Friday, November 15, 2013

Alien in the Delta - Detroit Riots 1967

The 1967 Detroit Riot

Off in the distance, you could hear the sound of automatic weapons firing late into the night. It reminded me of Fourth of July firecrackers all going off at the same time. The noise would be so loud and then suddenly stop. Silence for a few minutes, and it would start all over again. Each subsequent time, it would seem to get louder. That is where the similarity with the Fourth of July ended.

Detroit was burning, and there weren’t enough policemen, firemen, or equipment to put out all of the fires and arrest all of the looters. We heard the sound of fire trucks and police sirens and someone speaking on loudspeakers. The smell of smoke from the fires that had been set all over the city left you wondering how long it would be before the worst of the riots would reach our side of town.

Things had gotten so out of control, and the Detroit police could not contain the riots. The Michigan National Guard had been activated but wasn’t able to make a difference. There was talk of calling up reserve military personal. When the riots broke out in July of 1967, my greatest fear was that I would be called up for active military duty as a reservist. I was eligible to be called until November 1967, two years from the date of my discharge from the US Air Force.

The mayor of Detroit asked for help from the federal government. The Eighty-second Airborne Division soldiers were sent to Detroit to stop the rioting. This was the same group of soldiers who had been fighting in Vietnam. It was dangerous, scary, and unbelievable. These soldiers patrolled every street in Detroit.

I had spent four years in the US Air Force, and during that time I hadn’t seen any combat, but back in the city of Detroit, I was living in a combat zone. As the soldiers walked past our houses, they were offered something cold to drink. They had been told not to get into discussions with the citizens and to keep moving. 

The entire city was under a curfew. Everyone was asked to stay put until further notice. You were allowed to go places in the daytime, but you could not travel after dark. Things didn’t calm down for a solid week. Not before forty-three deaths, eleven hundred injuries, and over seven thousand arrests had occurred.