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Bill Russell finally accepted his Basketball Hall of Fame..

Beyond the Rhetoric

Harry C. Alford & Kay DeBow | 11/21/2019, midnight

Let us repeat our first paragraph from Part I: “America is in love with its veterans. That’s the way it should be. Veterans who served in our military to provide security and a safe future for our citizens. These are our heroes and we should respect and appreciate the sacrifices they make for us. However, the love and bravery they show is not always appreciated. A big determinant and indicator as to how that veteran is going to be treated is their race or the race of those who make the decision to honor or ignore his efforts.

Harry lost two good friends during the Vietnam War. First, let’s talk about Patrick G. Fitzsimmons. Pat went to Buena High School in Ventura, California while Harry matriculated at Oxnard High School in nearby Oxnard, California. They were both football stars during their high school days and went on to Ventura Community College to further their education as well as hone their football skills in hopes of playing major college ball.

Harry met his goals and played for the University of Wisconsin, graduated in 1970 and was inducted into the Army (via the Draft) in 1971. Pat, however, had some trouble keeping up his grades and entered the army January 4, 1970. His tenure in the Army took off like a rocket. He became a Warrant Officer and a helicopter pilot. He started his Vietnam Tour on January 4, 1970. Pat, while on reconnaissance was shot down on August 24, 1970. Some of his crew survived but Pat was killed instantly. Pat’s service and sacrifice gave him instant hero status. He received formal hero ceremonies and the football stadium where he and Harry played together was renamed in his honor.

Pat was awarded a posthumous Purple Heart. His family received Death Benefits which were at the time $15,000. He served proudly and was rightly honored for his sacrifice. His Vietnam URL on the War Memorial in Washington, DC is www.VirtualWall.org/df/FitzsimmonsPG01a.htm Prior to Pat’s demise, Harry had another good friend and distant cousin. Ivra Allen Tatum aka “Speedy”. Speedy was very popular, a member from the large and prestigious Tatum Klan based in Ventura County. He was born and raised in Stephens, Arkansas. There was the contrast between Pat and Speedy. Pat, was white and an athlete with a load of charisma, while Speedy was a handsome Black with a load of ladies chasing behind him.

Speedy’s biggest challenge would be his Arkansas roots. His selective service office back there would play into the Jim Crow discrimination that ran rampant throughout the South. Blacks were being drafted at exponentially higher rates than whites, especially in the southern states. Death rates were also unfair based on the race of the soldiers. Speedy was drafted into the Army as a member of a helicopter crew (like Pat) on March 26, 1967. He was a corporal with a specialty of Light Weapons Infantry and was assigned to the 1 st Aviation Brigade, 187 th Aviation Company. Just like Pat, he was destined to fly helicopters. However, his tenure would quickly come to an end – in less than four months of service, his “chopper” went down with no survivors.