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Interview with Rollins Edwards [3/19/2012]

Michael Owens:

Test, test, one, two. Okay, so this is our interview for The Citadel and also the College of Charleston, and just for the record, if you could just state your full name.

Rollins Edwards:

Rollins Edwards. R-O-L-L-I-N-S Edwards.

Michael Owens:

And where are you from?

Rollins Edwards:

Summerville.

Michael Owens:

Mr. Edwards, first I just want to ask you, just tell me just a little bit about yourself.

Rollins Edwards:

Well, I was raised in Summerville on Pigeon Bay Road. I tell you the truth, I had a very good childhood, I really did. My parents, they gave me everything. I had one of the best childhoods as a child because I happened to be from a poor family, and I had tricycles and bicycles, and push-cars and all that kind of a thing. The one thing I never had was a little red wagon. I don't know why I never got that, but I didn't.

My parents, especially my father, he always thought that I should be the best-dressed kid in school. Yeah, I probably always was. He called himself a dresser and a dancer. And so, we had a lot of fun with that.

I was raised by God-fearing parents, and that's probably what saved me. I went in the Army in forty-three, in December of forty-three. I went overseas in forty-four. And I went to Fort Bragg and then to Fort Jackson, and you know they give you that test. And if you scored pretty high, the white boys went to OCS, but the black ones, we went in the service. And it was 150 was a perfect score. I think I must have got 140, somewhere around there. And so, I helped with the guys in Fort Jackson, and Fort Bragg, that couldn't read or write and that was my thing to do until they got a group together to go down to Camp Claiborne Louisiana, with 1329 General Service Regiment.

And then I didn't have anything to do. They didn't have anything for me to do down there, and so one morning at Reveille, when Sergeant Howell came out, and was calling names because that General Service Regiment, H and S Company was headquarters and supply, that's what it meant. And he was calling out names for different specialists to go to different companies and everything. So, when he got to my name, he says, "You go back to the barracks and pack your bags and check your rifle into the supply room." I said, "Well, where am I going?" He said, "I don't know." He didn't know. He said, "You just come back and sit there on the steps, so I did, and about 10:00, a truck pulled up and the guy went on into the orderly room, and when he came out, he said, "You Edwards?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "Well, throw your bag in the back of the truck and get on this--get on the truck." And I said, "Where are we going?" He said, "I don't know."

He had a little piece of paper in his hand. So, we went into Alexander, Louisiana, and he went to the bus station and he picked up two or three guys, and he went on to the railroad station, and he picked up two or three guys. And then he went on--I forgot what route it was, but we went down to Glenmore and Glendale and down in that way. And he came to a road. There was a new road there, and it had a little small sign that said bivouac. And he passed it, he had to back up. And I said, "Well, where am I going?" He said, "I don't know. I don't have no idea what's going on. I'm just supposed to haul you guys down here."

So, he went about five miles down in that woods, and we got to a campsite. It was all brand new. The road was new, and the buildings--it wasn't buildings, it was tents, you know, and it was three, one for sleeping, one for eating and the officers' tent. And there was two white lieutenants and a black sergeant down there. And when we got there, there was several guys down there. So, all told, there was about twenty of us. And one of the lieutenants came out and said, "Well, everybody get off the truck and line up according to height and whatever, and roll up your left sleeve." Nobody had the faintest idea what was coming. And we lined up and went into this building. And they gave us that--the tattoo. That thing never did go away, it's still here. Did I show you that?

Michael Owens:

Yeah. You sure did.

Rollins Edwards:

All right. And then I'll show you, I have pictures here of what happened to you.

Michael Owens:

What was the--

Rollins Edwards:

This was for that--this is mustard gas. And this was probably around noontime, and so they said get back on--after everybody had gone through there, and this thing set you on fire man, when that gas hit you. And when we--after we got through with everybody, all--eighteen or twenty of us, I don't know exactly how many. And they said, "Get back on the truck." And then we went another couple of miles down on the bayou down there. And the reason they said that--why they did that because the test site couldn't be around any farmlands, any cattle ranchers, or water streams or anything like that. And they had--it was just one little hut there, maybe the size--well, it wasn't as big as this. And they told us all to go in there, but don't put on your gas mask until you smell gas.

And we went in there and then heard when the latch closed. It had a bar outside the door. It was plywood, and we all standing up in there. But I put my gas mask on right then. Well, the gas masks then were just paper and charcoals. And you put your hand over the front of this thing, and you would blow any gas that got into the gas mask. Some did get in my left eye a little bit, and they're still working on that. But anyway, when they turned that gas on from up top there, and those guys start to scream because it felt like there was a million red ants over you, just over your whole complete body.

And when he opened that door, the sergeant outside opened that door, and he says, "Sit down, sit down." And some of those guys had already messed themselves up. Man, that thing was tough; And when it gets to the point where you want to see what that gas does to you--I got the book right there and I'll show you. But then we went outside and sat down. But I looked around and they had this trench that started at nothing up here, and it goes out about forty or fifty feet, and goes down deeper and deeper till it was about eight feet deep, and then when it got to the comer, it did a ninety-degree angle, and over there. And this came to an open trench down there.

And so, when we--this chair don't want to go back--when we got in there--want to lean back a little bit. Should be on one side or the other. Now, you got it. Well, anyway, and the reason--and I've got papers in there that will prove that--the reason they told me that trench was there is because they was--when we got through, because all the vegetation--and that's not--that'sjust one day. And every day, we had to go down there for thirty days.

Well, nobody would believe that, but see, I've got proof of it there. And we went down there every day for thirty days, it was a different kind of gas. Now, the mustard gas just set you on fire, but that lewisite, that was the bad one. Lewisite was the one that they spray on you, and that canister went off up in the air, and you crawled around in the ground, that's what messed your hands and your knees up, and your back, see. It's come down on you. You didn't get wet, but you got some of that gas on you. And the lewisite was the one that messed up your enzymes.

You couldn't eat after that. You would eat, and then you would just throw it right back up. And that went on for thirty days. Well, every weekend, they would send two to three, or four, maybe to the hospital, and one or two would come back. And I was probably one of the younger ones in the crowd because I was just twenty-one years old. I was one of the last ones to go to the hospital. And when I went to the hospital, I had boils like that all over my body from that gas. And I--when I went, and they sent me right back. I was one of the ones that came back.

So, when we got through with the test and getting ready to go, they gave me a manila envelope, like this, a bigger one, and said to give this to your commanding officer when you get back. So, when I went--got back to camp, and he says, "How are you feeling?" Captain Haskell was his name. He was from Detroit. And he says, "How do you feel?" I said, "Well, I feel pretty good." You know, not the best, but--and he saw them boils and he said, "Oh, my God."

So, he said, "Well, I'll tell you what. As long as you're under my command, you don't have to do anything. You can just get up, if you want to, go and get breakfast. If not, you just lay there. I'll tell you when they need you to go to work or something like that."

Anyway, we were packing up then to go overseas, and we went overseas. We left New York, Ellis Island, on Christmas Eve day of 1944, Christmas Eve day, December 24th, 1944. And we landed--because the ship went up around the North Pole because the submarines were so bad just crossing the Atlantic. So, they took that route up around the North Pole, and we got to Bristol--no, where we landed--l'll think of it after while. Then we took the train all up to Stafford, England, and that's where we were stationed. And then it was time to start loading the ships for the division, which was June 6th, 1945, when the big invasion was in Europe. And so, we loaded the--we were loading ships and loading soldiers. I was going to work in regiment, I didn't have to do anything, but then I was down there. And the funny thing is, that--and if you saw the movie--Patton, did you see that?

Michael Owens:

No, I didn't get the chance to see that yet?

Rollins Edwards:

Oh, God. And there's a whole lot of things in that movie that was true. See, everybody said that Eisenhower and Montgomery out of England, was the--because he had defeated Rommel in Africa, just before that. And everybody thought that Eisenhower and Montgomery was the bad cats in Europe. That's not so. It was Patton, George S. Patton.

When we were down at Liverpool, loading ships and loading ammunition, and getting those boys ready to go over to the invasion, it was Patton who said, "You tell that paper-hanging son-of-a-bitch that old George S. is coming." That's a true statement; he said that. And that was in all the newspapers, the Stars and Stripes and all. But he--and then he went over, and they held Patton back.

If they had turned him loose, he would have been in Berlin a long time before the Russians were. See, George S. was--he was a wealthy man, and he was with the cavalry. He didn't have to be in service. He loved it. And he thought that he had lived at a different time. Can you imagine that? He thought he lived a couple of hundred, or thousand years before that, and this--he was reincarnated. Yeah, he thought so. He really did.

And I know the convoy was--we were going up to the Rhine, getting close to the Rhine one day, and we went--the engineer said--this was in the back of the column, and somehow or another, the column slowed down. And somebody said now, I didn't hear him say that, but somebody said that somebody went and Patton asked, "What's wrong? What's the matter? Why is this convoy slowing down?" See, because he would always be up front. And somebody said there's a guy on that--there's a long wooden bridge there, and they said, somebody said there's a mule and wagon on that bridge, that's holding up the column.

He said, "What?" He jumped out of the tank and went down there, and pulls out his gun and killed the mule, told them to throw it overboard and get this damn thing rolling. That was Patton. That was him.

When they got to the Rhine, and somebody said well, General, it's cold--and he found the narrowest place because engineering is my outfit was supposed to be building this pontoon bridge across the Rhine River so we could get across. And so, he wore two pearl-handled pistols. He took his pistols off, he took his overcoat off, and he took offhis boot and he swam across and came back, and said, "Damn it. That's how you're going across." So, they put the--they put the pontoons down and the column went across. And that's when they started holding him back because they didn't want him to have too much of a leeway, you know. And they didn't want him to have too much credit.

Now, we left Europe--after the war, we pulled back into France, and we saw him on the street one day. That was funny. That's the only time I've ever seen General Patton, and there was three or four Generals with him. But before that, he--Congress had--he was a Major General, permanently. He had two stars permanently. And the Congress passed that he would be elevated to Lieutenant General, which was three stars. So, when he got the word that they was going to elevate him to a Lieutenant General, with three stars, he told his valet, "Go ahead and put the fourth one on." He said, "They've got their schedule and I've got mine." He put the fourth one on himself. That was George S.

Now, he was a rough character, man. And this day, we were walking down the street, just coming back, getting ready--coming from over in Germany, going back to England to get on the boat, and we met him on the-- I didn't pay much four of five us that hung out together, and we walked by, and he says, "Hey, soldiers, what the hell you doing? You don't salute anymore?" And I looked, I said, "Oh, my God."

Man, you should see them fellows snapping to attention. And he said--well, you know--he looked down at one fellow's shoes, and said, "What you doing with them shined shoes on? You go put on combat boots like the rest of them got on. You don't wear no shined shoes." That's the one time I saw him. I never seen him again. And we got on the boat on the General A.W. Brewster. We got on the A.W. Brewster in England. We got down to Hollandia in New Guinea, the twenty eighth of July in 1945. See these cards?

Michael Owens:

Yes, Sir.

Rollins Edwards:

I've had them all that time. They turned brown. With age, they tum brown. We boarded that ship and we got to Panama Canal the Fourth of July, 1945--fourth day of July. And I stayed on deck all day because I wanted to see the Panama Canal. I figure I'd never see it again. These are all war pictures, out of the war zone, the guys that I knew, and the places we've been. We'll talk about that a little later.

We went ashore. They called several names, and my name was one. And I said, "My God, something done happened at home." Every time--because the Red Cross was ready at the foot of the gang plank. And we went down and my parents had called Red Cross because they hadn't heard from me for about a month. Well, you know, you'd be on ship or in that--up in that front line there, that battle, you don't --

Unidentified person:

Thank you for doing that. I wanted my Daddy to do that, before he passed away, but he was too shy, so I'm glad that you are able to do this.

Rollins Edwards:

Thank you. I'm glad I'm able to do it, too.

Unidentified person:

I know. That's wonderful. We don't want to lose all these stories.

Rollins Edwards:

Well, this is a pretty long one, I tell you, but I enjoyed it I guess.

Unidentified person:

Wonderful. Well, thank you for serving.

Michael Owens:

Thank you.

Rollins Edwards:

We got off the ship and went into Panama City, and there was one fellow on there, Averice Wilson. He's from Philadelphia. And he and this store clerk started talking, and--well, he was a Mason, this Averice Wilson was, and so was the guy behind the counter. And that guy gave us--each one of us a can of peanut brittle. I'll never forget that. I brought that peanut brittle all the way back home. The can was all bent up and everything. It looked like a coffee can. And my wife and I--my bride and myself, ate that candy on the way to Boston in 1948.

We went to Hollandia Bay--got to Hollandia Bay, New Guinea, July the 28th, 1945. Got into Hollandia Bay, and we were waiting for a convoy to go on down in the Philippines, and some of the guys wanted to go into town. And so it was a Saturday afternoon. And the Company Commander call us all together and says, "Now, you fellows going into town, you be very careful because a lot of the natives are coming out of the jungles in New Guinea."

And that's the first place I've ever seen a cassowary. You ever seen one of those? It's a bird, beautiful red, blue, purple, all these colors on their head. It's like an ostrich. It's the size of an ostrich. And it's the meanest bird. You could look in his eyes and see the devil. It's the meanest bird--it's a dinosaur. It's a hangover from the dinosaurs, just like the alligators and the crocodiles. Yeah, it's a bird. It can't fly, but it has a little toe about that long, and they will come for you.

So, we went into town, and he said, "Now, you be very careful because these natives are coming out of the jungles, and everyone of them carries machetes, and with the bone in the nose and in their ears and all that kind of thing. And the women, bare-breasted." He said, "Now, you keep your eyes and your hands to yourself because those guys will hurt you, and fade back into the jungle, and we'll never find them. We don't have time to go--we're at war." So, we went into town, and sure enough, it was just like he said. I said, "Now, this is no place for me." So, we went on back to the ship, and then we were--five days after that, we landed in Manila, and you had to climb down the rope ladder, climb on a LST, and they took us into Manila, and we went in--went on Clark Air Force Base. You ever heard of Clark?

Michael Owens:

Yep, I heard of Clark.

Rollins Edwards:

All right. We were stationed--and I've got pictures here from Clark. And we had tents. We slept in pup tents to begin with, one man to a tent, you know. And we--that was a group of guys that used to hang out together. These pictures were taken in Japan, just before we got ready to leave.

Michael Owens:

I'll look at all these a little later, too.

Rollins Edwards:

Yeah, okay. Oh, well. Anyway, we--that was on Clark Air Force Base, where we started to do some work. That was the Commanding Officer, Colonel Humphries, he wanted to make General--and all of these are Clark Air Force Base. Anyway, and there was--the bottom part of Clark Air Force Base, not the bottom part, but half of that air base was off limits. Never knew why, never could figure out why it was off limits, but they had MPs there. You couldn't go but a certain distance down there. And there was two planes parked down there. And on September 8th, the first plane left to go to bomb Hiroshima. That was the Enola Gay. You ever heard of that?

Michael Owens:

Yeah, I heard of that.

Rollins Edwards:

All right. That was the first one the Enola Gay. Did you know who piloted that?

Michael Owens:

No, I don't know.

Rollins Edwards:

General Doolittle. He was a Lieutenant Colonel at that time. But he stayed in the service, and he made General--full General in the Air Force after that. That was September the 8th--September the lih, and then see, everybody thought that MacArthur was the bad man in the Pacific, and he came back, and I shall return, and he was in Australia. You know who was the bad cat in the Philippines? William F. "Bull" Halsey. Admiral Halsey, he was five feet tall, but he was--oh, gosh, he was something. He was Commander of the Navy.

Michael Owens:

Got you.

Rollins Edwards:

All right, Admiral William F. Halsey, and he didn't mind anybody calling him Bull because that boosted his ego, you know, to call him Bull Halsey. But he was on the Missouri, and he was the one that went down to Tokyo Bay and said, "All right, you bastards, come out and fight." But nobody showed up. I'm telling you--and you know, the picture--I've took a lot of pictures in the Philippines and all over.

The one picture well, you couldn't because we--cameras were banned on Clark Air Force Base. And I'll get back to the second plan in a little bit. We passed the palace in the Philippines, and it was President [Sergio] Osmefia, who was the President of the Philippines at that time, and General MacArthur, Admiral Nimitz, and Admiral Bull Halsey were standing on the steps. Now, that would have been the picture to take. And I was looking at a picture this morning that--the flag raising on Hiroshima--the flag raising with all those Marines. I saw that--as far as the flag--now, I wasn't there when it was raised, but we went back a certain-- get to that after while went back and searched those islands. And that would have been the picture to take, but it never was--the camera was barred. Now, the first plane left on the eighth, and the second plane left on the twelfth to go to Nagasaki. Now, nobody can remember--well, I know a lot of people can, but very few people can remember what was the name, and who flew the second plane.

Michael Owens:

But you know.

Rollins Edwards:

I know. Yeah. The second one was the Boxcar, and it was piloted by Colonel [Paul] Tibbets. And when we returned, and he came back, and they told him how many people that that bomb had probably killed with that one shot, 86,000, and it went off five miles in the air. But I have pictures of statues and things right there. It flattened everything for miles, and people are still dying today from that blast.

Michael Owens:

Right.

Rollins Edwards:

Yeah, and I got pictures of people that was burned in that blast. Well, anyway, the second plane was the Boxcar, and it was Colonel Tibbets who flew that second plane, and very few people remember that. And that was always the twelfth, and the war ended that day. The reason they didn't bomb Tokyo was because they didn't want to kill Emperor Hirohito. That's the reason. And Truman, President Truman, he called Hirohito, and he says--you know, we read this a month later in the newspaper, the Stars and Stripes. He told them that, "Now, you better surrender because I'm not going to invade Japan, it's too dangerous, we'd lose too many people. And I've got something that will settle this war, but it's going to kill a lot of innocent people."

Hirohito wouldn't listen to it. I'm trying to think of that Japanese General who was in charge of all land forces in the Philippines. The one that they hung there, he wanted to be shot, but they stripped all the medals off of him and hung him. Oh, God, them Japanese names sometimes kind of get you. Anyway, that was the end of the Pacific War, and then three weeks after that--three weeks, we were on a ship going to Japan. I was on the first boat load to leave the Philippines to go to Japan.

We had to go as occupational troops, and when we got to Japan, Admiral Halsey and Hirohito and--what was the Japanese Prime Minister at that time? I forgot his name now. Anyway, they were all out on the Missouri waiting--so, we had to go into Tokyo to clean up the Dai-Ichi Building on Ginza Street, for General MacArthur's headquarters. And we went into Tokyo, and you had to carry your rifle with you, loaded and cocked if necessary because somebody had got into--got there and told the Japanese that we were black, and the reason we were black is because we had exploded the atomic--we were the ones responsible for the atomic bomb, so that's a lie.

Michael Owens:

They said you guys were?

Rollins Edwards:

Yeah, because we were dark, and they said that the radiation from this bomb turned us black. That's not true, naturally, because I never heard the word atomic bomb until after these two bombs fell. That was one of the secrets that the--what was the name of that secret thing they had there? I can't think of that. Well, man, you know, it's a long time, but anyway--

Michael Owens:

But they thought you guys were the ones that dropped--

Rollins Edwards:

Right, that dropped the bomb because they said that's the reason it turned us dark, and that we had tails and all this kind of thing. So, we had to prove to them, but then after the Japanese found out that we were a different type of people altogether, they really treated us well.

Michael Owens:

Really?

Rollins Edwards:

Yeah, yeah, we had--and I had an outbreak while I was in Japan. I busted all over--my God, and my eyes was yellow. Well, all of us, eyes were yellow, and up in the roof of your mouth. Now--and the white boys, that--see, what happened was, when you get in the chow line, in the Philippines, Malaria was so bad, so they was giving us pills, so the company commander was standing in the line, and when you go through the chow line, he wouldn't even trust you to put it in your hand.

He'd put it in your mouth. And it would tum our eyes yellow, and up in the roof of your mouth, and the white ones, it kind turned them yellow all over. So, when we got to Japan, there was an epidemic of yellow jaundice in Japan, and I went on sick call one morning, and the doctor said, "Well, what's wrong with you?" I said--well, you know, I couldn't tell him because they told us in that letter that I carried back to my Company Commander, if you ever tell--because it was a secret experiment with those gases out there. Somebody wrote President Roosevelt a hand-written letter, and told him that these experiments with these black soldiers were going on in Louisiana, and Tuskegee, Alabama.

Now, you know about the ones in Tuskegee, Alabama, that they gave syphilis to. That was 400 of those guys, and I was one of the lucky ones because I didn't--I wasn't involved in that. I'd rather be in the gas than do that. And they sent those guys home. They sent them back home with syphilis, knowing that they had syphilis. I got a book there I had to buy--I paid fifty-some dollars for that book because see, America, they blamed the Germans for having all these things. And Doctor Mengele, I don't know if you ever heard of him, that mad scientist.

Michael Owens:

That experimented on the Jews.

Rollins Edwards:

That made lampshades out of human skins.

Michael Owens:

Right.

Rollins Edwards:

But they never did no follow up, none whatever, on the blacks who went through that mustard gas testing, and the syphilis testing.

Michael Owens:

Why do you think that is?

Rollins Edwards:

They were black, that's why. Nobody give a damn, if you pardon the expression. Nobody cared. You had nobody to go to. You had no NAACP at that time. You had nobody. You had a little chaplain, and he was the scaredest fellow in the world, you know, he was old. God, he was--he wouldn't do nothing wrong. He was too afraid of the other officers.

Michael Owens:

What were the consequences, like if it ever got out?

Rollins Edwards:

You probably would have been accidentally shot.

Michael Owens:

Accidentally shot?

Rollins Edwards:

Yeah, you could have been, yeah, really. It was--we had all white officers. We had one--a warrant officer, Mr. Bacon. I got pictures of him there. And the chaplain was the only two officers--the chaplain was a Second Lieutenant. I think he made first later on, but Mr. Bacon was a warrant officer. And he was from New York, but you had nobody that could speak up for you. There wasn't--Iet me tell you, I got discharged the thirtieth of May, of 1946. And they called the roll that morning. We came out of - -came from Japan, to Barber's Point, something happened to the ship, and they had to pull into Honolulu, Hawaii, and we went to Barber's Point. And then caught another ship and came on to Seattle. And then we came to Fort Gordon in Georgia. I think it's Camp Gordon or Fort Gordon, whatever.

They started calling the roll for the guys to line up to get your discharge. And how they did--well, I figured out later how they did it. Even then, they called all the white guys first. Now, this is alphabetical order, supposed to be. And then they called the blacks in alphabetical order. And we were behind them to get our discharge. So, when I got in line about 12:00 that day, I didn't wait on lunch or nothing. I got off that base as fast as I could, went into town, and caught a train to Orangeburg, South Carolina. And when I got into Orangeburg, just after daylight that morning, and the train was not going my way again until about 6:00 in the afternoon. I had to wait around there all that time. Nobody had no cars. You couldn't rent, you know.

So, anyway, I went and--the fellow--a cab driver was at the railroad station, and he said, "Soldier, where you going?" I told him where I was going. He said, "Well, you know, you got a long way." He said, "Why don't you go around to the bus station and get on the bus, and you're not going to get your ticket back." But I didn't care. So, I said, "Yeah, that's a good idea." So, he said, "Okay." He took me on around to the bus station, I bought a bus ticket, and about an hour or so, the bus was ready to go. Well, at that time, we rode in the back of the bus. Naturally, I didn't--wasn't pushing anything. So, went on the very last seat in the back of the bus, which was a long seat. And I laid down and I went to sleep because I was tired and hungry.

And when we got to Rosinville, you know anything about up there--78 Highway? Okay, well, that's the junction to Summerville, Charleston and St. George, it's a crossroads there. And when we got there, there was a black lady in the seat right in front of me. She had a little boy, looked like five or six years old. And she had lunch with him. When we got there at the bus stop, and all the white people got off the bus and went into this little stand. You could buy coffee and donuts, I guess. I don't know what all they had in there. And so, I was sitting on the back seat, and the driver came back there, talking to me, said, "Where are you going?" I said, "Well, I'm going to Summerville," and I live right behind --it was Spell's Store at that time, when you cross the tracks. He said, "You know what?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "When I get to the railroad track, you get ready because I'll put you off at Spell's Store now, because I lived right down the street behind there. I said, "Yeah, that'd be fine." So, okay. So, I said, "They serving food in there?" He said, "Yeah, they serve in there. All you got to do, go around to the back door, and some of them colored women will serve you." And I stood up. I said, "What in the hell did you say?" Me in uniform, all messed up in this damn gas, and you telling me go in around through the back door? You must think I'm crazy. I'd rather starve to death before I go to anybody's back door. This is 1946. He started backing up. He backed up, and he got to the stairs, he blew the horn. This lady was sitting there, she says, "Quiet, son." I said, "No, quiet my ass. No, don't tell me about being no quiet now. I'm just coming out of the war zone, just got all messed up with this damn thing, and then you going to tell me to be quiet? No, no, no." And she said, "You hungry?" I said, "Yeah." She said, "Well, I got some food here I'll give you." And she gave me one of the biggest chicken legs I ever seen, a couple of biscuits, and a glass of punch she had for this kid. They were going to Charleston, and she gave it to me.

And then--but he got to Spell's Store, he just kept right on going, he wouldn't stop and put me off, see. Come down to Garrand drug store, he went and got my bags and just threw them up against the drug store and took on off. But I was supposed to just go around to the back door. Kiss my ass. They must be crazy as hell. I don't go to nobody's back door.

And we had--and then another thing, when we were in Japan, I was always--seemed like to be in the forefront of everything. We were in Japan, and they said, "Well, anybody that wants a two-week vacation," you could volunteer to go back and search all the islands because some of the fellows--some of them had gotten lost and things like that on those islands. I said, "Okay, I'll go back." I like adventure, and I love going places and all. And I was feeling pretty good then, so I went back and we searched. They said you get a two-week vacation in Australia. Now, that kind of tipped me off right there because blacks weren't welcome in Australia at that time, not in Sydney. No, you weren't welcome at all in Sydney, Australia at that time. So, when we got through with the search, and that's the reason we went to Mount Suribachi, and I saw that Mount Suribachi, where those marines raised that flag. Yeah, you know, on Ogasawara. I tell you, these things, they come back. They come back to you. Now, you remember that.

So, anyway, when they sent us to Australia, sure enough, got off in Sydney, the truck was there to meet us. And you know where they took us? To Alice Springs, Australia. That was Aborigines country.

Michael Owens:

One of the worst parts.

Rollins Edwards:

You know, you see these black people with this beautiful hair, that curly hair and blue eyes, and black. We didn't speak--I don't know what they spoke. They had their own language. The Aborigines have that. And we were trying to speak English, and you didn't know what they were saying and they didn't know what we were saying. But we finally made friends with them because this was an all-black outfit. And we finally made friends. I hooked up to this thing and I wanted to tell you what that--about that Sergeant, but I don't know.

Michael Owens:

We can find it later.

Rollins Edwards:

Yeah.

Michael Owens:

But just the whole experience with the gas, like how did that affect you when you--

Rollins Edwards:

That affected me all my life. I've got spots on my--see that? That has been there for sixty-five years. And not only there, but places--I've got a big patch right here, one over here, and they come and go. My wife, one you met there a while ago, we were in Washington. I had to go to Washington for this hearing, before the Court. And were in the hotel that night, and when that thing hit, that skinjust--I lost eighty-five percent of the skin off of my butt. The skin just popped--it just popped--pops off where I was sitting, and she swept --and she would have to vacuum the bed. And she swept up so much skin that next morning, until she was afraid to put it in the toilet because it might stop up the toilet. I had to--she had to grease me down at night. And I would sleep in this rubber suit. This is a rubber suit that they gave me. Can you imagine laying in that all night, in a bed of grease? That's the suit, and the boots and all, it had the boots and everything in it. I tell you, having a good wife--my first wife, it would--let me show you something. What do you think that is?

Michael Owens:

From what you're telling, I'm going to assume that's the dry skin.

Rollins Edwards:

That's exactly right. That's exactly right. That's what came off of me one trip, one time. And now, my first wife, she was--oh, God, it would hurt her so bad, she'd just cry. She wasn't--but this wife, this one here is a bit stronger. She's the best wife a man could ever have man, I tell you. This book is full of autographs from Strom Thurmond, and Ernest F. Hollings, and it has some pictures of me. You saw the pictures.

Michael Owens:

Yeah, I remember--and I'll never forget them.

Rollins Edwards:

Okay, well, the pictures--a lot of pictures are in here, and all ofthese, if you just--you know, just want to glance through it.

Michael Owens:

I'll look at that after we're done.

Rollins Edwards:

Yeah, these are a lot of war pictures. But this is all statements from different ones and things ofthat sort.

Michael Owens:

Stating what?

Rollins Edwards:

Stating that what I went through. I went to every dermatologist in the Lowcountry, everyone. And there's letters in there proving that I did go to them. And they didn't know what to do because they had never seen anybody with that face. Now, when I went to Washington, this was the book I was telling you about. You want the mathematical equations for that mustard gas, there it is right there.

Michael Owens:

Oh, the chemical breakdown?

Rollins Edwards:

Yeah. It's right there. Yeah, man. I've got stuff here that you just wouldn't believe.

Michael Owens:

So, they were just confirming everything.

Rollins Edwards:

That's right, that's right.

Michael Owens:

What was your plan to do with all the information that you were gathering?

Rollins Edwards:

I didn't know what to do with it, and see, I'd been fighting the federal government for fifty years. They should--everybody had said that even the V A offices and all, said they should have turned me out with the patient, but they wouldn't do it. They wouldn't admit that it happened, the Army would not. And it took fifty years, and you get the free--the infonnation--

Michael Owens:

Free Information Act?

Rollins Edwards:

Free Information Act. Then Colonel Musselman in Summerville, who was the Dorchester County V A Officer was able to get a copy of the hand-written letter of somebody that wrote to President Roosevelt before he died, and told him that this wasillegal tests was being done on these soldiers down in Louisiana, and nobody did anything about it.

Michael Owens:

Just black soldiers.

Rollins Edwards:

Black soldiers, it was only blacks.

Michael Owens:

How many?

Rollins Edwards:

It was about eighteen or twenty of us, I don't know exactly how many. And then there was two white lieutenants, and they never came down to the test site, see, and they had this trench that I told you about, and they said they was going to cover that trench over, and that thing was going to lay dormant for 1000 years--it would be alive for 1000 years. So, it's always in my body. My hands were so bad a couple years ago, I couldn't even wash my hands. And that's how I went to Washington, and they wanted me to stay because--but I couldn't stay. My wife didn't go prepared to stay. And every dermatologist, the head dermatologist in Washington is a black woman, a black doctor. And when I went in there, and my pressure was sky high. And they wanted--every dermatologist in the hospital came down to see who this guy was, whose skin was just popping off me. They had never seen anything like that before, and everybody wanted to see it. And so, they--all of them came down, and I'm sitting in a room like this. They had put all the furniture out, and the door wide open, and I'm sitting up there buck naked, you know. And this one older nurse, she came in and she looked at me, and she rubbed her jaw and she stared a minute, and then she went somewhere and got a tube, a big long tube of some kind of grease or something. I don't know what it was. And she started greasing my under my chin, down to my feet. And I sat there for about twenty or thirty minutes, and that pressure just went on down. And it never went back up again.

Michael Owens:

What was that grease?

Rollins Edwards:

Never have, all these years. That's been twenty years ago.

Michael Owens:

What was the grease?

Rollins Edwards:

I don't know. No, she didn't say. And I was so out of it, to tell--I didn't--as long as I'm feeling better, I didn't care. And they sat me right there down there, and every dermatologist came down. See, I got pictures in there--and what they wanted to see. And it was quite an experience. And that sergeant--turn that thing off a minute, just for a minute.

Michael Owens:

Okay, so you wanted to add some more information about--tell us a little more about your experience with the mustard gas?

Rollins Edwards:

Yeah, when President Clinton went into office, he called the VA and told them to find these guys, round them up and compensate them, is the way they told me. And they couldn't find but two of us, because see, the first thing, they threatened us with jail. And I suffer with claustrophobia, I don't ever want to go to jail, so I was always reluctant to tell anybody. But when President Clinton went in office, and he told them to round up--the VA office called me from Washington, and somebody finally get in there. And the first--the first thing the guy asked me was my name and serial number, that's [redacted]. He didn't think I could remember my Army serial number, you know. But that was it, [redacted]. And then he started--he asked me what was the tattoo, or if I was tattooed, and I said yes. He said, "Where is the tattoo?" It's on the inside of the left arm, half way between the elbow and the wrist, right there. See it right there?

And that thing never did come back to color. Half an hour later, it was that big. And then when I went up to the court and talking with the judge because the skin was just coming off of me like mad. And I asked her if I could keep on my overcoat and my hat, and she said, "Yeah," but it would be permissible in the court because you can't--and she said, "Yeah, it would be fine," if it made me comfortable. And I sat there and we went through the court hearing, and she asked me questions, and I believe that's the first time that a judge has ever came off the bench and shook the hand of a client, and kissed--she hugged and kissed me. She said, "I feel sorry for you. I hope everything works out."

Michael Owens:

The judge did that.

Rollins Edwards:

The judge did, yeah. Nancy Wood, that's her name. People say, "Well, how do you remember all this stuff?" Well, let me tell you, if these things happened to you, you don't have to wonder. You can tell the same story over a million times, and it's the same thing because it actually happened. And I've always--I had a good memory. I could remember numbers and figures, anything, it didn't matter, it didn't make any difference. But she said that, and she hugged me and kissed me on the cheek and said she wish I'd have a good day. And that's when they told me that they had found another fellow in Chicago, but he had Alzheimer's and he couldn't come to the--well, this was fifty years later, so the rest of them probably died--some died while we were down there.

I know -- well, Patterson--when I went to Japan, and I had this outbreak, and I went on the sick call. And a fellow named Patterson, he was from Arkansas. I was suppose to call his family if anything happened to him. If you have yellow jaundice, and the doctor said, "Well, what happened to you?" I said, "Well, Doc, I can't tell you, you know, I'm afraid to tell you." So, he called back to headquarters and got my record. And then he said, "Oh, yeah, I've got the thing that will cure all of this and you won't ever have any more trouble." I said, "Oh, good, what's that?" And he said, "penicillin."

And I hadn't ever heard the word penicillin before. This is 1945--January of 1945 because we had just got to Japan. And he said, "Well, but if I start giving you these shots, and we'll have to give you a series of them." And that was for--sixty shots in seven days--every three hours. And you get fifteen, fifteen, fifteen, fifteen. And what would happen, after fifteen shots, it would get so hard, you couldn't get the needle in there. So, he'd have to go to someplace else. And this was raw penicillin, a tube the size of your finger. Penicillin had just came out.

Now, it didn't do a thing for the problem I had, but the one thing it did do, is kill my sperm bank. I was never able to father a child. See? And when I came home, and I went to work back on my old job at the laundry there, and Mr. Miller told me one day, he said--when I was sick, he said, "Why don't you go to where there's a young doctor, right down the street there, named Dr. Missouri. Why don't you go down there and check on him. So, I went down there, and the doc said, "Well, what happened, man?" I told him.

He said, "No, no, no, no, don't tell me that." You lying to me, I can't help you none." I said, "No, Doc, I'm not lying to you." He said, "Nobody would go through that gas--that test for thirty days." I said, "Okay, I'll go home and get" --he said, "Well, do that. You run home." And I went home and got my discharge papers and some of these records that have come back, and that man cursed like a sailor. And he told me right then, he said, "You will have a long sex life, but you will never have no children because it killed--it don't take much to kill a sperm."

That's one of the--riding a bicycle can do that. But he said, and he was right. My first wife, she was nineteen years old, and we went to Boston and she wanted a child. I wanted a child. She says--and she went to the doctor. Peter Brigham--and the doctor sent her to Peter Brigham Hospital, which was a hospital for women. And the doctor's examining her, and he said, "By now, she's a twenty-year-old woman, a young, healthy woman, and there's no reason she shouldn't get pregnant."

He said, "What about--let me try you. Let me test you." We said, "Okay." And they test me, they give you the finger wave and the smell, the glass and all that. And when I went back for the results, he said, "You better be glad she didn't get pregnant, because it would have been a mongoloid." He said, "Your sperm--you know, you have 250,000 sperms in each ejaculation, and only two of that or one, normally, makes it to that egg." And he said, "Had one make it up there, you would have had something on your hands. It would have been just an animal." And I said, "Well, thank God for that." But anyway, I didn't--and of course, this wife was--she was too old to think about children. But that's what happened. And this guy over to Chicago, he wasn't able to be there, and the American Legion, that's the thing I can't understand yet.

The American Legion met me at that courtroom that morning, and they stayed with me all day, the National American Legion. Senator Hollings had a--when I walked in the door of that hospital that morning, because my pastor picked me up at the hospital and carried us over there. When I got to the door, there was a young white woman standing in the door, and she said--she had this list in her hand, and there was a lot of guys sitting out in the lobby there.

And she said, "You Mr. Edwards?" I said, "Yeah." She said, "Well, don't you wait to register. Let your wife sign you in, you come on with me." And I went on with her, and that's how it got started, and you got in there, and then they start talking about this other guy. And they said that he was in Chicago, but he had Alzheimer's, and he wouldn't be able to attend, so we never heard from any of the rest of the guys.

Michael Owens:

So, you've been fighting this--when did you--you've been fighting it just pretty much since you've been discharged.

Rollins Edwards:

Yep, that's right. No, I didn't because I was afraid.

Michael Owens:

You were afraid--what made you get over the fear?

Rollins Edwards:

Well, after Colonel Musselman got into office in Summerville, at the VA office, you know, he was the VA Office for Dorchester County. And after he got in there, we were sitting down talking one day, like we're talking here now. And he said, "Well, you know one thing? I'm going to try something if you don't mind." I had to sign up for him to--I said, "Okay." And he went somewhere to call, or wrote a letter. I don't know how he did it, but he got a hand-written letter that somebody wrote to President Roosevelt and told him that these illegal tests were going on, and nobody did anything about it. And that started the ball rolling.

We were in Summerville for a parade one day, and I was on Town Council in Summerville, and Mayor Myers, and Senator Strom Thurmond were standing up talking, and when I went by, Senator -- I mean Mayor Myers called me over to introduce me to Senator Thurmond. Well, I had met Thurmond several times before. And we started talking about it, and Myers told him I was the one that--the only one around Summerville that ever served in Europe and the Pacific. Not many guys do that.

Senator Thurmond said to me, "When I get back to Washington, you send me everything that you have on this, and I guarantee you, there's something going to be done about it, and say what you want to say." But it was. Senator Thurmond, Senator Hollings and Mark Sanford, the Governor -- former Governor -- and the ball started rolling. I mean it started. I got Thurmond's autographs in them books here, and Hollings and all of them. And Senator Hollings had a representative, Senator Thurmond, and Mark Sanford--and Mark Sanford called me at the hospital while I was there, to see how I was doing.

And when I left Washington, they said, "You go home and go right on to bed, and lay down and relax, and your blood pressure will be fine." So we came on the train and I got off North Charleston there, and I went on home. I had my wife and daughter to meet us there, and we went on home. And I wanted to go home and eat and go to the bathroom. I have trouble going in a strange place. And so before I could eat and get out of there, they was calling from the hospital, where are you because Senator Hollings had called.

So I had to rush down here. Now, when I got here, the administrator for the hospital was a woman at that time, and she met me downstairs, and she--then everybody wanted to come to see who this guy was that Senator Hollings was calling for. And then they put me in the burn unit. And they would put me--sit me in the tub up to here with water, you know, you just sit down there and soak for a while. And then they would take a brush and scrub you. And so much skin came off of me, until it plugged up the drain in that tub. It plugged up the drain. That was Thursday. Thursday afternoon, somebody went to my wife and says, "Well, we're not going to be able to bathe your husband in the morning." There's some special solution in the burn unit they put you in and scrub you down. And they said, "We're not gonna be able to do it tomorrow, Friday, and Saturday." And she said, "What?" They says, "No, we're not going to be able to do it." She got on the phone and called Senator Hollings because we had a direct line to him. And I'll bet you, before the day was over, they found someplace to put me. And it was right around the corner.

They used to take me down the stairs or somewhere, wherever it was, in a wheelchair and all that. But they found a place right when Senator Hollings--and then they wanted--everybody wanted to know, "Well, who is this guy that Senator Hollings is calling about?" But he did. And they found a place right around the corner to put me in that tub that next day. You saw the results of the skin. That's how the skin--that was just dry there, that wasn't in the tub. And in the burn unit, they would scrub me down. I have trouble with this thing. I've suffered with this thing all my life. And having the best wife in the world, she stuck with me. And I told her before we were married that I was subject to this thing. I have had--yeah, I've been through the mill with it now. The only thing saved my face is I put the gas mask on before we went in that little hut to start with. It never bothered my face. Took every strand of hair off my head, and it all come back black. It took every strand of hair off your body.

Michael Owens:

Was there anyone prosecuted or anything happen to the people that you know of?

Rollins Edwards:

No, not that I know of. They said it was--the excuse that they gave was, before we left out of that swamp down in Louisiana, they wanted to see what this thing would do to black skins. Now, that's a hell of an experiment to do. And that book tells you--that was printed in Germany, see. And they could--that Mengele, oh, man, he was the worst. He was a monster. But look at what they did to their own soldiers. We had Italian war veterans and German war veterans in Louisiana, and some of the guys under my company had to serve those prisoners of war, while they sit at the table and eat. Now, I've seen that with my own eyes. Prisoners of war, they come in the kitchen--I mean in the dining hall when they get ready to eat, and all of them come together, sit down, and the black servers--black soldiers serve.

Michael Owens:

The black soldiers would have to serve the prisoners.

Rollins Edwards:

Serve the prisoners of war. Can you imagine that?

Michael Owens:

So, what kept you this strong, and what kept you from--I don't know, from just exploding or whatever.

Rollins Edwards:

I was one that would always blow off steam. I would talk to anybody, and I'd tell them just exactly what I thought of the whole thing. It didn't make any difference to me who it was, whether it was as general or a private. And I think getting it off of my chest like that had to help a lot. And I've been really mad over this thing for a long time.

I get real worked up and get ready to start cussing and all when I start talking about it because it was totally unnecessary. And I went overseas like that. I went to Europe and I went to the Pacific, one of the very few people that served in both Europe and the Pacific. And I got home--I was discharged April 30th of 1946, and I got home the next day, which was the first day of May of 1946. And I've had several outbreaks since then. And I still--I just hope to God I don't have any more. And these doctors that have been working with me now, they worked on me. And I've been to every--and I can prove it right there--every dermatologist in the Low country.

Everyone gives you a different story, and everyone wants to hear the story because you never heard of anybody going through--you had mustard gas, you had tear gas, you had lewisite. You had--oh, God every day was a different thing.

Michael Owens:

You were exposed to all of that?

Rollins Edwards:

But it killed all the vegetations around, the trees and all, and the grass. And see, you had to crawl on that ground and the bomb--not an atomic bomb, but a bomb that would go off up above you and sprayed this. And that's how I found out that that trench was for. Said when we leave there, they was going to push all this vegetation in that trench and cover it, and that thing would lay dormant and alive for 1000 years. Man, I tell you now.

Michael Owens:

So, how long did it take for you to finally--I don't know--you said the fearyou were fearful.

Rollins Edwards:

I was. Yeah, I have to admit it because even in this place now, if you wasn't in here, I'd have to get out of here. I couldn't stay in this little small place by myself. And to make matters worse, I was locked up in two elevators one time--one time by myself, and that was a fearful experience. But I--and I was always afraid of jail because if they was to lock that door behind me and I couldn't--I used to go up to Lieber up there, and do black history for them and go over to MacDougall Prison. You never heard of these prisons up there. And I went up to MacDougall--well, two years ago when I did black history in February. And I was talking about a Dead Eye Dick, the marshal, you know, that came out of the Ninety-Second Division. What was his name now? I can't think of his real name. His name was Dead Eye Dick, and he was so good, they made him a marshal and sent him out to Arizona. He had so many notches on his gun, and he just--didn't have no place to put them. I was talking about him--he was so fast. He was a black man, and he was so fast--he was a tall, slender fellow, and he's walk--them cowboys would go to get drunk on Saturday night, and then come into town raising hell, and he would--what was that boy--Reeves, Bass Reeves, that was his name. And somebody would call the sheriff. He was the sheriff out there, the marshal, you know, and he would go out in the street, and the fellows would call him out in the street. He was just--his gun was tied down here. And he would just throw his coat back, and they said he was so fast with a gun, until he lets you draw and cock your weapon before he made a move. That's fast. And they said he was--and that's why he tied it down here, so it wouldn't flap up, see. And they said he'd walk out on the street and tum sideways, and he'd tell you, you know, go ahead and draw. Those cowboys would draw and cock it. And before they could get a shot off, he killed them.

Michael Owens:

Wow.

Rollins Edwards:

Yeah, and they talk about Marshall Wyatt Earp and all that. Wyatt Earp wasn't no hero. Hell, he'd walk through the street--through the fields, and if saw a black woman he wanted, and the husband rejected her, he's pull out his gun and kill him. That's no hero. Better get back to this.

Michael Owens:

Right, but I see what you're saying.

Rollins Edwards:

Man, I tell you.

Michael Owens:

So, this whole fight took about fifty years for it to finally reach a resolution?

Rollins Edwards:

Fifty years. Mm-hmm,yeah.

Michael Owens:

Did you feel any--describe your--ifthere was real satisfaction.

Rollins Edwards:

It wasn't--it wasn't nearly enough. See, you only get retroactive pay to when you first file. Nobody--I didn't--I don't say nobody do that because I would have filed when I first came out of the service, but you had nowhere to go. They had nobody to say nothing for you. Nobody was going to listen to you, so what were you going to do? You had this threat hanging over your head. And I knew how I felt about being locked up in a small place by myself. I'd go stark raving mad. I couldn't take that.

And like I tell you, I'd go up there--I used to. And I was talking about that same Bass Reeves and Dead Eye Dick. And you know, there were some fellows in there that knew me. And when I got ready to come up, they said, "Mr. Rollins, you better not--you better go--there's a fellow outside that don't like what you said in there about that." So he must have been in there for life for killing somebody. And they had to guard me back to the gate, so I never went back in there again. No need in asking for trouble. They search you before you go in there. You can't carry a gun or a knife or nothing. If they let me carry my gun, I would go back in there, but they won't do that. But it's been a tough journey, and I've suffered. I don't think I was nearly compensated enough, but well, I won't have to work no more. And now my wife is on medicine, and they treat me well here now at the VA. I don't have no problem getting appointments or--

Michael Owens:

But emotionally, there was no satisfaction?

Rollins Edwards:

No, nothing can compare to that. I've always had that in my mind, and I went overseas like that. And I should have been discharged right then with a pension, a full 100 percent right then. But at that time, like I say, we went overseas Christmas Day and landed--went overseas Christmas Eve day, got on the boat, and I didn't get back until forty-six. Made it first day in 1946.

You know, you serve your country--see, people say, "You shouldn't have did it." You can't run an army like that. You can't have an army, when a private's going to tell a sergeant or a general what he's going to do and not going to do. You can't--if he tells you to walk through fire, you walk through there, he takes the consequences, not you. But nobody took the consequences for what we went through.

But that's the way it works. You can't--and I can understand that. You cannot have an army, if I'm going to tell them I'm not going to do--and I didn't know where I was going. I didn't know what was going to happen. I had no idea what was going to happen.

Michael Owens:

Did you ever fear for your life, like if you--you ever thought about just trying to run or try to just--

Rollins Edwards:

No, not while I was down there because you didn't know where to go. Once you--the first day there then, we got so sick and nobody--they had an old gas generator, and--or electric generator, whatever it was, and a tank there with water running, hot and cold water. And nobody told you to even take off them old clothes you went through the test with. You just--you're so sick that you just go and fall across the bed. You couldn't eat, you couldn't rest, couldn't sleep because these guys is jumping and screaming all night. And man, I tell you, we went through hell down in that woods. It didn't come when I wanted it, but I tell you, it was right on time.

Michael Owens:

So, no one ever--has there been any reports about it or any stories, or has anybody ever went back and kind of reported?

Rollins Edwards:

Oh, yeah, the newspaper clippings there--that's the front page news, all over the country. Somebody sent me one from New York that was in the newspaper and all up there. Yeah, and pictures--well, no, you don't have time to go through all that, but--

Michael Owens:

But still, even with all of that information.

Rollins Edwards:

Yeah, it's not--the information was--

Michael Owens:

They still denied it?

Rollins Edwards:

Yeah, they denied it until Musselman found that letter, and then President Clinton got a hold of it. And that's when the ball started to roll. And I must say now that Senator Thurmond, Senator Hollings, our Governor Mark Sanford, and the National American Legion got a hold of it, and it really started to move. And like I told you, they had representatives to go completely through the court with me. They went through, and I was the only one in that court. And that judge was just as nice as she could be. You couldn't ask for a nicer judge. Well, it was quite an experience, but that does not say that what they did was right. It was dead wrong and they should have never did it, and if they was going to do it, then they should have compensated them. You say, "Well, why did you do it?" You can't --I couldn't tell them I wasn't going to do it because at first place, I didn't know what I was going to do. I didn't know where I was going. And you can't--like I said, you can't have an army like that. He's telling you to walk through fire, you walk through it, and then whoever ordered you to walk through it is the one that's going to catch the hell for it, or should catch the hell.

Michael Owens:

So, nobody in charge of the operation. Did they have names? Did they make you--

Rollins Edwards:

I saw one fellow that went through that thing with me--Solomon--he lives in Detroit. He was the last time I saw him, about fifteen, twenty years ago. Solomon--I can't think of his last name. But anyway, he was the only one. And I haven't seen any of them-

Michael Owens:

What about the commanding officers though? No names and no people

Rollins Edwards:

I know the commanding-- no, I don't--whoever has put my name into thatCaptain Haskell was my Company Commander. Now, whether he knew where I was going or not, I don't know. The sergeant--Sergeant Howell, who was from Detroit, swears up and down he didn't know, and I asked him. I said, "Well, where am I going? Why do I have to sign my rifle in?" I thought I was being transferred to another company, and he said, "I don't know. I really don't know." And he didn't know. He didn't know.

Michael Owens:

Were any of them called to testify, or to the trial--or to the court hearing or anything?

Michael Owens:

No commanding officers?

Rollins Edwards:

No, none, no. I think they said that somebody found a -- contacted Captain Haskell. And he lived in Detroit, and by that time, he was too old to even realize what was gomg on.

Michael Owens:

Passed on by now.

Rollins Edwards:

Yeah, they're probably gone by now--I'm ninety, and those guys were older than I was, you know. I was one of the younger ones in that company. They're all probably gone, most of them anyway. But I've seen several of the guys that was in that company was not in that--went through that testing. They knew I did, but I was the only one. See, what they did, they got somebody from like Louisiana. You got somebody from Alabama. They got somebody from Virginia, from North Carolina, from South Carolina, and bring you all down there, then when you go back, you had no contact with anybody because you were too sick while you're down there to even fraternize with somebody. And the only one I got--I got kind of close with was Patterson, like I told you, and then he died one morning. I woke up about 4:00, and they were shoving him out the window. And the reason for his death was he had yellow jaundice, and if you have yellow jaundice, and they give you penicillin, it goes right to the liver. And it'll kill you within twenty-four hours. And that's what happened. I woke up, they was rolling him out the window there, you know.

Michael Owens:

They just dropped him out the window.

Rollins Edwards:

Well, yeah, was nowhere else to go. You had to--it was to keep--there was a curtain pulled around us and they didn't want the rest of us--there was four of us in that room, one on each wall, and they didn't want--I guess they was trying to slip him out while we--thought we were asleep or something, you know, but I had to wake up every three hours for that shot. And his window was right there by him, so they just put him on a stretcher and slide him right out the window. And I've got pictures of the building they named after him, and I was supposed to contact his family in Arkansas, but I never did. No, I never tried to find out. But we had some good politicians behind us, and some who I thought might have helped me didn't. And that was Jim Clyburn. I was surprised at him.

Michael Owens:

Why do you think--what would stop someone from not helping you?

Rollins Edwards:

I don't know, I can't figure that out.

Michael Owens:

Some kind of fear, too, they're scared.

Rollins Edwards:

I don't know what it was, but he--and he was on the Board of Veterans at that time, too. He could have been a big help, but he didn't do it. And I see him quite often now, and I--my wife was the Grand Matron, and I was a past Grand Master for seven years, and so--and he's a Mason, so we see each other quite often. Got pictures of him in the house. But every time--and that--you know, people say, "Well, you know, having a good memory is a blessing." Not always. It's not always because there's some things you want to forget and you can't. I was telling my wife yesterday--we were coming along and I was sitting around the camp one day, and--on Clark Air Force Base. And Captain Haskell had some papers that he wanted to send up to the headquarters. And he told me to go up there and take these papers up to headquarters, drive his jeep. So, I drove his jeep, and coming back, it wassomething was going on in front of some house or something there or another. And there was a Japanese fellow crossing the road on a bicycle. And he just--he didn't slow down. He just ran out there and I hit him, and knocked him over in the field over there. And the field was kind of muddy. Well, all these Japanese here, try to go around there. Hell, I wasn't going to stop there, you know. No, so I kept going and that thing kind of bothered me because I didn't know whether that fellow was hurt or what. But I finally, you know, got over it. But having a good memory sometimes can be a curse, too. The other day, I went up to Florence to speak on a Veterans' Day Service, last Veterans' Day. And they had another guy there, and I was talking about the General A.W. Brewster, because we stayed on that ship fifty-two days, from Bristol, England, to Manila in the Philippines. And this fellow got up and he's a bit off in the head. And he was talking about he was on the Brewster. That's all he could remember, the Brewster. And that's when he saw some mermaids. And everybody started laughing. Yeah, he said he saw three. I mean --and he was serious, you know. But how can you get up in front of a group of intelligent --that's why I always tell people, you get up in front of a group of intelligent people, you better know what you're talking about. You're going to have to have them dates right, and you're going to have to have the names right because somebody out in that audience knows what you're talking about, just like that fellow that was talking about--now I had to prove to him about them two-dollar bills. I got them in my pocket. I brought the thing--and I like doing that. Yeah, I like to break it off in them, yeah. And we do--I go into schools a lot and do black history. I love black history. And you have more whites in the class listening than you do blacks, for some strange reason. And you call names like that guy--you say, "Oh, President Obama was the first black President." "No he's not." And they look at you, you know, like you're crazy. But that's why I carry this--he made copies of it, too. I said, "Okay." Now, the other day, he asked me how did I spell--how do you spell Hansen? H-A-N-S-E-N, or whatever. Well, so I brought it this morning. I like that. I like doing it.

Michael Owens:

So, what do you do with yourself now that you're--of course, you're out of the military, you go around and speak?

Rollins Edwards:

We travel a lot. Next week--this weekend, we leave Friday for Newport News, Virginia, and then we'll come back and go to Tucson, Arizona, for the Conference of Grand Masters. And then we'll come back and go to Louisiana for the Imperial Council. And then we'll go to Washington for the Supreme Council. And so it--I enjoyand I make toothpick holders, you know. That was a little flashlight, and I just dress it up.

Michael Owens:

Handy with your hands.

Rollins Edwards:

Yeah, well--and people want them, and I just make them and--you know, you can make them out of anything. That was a little flashlight, and I do that with pens and all that kind of thing. And then I've got some goats--a dog killed my goats a while back. See, you got you--and you know, I just--you can't sit around all day, just sit around all day. And I like working, doing stuff like that. I tend to my goats and I feed the birds. Feeding them birds, it's all over (unintelligible 01:16:44).

Michael Owens:

So, is there anything else you think I should have asked, or that you want to talk about? We talked about a lot.

Rollins Edwards:

Yeah.

Michael Owens:

I want to thank you for just sharing that with me.

Rollins Edwards:

What are you going to do with this?

Michael Owens:

Well, we're going to take this, it's going to be transcribed, you know, someone's going to write everything out, and then I'm going to write a story about it, an article about it, and who knows, I mean--who knows what can happen from there, but there's definitely a story that needs to be told.

Rollins Edwards:

Yeah, somebody asked me about doing a documentary for Channel 7 one time. I don't know, I never--see, I go down--that's when it happened. When they have Spoleto down there, I go into the--not the classroom, but the rooms that they have and do jazz because there's a lot of great--I'm talking about great musicians came out of Charleston that the people just don't know about, and they're all passing on now. And I work with most of those guys.

Michael Owens:

What do you play?

Rollins Edwards:

Drums.

Michael Owens:

You play the drums.

Rollins Edwards:

Yeah, and you know, there was Freddie Green, that was with Basie for fifty years. And well, you had Purvis Henson, J.B. Watson, Cat Anderson. You ever heard of Cat Anderson?

Rollins Edwards:

He's one of the greatest trumpet players the world has ever produced. You talk about Louie Armstrong, but Cat, man. He was in a club on Fifty-second Street one night and Armstrong was there. He was working there. And Cat came in and asked if he'd sit in and he said yeah. And he cut everybody. I'm telling you, Louie said, "Where did that fellow come from?" He was surprised to hear Cat. He learned Cat was from Moscow, Indiana. That's where he was from. And he got in trouble out there, and he ran away and wound up in Greenville, South Carolina. And Reverend Jenkins had the orphanage down there, so they called him and he came right up there and got him, and he came back, and Cat was one of the greatest trumpet players that the world has ever produced. And he was--you had Julian Dash was with Erskine Hawkins Band for years. He made that band. And there were just so many of them. Willie Smith--Jimmy Lunsford organized a band one time, and right after Jimmy Lunsford died--and somebody told him about Willie Smith, this great alto player. He was great. He was as great as Johnny Hodges, but Johnny Hodges got that sound. That's what every musician strives for, sound that nobody else had. And when Jimmy Lunsford hired him, and somebody--he was from Charleston right here. And he says--somebody told him said, 'You know Willie Smith is black." He said, "What?" Now, he had to disband the whole band because at that time, it wasn't popular for a black musician to travel. You couldn't stay in the hotels, you couldn't eat with the rest of them. And so, he had to break up the whole band to get rid of Willie Smith because you couldn't tell that Smith wasn't white. And he had the hair and the nose and everything, and he was a great one. Yeah, he stayed with Duke for years, the Duke Ellington Band.

Michael Owens:

The music--was that kind of like a way of escape for you? What did it serve for you? What role did music play?

Rollins Edwards:

I love jazz, especially that big--I came along on the tail end of the big bands. And I wanted to go up there to play with these bands, and when I first came home, out of the service, I went down to Jenkins Orphanage in Charlotte, and Johnny Darling was the head of Jenkins Orphanage at that time. And what they would do, if you said you was a musician, they'd take you in a room and they'd sit you down, "Let me see what you got." And he did, and so Rufus Jones, who had just left Jenkins Orphanage, and went to New York--and Rufus played with Duke and Basie, but I never got to play with Duke because nobody would hardly leave that band. But anyway, Darling was the one that told me, "You need to go to Boston and go to the school, the music school." Oh, gee. It's on the comer of Commonwealth Avenue and Madison Avenue. And I said, "Well, yeah, okay." And I thought about it, and sure enough, I went, but then Max Roach was the head teacher there in percussion. And the tuition was $1500 a semester. Well, at that time, you know, I didn't have the $1500, so I went a little while, but I couldn't keep that up because I was one thatyou're in the neighborhood, and people see me around all day long, and my wife out, they think I've got her out working and I'm--I mean my work was at night. But you know how people think. Yeah, they would think I got her out working and I'm laying around all day. That's not so. I was making twice as much as she was making, but it was at night. But that's what happened. Berklee School of Music.

Michael Owens:

Okay, yeah.

Rollins Edwards:

And I came over there and went over to the night club on Commonwealth Avenue there, with George Reeves and them, and I got in with him and started playing with the local band over there. Then I went to the big band, and from there, to Louis Jackson, who was from Florida, and several others, Erskine Hawkins and Buddy Johnson was from South Carolina.

Michael Owens:

A lot of history, a lot ofinfoffi1ation.

Rollins Edwards:

A lot of pictures, too, yeah, a lot of pictures. Then I went with--Basie came into the night club. They were supposed to hit it at 3:00 that day, and they came in about around II :OO,and they all came down because they wanted to--see, when there was somebody coming in, a singer or a band's coming in, we would play all of their tunes, and so he came down and we played everything that he was playing. And but the thingour set was over. And I went back in behind the curtain, and I was drinking a drink, whatever it was, orange soda or whatever, and smoking a cigarette. And Marshall Royal, who was Basie's right-hand man, came back there and said, "Mr. Basie wanted to see you in his room." "Who?" What did he want to see me for, you know? So, I said okay. I went on up there, and he said, "Sit down, Ed." That's me; he called me Ed. "Sit down." I said, "Okay, how are you doing, man?" We talked, you know, and he said, "Sonny hasn't come in yet." Sonny Payne he was talking about, the drummer. "And I wonder if you would help us out and just playa couple of tunes, and Sonny will be here after while." I said, "Me?" He said, "Yeah. I heard you playing 'Shiny Stockings' up there with Freddie Green," from Charleston, who had wrote 'Shiny Stockings.' I copied it, had it in my head. Yeah, because you can't read as fast as they're going to play, so you have to have it in your head and know what they're going to do. And so, I went on and I called my wife. I said, "You better corne over here because I'm going on the stage with Basie's band." And then they found out that Sonny had--was in New York, injail for statutory rape of a white girl.

Michael Owens:

Oh, man.

Rollins Edwards:

He was in trouble, man. So, when he got the message and he said, "Well, finish out the set if you want to. I'll get somebody, or whatever because Sonny, he can't make it." I said, '·Okay." Finished the set. Got time the set was over, he said, "Well, how about going out with us? We're heading out to California, and we'll be out there a couple of weeks. How about going with us and take the seat for a while?" He didn't mention nothing about no payor nothing. But this man, everybody wanted to play with Basie's band. And that's how I got with that. I was just lucky. I was always at the right place at the right time, for some reason or another. When I first went to Boston, walked in the door in 207 West Kansas Street, and I walked back in the kitchen where Ella Mae had the book to sign it. And Lawrence Brown and Louis Jordan were sitting at the table. All musicians stayed there. That's where they all--when I met--I got off the train and I went to the redcap and I said, "Where can I get a room?" Taxi driver take me around West Kansas Street. And that's where all the musicians hung out right there. Yeah, it's luck man. I don't know, I've always been lucky. And that's where my tirst wife and I stayed. We stayed up there for fifteen years, and I finally came home on vacation and bought this place. And I was getting tired of it, and she was getting tired of it. I wasn't going to give her up for that career, I'll tell you that. No, not after all that time. I wasn't going to give her up. She died in eighty-one. We came home and opened up a dry cleaners and ran that for forty years. And she got cancer and she died, and then I went out to Denver, Colorado for Imperial Council and met this wife here. Couldn't have made a better move, man.

Michael Owens:

How was it just--how did she take all--everything that you told me about, the mustard gas and all that.

Rollins Edwards:

Which one--she was--the first one, yeah, she was upset. She would cry. She really didn't know at that time--she didn't want to grease me down and that kind of a thing. She was--l know she was a little thing, wasn't but--cute as she could be. I loved that little gal, I tell you. And she would do the best she could, she could grease me. But this one here is a different story all together. She's more forward going. Yeah, my first wife was a little withdrawn, you know, she'd just hang onto me everywhere we'd go. She wouldn't--she didn't have too many friends either, but this one is a different story completely.

Michael Owens:

But perfect--just for what you need right now at this time in your life.

Rollins Edwards:

Oh, God, yeah, I had two lives, and I had the perfect mate for both of them. Now, if that ain't luck, I don't want it is, man. Two wives, and two lives. Now, she wouldn't enjoy what I was doing the first time. And that one wouldn't enjoy--well, she did--she was into the Masons, too, but not like this one. She's a Grand Matron. She's the Grand Queen of all the chapters all over the world, and President of the Mason clubs all over the world and everything. That's what we're going out to Tucson.

Michael Owens:

So, what's the dividing part of your two lives? Is it the war or is it your two wives? What's your two lives when you say?

Rollins Edwards:

Well, death divided--she died in '81, and that was the dividing line. And I stayed single for two and a half years. And I'm glad I did because I got a hundred telephone calls a day. Women aggravate you. And I'd be home and well, this is still going, but--yeah, I had a time. But I picked this one, and she--I couldn't--she could have did better.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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