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Interview with Bertran Wallace [April 10, 2007 (transcription date)]

Bertran Wallace:

April the 9th is indeed an extraordinary and outstanding day for this 84-year-old GI who served in World War II and the Korean War. The purpose is to follow through on correspondence with the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., about veterans whose stories have not been told. And I want to share with you a story. Two stories, in fact. One, World War II, where I served as an enlisted man in a segregated army. Those of you, perhaps, who are not familiar with that, segregated army meant in America that you were either Caucasian or you were considered a Negro. That was the word that was used at that time. And so I served with a Negro outfit in World War II. The second part of this project and story will be to talk about my tour of duty in the Korean War as an officer in Koju-do. Let me share with you this morning that I am speaking from the Educational Development Center, which is a part of the Volusia County School System. And participating with me, and you will hear their voices, is the teacher on assignment who indicated that she is not an administrator, but her name is Brenda Breter. That's B-r-e-t-e-r. And then Jason Caros, who is a social studies specialist with the system. And the person who is the technician -- technician for this total project is Jon Caime. And so as a former educator, I'm just so happy that this group of my colleagues are here to help me to tell this story to those who want to hear it, and I hope all of you will, about my experiences in the two wars. And with that, let me get started. There's a preamble to the actual participation in World War II. It began in 1942 when Uncle Sam issued an order for -- there was a need for more pilots of color to team up with the 99th Pursuit Squad of which is now known as the Tuskegee Airmen. And a call went out to my school, which was Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, to those of us who had participated in the civilian pilot training program to apply to become pilots. Two of my buddies -- and I'd like to share their names. They're both dead now. They both were pilots. Richard Pullam (ph) who was from Kansas City, who was my roommate, and we grew up together. Wendell Pruitt (ph) from St. Louis who is my fraternity brother. In fact, all three of us were fraternity brothers, and we were known as the Three Musketeers. Well, the examination was to be held at Fairfax Airport in Kansas City, Kansas. And so Pruitt stayed overnight with me. Richard lived in Kansas City, and he stayed there. But the three of us had breakfast together. And during that process, my mother, who has a Mexican father, happened to give me garlic, which I love. And so I ate some garlic that morning. And the three of us went to Fairfax Airport to -- for the examination. And there was a captain who was a medical officer who examined each one of us. However, the two, Wendell and Richard, were successful in passing the exam. But when the captain called me boy, I indicated to him that my name wasn't boy. And of course he smelled the garlic, and with that, he told me to get the -- the use of the curse word F out of here, and your F-ing days are over. And as a result of that, I cried for about five years. Because I felt this was where I could best serve my country. And I want you to know that this is my country. I am an American. And I'm very proud to be an American. And I will always be an American, and I'm going to fight for this country that I love. So I want the record to -- I want you to hear that. In 1942 when I went back to campus, about 10 of my classmates became members of the Enlisted Reserve Corps. And that was in August of 1942. And the purpose was really to not go to war too soon. We were to finish our college education. We had to maintain a B average. We were all potential officers. And so following the 10 of us, 70 more men went down. And I think there were about 85 students from the college who became members of the Enlisted Reserve Corps. Well, on March the 22nd, 1943, a call came down that Private Bertran Frederick (ph) Wallace, 17030092, would report to Jefferson barracks for duty. And 31 of my classmates were there. We took the exam, and the next thing I knew, 31 of us had been assigned to -- to a Military Police Battalion, which was in Fort Riley, Kansas. And we were on our way to this outfit that was predominantly -- well, it was all black with white officers. They had four companies, A, B, C, and D. My group, 31 of us, were assigned to Company A. We joined in with other young men who had graduated from college in Kansas and -- and high school. And Company A became the elite company in the battalion. Basic training was to be 13 weeks. Our basic training was completed in eight weeks. We had a very outstanding training officer, and I hope that Lieutenant Nash (ph) will hear this or will see this. Because we all loved Lieutenant Nash, a gentleman from South Carolina who treated us with a great deal of respect and spoke so often about our intelligence and -- and -- but we never tried to override anything that he would say because of such a fine gentleman. We finished our basic training in Fort Riley, and then we moved to Fort Devens where we were given an Army exam to see if we were qualified to go overseas. During that process, we joined up with a group of young men from New Jersey and New York and Washington, D.C. And out of this group, many of the men had gone to other white colleges like Howard University, Lincoln University, and et cetera, et cetera. And so what they did in order for this battalion to be successful is that they put all of us in the various companies in the battalion so that when questions were asked, the sergeant in charge would call on one of the college students. And, for the record, the word that is generally known as the N word, the men that I served with referred to us as a group of college niggers. So I just want to let you know that that word has been bounced around. And while it was not a word that was degrading, per se, it was a word that we were supposedly so intelligent and we were different. So within the -- that group, that word was -- we were referred to as. Anyway, we passed the test. Next thing I knew, we were on our way overseas. We ended up -- by the way, when we went overseas, we went overseas in the largest convoy during World War II. And I -- I was on Queen Elizabeth ship as a twenty- -- I think I was about 25 at that time. And we landed in Oran, North Africa, in a desert, almost. And we were assigned to guard prisoner -- German prisoners at that time. And we were adjacent to another black MP battalion, which was the 730th. They were all from Texas. We guarded these prisoners for a number of months, and then we got orders to move to Narbern (ph), North Africa, where we were to guard an Air Force ordinance dump. By the way, the 743rd Military Police Battalion was assigned to the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces. And there -- at that time the Air Force was Army. It was not separate. So it was known as the Army Air Force. And we pulled duty guarding nothing but bombs. For whatever reason, our cadre, those of us who had gone to college, was known to headquarters. And there was an officer within our battalion named John -- Captain John Groonel (ph). Captain Groonel was from Wichita, Kansas, and we'd call him Gary Cooper, because he looked and acted just like Gary Cooper and was a fine gentleman. A detachment -- there was a need for MPs to perform security duties for the headquarters in Algiers. So there was -- the first unit that went up had about 20 men. I was not in that first group. And they all went to Algiers. And then the second group, which I was a part of, went to -- to Algiers. We lived in a hotel. We had separate quarters. And the separate quarters are always given to the military police. Military police never stayed in the same quarters because of the duties and a responsibilities of an MP. We ate in the same mess hall, which was an unusual arrangement. So though the Army was segregated, our detachment of about 30 or 45 men became integrated in the Army back in 1943, which we were very proud of. The cadre consisted, as I said, of mostly college men and high school graduates. We were so well known in Algiers that the local paper was -- had an article about, be careful of how you deal with these MPs, because most of them are college men, and they are football players, basketball players, boxers, and they are scholars. So though we were separate -- and I don't call it equal, but we were in terms of the job that we did. Captain Groonel, our commanding officer, was indeed a true American, a gentleman, decent, caring, and loved us as his troops. We were never referred to as boys or any degrading term. We were always referred to as his men. And we had the pleasure during that period of time of winning boxing matches, all the track meets. We sang in the San Carlo Opera House. We won the peninsula big section basketball tournament, because four of us played basketball together at Lincoln University. So we were able to hold our own. And we played against mostly white teams. I'm not going to use that word too often. But they were -- most of the teams were white. And -- but we won the championship. And this was in Naples at that time. During the war in -- in Italy, Rome fell on June the 4th or the 6th. And we received an order to go to Rome since Rome was an open city -- I think it was four days -- on June the 10th. It was four or six days after Rome had fallen -- to be the security troops for about six hotels that were set aside for the Air Force officers known for rest or relaxation for all these officers. And we were to be the MPs responsible for securing those hotels, whether an officer would enter those hotels or not. And we worked very closely with the hotel administrators. Most of these fellows who were with the hotel were -- were white and had been with the -- some telephone company. In fact, that's what we later learned. We formed a basketball team known as the New Mexico Five, and there were four of us who were of color, and the other four were white. And this integrated team, we became all friends, all buddies. It was a -- it was a beautiful period of time in my life, because for the first time in my life, growing up in Kansas City and born in -- in Texas, that I felt free and that I felt that what our song means, Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, that I was indeed an American and that I was a first-class citizen because of the relationship that I had with -- and all of us had with the people that we worked with in these five hotels. And then the people -- then the inhabitants of -- well, the people who lived in Rome, which were mostly Italians. So our reputation was -- was outstanding. And I guess the bottom line is that the two separate groups of people, black, white, that in World War II, this group of men, we were integrated. We were the United States Army. Not black. Not white. But American soldiers. Our duties consisted of -- can you imagine that our men, while we were stationed -- I've got to back up now -- in Naples, our men pulled duty on the same floor -- now, this is 1943 and '44, at the height of racial prejudice, but our men pulled duty on the same floor that the WAACs, which were all white young ladies, lived and dressed. But our men was there as a security. So that in itself to me said something about the caliber of men who served with the 743rd Military Police Battalion with the special detachment and assigned to the Mediterranean Allied Air Force. And while we were there, we had a choral group. We sang at the San Carlo Opera House in Naples, which I understand is the first time that any group of color had ever done such. And we sang ballads of America with Richard Tucker, who was an opera singer out of Chicago, was the -- was the soloist. To end this story about the World War II, following my tour of duty with the MP detachment, and this is a very personal one that I feel very proud of, is that there was a newspaper known throughout the war as the Stars and Stripes. And they had several editions in New York and in Italy. And I had the privilege of applying for the job to be a line _____ operator with the Rome edition of the Stars and Stripes. And I was chosen -- at that time I was a staff sergeant. And I became a copy cutter on the night shift of the Stars and Stripes, and the role of a copy cutter is to be sure that all the copy is typed and -- I mean, and submitted to the composer to put in the newspaper. And the reward for this assignment was that two of my friends who were journalists -- I think Bill Mullen (ph) had served with them. And many of the outstanding journalists at that time in '43 and '44 had worked with the Stars and Stripes. And I was one out of 350 employees who served on the Stars and Stripes. And you can imagine what my lifestyle was like serving in Rome. To you, affectionately, because I spoke the language, I was befriended by several married couples and people that I knew in general. And because I spoke the language, my friend asked me one day, had I come back to visit them. And I said, "Yes." And I said, "Why did you ask me?" He said, "Well, our maid said that a dark Sicilian had come by to visit with them." And so from that day until now when I'm around my friends that I call my gumbas, which are Italians, I let them know that I'm a dark Sicilian. And so this story ends my story about this fabulous group of young men, all men of color from the various black colleges in the United States of America and high schools, that we were integrated. And I think that you ought to know that. Yet there was a segregated Army, but that the powers that be saw fit to bring us together and for others to see what we were capable of doing. And that closes out my World War II story.

Jason Caros:

Mr. Wallace?

Bertran Wallace:

Yes.

Jason Caros:

You talked about the integration that -- that you experienced --

Bertran Wallace:

Uh-huh.

Jason Caros:

-- during World War II. Now, between World War II and Korea, Harry Truman, President Harry Truman, issued the executive order, desegregated the military. Do you recall your reaction to that executive order at that time? And how, if at all, did that change your experience in the military?

Bertran Wallace:

Thank you very much, Jason, for that question. I recall that I always had the desire to become an officer. And I could not understand why they would not select me as an officer, because during my high school days I was a cadet captain. And I was chosen as the most outstanding cadet ROTC officer in Kansas City, Missouri -- Missouri where we had segregated schools. I applied to be -- for a direct appointment. Because I had gone to Columbia to get my graduate degree. And so I had to have a certain amount of education. And in 1949 I was commissioned as a second lieutenant in -- as a staff specialist based upon my graphic arts career. Truman had integrated the military prior to that. And while I was assigned -- living in New York and I was assigned to the 1150 ARSU, which was a school in New York City, we worked out of -- I think our first place was on 42nd Street. Then we moved to 44th Street. So the unit that I was assigned to was integrated. And there -- there was a Colonel _____ who was a commanding officer. He was an MP. My feeling was always positive. However, out of that experience, I met at the municipal building with my unit that I was assigned to, which was staff specialists. And my first meeting, though Truman integrated it, I was segregated in terms of questions. When I reported for my meeting, there was a lieutenant colonel asked me when I walked in with my uniform on, with my gold bars, and he was a lieutenant colonel, asked me, "What the hell are you doing here?" And that was his question to me. And so I responded as I normally do when questions are asked like that. I came back, I guess, rather sharply and said, "Because I belong here." Well, following that -- that was -- Jon, I wasn't going to tell that story, but since you asked, I had to share this with you. And so about two weeks later I received a twix (ph) from -- from the governor. And the twix said either you transfer to military police or resign your commission. Either or. I could not understand this other than the colonel -- someone must have said that I did not belong to this staff specialist group that consisted of people who were editors in the news -- in the media. And yet I was a staff specialist. That's what I was commissioned on. And I had my degree from Lincoln, and I had my graduate work from Columbia, and I was working for the newspaper. So I was very qualified. I was told by my lawyer in New York at that time that I could have sued the federal government for denying me and for sending me that twix. Well, what I did as a -- not unsophisticated, but because I believe in my country and because I believe that whatever I accomplish, that I must merit that, that I wasn't going to use the law at that time to fight my problems. So I accepted the transfer. Because I really didn't want to be a military police officer. That was because of my World War II experience as an enlisted man. So with the unit that I was assigned to, I never felt that I was segregated. Because the 1150th ARSU school was all -- was integrated. And I felt damn good about that. Did I answer your question?

Jason Caros:

Yes.

Bertran Wallace:

Okay. Now, let me go a step further. Later I transferred from the school to what they call the 33rd Military Police Battalion, and there was one company, Company C or D, was all black. And the other three companies, A, B, and C, were all white. So though Truman -- this is now the Korean War. Since Truman had indicated that we were integrated, we were integrated, but still segregated. Because my company was all black. Which meant there were no other officers or enlisted personnel in Company A, B, and C. Because the powers that be, and I'm going to refer to my blue-eyed brother as the power broker and the powers that be. The powers that be was making the decisions, so therefore they made the decision that Company D would be black. And there was a Captain Silver (ph) who was a very fair-complected young man. I don't know whether he was Hispanic. But he was a light-skinned man of color was our -- was our company commander. And just -- needless to say, we won every damn thing. Company D was the best company in the battalion. Because we knew that we were segregated. So we wanted to prove to others that we were the best. And we were the best. Now, from that unit, the Korean War was in effect. And there was a need for MP officers. And the -- and the outfit that we were assigned to were put on alert, off alert. And I think the -- the tragedy of September the 11th told quite a story where many units, National Guard and Reserve, were called to active duty. You're either put on alert, or you're off alert. You're on alert. You're off alert. And at that time I got tired of being put on alert and off alert. And I said either one of two things, I'm going to serve my country. So I volunteered for the Korean War. Second Lieutenant Wallace, 9734 -- 0973449 at that time was my number. So I had gone from 17030092, which is an enlisted, to an officer, which would be 0973449. And today, now that we all have Social Security numbers, my -- my number is my Social Security -- Social Security number. So I volunteered. And when I reported -- went to Fort Jay, which is Governor's Island in New York, I indicated on my application that I could best serve my country in the First Army Area or the Sixth Army Area. That I felt that I could not serve my country very well in those other off areas. Now, I didn't specify. Now, the other officer was the -- was the south. And I had grown up in the south, and I just couldn't handle prejudice very well. I discovered that when I was overseas in North Africa and Italy when I -- I felt free. And I had a difficult time to -- to handle that. So when I reported, I indicated that. Well, I didn't know until four or five years later in my career that the provo marshal, who happened to be from Utah and a member of the faith that is in Utah, had written in my report that I was unfit to be an officer and that I needed to enroll in a course of Americanization. Because I indicated I could best serve my country in the First and Sixth Army. Which meant that I should be able to serve my country anywhere. And it said to me that this gentleman was very prejudiced in his thinking, where I was being very honest, because I felt free. I did not handle prejudice very well. I still don't handle it very well. Because I think that all human beings are -- are equal in the eyesight of God. I mean, that's my -- that's my strength, and that's my belief. So I was assigned -- I went to MP school in Georgia. There was a lot of problems there that I encountered with officers, prejudice. I finished ninth in my class out of 88 officers. And then all of us were given assignments to go overseas. And I had a fine group of young officers that I served with, both black and white, if I may use that expression. And I went overseas with a group of MP officers who had finished MP school, but one of the officers and I became very close, a Lieutenant Houser (ph) who was from South Carolina. And he reminded me of a little politician. He was short in stature, chubby, and smoked a cigar. And we reported to the provo marshal in Pusan for assignments. And all of us had heard about the prisoner of war command which was on Koju-do. And we knew that that was a troubled place. Prisoner of war operations come under military police function. Anything doing with prisoners of war, that's military police. And we were trained for such across the board. And so I told Houser that I didn't want to go to Koju- -- Koju-do. I said -- I said, "I'm not an eight ball officer." We understood that all officers who were not good soldiers had committed -- were assigned to this prisoner of war command, to operate it. So the provo marshal called each one of us alphabetically. I think there were about eight of us. And so since I'm a W, Wallace, I finally was called. And, here again, I was the only officer of color at that time in this unit. So I went in and saw -- I think his name was Colonel Grub (ph). I'm not really sure. But Colonel Grub called me in, and I reported to him. And he said, "Lieutenant Wallace, I'm assigning you to Koju-do." And I said to him, "I'm not an eight ball officer." I told him how outstanding I was in my class so that I wanted him to know I didn't want -- I didn't want to have anything to do with -- with prisoner of war command. Anyway, both Houser and I were sent to Koju-do. While there, Jon and Brenda, Jason, I noticed there were about 4,000-plus officers of different branches, mostly MPs, and there were about six officers of color of different branches. We had a medic, a dentist. I think I remember signal corps, infantry ordnance, and an MP. And I was that MP out of all of these officers. And it was rather peculiar, because Truman had just signed that order, but there was still people who had their hidden agendas and didn't like me because of the color of my skin, which I had nothing to do with. Because I didn't select my mother and father. And, for the record, my mother's father was Mexican. My father's mother was Indian. And she married a Scotchman. Now, so what does that make me? Anyhow, I have this complexion, and I'm very proud of it, because that's the only one that I know. So I was assigned to be -- by the camp commander to be the orientation officer. On this big island, we had two commands, what they called two valleys there. We had a Central Valley and East Valley where we had compounds in the East Valley and compounds in Central Valley. And I was the -- assigned by the camp commander to be the orientation officer for every MP officer assigned to that -- both the commands, to tell them about the functions of -- of an MP in prisoner of war activities. Which meant it was a changeover from the previous operation, because it was held by people who were not MPs. And now it's being turned over to those of us who had the training. So following that assignment, I was then given assignment in this Army to be a compound commander of about five compounds. I had 13,000 prisoners under my command and 32 war criminals, which was separate. So only 32 of them. Which was a good assignment. Later on there was another officer assigned of color who was a captain. I didn't know him too well. And I sort of stayed away from him, because he reminded me of -- of a person who just -- we didn't relate very well. I just didn't like his operating style. I don't think he was a fighter like me and stood up for what was right or wrong. And so I was assigned to this command as a compound commander. I did have an incident that was -- several incidents that was race riots. And it's interesting. My colleagues, mostly -- all white, basically white MPs, would come to me anytime there was a race riot for me to solve the race riot. And I let them know that I -- "I'm not a specialist in solving a race riot, and why did you come to me?" And so when that question was raised, it was very clear. You came to me because I'm a man of color and I'm the only person who can solve it. And I let them know that, "I am an officer of the United States Army, and my name is Lieutenant Bertran Frederick Wallace. And you have the same rank that I have. Now, go down and solve the problem, because I am not --" Well, when you talk -- speak like that, a lot of people at that time couldn't handle Lieutenant Wallace. Let's just say I was arrogant. And I wasn't supposed -- supposed to address myself as directly as I did by saying, "Hey, we're both the same." So there were many race riots. And I was involved in solving one. They accused the first sergeant in this company that I was assigned to where we lived -- by the way, I gave a lot of pictures to Jon. I hope Jon will select some pictures that we can show others and send to -- to Washington, which gives a very broad view of where we lived, the conditions of the compounds, the villages. It just shows you the whole physical structure of this area that -- that hasn't been too much talked about, the Korean War, particularly Koju-do. During the Korean War, I had the pleasure of being assigned to the POW -- that's the prisoner of war -- command in Koju-do on the southern tip of Pusan. Upon arriving there, I -- I detected that there was two valleys, Central Valley and East Valley. And in East Valley there were a series of compounds. I was assigned to Central Valley and was the compound commander of about six compounds. The pictures you are viewing represent Compound 66 where they were celebrating May Day. May Day during that period of time and even today is -- is a Communist day where a lot of activities are taking place, and they are celebrating the whole Communist doctrine. There's singing taking place, and there's foot races and boxing and all other kinds of activities that they do on May Day. In the other pictures that you are viewing is that when a general was captured in June of 1952, a General Dod (ph), he was in East Valley at Compound 76. In a 24-hour period we had four commanding generals. The last commanding general who came in was General Boltner (ph). He was then assigned to the 38th Infantry Regiment. I don't remember all the particulars other than they came in to break up the compounds. And you can see the pictures that indicate the breakup of Compounds 76 and 77, which was in East Valley. There are other pictures that show that there was a search of all of the prisoners. They had begun to separate the prisoners into smaller compounds so that they would have better control. One thing that you will notice, that during the -- before the breakup you will see signs on the barbed wires indicating that American soldiers should not be here fighting. I think the writing is very clear and legible without my repeating that. Following the breakup, all signs were taken down. The prisoners were really controlled, and there was more discipline carried on at that time when the -- when the breakup took place. Several of the pictures will show some crosses where during the breakup bodies were discovered in the well, in ditches, where the people who were killed were sympathizers to the American cause, and they were called anti-Communists, and therefore they paid the price by being killed during -- during the breakup. Another and final slide that you will see is the POW cemetery. And that's where most of the prisoners were buried who died or were killed by their Communist prisoners. That sort of gives you an overall view of what took place on Koju-do during the months of -- or the period that I was there. I was stationed there for 11 months in different -- in different capacities. In each one of those compounds, where I could not be there day to day to handle the operations, there was a master sergeant who was on the staff who handled the day-to-day problems, Brenda, as you handle your problems here in multimedia. And so I happened to visit -- let me back up a few minutes here, because during that afterthrow, when the prisoner of war command began to make its changeover, we had -- one of our officers was captured by the prisoners in East Valley. I can't think of his name now. But he was captured and made a prisoner. So within that 24-hour period, we had four commanding officers. Four commanding generals took over the operation. One was fired. He was -- then another one was fired because he didn't do what he was supposed to do. And then the last person who came in was General Boltner. And he was a bad dude. General Boltner was with the 38th Infantry of the Second Division. And he was a tough man. General Boltner later became our provo marshal general. And he came in, and he changed the uniforms that we were wearing. All of us were wearing Class A uniforms and walking around like we were the _____ center. Well, General Boltner came in, and everybody came in to fatigues, and all of us are carrying gun belts and all of us carrying steel helmets, so we were in a war zone. And there were a lot of officers who were not performing their duties, and they were afraid of the general because he was a tough man. Particularly the majors, lieutenant colonels, and colonels. I was a first lieutenant, so I wasn't in the line -- I was in the line of fire, but he didn't bother me too much. And my colonel, I can't think of his name, had gone to this compound which was near the -- it was the compound dealing with the prison -- the war criminals where 32 of these prisoners had committed an atrocity. And so something had happened the day before. And while I was in visiting with the staff, I heard all this loud noise outside. And so I ran outside to see what was happening. And what was occurring was that he was reaming my -- the sergeant out. Oh, I wouldn't have tolerated that. You don't -- you don't mess with my troops. So I interfered, and I saluted, and I said, "Sir, I am in charge of this operation. Anything that you have to say to the sergeant, you say to me." And he began to ream me. Before I get into the reaming aspect, that morning I had eaten breakfast. And our adjutant, named Major Acres (ph) -- I remember these names -- had seen me. We were having breakfast in the mess hall. The mess hall was all integrated. Everything was integrated now, but you still had to deal with attitudes and people. And I had cut my fatigue jacket to look like an eye jacket. And I had stripes sewn into it, and I had a house boy, and we had house maids and all of that. And I wore my pistol belt, my .45. And so I could put my eye jacket over my pistol belt. And all you could see would be my holster. And we wore brown at that time. So my -- my holster was the same color as my shoes. Well, I was an MP, so I always wanted to look good. And Major Acres said to me, I noticed that you cut your jacket. And I said to him, "You can't find anything else to say to me? Now you have to find that something's wrong with my uniform?" I said, "You're a bunch of prejudiced cats up here." And they could not handle my directness. Now, that morning when I went to my -- this compound, I said, "Something must be brewing." Because then I took my pistol belt off and put it over my eye jacket so that it would appear that my shirt and jacket and everything, I had not cut it. Now, now the incident about the colonel. So the colonel began to ream me out about what had happened yesterday, that a truck didn't back up properly into sally port. These are just terms of a compound. And that -- that a prisoner could have -- had escaped. So I turned to the colonel and said, "Well, sir, nothing did happen, and I'll be sure that that will be corrected." I kept talking in a way that, "It will be corrected. It will not happen again." And he kept reaming me out and saying the same thing about 10 to 12 times. And I kept saying to him, "It will not happen again." And I said "sir" behind all this. And then finally he said to me that, "I understand you cut your jacket." And when he said that, I lost my cool. My temper came into play, and I said in this term and with this ugly face -- I want you to see the face that I had so that you'll know what I said -- "Yes, I cut it." And I saluted him. And then he -- I was so angry I didn't hear what he said correctly, but he told me that I was in -- relieved of duty. And I thought he said I was in arrest of quarters. When you tell an officer he's in arrest of quarters, that means that you're going to be court martialed. And I kind of -- me going to be court martialed? I know what a general court martial is in the _____. And so I said, "Well, let me go and see my godfathers." And I -- every area has got to have godfathers. So I went to then a new camp commander. We had changed. And the camp commander -- no. I went to see the camp commander at that time. And he told me, "Don't worry about it." And then I went to see S1. And S1 told me, "Don't worry about it." And I went to see the chaplain. I sang in the -- in the chapel, in the choir. And I went to church almost every Sunday. And the chaplain told me, "Do not worry about it." And then I went to the law officer, because one of my assignments as -- though I was a compound commander, I was what we call a defense counselor or trial counselor. So I knew the laws. And so they all told me, "Don't worry about it, Lieutenant." So I went back to my quarters. And that night while I was sitting in my quarters, the colonel came. And he said to me, "I understand that you're going around telling people that I put you in arrest of quarters." I said, "You did, sir." He said, "No, I didn't. I said that you were relieved of duty and returned to your quarters." Well, they transferred me out of this command to an MP company. And this MP company was called the -- oh, my God. It was -- it was the 31st Escort Guard Company. And this company was to respond to all security for the compounds when they were checking for contraband. The captain -- when I went to the company, there was a captain and one officer and three second lieutenants. I was assigned to the cap- -- to the company as a first lieutenant, which meant that I -- I should be the exec officer. Couldn't -- no one else could be the exec officer but me, because I outranked the other men. I befriended -- the story goes, I befriended the -- one officer was transferred. That left the three young officers. They were all ROTC. Lieutenant McCade (ph), Lieutenant Koalt (ph) and Lieutenant Kershaw (ph). They're all my friends. And they were all ROTC graduates from their various colleges. And I was like the big brother because I had the World War II experience and I was much older than them, and then exec. So the four of us became very close. We became friends. And we are friends today. The captain could not tolerate that very much. And the thing that annoyed me about this captain is that he would get the four of us together, and he would tell stories. And he could never use the word "Negro." And this ties in with your story. That's why I wanted to tell this story. He kept saying to me about he loved to observe Nigra -- Nigra people. He said, "I just love when Nigra people show their white -- their buck teeth and -- and they can dance in their shoes and they're always moving and singing and smiling and whatnot." And he said, "I just enjoy them when they stand up showing me their buck teeth." And I'm sitting there and listening to this, this captain talking like that to the four of us. And I maintained my peace. And I used to climb up a mountainside, go in a tree, and ask God to forgive him and to give me the strength to maintain my dignity before I kill him. That was what I said to my father, God. Then one day an order came down that I was to be transferred from the company as an exec to a work detail and supervisor, work details which were rock -- rock soldiers with the prisoners. First Lieutenant Wallace. Now, before I get to that, McCade, Koalt, Kershaw and I used to talk. And I was told -- this ties into your story -- your question. I was told to -- I was told by them that he had given an order that, "Well, he's coming. And when he comes, I'm not going to let him be around the men. I don't want him to have anything to do with the men. He will be my exec officer." That's what he said to McCade. We had company inspections, and most of the men were high school graduates. And so I got along very well with the men, because I was an athlete. I didn't smoke. I didn't drink. And so I played sports with the men, and they looked forward to playing with me. And he was a very picky person. We then later found out why he was so picky. During that period of time, when they ranked an officer, they ranked you from zero to seven. I think he had received a one. And so he was trying to prove to the powers that be that he was an outstanding officer. Nevertheless, when we were talking about this transfer, the captain and I were in a personal conversation. And then he got personal. And he gave me one of these hideous, what I call superior laughs. And before I recognized what I was doing, I lost it all, and I went towards his Adam's apple, and I think I was about 1/1000 of an inch from killing him. And he had given me an order that I was to report to this new assignment, and I had 10 seconds to do it. And when I was 1/1000 inch from his throat, I stepped back. Because it seems that, Brenda, it must have been God talking to me. Because all I could hear was my mother's voice saying, "Bertran." That's all I could hear was my mother's voice telling me, "Bertran." And that's -- and I stepped back. I didn't touch him. And I proceeded to tell him how sick he was and -- and that I was going to help him and that I was going to pray for him. In the meantime, I was looking at my watch, and I saw I had three seconds. So I left soon, and I ran and reported to the sergeant who was -- I didn't report to him. I let the sergeant know that I was there and that I was on my way up to headquarters. So I must have run up a moun- -- it was a mountainside. And when I got to the top of the mountain, I -- we had a new commanding officer. This other commanding officer who had assigned me there had left. General Boltner got rid of him. A lot of people's careers were destroyed because they were not good soldiers. Anyhow, I was so upset I pounded on the table in the new commander's officer for about 30 minutes saying -- and all that came out of my mouth is, "I'm going to kill him. I'm going to kill him." That's all I kept saying. I was just out of it. So finally the colonel came, new colonel came, and I said the same thing to him. I said, "I'll kill him." So I -- I don't handle -- I don't handle prejudice very well. Because I had nothing to do with it. I didn't have control over it. I have control over my behavior. And I'm an American. And I want everybody to know that. And so they transferred me to the island. That's when I was assigned -- they assigned me to be S2. And S2 is intelligence officer. And when I was intelligence officer, I was responsible for searching all of the compounds in our valley. And I would call on this company that I just left to -- to perform the peripheral security. And the captain had to do that. And I would call at four o'clock in the morning. That was just my way, I guess, of getting even. And to this date, and I'm not ashamed of it, I never did salute him anymore. I lost completely respect for him. I didn't respect him as a person anymore. Because I saw this hate and prejudice in him, and I just couldn't handle it. So the best way I could handle it was just ignore him, and then I would pray at night, God forgive me and forgive him. Five years later I saw this gentleman when I was down in -- let's see. I was in -- what year was that? '53, five years later. '58 I was down in Fort Gordon, Georgia. And I ran into him. We -- at a blind spot. And the first thing that came in my mind was to kill him. So I hated this man. And I knew then that hate was not a good word and was not a good feeling. And Bert Wallace did not want to hate anyone. Because I knew how I felt towards that. And so I got on -- went back to the barracks and got on my knees and I prayed to God to throw this out of me, because it's not a good feeling. The camp commander was reorganizing what we call an operational MP company, which we referred to as the triple nickel. And most MPs loved that assignment, to be assigned to the operational MP company, because it -- it's the glamour of the MPs, because what you're doing, you have traffic control, you have vice control, you have all of the things that a regular police officer would have in civilian. So I was assigned to the triple nickel with a captain. And he was the provo marshal, and then as a first lieutenant, I was a deputy provo marshal. Now, in order to get at, again, the prejudice of people, I knew that most of my blue-eyed brother was prejudice. Anytime that you would say something to a young lady called white, that -- a lot of the white men didn't like that at all. But I was very popular with the nurses in the Red Cross. They all knew me. Now, I don't know why I was so popular. Maybe it was because I was the only person that looked different than everybody else. But what they used to do for lunch when I was on duty as now the deputy provo marshal where I ate in the main headquarters, I had my M-Peepers (ph) on, my .45 on. When I walked in, all the ladies would call me over to have lunch with them. And of course I strutted right over there, and I had -- sat down, and I had lunch with all these beautiful ladies. Well, the men couldn't -- didn't say anything to me, but I could look at their faces, and their faces would turn different colors. A very dark red. So I knew that some of them didn't like what I was doing. But the ladies didn't mind that at all because we were -- we were friends. And everything was above board. We were just friends. They en- -- I enjoyed their company. They enjoyed my company. So this went on for the period of time that I was there. So I played -- I don't know whether I was being devilish. Maybe I was. But I enjoyed having lunch with -- with the ladies. While with this company, it was a very good assignment. And when you become the deputy provo marshal in an operation like that, it's -- it's a big step. And so you were only supposed to be with the prisoner of war command for about 11 months. I think when I left I was the oldest officer in terms of -- terms of duty. One part that I left out was when they had the -- captured the general. And there was a breakup of the compounds over in East Valley. In one of my compounds, I think it was Compound 66, I had the top ranking Korean officer. He was called a senior colonel, which would be equivalent to a brigadier general. And his name was Lee Haku (ph). Well, every day I met with Lee Haku, and we negotiated. You know, we'd talk about one gram of rice was left out of this or something was left or a shoe string. It was always something about pettiness. And the thing that I took away from my interaction with the prisoners was that at that time I was wearing -- and I don't know what happened to it -- my ring that I graduated from Columbia. So I had my Columbia ring on. And they used to see me working out with the men. I would get out and box with the men and practice Judo and whatnot. And they saw that. But the orientals respected education. They saw my ring. They knew that I had gone to Columbia. And they also respected the physical part of me. Because they saw me boxing, and they could see my -- my muscle tone. And I was -- I kept pretty active. You know, I was young, and as an athlete. And they respected that. Plus we used to get into word games. They -- I had an interpreter, well knowledge of the English language. And he would use four syllable words and sometimes three syllable words with me, and I didn't know what he was talking about. So every night I would go home and study my thesaurus. And then I would come back the next day, and I might have a five or six syllable word. And so we -- it was psychological war, but it was a beautiful relationship, because the interpreter and I got into a game of words. And -- and plus all the other things. So we had a very beautiful relationship. And I do want to say that at one point when I was talking to Major Acres, Major Acres said to me one day that I was a racist, that I was prejudiced. And that -- he indicated to me that I was prejudiced because I didn't play cards with the men. I didn't socialize in -- in our hut with the men, and I didn't do this, and I didn't do that. And I said, "That's right." I said, "That's right. I don't play cards." I said, "What I'm doing is reading my thesaurus, and I read the Bible every day. Now, I noticed that the men didn't ask me to read the Bible with me and the men didn't read the thesaurus with me. So if you want to say that I'm prejudiced, I guess I am." And I turned it loose. Because he wanted to get into some kind of issue. Major Acres had to be from New York. And he knew that I had worked in New York at the -- on the daily news at that time. I was a member of the daily news composing room. So I didn't mention that. I'm backing up to the point where I had my encounter with him. I was transferred off of -- from the island to the 77 deuce military -- real world military police security battalion, which was in Taegu. And that's where the headquarters was. And they assigned me to Company C, which was stationed in Yong Dong Po. Yong Dong Po was south of Seoul. And Yong Dong Po was across the -- what we call the MSR. People in military know that's the -- it's a roadway that we call the MSR from K-16, which was the airport. And our job was to ride the troop train, the supply train, up to Pork Chop Hill. And one of the first things that happened was they had about five -- four first lieutenants and -- and a captain, a company commander. And each one of us had company assignments. And I forgot -- my assignment was in mess hall. I was a mess officer. And I guess one of the first encounters that I had with the captain was that each one of us officers was to ride in the caboose, the supply train, up to the front line. I mean, Pork Chop Hill is where they were fighting, shooting. And so I had my carbine and my ammunition, and I was looking like Pan- -- Pancho Villa. I mean, I was armed. And the captain said, "You cannot carry any ammunition. You can have your weapon." And I looked at him, and I thought he was crazy. I said, "You must be out of your mind. I'm riding the supply train in an area where people might steal, and I'm going to have a gun, but no ammunition?" He said, "Yes." I said, "Well, I don't care, sir, but you better give me a direct order." He said, "I gave you a direct order." I said, "Then I won't care." But it didn't make sense to me. Because people would steal. The people there, the indigenous people, would steal the eyeballs if you allowed them to do that. So I didn't like that, and I let him know that. Now, the second encounter was when they were repatriating the prisoners from Koju-do and Cheju-do, the other places, to Panmunjom. That was the connection when I was telling you about the story when they broke up the compound in East Valley, that we found a lot of the prisoners, their own prisoners that they had killed. And, by the way, I have pictures that I -- I gave to -- to Jon, and maybe he will pick those out where we show you grave markers in the Compound 77 and 76 where they would -- the way they killed the prisoners is that they would walk on -- wrap them up in a rug and walk on them all night long until suffocation. And we -- I understand that they discovered tunnels leading from one compound to the other. And we -- we was supposed to be guarding these, but they had underground tunnels with air-conditioning and electric lights and radio. So everything that went on in Panmunjom they knew back at the island. So during this breakup was when I was given the order to bring Lee Haku. They had requested for him to come to the compound, come to the meeting. And so I put him in my Jeep, and I must have been doing about 50 miles an hour and my red light on, the siren going, and went from the Central Valley over to East Valley to deliver Lee Haku. That was the interesting thing. But I still encountered some problems with people who have higher rank and felt that they had all the answers. And the -- my commanding officer said, "Wallace, get them over as fast as you can." That was the last order from -- from my colonel. So I'm blowing the horn, lights flashing. I didn't know there was a riot over there because I'm in another valley. But when I got over there, I saw this crowd of people. I drove up, and I reported, and this lieutenant colonel came up to me and -- and said to me -- asked me where in the hell was I going. I said, "Well, where does it look like I'm going, sir? I'm carrying out the orders of my --" Blah, blah, he went on and on to reprimand me. And I said, "Anything you have to say to me, sir, you say to my colonel. I carried out his orders." And I saluted him, and I turned away from him, and I backed off. I -- I was really -- if you want to talk about a person who -- who followed his regulations, I followed my regulations and rules of an officer -- one officer to another officer. And I just let him know that he wasn't going to treat me like that, that I was carrying out my -- the last order I received. And the other thing was that, as I said before, when I was about to get this appointment to West Point by Senator Truman in Kansas City, that I knew Army regulations because I read it. And I was considered a very good soldier. Because I cared about the men. And the men knew that. I was befriended. And before I leave this detachment, I would like to say, before I left Koju-do I didn't get any medals. When I left, the other officers who had followed me and picked up the work that we had done, they all got accommodation ribbons. I never did get an accommodation ribbon, but what I received that I felt was the greatest reward that I could have ever gotten, was that the first three greeters in all -- in all of the command on that prisoner of war gave a party. And that's master sergeants and first sergeants. And they invited seven officers to socialize with them. And I was one of the seven. And anytime enlisted men invite an officer to socialize with them, you know you have -- you must bring something to the table. So I -- to me, I'm very proud of that. I'm honored by that. Because the men knew that I as a soldier -- you know, I was a bad dude, but they knew what kind of person I was, because I felt that my job was the welfare of the men and to protect them. So, anyhow, now I left Koju-do. I'm going back up to 77 deuce. So the second encounter that I had with this captain was when they were repatriating the prisoners. Get back to that story. We had to form what we call company front at the railroad station. Because the prisoners was going to stop. Only way up to Panmunjom. And -- and one of the -- the order was given, "Come to the ready." And the young man, blond, handsome young -- about 17 years old or 18, had just joined -- fine, high school graduate, had just joined -- had just been in our unit one day, came to the ready. And while he was coming to the ready, automatically put one -- a round in the chamber. And the trigger, he pulled the trigger, and the round went off. And the captain raised holy hell of that incident. And to my chagrin, I had just come out of the hospital. And they performed a surgery on me that most boys would have when they were babies. But for some reason my mother didn't see fit to -- of all her sons, I was the only son that she didn't see fit for me, so I had my surgery at 33. And I was in the hospital. And I was on quarters, and so he asked me to court martial this young man. And I said to him, "Sir, may the lieutenant speak to the captain?" He said, "Yes." I said, "Captain, I don't see why you should court martial. This man should not have a court martial. This man, if you're going to do something, you should give him at least Article 15," I think. It's just a little reprimand. But to give him a court marital, I said, "This young man just joined our unit. He just came over here. Nothing happened. He let a round go off. Why give him a special court martial. That's a serious offense." I said, "I'm against that." He said, "Well, I want you to write it." I said, "Sir, I'm marked duty. I cannot write." And I left. I left because I told him I was marked quarters, and I wasn't supposed to perform any kind of duties. And it was my right to do that. Because I had -- I was marked quarters. He called me from the quarters to write the specs. And I let him know that I wasn't going -- I didn't want -- I wasn't going to write the specs. The next day -- prior to that I had put in an application to be released from active duty. An order had come down from -- from the Army that if you had spent so many years overseas during World War II and a certain age, that you could ask to be released from active duty. So I had put in the application. Now, I didn't -- I didn't -- I had forgotten I had put one in. So when I had this little episode with him about this court martial, I was talking to the colonel -- to the captain. He was from Kansas City. His parents were in Kansas City. He knew I was from Kansas City. And so we were in there chitchatting something of a misunderstanding. And all the sudden the company clerk came in and told me that my orders had come through and that I'm going to be released from active duty. I jumped about 15 feet up in the air. And then the captain and I sat down and had a civil talk. Now, when I was released from active duty, I came -- I came home and was assigned to a lot of good assignments. I felt as a -- as an officer in this Army that I was given outstanding assignments that any officer would be proud of. I was -- I pioneered, and in many ways where I pioneered as the first instructor at the MP school during summer training. And this little book that I have that was done in 1965 sort of shows you where I was an instructor. And this school was run by the 4154th ARSU from Little Rock, Arkansas. And here again, I always, Jon and Brenda and Jason, always encountered some kind of racial prejudice that became overtish. It wasn't -- it -- it was just out -- it was just blatant. And several times I had to throw my rank. Several times -- and that was not only with -- I guess it was three incidents. One, the first one, was when I was in Korea. This was a soldier of color who kept referring to me as man. And for three days, every day he would call me, "Good morning, man." And I would tell him how he was to speak to an officer. So the second day I did that. The third day when he called me man, I did something that I guess was a violation. But I grabbed him by his neck and held him up and called him a whole bunch of names and told him what he would call me in the future. And the fourth day after he became my best friend. And he -- he referred me then to Lieutenant Bertran Frederick Wallace, sir. So that was one incident. Then there was another incident in Fort Gordon where this soldier, Caucasian, was pacing, saw me. We made eye contact. I have a problem with that today even as a civilian. If a person looks at me and I'll say hello to them and they turn their head, it bothers me. But the military is that when you make eye contact with a person, regardless of the rank, you salute. So this soldier forgot to salute me, and I called him back and told him that did he recognize my insignia and did he notice my rank. He said, "Yes." I said, "Well, in the future don't you ever forget it that you're supposed to salute." So rather than to go through that kind of explanation, I made it easier for me. I saluted first. It didn't make any difference. It didn't bother me. Because all I was doing was saying hello or good morning to you. So the job became easier for me to salute you. Well, you had to return my salute. So one way or the other, I would have you one way or the other. But I thought it would be easier and simpler to just say good morning, good morning, Jason. Good morning, Brenda. Good morning, Jon. And let me live. So when I came home, I was assigned to different units. And some of the job assignments, as I said before, I was an instructor. I was an instructor of a dance MP school at the -- at the 12 -- at the 1150th in New York. I was intelligence officer. I was -- worked for inspector general. And my last duty was -- I was a correctional officer of all the first Army. So all your -- for your barracks and whatnot, I was the guy that would go around to inspect them. And I'm very happy. I think the question is, you know, why did I leave the military. I could not handle the -- the overt prejudice. I had spoken to a lot of field grade officers who outranked me. And I knew that in the military police school that I would run into these people in my career. And it was evidenced when I read my evaluations. When I wanted to know why was I passed over, why was I always at the end of my career of this rank to go to the next rank. I couldn't understand that with the job duties and assignments that I had. Well, this later dawned on me that it was a buddy-buddy -- buddy-buddy situation. I was competing against every MP in -- in America, black or white. And the hidden agenda, some would give me good ratings, some not. The two highest ratings that I received was when I served with two officers of color. And out of a seven, I got a six. Then I had a five. And the others were fours. And I couldn't understand. So when I went down to Fort -- to Virginia to check out my -- my record to see why they passed over me, I read the reports. And I certainly would like to have these things corrected. And I still think that it's prejudice. I believe that it could be jealousy. I believe that it could be a lot of things. But what my gut tells me is that there were men who could not handle a very self-confident human being who felt free and that he was equal to, not better than. But that he was an American who loved his country. And why would they write such things as in my report that's on record that I'd like to have corrected? That I was a man of average education, intelligence. And I had more formal training than most other men in my battalion wherever I have been. No one has had my education. That at times I was unfit to be an officer. That I was arrogant, but I had a beautiful body. I could not understand that last -- all of that, and especially when they said that I had a beautiful body. What in the world does my body have to do with what I accomplish and all of the assignments that I've had? The assignments that I've had were not assignments that you would give to a person with that kind of rating, that I have average education. I could have stayed on. I was a Category III officer. I could have stayed on active duty because of my education. But I refused to -- not to deal with the -- at that time the overt prejudice and racial hatred that I encountered. And some of the men who felt that they were God. And I have a problem when man thinks he's God. And -- and in my closing comment is that had it not been for my belief and my strength and my faith in God and -- and the Bible and in people in general, I think I would have ended up perhaps dead. Because I -- I know that I'm -- I'm a very physical person, and I don't handle prejudice well. And I really dislike disrespect and mistreatment of the ladies. And I think most of the ladies knew this about me, that I -- you could not be disrespectful in my presence to a lady. I would not tolerate that. And the men knew that. They all knew that. And so I think when you stand for certain principles and certain values, you are penalized by it. But the one thing that I dislike, don't ever penalize me for the way I look. Because I didn't have a damn thing to do with it. And so my story ends by saying that I'm thankful that the administrators, superintendent of the schools, and I'm going to call the name Bill Hall and Chris Colwell and Vicki Drager, and you heard me call the names of the people who are participating. Their voices should be heard soon. You heard Jason. Brenda and -- and Jon and -- and Jason, that they are participating in this endeavor with me. And so I'm honored. And I think now that I have said what I have had to say as an 84-year-old person who really believes in my country. This is my country. And I am an American. I'm not anything else other than that. And -- and I don't want to be called anything other than that. And my record stands for itself. It's proven. I have nothing else to prove. And I'm 84, and so I don't know how long, but I'm glad that Volusia County Schools have seen fit to -- to hear me. And now that -- I'll close with a personal comment as Brenda keeps smiling at me that, Bert, don't blush.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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