By Jennifer Martin
The army was still segregated when Landres Cheeks was drafted during World War II.
"I was in the Engineers. That's what the most people who looked like me was in at that time was in service units."
His unit went to France and was soon sent near the German front line.
"Being in the Engineers, we built bridges and assembled hospitals that had been shipped over and had German prisoners in some of this."
He never saw any action but he was always on alert. After his 2 1/2 year tour ended he re-enlisted. He would be a career soldier.
"After the war was over, this was just another job. I'd go home at night and my wife and kids was there. We had cub scouts boy scouts, I was even a coach of little league baseball."
Cheeks was still serving at the time of the Vietnam War. His son was serving there, so he decided to go too. He was in medical intelligence.
"I waived my rights as a father. I didn't have to go but I decided to go because my son was there. I thought I'd be help for him. We ended up in the same company."
They didn't start in the same company, though. The job Cheeks was sent there for was given away before he arrived, to a white soldier of a lower rank. It was one of two times this happened to him in his career.
"There is racism in America. It's still here and its not going anywhere until the bosses change it. The bosses, not the little people."
It was something he fought against, especially in the years just after integration.
"Some of those sergeants was white and some was black. My policy was do your job, follow the law. If there even looks like discrimination on either side, you've got to see me. I ended up with the nickname Cleanup."
After 30 years in service, Cheeks retired.
"I was lost really, afraid. I had been away from civilian life for 30 years. It's hard to get adjusted to civilian life after you've been in the service all these years. You're told what to do, if you don't do what you're told, you go to jail."
He started his own business and ran it for almost 20 years.
"I didn't want anyone to tell me what to do when I left the army, because I had been told for 30 years and I don't want to hear it till I die."
Cheeks has been married 66 years. He has six sons and three daughters. Six of his children followed in his footsteps and joined the military.
"It was a way of life and it was a good life for me."
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