Sergeant fought disrespect

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By rank he was a sergeant, but to many of his subordinates he was a constant reminder of unwelcome change.

Several years after President Truman signed his executive order desegregating the military, Albert Griffin still found his authority being challenged by white soldiers while stationed at Fort Benning, Ga., in the early 1950s.

He recalled how one white soldier refused to respect his orders to pick up cigarette butts around the barracks.

"He said he didn't take orders from niggers," said Mr. Griffin, 75. "A lot of white soldiers didn't want to work under me. I didn't feel well about it, but that's the way it was."

The incident led to the 21-year-old being reassigned to another platoon. There would be at least 10 other reassignments because of similar circumstances in his 28-year military career, as shipping him from platoon to platoon became the way his superiors handled the insubordination and discrimination he incurred.

"I had the rank, but I knew I had to keep my mouth closed and keep a low profile," Mr. Griffin said. "I was a soldier. I didn't have time to analyze what they were doing."

When he enlisted in June 1948 as a 15-year-old from Warren, Ark., Mr. Griffin said, he was accustomed to racism. But the opportunity he hoped the Army would provide for him to eventually pursue his dream of becoming a scientist overshadowed any potential obstacles he expected to face in the military. He saw combat in Korea and was part of the last segregated unit of the Army, the 24th Infantry. He describes his years with those men as the best of his Army career.

"We were lucky to be out in the field fighting when so many of us were cleaning quarters and barracks, mowing lawns and doing other tasks," he said, referring to the military's long-standing practice of putting blacks in service units. "It seemed like being there with the regiment, we had our own code."

In August 1950, he was shot in his ankle, leg and across his face in the Pusan Perimeter. The wounds ended his Army career as a rifleman, and he decided to go into administration at Fort Benning, where he helped soldiers of all races prepare for college.

"It was rewarding to help soldiers that didn't know how to read and write and get an education," he said.

However, he never forgot about the additional challenges black soldiers faced.

"They just looked at us as disciplinary problems. We could be kicked out for any infraction," he said. "We knew what we had to do, so a complaint would only make it worse."

Despite this, Mr. Griffin said he believes the opportunities the military provided were unmatched.

"The Army did the best they could at the time," he said. "Having a job and being able to retire in 20 years was better than the man out on the streets. Consequently, I looked at the military as a positive thing."

Mr. Griffin advanced to the rank of sergeant major by the time he retired in late 1975. By that time, he began to see white soldiers and officers become more accepting of integrated platoons, he said. The Army gave him the opportunity to get a degree in business administration, have a career as a manager at BellSouth and put his four daughters through school.

Looking back at his service years, Mr. Griffin said he's thankful for those who fought for equality in the military.

"It's a far cry from the way it was in the '40s and '50s," he said. "It wasn't an easy journey for us, but I felt like there was success at the end of the line."

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HYPOCRITES 08
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HYPOCRITES 08 07/27/08 - 07:37 am
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" The Army did the best they

" The Army did the best they could at the time". The same hold true today. The military is one of the few employers that will reward you according to your job performance on a merit based system. There are still pockets of bias because of race or gender, but that is to be expected, since the military is a reflection of the civilian world. A lot of people would not be where they are today if not for the military.

ITDoc
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ITDoc 07/27/08 - 08:44 am
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Thanks for setting such a

Thanks for setting such a great example, Mr. Griffin. I appreciate your service and sacrifice. May God continue to bless you.

giveitsomethought
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giveitsomethought 07/27/08 - 09:11 am
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Where does the will to do

Where does the will to do come from? Pride, nurturing, personal fortitude and taking the right road at the right time.
Thanks for sharing and thanks for your service.

1964-1966 1970-1988
Ironhorse

giveitsomethought
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giveitsomethought 07/27/08 - 09:18 am
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In 1974 I was moved to

In 1974 I was moved to another company because I breached the rule of so what. I questioned the 1SG's action of putting all enlisted blacks in a platoon that had a black PSG. Did I feel better for my actions? Yes and I would do the same today because it is the right thing to do. If you do nothing you become part of the problem and you become a new problem.
Allons

iletuknow
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iletuknow 07/27/08 - 09:19 am
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I as well suffered during my

I as well suffered during my military years.

Signal Always
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Signal Always 07/27/08 - 02:02 pm
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That's why I like Augusta,

That's why I like Augusta, Firefighter. We have a "few" race problems, but they are no where NEAR what they are in the city where I grew up. I attribute this to the huge amount of military and military retirees. I only wish the good Sergeant would have had the backing of his superiors to stomp a mudhole into the [filtered word]es of those subordinates. Hell, about the only people I kept in contact with when I ETS'd were black guys. Giveitsomethought, 11ACR by chance?

Craig Spinks
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Craig Spinks 07/27/08 - 02:25 pm
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SM(ret.) Griffin's last

SM(ret.) Griffin's last sentence says so much: He and his colleagues of color fought a tough battle but the justice of their cause inspired them to prevail in the end.

val12345
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val12345 07/27/08 - 04:29 pm
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What a wonderful story. I am

What a wonderful story. I am a female, and black an a retired SFC from the US Army. It was man(BRAVE, BLESSED) like you who paved the way for me. God Bless You.

Signal Always
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Signal Always 07/27/08 - 04:31 pm
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We have come a long way. Let

We have come a long way. Let SGM Griffin walk into any barracks or building in his Class A's or Dress Blues and see how long it takes a soldier to yell "AT EASE!". By the way, AC why are you referring to him as "Mr. Griffin"? This man is a retired Sergeant Major. He should be labeled as SGM Griffin, since the story is about his time in the military. Maybe I'm just being anal.

Cody_Webster
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Cody_Webster 07/27/08 - 05:21 pm
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I worked with Albert at

I worked with Albert at BellSouth and never once heard the history of discrimination in the military come from his lips. I was a young white enlisted man with non-commissioned officer rank in the USAF. I understand exactly where Sgt Griffin was coming from about disrespect by those under his charge. It was the exact reason I left the military for the civilian career. When those of higher authority fail to do their duty as they should, everyone suffers for it in the end. Men of position need to understand and do what is right. All races that served in our nations defense gave up men to keep us a free nation. Respect that and them..... I salute you Albert, thank you...jhd

Signal Always
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Signal Always 07/27/08 - 09:54 pm
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I do hope the AC keeps this

I do hope the AC keeps this story on the front burner. We've come a LONG way. The best SGM I've EVER worked for, in my military career, was a one SGM James Gholson. He was a 1SG at 235th Signal Company (TACSAT), and S-3 SGM for the 67th Signal Battalion. This man, I'd give my life for in combat. He always had my back, when I was in the right, and I hope I did as much as I could to have his. I hope I made him look good to his superiors by my works. I was his subordinate and I ALWAYS tried to make him proud. SGM Gholson became CSM Gholson at Space Command in Colorado. He was a man who "should" have become CSM of the Army. People, those words aren't just mine. I didn't know one person that didn't like him. He was a hardass when need be and a friend when need be. He, as a SGM, helped me fix my Jeep at the Auto Crafts center when I was a Buck SGT. Tell me how many NCO's, in his position, would do that. That was SGM Gholson, through and through. Harley-driving, 4WD-loving, built like a Sherman tank sum*****.

Son of God
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Son of God 07/27/08 - 11:09 pm
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God Bless you Mr. Albert. May

God Bless you Mr. Albert. May God continue to allow his face to shine upon you as you continue to be a blessing to others. You learned to HUNBLE YOURSELF UNDER THE MIGHTY HAND OF GOD. We thank God daily for you and ALL soilders who are and have served our country. My only son has been to Iraq and Sudan three times and is now training soldiers before the war. God has kept him and will continue to keep him because my prayers don't fall to the ground. I believe what God says about us. We shall not die but live to declare the works of the LORD. Continue to be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. God Bless you and your family. Hats off to all supervisors who are able to help their enployees and make them feel worthy. God will give you a reward in Heaven.Signal Always, that was a heartfelt posting. Continue to comfort, edify, and exalt.I genuinely LOVE ALL OF GOD'S PEOPLE!!

giveitsomethought
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giveitsomethought 07/29/08 - 07:34 am
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signalalways 202pm yes,

signalalways 202pm yes, Blackhorse, the best Troops in the world

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