Russell C. Coile
We tried to be quiet digging our trenches, but we must
have laughed too loudly at some point when we were digging
in the afternoon after school while the offi ce building was
occupied because someone heard us. After searching all over,
they discovered the entrance to our trenches. In retrospect,
they were very good to us. They told us to take our shovels,
go home and never come back again. We were scared at fi rst
when we got caught. They explained that they were afraid
that we were undermining the foundations. We tried to get
them to see that we had been careful in our planning to avoid
the foundations. They did tell our fathers about our digging
trenches, but they presented it in a friendly fashion. Apparently
they found it hilarious that we had built such an elaborate set
of trenches and a headquarters with us being only 10-years-
old. In fact, most of our fathers felt that we had done a good
job learning military history and becoming skilled in the latest
tactical doctrine of World War I trench warfare.
When I lived at Fort Monroe, there were two small towns
nearby -- Phoebus and Hampton. Fishing and crabbing were
the main industries of both towns located at the mouth of the
Chesapeake Bay. The population of each town was perhaps
two-thirds colored. In the 1920s, Negros were called colored
-- not blacks, not African-Americans -- just colored.
At the steamship pier and at the ferry slip at Fort Monroe,
there were signs at separate drinking fountains, bathrooms,
waiting areas, etc which read "White Only" or "Colored
Only." There were separate schools for colored children.
Separate but equal was the law. It is strange to think that
those practices were all legal for so many years. The U.S.
Army was completely white in those days and remained so
until President Truman integrated it. Things have certainly
changed for the better since those days.
After Lincoln freed the slaves in 1865, a retired Army
general established a school for Indians and freed slaves in
Hampton, Virginia called the Hampton Institute. About 100
years later the name was changed to Hampton College and
later it became Hampton University. My father and mother