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"Here were two Creole boys from a small town in Louisiana at a time when there were less than 20 black pilots in the whole of the United States Army, and two of us were brothers." (Video Interview, 46:26)

   Herbert R. Metoyer, Jr.
Image of Herbert R. Metoyer, Jr.
Herbert Metoyer, Baton Rouge, LA. 1955.
War: Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Army
Service Location: Fort Eustis, Virginia; Camp Gary, and Fort Wolters, Texas; Fort Rucker, Alabama; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Lewis, Washington; Libya; Fort Knox, Kentucky; North Africa; Thailand; Korea
Rank: Major
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Herbert Metoyer entered the service in 1956, when segregation was still enforced all over the South and integration of the military was relatively recent. His advanced flight instructor admitted that he was a racist, but Metoyer's persistence eventually won him over. Metoyer and his younger brother served at the same time in Vietnam, both as aviators, a fact he's proud of, knowing of the informal racial quotas in the military. In the mid-1960s, he embarked on a side career as a folksinger and songwriter until his commanding officer put a stop to that. At the age of 73, long retired from the Army, Metoyer admits he misses the life and would re-enlist were it not for his age.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (9 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: video (81 min.)
  Photos
»Photo Album (10 photos)
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 Video (Interview Excerpts) (9 items)
In 1956, because of recent integration, being told when a group of blacks went into officers club at Ft. Eustis, VA, they should disperse; most of the few black officers on base were graduates of Southern, his alma mater; starting flight school in 1957 in Texas; only 2 blacks per class could graduate; traveling in South by car; having to sleep in car with wife and child because of lack of integrated motels; bothered by policemen. (05:47) Fortunate in first flight school to pull a non-prejudiced instructor named Mr. Wallace; in advanced course at Ft. Rucker, AL; got the "biggest SOB you want to have for an instructor;" had never been off the ground, though he had always been interested in aviation; arriving in Alabama; stopping in Dothan at Dairy Queen for a snack; turned away by pistol-waving employee; his instructor, Wallace Martin, was a WWII Marine ace; Martin favoring two white students, Metoyer listening to learn; Metoyer making a landing Martin hadn't expected; Martin admitting his prejudice; Metoyer staying with him, even after harassment; Martin giving him special set of engraved wings when Metoyer graduated and they became good friends. (18:12) In Libya with geodetic survey from 1958 to 1960; also searching for Lady Be Good, WWII bomber that had disappeared in desert during war; dangerous flying in helicopter over desert; plane found, being stripped by various flyers for parts; every plane with a part from Lady Be Good going down into the ocean; one such pilot was a good friend for whom he named his son. (09:22)
Bryford, his brother, was in service; trouble getting in touch with him at one point; turning out that he was training to get his wings and wanted to surprise Herbert; getting orders for Vietnam in 1962; Bryford having orders for Germany, but requesting Vietnam as well; going out in the field and repairing downed aircraft, trying to fly them out of crash site; brother going with gunships, against Herbert's advice; Bryford's craft hit by fire; Herbert ordered to go on an r & r trip with him to Hong Kong; incident in their hotel room with a woman sent up by desk clerk; Bryford going back to States to see baby born while he was gone; returning to Vietnam, his craft shot down; body never recovered; declared dead after 7 years; their mother died shortly thereafter. (13:23) Activating a unit to send to Vietnam; back to Thailand, supporting special forces, dropping them and picking them up; to get combat time, riding with Air Force over to North Vietnam, "taking unnecessary risks to get a few bucks;" to Korea, in charge of all aircraft maintenance and communication. (01:56) Playing guitar at officers club Sundays with jazz musicians; when no one showed up one week, singing some of his own folk songs; writing Folkways Records, sending them samples; getting a publishing and recording contract; recording an album released in 1966; doing a show in NY with Joni Mitchell, who introduced him to Fred Neill, who recorded one of his songs; ordered to stop career; writing protest songs about racism; boss coming down on him; Metoyer almost resigning, but discovering his boss was under investigation for graft; withdrawing his resignation, and his boss resigned. (09:10)
Few moments of danger when in Vietnam; listening to pilots on radio, seeing their craft taking a direct hit; very careful not to tempt fate himself; taking hits when trying to evacuate aircraft parts out of jungle and could not climb very fast in a tight space with a heavy load; knowing when a gun is pointed at you; anticipating the hits because of the difference in the sound the bullets make. (02:34) Loving military life; going to military bases every chance he and his wife get; thinking about going back in, but age limit is 65, and he is 73. (00:50) Stationed in Nigeria with Special Forces in 1966; assigned land recovery for Gemini space shots; emergency recovery zone was in Africa; possibility of deploying to Cape Town only to find South Africa would not accept a U.S. military unit with black troops; staying in Nigeria instead and partying at country club. (02:47)
  
 

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  October 26, 2011
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