Heroic Citizens: The Black Experience in Vietnam
Research compiled by: Hannah P., James O., Morgan H., and Carol Simon
Army Private First Class, Milton Alan Ross, was born on September 9, 1948, to Muriel L. Maroney and Norman Ross in Omaha, Nebraska. He attended Central High School and graduated in 1966. The United States Army drafted him into the military in April of 1968. Ross went to Vietnam on January 6, 1969, and died in combat on February 9, 1969.
In 1967, Charles Evers, the state director of Mississippi for the NAACP criticized state officials for maintaining “lily-white” draft boards. In 1966, the NAACP demanded proportional racial representation on all draft boards. As a result of the disporportionality, black men in the military died 60% faster. In Vietnam throughout 1966, 11% of the U.S. fighting force was black, but African-Americans made up 17.8% of overall combat deaths. From October 1,1966, through December 1, 1966, the U.S. tallied that 576 of the 3,145 deaths were of African Americans. Economic struggles and poverty compelled black men to become primary candidates for being drafted into the military.
Picture of Milton Alan Ross on the Central High Vietnam Memorial
CONTRIBUTIONS MADE BY AFRICAN-AMERICAN SOLDIERS FROM OMAHA
Although African Americans struggled with racial equality, they made significant contributions during the Vietnam War. Engraved on Milton A. Ross' headstone are letters BSM, PH and OLC. Many African American troops received numerous medals but were not recognized in the mainstream media. Black newspapers, like The Omaha Star, are significant because they published news from the black community. The following is a list of troops whose accomplishments were celebrated in The Omaha Star. In 1967 Blaine A. Wilson received the Air Force Commendation Medal. In 1966 George H. Williams received the Vietnam Service Medal and James E. Prater received the Bronze Star. Porter Pittman was awarded the Purple Heart during his 26 month tour in Vietnam. During 1969, the same year that Milton A. Ross won his Purple heart and Bronze Star, Maurice T. Craddock received the Purple Heart, Vietnam Service Medal, Army Accommodation, and the National Defense Air Medal. All of these African-American men are from Omaha.
House at 2424 Hartman Avenue where Milton A. Ross lived
In the 60's and 70's America still struggled with segregation. As a result, while soldiers fought for freedom in Vietnam, African Americans were fighting for civil rights at home. At the same time African American soldiers fought in integrated units in Vietnam. The soldiers ate, slept, and died together, no matter what their skin color. However when they came home they still lived in segregated communities. The picture shows the house of Milton A. Ross, a soldier that fought in the Vietnam conflict. He lived in the black community in North Omaha. Today African Americans are not segregated by law but still make up the majority of the population in North Omaha. Even after African Americans like Ross fought and died in integrated military units, many neighborhoods, like his, remain segregated. Although there is a memorial at Central High School honoring the graduates who died in service, the lack of comemoration in the community at large shows that many of these individual histories have been forgotten.
Black, Samuel W., ed. Soul Soldiers: African Americans and the Vietnam Era. Pittsburgh, PA: Pittsburgh Regional History Center and the Smithsonian Institution, 2007.
Boulton, Mark. “How the G.I. Bill Failed African-American Vietnam War Veterans.” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 58 (Winter, 2007/2008): 57-60.
Graham, III, Herman. The Brothers’ Vietnam War: Black Power, Manhood, and the Military Experience. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003.
Westheider, James E. Fighting on Two Fronts: African Americans and the Vietnam War. New York: New York University Press, 1997.
"I used to think history was just dates and periods where things that happened before I did, and just another thing to learn. But it actually matters."
— James O.
"These histories have gone invisible and it was nice to help them shed their cloak."
— Morgan H.
"We went to look for Milton A. Ross' grave. To our surprise this hero had a stone covered in grass and dirt. Ross was a decorated soldier [of the Vietnam War] whose history was really invisible but now I feel like his story is found. It is significant to me because I was the one to clean a hero's grave!"
— Hannah P.