Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Billy Metts Honored at Library's Black History Exibit

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Billy Ray Metts, Purple Heart veteran

The theme for the 2018 Black History month is African Americans in Times of War. The theme suggests that contemporary conditions, past and present, give us cause for critical pause in our studies and deliberations to consider the specific and unique issues faced by African Americans in times of war.

Billy Ray Metts of Louisville, Mississippi was chosen to be honored at the Black History Exhibit at the Winston County Library for 2018. The exhibit will be available throughout the month of February during regular library hours. This writer, Elmetra Patterson is the curator of this exhibit, with assistance from her sisters Mattie Eichelberger-Davis of Richmond, CA, Lorenda Eichelberger and her husband Eddie Littleton. Friends of Dean Park, Inc. will sponsor a reception on Saturday, February 24, 2018, 9:30 a.m. – 12 noon. Brother Metts will be present with his family to discuss his experiences. There will be refreshments.

Brother Metts was born March 8, 1946 to Jessie and Alberta Metts in Winston County. He graduated from Louisville Colored High School in 1966 as a Trojan football player. He stated that it was a great opportunity for him to attend school, to do exceptional well and to graduate. His parents were not educated but Brother Metts said, “By the Grace of God they knew that their children needed education and sent us to school after harvesting the crops.”

He was drafted into the army in January, 1967 - going to Fort Campbell, Kentucky for basic training and later to Fort Polk, LA from where he was deployed for Vietnam after a fifteen day leave. Brother Metts was assigned to the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. (The 196th Light Infantry Brigade was raised again at Fort Devens, MA in September 1965 and originally scheduled to be sent to the Dominican Republic in mid-1966, but was rushed to Vietnam instead and posted in the western portion of the III Corps Tactical Zone. It initiated Operation Attleboro into War Zone C of Tay Ninh Province, which developed into a major action after a large enemy base camp was uncovered, 19 October 1966.

In April 1967 the brigade was selected, along with the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division and the 3rd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, to form a provisional division-sized unit called Task Force OREGON and moved to the I Corps Tactical Zone. The brigade stayed with this command, which was converted into the 23d Infantry Division (AMERICAL) 25 September 1967. The 196th Light Infantry Brigade officially joined this division, 15 February 1969. It operated throughout northern Vietnam, and after the division closed out of Vietnam, 29 November 1971, the 196th Light Infantry Brigade was reconstituted as a separate (provisional) brigade-sized element to safeguard the same area of operations. In April 1971 the brigade was relocated to Da Nang for major port security duties. It finally departed Vietnam as the last U.S. Army combat brigade to leave in Increment XII of the U.S. Army withdrawal.

After being in Vietnam for four month, Brother Metts was severely injured while on patrol duty by an anti-personnel mine. This is an explosive which is a form of land mine designed for use against humans, as opposed to anti-tank mines which are designed for use against vehicles. He lost one leg on site and the other leg was amputated later there in Vietnam. After brief processing, he was flown to Japan and later to Fort Gordon, Augusta, GA for medical care including prosthetics. About his injury, Brother Metts said, “You get to be positive because many were shipped back dead”. According to the American Library, many young men were trained quickly, shipped to Vietnam quickly and died quickly – many within a few weeks or months of arriving in Vietnam.

According to the American War Library, 7,262 African Americans were killed in Vietnam. African American made up 14.1% of the total. This came at a time when they made 11.0% of the young male population nationwide. Some of the issues that caused racial riots and Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak about were the facts that African Americans were assigned in greater numbers to the combat units of the Army and Marine Corps. African Americans casualties soared up over 20% during 1965 and 1966. The African American leaders complained that African Americans were disproportionately assigned and President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered that African American participation should be cut back in the combat units. As a result, the African American casualty rate was cut to 11.5% by 1969.

Ironically, Vietnam was the 1st first major conflict in which the American military was fully integrated on paper but did not translate into full civil right at home or for them as soldiers. Executive Order 9981 officially desegregated the armed forces in 1948, but many units remained segregated until late 1954.

There were racial wars going on in Detroit and New Jersey during the summer of 1967. However, the tension was not noticed in Vietnam according to Platoon St. Lewis B. Larry, an African American from Mississippi. An NBC documentary, “Same Mud, Same Blood” focused on Sgt. Larry’s story. He stated, “There are no racial barriers here (Vietnam).” He recalled the words of Dr. King’s, in his famous 1963 speech at the Lincoln Memorial when he said, “He had a dream that one day the sons of former slaves and sons of slave owners would sit at the same table. That dream came true in only one place, the front lines of Vietnam.”

Brother Metts received the Purple Heart Medal while at Fort Gordon. The Purple Heart is one of the most recognized and respected medals awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces. It was introduced as the “Badge of Military Merit” by General George Washington in 1782. It is the nation’s oldest military medal. On the back of the medal, it reads “FOR MILITARY MERIT”. Brother Metts’ Purple Heart Medal is included in the exhibit at the library.

Brother Metts has turned his injury into a life of serving and inspiring others. He is a Red Cross disaster volunteer. He worked with Winston Strong to help in the recovery of Winston County from the tornado that devastated the county. He and the Baptist Laymen helped to restore several houses in the county. Regarding his injury, his attitude is ‘Life Goes On’. After returning to Louisville, he married Lucile Harris and they had a son, Larando and a daughter LaShasta. Both children are married and have four children between them. Unfortunately, he lost his wife, Lucile, to cancer in 2015 after 45 years of marriage.

Brother Metts completed college at East Central Community College with a degree in electronics. He has completed courses at the Mississippi Baptist Seminary and is presently enrolled in classes at New Foundation Seminary. He is a member of Mt. Moriah M. B. Church as a deacon and teacher. He is also the president of the New Educational State Convention of Mississippi as a Baptist Laymen. He retired in 2007, from the Louisville Alternative School as an In-School Supervisor after 20 years. He stated that at that job, “He learned how to pray more. I believe I made an impact on some of the students because I have seen them since and they tell me that they were listening.”

Submitted by: Elmetra Patterson

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Black History Exhibit honoring Billy Ray Metts, a Purple Heart recipient

L. to R.: Mattie Eichelberger-Davis and Lorenda Eichelberger