Black skin, white skin: Green uniforms

South Carolina integrated the last of its public schools by 1970.

However, the Army had integrated itself nearly 20 years earlier.

Ben Duncan of Barnwell was one of the early witnesses to see that military integration firsthand as a soldier in the Army in the early to mid-1950s.

Duncan, now 74, is retired from his various jobs which saw him as a brick mason, county magistrate's constable and sheriff's deputy.
Now Duncan serves on the Barnwell City Council - its first African-American councilman to do so. He has been on City Council since 1995.

President Harry Truman signed the orders in 1948 to integrate all the armed services. The demand for personnel during the Korean conflict helped speed along integration. By the end of the conflict in 1953, 90 percent of all military units were integrated.

On Dec. 4, 1954, Duncan joined the Army. He underwent eight weeks of training at Fort Jackson with the 101st Airborne Division, 4th Battalion, 506th Airborne Infantry Regiment.

"We were all sleeping in the same barracks," he said of living arrangements during training.

Later, Duncan went to Fort Bliss, Texas for eight weeks of antiaircraft artillery training with Battery D of the 90th Battalion, he said.

For the most part, Duncan did not see much racial tensions during his time in service he said.

"Every once in a while, we'd have a misunderstanding, but it wasn't too bad," Duncan said.

Once, one white soldier made a disparaging remark to a black soldier that started them fighting, he said.

The fight began in an upper room of the barracks and the combatants during their melee ended up on the first floor before it was over, he said.

"I don't think they brought charges against them. I think they made them make up," Duncan said.

While stationed at Fort Bliss, which is near Mexico, Duncan would often entrust his money to a friend - a white soldier - when he went sight-seeing in Mexico so he would not spend all his money south of the border, he said.

Later, Duncan was shipped to an artillery site at Camden, N.J.

This was during the Cold War and the Soviet Union was the presumed enemy that the United States would be fighting next.

At the artillery site,Duncan was a gun crewman and would scan the skies for Soviet bombers trying to make a preemptive strike against the United States. It was the duty of Duncan and his crew to shoot the Soviets before they got over land or military targets, he said.

While in Delaware, Duncan's Army convoy stopped at a restaurant, but the establishment wouldn't serve the black soldiers. The convoy moved on until it found a place that accommodated all of them, he said.

"It put a feeling in you - bad," of serving the country as a soldier although not all the country was willing to serve you, he said.

Once in Camden, N.J., Duncan and several black and white soldiers went into a bar.

"The bartender was slow about giving us black soldiers our beer," he said.

Later Duncan's white comrades-in-arms told him that the bartender said the white soldiers could visit the bar again - but without the black soldiers.

"That was back in the 1950s. Now people don't think like that anymore. That's why I'm proud of the changes - it makes you feel like somebody," he said.

Duncan said he was proud when Barack Obama became the newest commander-in-chief because he was chosen for his abilities and not due to race.

"They look at you as a person," he said.