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Interview with James Wiggins [April 8, 2003]

Hattie Lowry:

Today is Tuesday, April 8, 2003, and this is the beginning of an interview with Mr. James Wiggins at Williams Memorial Church, 1635 15th Street, Augusta, Georgia. Mr. Wiggins is 73 years old, having been born on [birth date redacted]. My name is Hattie Lowry, and I will be the interviewer.

James Wiggins:

My name is James Wiggins, and --

Hattie Lowry:

Okay. Give your -

James Wiggins:

My address is [address redacted].

Hattie Lowry:

What war and branch of service were you in?

James Wiggins:

I enlisted in 1948 here in Augusta, Georgia, to the United States Army. Took basic at Fort Knox, Kentucky. When I finished my basic I was assigned - shipped overseas to Japan. I was assigned to the all-Negro 24th Infantry Regiment, which is an all-black unit. From there I went to Korea and served there. I also served in Vietnam from 1966 to 1967. And I retired after 21 years of service in the Army. I had - I was -- served in several MOS's: AG, FG, Artillery, WaterMaster. And when I retired I was serving in the MOS of a transportation movement specialist in Seattle, Washington.

Hattie Lowry:

Okay. Did - did you recall your first day in the Service, what it was like?

James Wiggins:

We -- my buddy and I -- we left Augusta, Georgia. We took a train from here to Fort -- Louisville, Kentucky, to Fort Knox where we took our basic. The first day was rather strange, of course. We just out of civilian, not knowing what was going to happen or go on in the Army, and at that time was getting kind of cold because it was October in 1948 down in Kentucky. We would get up very early in the morning around 3:30 or 4 and clean our barracks, make our beds and get ready to have chow, we call it in the Army. Of course later on you become accustomed to it during the eight weeks of basic training that we had. And from there we came back home on leave, and as I said, I shipped out to Japan.

Hattie Lowry:

Okay. So at the part that you referred to then, is that somewhat like boot camp?

James Wiggins:

That is true, basic training,

Hattie Lowry:

All right. Thank you. Okay. Did you have a special job assignment once you finished everything?

James Wiggins:

We was assigned to an artillery unit, which is 159th Field Artillery, and that was also an all-black unit. We were overstaffed there so 125 of us was transferred to Gifu, Japan. And that's where I was assigned to the all-black Negro outfit, the 24th Infantry Regiment and our nickname was Blockhouse Soldiers. We formed a heavy mortar company, which is a mortar company, and you can fire these projectiles eight miles from behind the line of the line soldiers in the infantry. And of course, this is the unit that I went to Korea with. On July the 4th, 1950, we landed at Pusan, Korea. And several days later we were in the heat of a battle in Korea.

Hattie Lowry:

Okay. In that battle were there many casualties?

James Wiggins:

Not at first, but later on there were, and of course I was hit by shrapnel on July the 13th, 1950. And it wasn't bad enough for me to leave the unit. But later on I suffered a terrible injury to my left leg and left foot, and of course that was the end of my combat duty and I was rotated back to the States as a medical patient.

Hattie Lowry:

Were you awarded any medals for this?

James Wiggins:

I was awarded several medals. The National Defense, German Occupation, Japan Occupation, Korean Service Medal, couple medals from Vietnam. Also the Purple Heart. And it took me 13 years to receive my Purple Heart. As I mentioned, I was injured or hit on the 13th of July 1950 and I didn't receive my Purple Heart until October 1963. So you can see that was quite awhile.

Hattie Lowry:

Okay. During your experience in the Army, did you stay in touch with your family?

James Wiggins:

Well, of course, we, you know, wrote and corresponded back and forth by letter only. But now you have all the modern technology so by watching TV you can see where these service men in Iraq and other places, they can communicate with their families by modern video or television or whatever you might want to call it.

Hattie Lowry:

Right.

James Wiggins:

But we didn't have this -- those capabilities during those times.

Hattie Lowry:

Okay. What was the food like?

James Wiggins:

Oh, the food was okay, I guess. And I can recall that the first time I saw a half gallon milk carton was in my basic training in 1948 at Fort Knox, Kentucky. And also that is when I took my first shower, because being from Augusta in the South we had that #10 washtub that we took our bath in, so it was much better, and especially on the weekends we had very good food on Saturday and Sundays. Thanksgiving and Christmas also.

Hattie Lowry:

Did you participate in anything special when you were on leave at any time?

James Wiggins:

Not really. I just, you know, visited different places and visited my family. Just before we went to Korea I had a leave to visit the Pearl Farm in Atomi, Japan, but my leave was cancelled so I never did get to visit that area. And the Atomi Pearl Farm, this is where the Japanese woman only dived for these pearls in the water.

Hattie Lowry:

And you did say that you could share some your of photographs later, right?

James Wiggins:

I would be more than happy to share those photographs.

Hattie Lowry:

Okay. All right. Do you recall the day that you -- no, before I ask you that -- did you keep up any kind of personal diary or anything or just your memory?

James Wiggins:

Somewhat, but most of it is from memory.

Hattie Lowry:

Okay. And the last part. Do you recall the day your service ended, and where were you?

James Wiggins:

That was October the 11th, 1969 at Pier 91 at Fort - I mean at Seattle, Washington. I was assigned to a transportation unit titled MTMTS, and my headquarters was at Oakland, California. We stayed in Seattle, Washington for 24 years before returning home here to Augusta, Georgia.

Hattie Lowry:

All right. Did you work or go back to school -- I believe you answered that. Was your education supported by the GI Bill?

James Wiggins:

Yes, it was, and I took several courses. One I included was a locksmith course, and I attended University of Maryland for two years and also attended Puget Sound University while in the Army. And I attended several military schools and military institutions during my 21 years of service. So the Service has been very good to me, and I look back on it and wonder what my life would have been like if I hadn't followed a buddy of mine into the Service. Of course I spent 21 years and he only stayed 10 years and he got out.

Hattie Lowry:

Okay. Did you make any close friendships while in the service?

James Wiggins:

Yes, I did. When I was in Gifu, Japan I met a sergeant by the name of John S. Williams, and he prepared me for a better Army career. He taught me what it would be like and what I should do as an NCO. The same Sergeant Williams, which he retired as a Command Sergeant Major. And I met him again at Fort Dix, New Jersey. He, at that time, helped me get promoted to Sergeant E5. So we kept in contact all these years and I thank God for putting him in my path, in my life.

Hattie Lowry:

Okay. Okay. And I believe you -- I know I've heard you talk about this -- you joined a veteran's organization?

James Wiggins:

That's - yes, I'm with the NAUS which is out of Springfield, Virginia. And I'm going to join the Purple Heart. And also the unit that I served with which is the 24th Infantry Regiment Combat Team, the all-black Negro outfit, we have chapters. And the chapter here in the South is the Southeastern chapter. We meet every third - we meet every quarter, and we have yearly reunions once a year. This year this reunion is going to be held in Columbus, Ohio. You might say we're a dying breed because the average one in this organization -- that's veterans that are living -- is my age, 70-some and up. We have a few that's 80 and 90. Those individuals served with the 24th Infantry Regiment during World War II. Now this regiment was started back in the 1800s. They also served in Wyoming, Washington and Idaho in the early 1800s. They fought the Indians, and they also served in Mexico. So we have a very historical background as a regiment. And several of - well, two of our soldiers -- which more should have received it -- received the Medal of Honor in Korea. ?? ?? ?? ?? 1

 
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