing. I never discussed this because being booted from Ranger School was always an embarrassment for me. It was a blemish on my record that gnaws at me to this day. I don't think Amy appreciates the pride factor.
I never saw your dad again, but I was impressed by him and other graduates of A&M and Howard University. He was friendly and obviously a very talented officer according to the information Amy has sent to me.
Yes, 1963 and 2012 are light years apart. As a people we have progressed much, but we still have more progress to make as individuals and as a country. I was a senior when James Meredith was enrolled at Ole Miss. I did not participate in the riots nor did I know anyone who did. I will always believe that most of the violence was from non students. The National Guard was activated by the Governor at half-time of the Ole Miss Arkansas game on Saturday night. I had friends who were deployed to Oxford on Saturday by the Governor and federalized by the President on Monday morning. It was a stain on our state. But the shame had begun many decades before. As a country we continue to pay for the sins of our forefathers. Men of quality like your dad help to shorten the time required...
I was discharged as a Captain, but I was on the Major's list for promotion.I have Parkinson's and coronary artery disease which have been tied into the exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. As a result the VA has awarded me a 100 percent disability for the two diseases and post traumatic stress disorder.I was very stunned when this disability was awarded.
As I said, I was truly impressed with your dad. I was not an athlete, but I had a respect for those who were able to play various sports at the collegiate level. I had to dig deeply to just be average.
I would be interested in knowing more about your dad's career. My son retired as a LTC. He is a West Point graduate but he chose to get out at 20 years so he could be with his sons as they went thru Scouts and played youth sports. He was in Special Forces most of his career.
I look forward to getting to know you and I appreciate you reaching out to me.
Lest we forget…