Growing up, I would sometimes hear stories of my family’s military history. One of the earliest tales I heard was about my grandfather, John Doyle. My father’s family made their home in Mississippi, remaining in the same area in which several generations of my ancestors had labored as slaves.
The story goes, that one day John made the three-mile walk into town to pick up the mail. He was a tall, gangly kid who probably looked older than his 17 years. Barefoot and wearing his raggedy work clothes, he traveled alone down the dirt country road into town. It was the summer of 1917.
John picked up the mail and was headed home when he was confronted by the white sheriff, who was surprised to see a healthy young man walking the streets. There was a war on after all. Most of the white boys in town had already joined up and shipped off to serve overseas.
So then and there, the sheriff arrested John, charged him with draft dodging, stuck him on a truck headed north and shortly thereafter, John was shipped off to France, where he wrangled mules throughout the rest of the war.
John made it back home after the war and raised a family in the same Mississippi town.
By the time World War II started, my father was 19. He didn’t hesitate to answer the nation’s call, understanding the adventure and the freedom release from his oppressive Mississippi town would mean. He was assigned to one of Patton’s all-black tank battalions, landed on Utah beach the day after D-day, was cheered as a liberator by Belgians, fought in the Ardenne Forest during the Battle of the Bulge and eventually came home a man who could no longer tolerate the harsh segregation of the south. He moved north.
My parents met after the war, in Minnesota, where my mother, after having served during the war in the Women’s Army Corps, had found her own kind of freedom. She and my father largely ignored the social stigma that accompanied their interracial union.
I grew up hearing stories about my father’s war, my grandfather’s war, my mother’s service and even about my mother’s father who had been a cavalry Soldier on the plains of the Dakotas. Military service was part of our history. (It) had played a major role in changing my father’s opportunities. (It) had largely been the reason my parents met.
So my father wasn’t a bit surprised when I told him I wanted to join the Army. My brother had dared me to do it, saying I could never make it through basic training. Of course, I had to prove him wrong, but aside from his juvenile taunt, everyone in the family was supportive.
Joining the Army Reserve was the best decision I ever made.
Now, still working for the Army as a civilian in public affairs, I earn my living telling the Army story. On my off time, I’ve co-authored two books which, hopefully, will mean large chunks of military history won’t be lost. In the fiction I write, the tales are largely based on personal experience. I never would have predicted that the decision I made to serve in uniform so many years ago would result in a lifetime of storytelling.
Mary Doyle is a former Army broadcaster and current Army civilian serving as the chief of media relations at the Fort Meade, Md., Public Affairs Office. She is the ghostwriter of “I’m Still Standing,” the memoir of Shoshana Johnson, the first African-American female POW.