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"I credit the military with whatever it is I've been able to achieve especially in terms of my education." (Audio Interview, 18:44)

   Ira T. Neal
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War: Korean War, 1950-1953
Branch: Army
Unit: 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division
Service Location: Korea
Rank: Sergeant First Class
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In 1947, at the age of 16, Ira Neal dropped out of high school to join the Air Force. He soon learned that the segregated armed services had quotas for African American recruits; he was encouraged to enlist in the Army instead. By June 1950, he had just returned from a tour of duty in Japan when the Korean War began. He decided to re-enlist for a six-year hitch, and he arrived in Korea as a rifleman in an infantry unit. He admits that he was "blessed" when he was transferred to a weapons company as a forward observer. He directed mortar fire on the enemy, and his job was not without danger, but he believes it greatly increased his chances of survival. While he was in Japan, he obtained a GED, and he later used the G.I. Bill to get an advanced college degree, leading to a long career in public education.

Interview (Audio)
»Interview Highlights  (6 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: audio (31 min.)
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 Audio (Interview Excerpts) (6 items)
Enlisting as a high school dropout pessimistic about employment as a black man in Memphis; able to help support his family with his Army pay; leaving one segregated situation (Memphis) for another (the Army). (04:42) Shipping out to Japan in April 1948 for two years; coming home just before the start of the Korean War; re-enlisting for a six-year hitch; getting his GED while in Japan; using the GI Bill when he got out of the Army to get a Master's degree. (02:17) Race relations in the military; division of black and white troops housing in Yokohama between inner city and suburbs; more social opportunities for black soldiers in inner city; actual desegregation of the Army under pressure from Philip Randolph and other activists; dissolving of all-black units. (04:30)
Relatively uneventful tour in Korea; switched from infantry to weapons unit and became a forward observer (F.O.) rather than a rifleman; his duties as an F.O. (02:52) How the military helped him to become educated and a success; living off the GI Bill after he got out of the Army and lost his job at Chrysler in Evansville, Indiana; coming out of school, offered a job in Milwaukee but at the last minute accepting one to stay in Indiana. (04:10) Original plan was to do 20 years in the military, retire, and coast; once he got his GED, that opened the door for promotions in the Army and also raised his expectations for himself; last education in Army was on missiles; serving at a well-concealed missile site in the heart of New Jersey in the mid-1950s; going to baseball games in New York City, seeing the Yankees, Dodgers, and Giants. (03:40)

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  October 26, 2011
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