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"I said, 'Mom, we don’t sit in the back of the bus anymore. I just got back from fighting for this country…'" (Video interview, 51:00)

   Melvin T. Pender, Jr.
Collection image
Melvin Pender, detail from video interview [n.d.]
War: Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Army
Unit: 82nd Airborne Division; 9th Infantry Division; US Military Academy
Service Location: Vietnam; Okinawa, Japan; Korea; West Point, New York; Fort Bragg, North Carolina
Rank: Captain
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A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Melvin “Mel” Pender experienced racial prejudice and segregation firsthand during his childhood and young adulthood. Seeking escape, and inspired by the combat soldier and actor Audie Murphy, Pender decided to join the Army in 1955, at age 17. While stationed in Okinawa, Pender was recruited for the 1964 Olympic track and field team. At age 27, he competed in the 100-meter dash in Tokyo, where he placed sixth due to an injury. In 1967, Pender was pulled out of Vietnam to train for the 1968 Olympics, where he and his teammates won the gold medal for the 4x100 meter relay. Following his military service, he served as West Point’s first African-American track coach.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (6 clips)
» Part 1 
Download: video (102 min.)
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 Video (Interview Excerpts) (6 items)
Observing segregated troop trains rolling through Atlanta; worshipping Audie Murphy; deciding to join the military. (01:39) Pervasive racism in his hometown; telling his mother he would get out and make her proud. (01:45) Getting his start in running; profound effect of the military on his life. (01:27)
Received orders out of Vietnam to train for the Olympics; didn’t want to leave his men. (03:18) Spokesman for black athletes, but not involved in demonstrating; incident in a doctor’s office with his mother. (05:27) Impact of his achievements on his community of Lynnwood Park in Atlanta; wanting to make his family, race, and community proud; how his life has been exceptional; belief in God; first minority coach at West Point. (04:47)

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  October 26, 2011
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