By Miriam Perron
For The Georgia Star
Zack Lyde has been fighting a war for 59 years. He talked to me about the life experiences that earned him the title of “angry warrior”, and how, in his advancing years, he has experienced new reflections on faith and social justice.
“I enlisted in the army when I was 18,” begins Lyde. “I was my mother’s first born. There were 12 of us. Food was scarce, we had four sleeping in one bed, we dressed in whatever hand me downs we got, “ he pauses. “That’s the way poor folks in Brunswick, Georgia lived. ’It is what it is,’ was the story we were supposed to accept. I was always hungry. My father (who was a Pastor) told me to stop begging my sister for some of her food. I was always in trouble for using too much water to bathe, asking for more food that we didn’t have, wanting to act like the head man of the family in competition with my father. For me, at fifteen, it was life of inescapable misery. Finally, a solution, my granny took me in to live with her. I stayed with her until I was eighteen and graduated from high school. Then I found the next solution. the ARMY.” He laughs.
“Why not? I would have food, my own bed, and even a paycheck. It was a decision that molded and changed my life.
There I was at the first day of basic training. The sergeant is up front. His first words to us, ‘Do you know why you are here? You are here to learn how to kill.’ I was an 18-year-old kid whose father had always spoken the Lord’s message ‘thou shall not kill’, but the army would train me to accept what I was most against…I think that is when the title warrior struck my mind and my heart. If I was going to stay alive I had to view everything from a warrior’s viewpoint. Reasonable negotiations were not accepted. I would embrace discipline and prove my strength. That is what warriors do, right?”
(Laugh) I wondered if I was a true candidate for the military, but I guess the army saw me differently. I was assigned to a top secret until that dealt with nuclear weapons, sent to Redmond, Washington. He continues. “It was the beginning of a journey that took me to Korea, Bryon Georgia, Alaska, Fort Eustis Virginia, and then Vietnam. It was in Vietnam that I suffered devastating urns while loading and unloading material on ships. I ended up in the hospital in Japan for 3 months and then went back to Vietnam. I finally spent the last 2 years of my 12 year active duty charge of Honor Guard at Fort Eustis, Va. I was a sergeant, first class.”
It was the end of a twelve year journey, but hardly the end of Lyde’s journey. The discrimination he experienced, as a black soldier, escalated his role as a warrior. He describes an incident:
“It was 1968. I came home to Brunswick from Vietnam to see my wonderful family. I was so proud in my uniform, and so happy that I had money to treat everyone to attend an integrated high school football game at Lanier Field. I was a few minutes late and leaned on the railing looking for my folks. A policeman’s voice startled me. “N*gger, take your hands off that railing.” “I was an American soldier returning from Vietnam. How could he speak to me like that? I turned to him and said ‘I think you could talk me in a better tone’ the next thing I knew he had called for backup and pulled out his mace tool and maced me. I spent the day in the Brunswick jail. When the NAACP got word from community friends, they got me out real quick.”
Another Incident: “Some of my unit, including myself, were on a bus in Georgia when we decided to stop for lunch. The waitress took a look, and said ‘we don’t serve them’ pointing to me and another black soldier.”
He simply adds, “I swore I would never return to the south, but you should never say never. I came home in ’72 determined to make things better for the black people I knew who were still struggling, There was pollution from Hercules that was causing terrible health problems, racism in the schools, lack of enough jobs, lack of training for school drop-outs” He pauses. I realize now that the army years made many mistakes.“ He stops. “Now I am in a program in Dublin, Georgia sponsored by the Veterans Administration I am facing the anger and distrust that have been with me for so long. I will still dedicate myself so social justice. There are still plenty of local problems that need attention. Lord willing, I will continue to be a warrior, but this time with a