Monday, November 24, 2008
The Trip To Oxford, MS-1965
It was March 1965. The 720th MP Battalion was in the field at Fort Hood, TX. We were undergoing routine field training. One thing about the military police, when they go to the field for training, they end up doing their normal police duties too. The mission was going along quite well. We were securing convoys, manning traffic control points, providing security for important sites, and generally trying to keep from being miserable. Late in the day, early evening if my memory serves me right, we were ordered back to garrison to prepare for an early morning deployment. We were given a couple of hours to get whatever gear we needed from our homes, but we could not tell our families where we were going.
We had all been keeping up with the "outside world". It was the time of civil rights movement and many important things were happening. This was the time when James Meredith was enrolled at the University of Mississippi. Our job would be to provide personal security for him during his tenure there.
The battalion packed up and went to Killeen AFB to board military transports for the flight to Memphis. It is amazing how you can make bed out of packing crates in a 1/4 ton trailer. Upon landing at Memphis we received a briefing concerning our assignments. My platoon was going to be split up to establish road blocks at the major routes in and out of Oxford, Mississippi.
We boarded helicopters to be transported to our duty sites. We were all equipped with the appropriate "combat" gear for the time. We were issued the tear gas grenades that looked like baseballs. It was a common practice to hang them on our web gear by their pin rings. The reason being, that if you needed to deploy them in a hurry, you just had to yank on the grenade and it would come free of the pin. There is not much danger when doing this as long as the handle is held firmly. As soon as the handle is released the grenade will blow tear gas all over hell and back, or at least in a relatively large radius. And, it doesn't pay to be down wind of one without a gas mask.
I traveled with one of the squads that was led by an "old timer". He was a good NCO, and could be very funny. While in flight Sarge was trying to get comfortable and was adjusting his gear when his rifle sling pushed against one of his tear gas grenades separating it from its pin. He did not have the grenade in his hand and it came loose from the pin. All of the MPs on board had gas masks. The flight crew did not. A potentially dangerous situation. However, the helicopter banked the proper direction and the grenade rolled harmlessly out of the door.
We made it to our duty post without further incident. The Sarge and I did have a little discussion about this. He realized that we were all very fortunate.