To the editor:
My wife Linda and I went to see the movie "The Butler." We enjoyed the movie and felt it would probably receive some awards, but we also felt the movie was not quite what we had expected. Not having read any reviews, we assumed the focus would be on Eugene Allen’s relationship with the presidents he served, but it turned out that the major theme was the civil rights movement.
"The Butler" revived memories for me from the 1960s, with one memory in particular standing out. I joined the Army National Guard in 1959 while still in high school. Following high school graduation, I served the required six months of army active duty training, after which Linda and I were married and I enrolled in the local junior (community) college. Soon national events led to the turbulent summer of 1966, with violent riots in 43 cities across the U.S. As the Guard units in eastern Nebraska prepared to go to Camp Ripley, Minn., for their annual two-week training, there was concern among state and local leaders that riots would break out in Omaha upon their departure. So the plan was to have the Guard units in western Nebraska ready to go to Omaha for riot control duty if necessary and we were placed on alert at our local armories the weekend the eastern units left for camp.
I have wondered what might have happened had we been sent to Omaha to quell a disturbance. Our only riot control training was the few hours we were given that weekend. The officers providing the training probably had no more knowledge of riot control tactics than what they had read in the training manuals the night before. With little training, how much control and discipline would we have had facing a large angry mob, perhaps hurling stones or even brandishing weapons? The only equipment we had and were trained to use was our rifles. Would we have been issued live ammunition? It could have been disastrous for us and for those we faced on the street. I not only sympathized, but empathized with the Ohio National Guard soldiers involved in the Kent State University tragedy in which four students were killed and nine wounded in an anti-Viet Nam demonstration. Investigation of the event suggested that fear, poor training, inappropriate equipment and poor leadership all contributed to the tragedy. I also wondered about the leadership of our officers. One lieutenant providing classroom instruction actually incited hatred by continually using a racial slur.
We were lucky. Omaha remained quiet. After this unwelcome intrusion that tied up our weekend we went home, none the worse off, to the regular routine of our lives. And in a community almost completely white (the exceptions being a few junior college students recruited for their basketball skills), the turmoil in so many cities across the country seemed almost irrelevant. Sadly, the indifference of our community was probably common to most Midwest communities.
"The Butler" not only was different from what we expected, but it also was much more than we expected.