War! What Is It Good for? Black Freedom Struggles and the U.S. Military from World War II to Iraq

By Kimberley L. Phillips | Go to book overview

5
Machine Gun Blues
Black America and the Vietnam War

Nearly every day Jimmy Hendrix went to a restaurant in Seattle where his friends worked and asked for food. Usually he took the bags of cold burgers home to his father and younger siblings. Sometimes the teenager stayed and gulped the food. A recent high school dropout, Hendrix could not find a job, since many businesses in Seattle refused to hire young black men. He tried to join the air force, but the recruiter rejected his application. Then the police arrested him for stealing a car, though he convinced them he “only sat in the car.” Two weeks later, after he was arrested again and charged with grand theft auto, Hendrix feared he might get convicted. He went to see the local army recruiter who needed to meet a higher quota, and he readily took Hendrix’s application. When the judge presiding over Hendrix’s case learned about the recruiter’s offer, he agreed to suspend the sentence if the teenager enlisted immediately. Hendrix left for Fort Ord in late May 1961.1

Hendrix’s various calculations about when and how to enlist were not unusual. He may have heard about volunteering for the army as an escape from jail through the informal information networks young men had about the military.2 During periods of higher draft calls, judges frequently ordered young men to choose between the army and a jail sentence. Hendrix may have heard that many black men volunteered for combat and airborne units because of the $55 monthly bonus.3 At Fort Ord, Hendrix ate

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