Vietnam was only one of several battlefields during the 60's and 70's.

It is unbelievable how the American elite have treated the riots, sabotage and other attacks on non-black military personnel--including fragging/killing of staff NCOs and officers, by black military personnel during the Vietnam era.  It is as though the wanton, vicious, traitorous acts never happened. No books have been written, no days of remembrance for ships almost destroyed, no newspaper or magazine articles about the military bases that were subject to destructive, injurious riots, or memorials for the dead and injured from the racial assaults. Virtually none of the terrorist acts has been acknowledged. I will wager that no American publisher would accept a book about any of the bloody racial violence so prevalent in the military during the years 1967-1975.

Americans normally rush to the aid of people in grave danger. A total stranger will be helped in time of emergency. In the face of dire consequences the brave heart and fighting spirit of average people have been clearly demonstrated time and time again. Heroism is our heritage.

I was Commanding Officer of VMA(AW)-533 during a riot on the evening of January 1, 1972. It was the second and worst of two riots I experienced after arriving at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan in June 1971.  My billeting accommodations were in one of the many four bedroom apartments with a shared head in the Senior Officers Quarters just inside the main gate. AT 2200 hours I was brushing my teeth in preparation for retiring when scuffling and shouting noises were heard from the street out front. I looked out the door and saw 200 feet away under the street lights a man being stomped by about twenty blacks. Shouting "Knock it off! Stop!" I charged out of the door, jumped off the three foot high porch and ran toward the downed Marine. After giving a couple of final kicks, the group of blacks ran toward the Officer's Club with clinched fists raised high in the air. Three rioters could be seen attacking a Marine on a bicycle in the O'Club parking lot.  Upon reaching the victim, I saw blood running from his mouth, nose and ears. Under the street lights his skin appeared yellow-gray. I thought he might be dead and I decided to capture an assailant for courts martial. A jogging straggler, who I had seen give the last kick, was shouting with his fist high in the air and didn't hear me sprint up behind him.   I grabbed him around the waist from behind, interlocked my fingers, raised him high upon my chest and carried him back to where the body was laying in a pool of blood. The culprit was screaming and cursing as he struggled to get loose. I noticed that no other SOQ residents had come out to help the assault victim and I was alone with a very angry captive. Suddenly, I was surrounded by the twenty blacks. They had rushed back to rescue their accomplice.  The group commenced beating and flailing me. I used my captive as a shield. Some attackers were kicking my legs but the added weight of my prisoner helped keep me upright. I rotated left with my prisoner on my chest so he was catching a lot of blows meant for me. Unexpectedly, I felt sharp, stabbing pains in my back--like knife punctures. I then became worried. I figured, "This bastard is not worth losing a kidney." So I started whirling like performing the hammer throw in sporting events. I spun faster and faster and, timing my release perfectly, I flung the captive toward my SOQ room. His weight punched a hole through the circle of attackers and I broke through the hole in a dead run for the SOQ porch. I jumped the three feet up onto the concrete porch and put myself directly behind a column which was one of several that supported the second story porch deck. The attackers had to jump up onto the porch in order to reach me. Why they didn't all jump up on the porch at once and overpower me, I will never understand. They were content to jump up individually and I would kick, push and knock the attacker back off the porch. Finally, two did jump up simultaneously on each side of the column and while I was handling the attacker on the right, the offender on the left caught me on the left temple with a roundhouse right. My legs wobbled and I damned near went out. But, the puncher quickly jumped back off the porch. My shouts that I was an officer and they were under arrest were ignored. Two of my roommates would stick their heads out of our front door and shout orders but when the assailants leaned in their direction they slammed the door. No one in the SOQ came out to help me although several officers were peeking out of their windows. Finally, after what seemed like ten minutes, the blacks walked off with their fists in the air shouting obscenities.   I hurried out to the body of the original assault victim, rolled him over and checked his vital signs. He was alive.  I recognized the Marine as an older major nearing both the end of his unaccompanied overseas tour and his retirement. Some SOQ members had called earlier for Security personnel and an ambulance but security had been told to not engage the rioters and emergency personnel elected to not approach until the mob had departed. The medics rushed forward and the comatose victim was taken to the base hospital.

The Major lived. Over 100 non-black Marines were treated at the hospital emergency room for various injuries. The dozen punctures and lacerations on the left side of my back were treated. The cuts looked like Exacto knife work. The major left the hospital in a week or so and then sort of adopted me as his caretaker. He hung around my room for a couple of weeks until they sent him back to the United States for retirement.

It seemed that finding and arresting the attackers was left up to me. Iwakuni Air Station and the Marine Air Wing appeared uninterested in learning the identity of the rioters. My Suzuki van had wide blue stripes down the sides and a huge diving hawk on each back door which matched our squadron Intruder paint scheme.  I was easily recognizable. None of the Hawks of 533 were involved in the riots. One day, as I drove on the base, I noticed two Marines passing the black power sign with clinched fists high in the air.  One of the greeters had a short cast on his right arm wrapped in Ace bandages.  I stopped and arrested the Marine.  I advised him of his rights under Article 31 of the UCMJ and said he was being arrested for assault on New Year's Day.  He said, "I was on liberty in Fukuoka on January first."  I said, "Your bandaged right arm was outside my SOQ room!" 

My XO, Andy Martin, and I found my captive who had delivered the last kick to the downed victim's head. We were walking through the support squadron's mail area looking for the Commanding Officer when I recognized the assailant in the mail line.  I arrested *him and took him topside to the CO's office.  The spit-shined attacker worked as the orderly for H&MS-12 Commanding Officer. He was a perfect looking Marine when not in his safari jacket, beret, and leather gloves attacking non-blacks. The CO of H&MS-12 refused to believe his orderly was an attacking rioter. I had to contact my Air Group Commander, Ed Rutty, to get a search warrant and find the blood spattered clothing in the suspect's wall locker.  I had a hard time getting any rioters prosecuted. When I was brought into the courtroom to testify in one General Courts Martial, the defendant was seated in the middle of about twenty blacks in the spectator area.  The prosecutor asked me to point to and identify the defendant.  Fortunately I was able to spot him hunkered down in the group of his peers. 

The CG First MAW, Major General Owens, pressured me to drop the charges. It was about a week before the courts martial of the captive attacker that I received a call from General Owens to come to his office and enter through his private entry door at the back of his office.  VMA(AW) 533 was on top of all Naval Air Pacific Command in aircraft operationally ready and full systems availability so I expected the visit would be congratulatory.  Instead, the General asked me to drop all charges and let the January 1972 riot be forgotten. I refused.  I refused to bow to the politics of the case. Generals at all levels wanted the riots kept quiet--as though no riots or injuries had occurred. As a Squadron CO, I felt punishment for the attackers was the only action I could take and still be able to shave in front of a mirror.  The accused was found guilty and a sentence imposed of five years of confinement at hard labor and a dishonorable discharge, however a pretrial agreement reduced the sentence to seven months in the Brig and a Bad Conduct Discharge.

When will historians recall such events as this?

* I never released the name of the black Marine that I captured that fateful night.  It has been many years since I entered this story into my web pages.  Since then I have come to believe the readers should know his name and consider the implications of the name with the mindset of the attacker.  It was a name rich in United States history and a name given to thousands of babies at birth.  Parents, including countless negroes, were proud to have the name in their family. The name was Robert E. Lee.

"Back to back, we face the past"

Donald Cathcart LtCol USMC Ret.