Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Penn State Students Interview poet Rudolph Lewis




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Mockingbirds at Jerusalem: A Poetic Memoir
By Rudolph Lewis

This distorted place could and will never be one of permanence for a smart black boy. He will always seek to fulfill his self in other spaces. Jerusalem generates exiles. Beginning mid-1960s, I sought housing with indoor toilets and tap water, and joy in America’s urban centers, and in a neo-colonial Congo, in New Orleans with poets, artists, musicians, educators, and priests. I worked as porter, teacher, journalist and librarian, studied modern art, listened to jazzmen, and passed out words against war and injustice during the American war against the Viet Cong.

When my exiled world became too cold and depressing to bear, I returned home to my grandmother’s voice—her stories and songs. Most of these poems were first written in 2006 and have been in revision for seven years. They begin with a poem to my grandfather, William “Tinka” Lewis, who raised me as his son and died in 1970. There are many poems that call up my grandmother, Ella Lewis, whom I called “Mama” and from whom I learned our family history. In poor health she was suffering loss of weight and dementia. Her daughter Annie made her comfortable in that home that Tinka built in the late 1950s. 

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Penn State Student 1

Altoona:      What inspired you to become a poet?

R. Lewis: Inspiration does not come all at once. It comes in stages or waves like the sea to the shore.  My writing poetry would have been less likely if I had not completed my undergraduate English major at University of Maryland, College Park. And that would not have been so if not for Max Wilson, former chair of Philosophy Department, Howard University. He led me to and encouraged my studies in Western fiction and philosophy. Institution and man challenged what I thought I knew about myself or life as is. I became convinced of the possibility there were many more choices than I imagined.

My mother’s mother raised me in the Western Tidewater—a village named Jerusalem. For a boy four romping around in green/grass-purple pine-leafy oak world life was mostly idyllic. One gives the devil his due in this world and the next, as I became more familiar with the world beyond Jerusalem. At home I felt quite safe. We had had our monsters roar at night from drink and despair. But I was born a bit before the Civil Rights became the topic of struggle. There were no definite sign that Jim Crow wouldn’t boast its clannish face another 50 years from then. In 1954, Mr. Civil Rights, Thurgood Marshall convinced the Supreme Court to free Negroes us from Jim Crow laws began in the previous century. Before I could get out of high school in 1965, a great deal of Freedom work had been done. There was still much to do. When I left home both schools elementary and high were ones of state segregation.

Much blood had been spilt in Freedom Rides, Sit-ins, and Voter Rights Drives in the Deep South. I was spared those cruelties and brutalities. From my little Virginia hamlet I had no idea what was going on in the world. If there was knowledge of current Negro civil rights issues at the high school among the Negro teachers, it was done in a whisper intentionally that high school children in Sussex did not know what was going on. This conspiracy of silence kept the young blind and without direction. The contradictions are spurs for thought. Educationally, I realized how more fortunate I than my mother and grandmother. I was the first in the family to finish high school. I was thought to be smart, a lover of books. But I also played hoops and a bit of boxing.

 A year out of the country I was a year at Morgan State, living with my mom in Edmondson Village in Baltimore. Then came Fall 1967 at Morgan State College. Stokeley Carmichael spoke. It was like the horn of Gabriel waking the dead. I became aware of the stakes of Vietnam. It was my first protest. I ripped up my Selective Service card and declared an unwavering resistance to the draft. February 1968 I sealed my fate and dropped out of school. My status changed from 2-A to 1-A. There were so many speeches and poems. These were the BAM people, the cultural expression of the Black Power movement. There were poems by Sonia Sachez and Richard Wright. Amiri Baraka, Marvin X, and Nikki Giovanni. These were exhilarating times—the sayings of Mao and Papa Doc. That was my social/political life. That was not my personal life. Writing, and writing about the personal can change lives. Much more than a shrink.

In short, a bit of formal education, a wonderful mentor, reading and writing about many poems Shakespearean, Having role models like the poets Lee Meitzen Grue and Yusef Komunyakaa in 1985 really set me to write blues infused lyrics. I began to develop a voice. My style matured as I continued to write as I made use of my grand-mom’s stories to hold onto my home and childhood, me grandson of a sharecropper.

Altoona:      What is your process of writing? Do you have a certain routine?

R. Lewis: Some times I just begin to type the first thing that comes to mind or that I have been wrestling with it. I copy notes. Add bits an pieces here and there. I keep on tussling until I see a line of thought. Then I try to more color, more humor, more wonder. One holds one’s breath and then look deeper. It all depends what you want. Our ancestors are not dead: the folks hold onto them. I hold onto the stories my grandmother told me. It’s a goldmine. But I’m rather gentle about the tough times.

Altoona:      Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?

R. Lewis: I’m not sure what you mean by “writer’s block.” Of course, I’ve heard people speak of it. I know when I’m not on fire, when I have problems organizing my content, or unable to put the notes together right so they sound right. It means I’m not able to think matters through always easily. So one endures and reckless at once. Or I begin fresh, start all over again. I have lots to say. I don’t think I have time enough to say it.

Altoona:     Do you have a favorite place you like to write? 

R. Lewis: It is rare I write with a pencil or pen. I usually write at a desktop screen. When I was at Jerusalem, from one bedroom window I could see the church cemetery, through the other side the white church steeple. Stretching out, I’d walk out on the screen porch, sit a moment, walk out to the road, then on into the cemetery and look up at the stars and moon. Come back and sit on the porch again in the dark mist or the clear full moon night. Then go back in my bedroom with my desktop screen.  The night, the birds, the tree frogs, the deer, walking on pine straw—all were subject to my pen..

But that is not where I am. And although I’m out in the countryside, clearly, I’m not lined up with the moon and stars. So I’m rather erratic now. I’ve another manuscript “Devils in the Dust,.” Waiting on me. I’ve been sitting on it for several years going over and over the poems, ever, hopefully with fresh eyes and ears.

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I Am New Orleans and Other Poems
by Marcus Bruce Christian

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Penn State Student 2

PSU Question: When did you start writing poetry?

R. Lewis: I was about 20 years old when I read the BAM poets in Black World (1968), a Johnson Publication that responded to the new Black Consciousness Movement. My first effort at poetry writing was while an undergraduate at University MD College Park, ca. 1978. It was an absolute failure, mostly rhymes. And I was already 30 years old, studying literary criticism. My real efforts began in 1985 with a New Orleans writing club led by Lee Meitzen Grue, a local poet and editor. While teaching writing at UNO I made fast friends with Yusef Komunyakaa. I learned about his writings before I met him. I did not understand his poetry but I found it, moving and unique. I was forty by the time I got used to the pen. Yusef helped me to develop and appreciate the qualities of Marcus B. Christian, the Dean of New Orleans Letters. I spent a lot of time with Christian and Komunyakaa. In 1999 I co-edited and published a volume of selected Marcus Christian poems under the title “I Am New Orleans & Other Poems by Marcus Bruce Christian.”

So it was in New Orleans I began to write poetry. The city is cultural rich—so many stories and so many cultural traditions. Yusef made me aware of techniques: marking off a poem—the line breaks, deleting and rearranging words and phrases, how to end a poem or a stanza, taking risks, choosing  the right words and titles, ranking qualities of poems, and more. An interview I did with him before his Pulitzer has found its way into a published book of YK interviews. I really got to know him and his poetry.

I felt I had crossed over into another world, like a beatnik in the 1950s. Poetry has the attraction of religion—its ardor and agony. In some instances I turned my grandmother stories into other tales and other poems. There were Baptist sermons, spirituals, and other tales of Nathaniel Turner. All of that was caught up in some incomplete way what I experienced returning home while my grandmother approached 100 years old.

PSU Question:  Who or what inspired you to begin writing?

R. Lewis: In 1987, I returned home to Jerusalem, where I grew up on a small farm. It’s not so extraordinary to be inspired by a place. Jerusalem was built to be remembered. Three generations. My grandmother and her grandmother were storytellers—singer. They could raise a song during August Revival. I came back from New Orleans where I had found a poetry journal (lasted three issues). My first poems published in a local journal. Ihere was so much literary activity.  I sponsored a poetry test. I dove into the archive of Marcus Bruce Christian of New Orleans. Why not Jerusalem? So I began to write about that world and the people of my childhood. But I had spent most of my life in the city. That was a contrast at core of my writing—the earnest and honest country life up against the well-lit avenues of urban life.

I was curious. And I had belief in self. The many I’ve been and those to come. There were other influences. I found ChickenBones: A Journal in 2001. By 2005, it was jumping, the digital center was the Flooding of New Orleans. I was publishing all kinds of writings, not least the poets, like Kalau ya Salaam, Patricia Wesley, Sam Greenlee and many others. I shared my poems on line—some good, some not so good. I collected them, rewrote them, reposted them, and revised them again. There was encouragement. But friends were always kind. I struggled to create my own style that satisfied me.

PSU Question: Have you struggled throughout your writing career with things such as critics or rude comments?

R. Lewis: To be a critic is to be a bit rude. Nuances. Subtleties. Thus the Rhetorical and poetry of today. I like a bit of noise like the BAM poets, like Larry Neal and Amiri Baraka. I was told I was making Baraka sounds not my on. Those kinds of criticisms are dark and deep, and I have only a slight glimpse what it means. My ancestors and Jerusalem live because I hold onto them. Memory may be more beautiful than any art. They helped me to develop a passion true of my own. The subtleties and nuances came with years of reflective revisions.

PSU Question: Do you have advice for someone considering a career in writing poetry?

R. Lewis: Be practical. Get a job! Become a banker, a foreign correspondent. Become a Buddhist. Choose poetry as you choose a fine stallion. There’s no easy way out of this dilemma. Go on write a poem—create drama, beauty!

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When the Wanderers Come Home (African Poetry Book)

by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

Described by African scholar and literary critic Chielozona Eze as “one of the most prolific African poets of the twenty-first century,” Patricia Jabbeh Wesley composed When the Wanderers Come Home during a four-month visit to her homeland of Liberia in 2013. She gives powerful voice to the pain and inner turmoil of a homeland still reconciling itself in the aftermath of multiple wars and destruction.

Wesley, a native Liberian, calls on deeply rooted African motifs and proverbs, utilizing the poetics of both the West and Africa to convey her grief. Autobiographical in nature, the poems highlight the hardships of a diaspora African and the devastation of a country and continent struggling to recover.

When the Wanderers Come Home is a woman’s story about being an exile, a survivor, an outsider in her own country and is her cry for the Africa that is being lost in wars across the continent, creating more wanderers and world citizens.


Penn State Student 3

Samantha: How did you know that you wanted to pursue a degree in English?

Rudy: Becoming an English major resulted from a series of acts intentional and unintentional. As a math major, I dropped out of Morgan State College the winter of 1968 to join “the revolution” as a member of SNCC (pronounced “snick”). After leaving Morgan, I learned a lot about racial history and politics by reading recommended books and getting to know persons much more acquainted with Baltimore— the who’s who in black city politics. For a while I was a community organizer. Then I worked later as a union organizer (volunteer and paid) for Local 1199 in Baltimore, handling grievances of health care workers, mostly black women, averaging $1.65 an hour without benefits or job security.. In 1969, Local 1199 organized 5,000 of these workers in less than six months. I was involved mostly in administrating the won contracts.

During this union period I met my first wife: the Local had hired her as an executive secretary. Our marriage (1972-1976) permeated with guilt and shame, ended disastrously. I became spiritually unmoored. For about six months, to refocus my mind, I became active in Nichiren Shoshu, chanting “nam yoho ringe kho.” But with a questioning mind, my solace was temporary. In life, one climbs one hill only to spill into another valley of unease or disappointment.

I found a mentor, a Haitian philosopher named Max Wilson, who I knew from Morgan State. It was he who set me back on an academic path, in a Morgan State program called University without Walls. It was a one-on-one study in which the chosen professor and student make a curriculum with readings and other activities, including visits to museums, musical programs, also arts activities like ballet. To develop my inner self, he encouraged me to keep a diary, as a means to gain some relief to some of my marital problems, and then a journal, as a means to reflect on my readings. The whole was a shadow of a classical liberal arts education.

I read major fiction writers of America, the UK, Spain, France, and Spain—especially those novels that dealt with the complications of sexuality, e.g., D.H. Lawrence, Proust, and Henry Miller. After reading the country’s literature I studied its major philosophers, in particular its existentialist philosophers like Unamumo and Ortega y Gasset. My two-year study passed quickly as I worked full-time as a pot washer and porter at Maryland General Hospital. Believing I had developed greater discipline, Wilson made a way for me to register at University of Maryland at College Park, previously a segregated state university. He thought it would be more of an intellectual challenge than Morgan. The plan was that I would major in comparative literature. At College Park that major was still in development, so I majored in English. I remained there for five years (1976-1981), finally receiving my master’s degree in English.

Samantha: What gave you the idea to write poems about family history? 

Rudy: Ultimately, it was the influence of my grandmother’s family and family origin stories I was told when I was a kid. It became a rich source that partially developed my sense of identity. Although I had written some poems in this direction in the late 1980s, I was further encouraged by the poetry books of Patricia Jabbeh Wesley and other poets. But my family writings are a way to provide a kind of immortality to traditions that my grandmother began so long ago and a source for generations that come after me. As they say, the dead live when we hold onto them.

Samantha: What was your first reaction when you realized that the world was reacting to your poems on your website? 

Rudy: Web technology was key in developing a reading audience, as well as my skills as a journalist and a poet. That would not have come to be if I had not learned to construct web sites while in library school at UMCP (1993-1997). I became frustrated with print publishers. For I had collected piles and piles of documents and other writings that I believe would never get an audience, and that even if published in print, that audience would be small and select with a short reading life. So the development of ChickenBones as a unique web-site was an answer to a literary problem. Publishing my poems was an extra benefit. I was elated that my web friends were kind and thought well of my poetic efforts. It encouraged me to take both my prose and poetry more seriously. Most of these online poems have been rewritten more times than I can recall.

Samantha: Who was your main influence when it came to writing poetry throughout the years? 

Rudy: I encouraged poets and other writers to submit their work to ChickenBones: A Journal. I received a wide-range of poems, some so-so, some quite excellent. Some of these poets had books of poetry that impressed me greatly. I’ve already spoken of Patricia Jabbeh Wesley. But there was also Louis Reyes Rivera (1945-2012), both a poet and a teacher of poetry; and then there was Kalamu ya Salaam. Rivera encouraged me to try my hand composing the free verse or non-rhymed sonnet. That advice encouraged discipline as well as innovation in choice of words as well as brevity.

Samantha: What made you to think to write the poem “Home Is Where Relief Is.”

Rudy: In the larger sense, “Mockingbirds at Jerusalem” partially had its source in the poems of Etheridge Knight, a poet I met while I was working on my master’s. Knight’s poem “The Idea of Ancestry” is a great American poem, as well as his other prison literature. His poetry helped gain him a path out of prison. But more particularly, the poem expresses a sentiment with respect to my birth mother.

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Related Material


ChickenBones: A Journal   http://www.nathanielturner.com/ 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Black Soldiers: Duty, Courage, and Opportunity

DeCostas in the Military

By Miriam DeCosta-Willis

Herbert Alexander DeCosta (1894-1960)
There is no evidence that any DeCosta men participated in the Civil War, Indian War, or Spanish-American War but, in 1917, soon after the United States entered World War I, Herbert Alexander DeCosta (1894-1960) registered for the draft and joined the U. S. Army. In that war, over 350,000 African Americans served in segregated units and most were confined to support units that provided labor and service. Initially, Black combat units fought alongside the French Army, where they performed heroically. The second son of Anna and Benjamin Rhodes DeCosta, Herbert was twenty-three years old, single, and anxious to see the world. After basic training, he was sent to Europe, where he worked as a barber, probably under a French commander, because he learned to speak a little French. During his tour of duty, he lent soldiers money to gamble, charging high rates of interest. As the pay "Sergeant," he didn't have to worry about getting his money back, because he deducted the soldiers' loans from their pay. This way, he accumulated enough cash from lending money and cutting hair to open his own construction company when he returned home after the war ended in November 1918.

                                    Raymond Theodore DeCosta

More than a decade passed before another family member, Herbert's brother, enlisted in the military, and the story of Raymond Theodore DeCosta (1904-1941) is fascinating. (It is a story that I wrote about in an essay “Living 'On the Other Side'.”) The best looking of Anna and Benjamin's seven sons, Raymond joined the Marines in June 1931, but the first African Americans were not accepted into that military branch until April 22, 1943.* Until then, they served in all-Black segregated units. I wondered how on earth Raymond accomplished that legerdemain. Well, I found out that, after moving to Brooklyn in the 1920s, he changed his first name and passed as a Latino, so he's listed in military records as Private First Class Ramón T. DeCosta, 303rd Company, 1st Battalion, 19th Marines. In June 1932, he was promoted to the rank of Corporal, Company "A" (413th), 19th Reserve Marines. His photo album includes many images of White military men—with Raymond, on occasion—attired in brown fatigues or dress uniforms, marching, holding rifles, or posing in front of barracks, outside of tents, and on horseback. Stamped on the back of one photo are the words “—Shop.—Quantico, Va.,” a reference to the U. S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia. When I mentioned his military service, his niece Anna Hunter laughed, “He was just pretending. Raymond was never in the Marines,” but her brother, Charles William DeCosta, says he remembers his mother Gertie (Gertrude DeCosta) taking him to visit Raymond at Quantico when he was a youngster. Ramón had the last laugh on the U. S. Marines, because my uncle was also a closeted gay man at a time when there was discrimination against homosexuals, as well as Blacks, by the U. S. military.

Laler Cook DeCosta (1917-1980)

Several of Anna and Benjamin's grandsons were eligible for the draft when the United States entered World War II in December 1941. Laler Cook DeCosta (1917-1980) was born to Gertrude and Benjamin Robert DeCosta, Jr. When he was drafted, Laler was twenty-five, had a degree from S. C. State College, and had married Geraldine H.

Stevenson in 1940. He joined the U. S. Army at Fort Jackson, S. C. on Oct. 23, 1942. According to his service record, he was a Private, married, had completed four years of college, worked as a teacher, was 5' 9” tall, and weighed 179 lbs. With a B. S. degree, he was soon promoted to Lieutenant, served valiantly in Italy as a Captain, and was honorably discharged  as a Major when the war ended in 1946.

Charles William DeCosta


Other DeCosta cousins served in what has been called the “Good War,” World War II, but they were in different branches of the military: the Air Force, Navy, and Army. Laler's younger brother, Charles William DeCosta (1923-2014), volunteered for the U. S. Army Air Corps (now the Air Force) in 1942, and served until the war ended in 1945. When he enlisted, he was promised enrollment in officer’s candidate school because he had completed a year of college, but the Air Corps reneged and he served as Private First Class.

According to his son Steven, Charles was trained as an aircraft radio operator and gunner, who later installed and adjusted radios in B-24 and B-17 bombers, as well as fighter planes, and tested them in flight. He was not deployed overseas, however, perhaps because the Air Corps did not have racially integrated crews. He and his brother Laler were both in the military and wore their uniforms when Charles married Carmen in Brooklyn in 1944.


Herbert U. Seabrook, Jr. (1925-1970)

Herbert U. Seabrook, Jr. (1925-1970), the son of Miriam DeCosta Seabrook and Dr. Herbert Seabrook, was in the Navy from 1942 to 1946. Herbert was only seventeen years old and had graduated from Avery Institute and spent two years at Talladega when he was drafted. According to public records, on April 7, 1942, he left Halifax, Nova Scotia for New York aboard the ship George Washington, and, according to the Navy Muster Rolls record, on July 10, 1945, he sailed from Guam to Saipan, two of the Mariana Islands located in the Pacific.

Herbert's first cousin, L. Bennett Caffey (1924-1997), the son of Daisy DeCosta Caffey and L. Bennett Caffey, also fought the Japanese in the Pacific. Drafted at age eighteen on April 12, 1943, Bennett was a Corporal in the U. S. Army during WW II, and he was discharged from Fort Dix on January 17, 1946. He also picked up a bad case of malaria in the Pacific, because he suffered from attacks of the tropical disease when he attended S. C. State in the late 1940s. According to his daughter, Chris, he was always angry about the discrimination that Black soldiers faced in the segregated armed forces and, as a result, refused to look at movies like Gone with the Wind, which romanticized the lives of slaves. At the age of seventeen and eighteen, these young DeCosta men, who had led relatively sheltered lives in Charleston, must have been traumatized by the harsh conditions of war and the racial injustices of life in the United States military.

L. Bennett Caffey (1924-1997)

Because of their military service, the four cousins—Laler, Charles, Herbert, and Bennett—took advantage of the G. I. Bill to complete college and graduate school, which enabled them to advance professionally without assistance from their parents, several of whom were ill, had died, or were adversely affected by the Depression. For example, the parents of Laler and Charles died (Benjamin in 1948 and Gertrude in 1950) soon after their   sons' discharges, but the brothers continued their education. Laler received an M. S. from S. C. State in 1950 and a Ph. D. from Cornell in 1954, and Charles completed a bachelor's degree in architecture from Brooklyn's Pratt Institute. Following a long illness, Herbert's father died in 1941, leaving a small estate, so his mother had to go to college so that she could teach. After his discharge, Herbert received a bachelor's degree from Talladega College and a medical degree from Meharry. Bennett's father became chronically ill and was hospitalized from the 1930s until his death in 1959, so his mother went to college to become a teacher. With funds from the G. I. Bill, Bennett graduated from S. C. State and then finished dental school at Howard University.

Bennett is in the middle of the first row.

Four years after the Second World War, two DeCostas were drafted to serve in the Korean War. The war started when North Korea, aided by China and the Soviet Union, invaded South Korea in June 1950.

Laler Cook DeCosta

Although Laler was beyond the draft age of 18 to 25 years, he was again conscripted because of his military experience during WW II and his leadership as a Captain. Between his two stints in the Army—1942 to 1946 and 1950 to 1952—President Harry Truman had desegregated the military by executive order in 1948. However, service to his country was particularly difficult for Laler at that time. He had completed his M. S. degree at S. C. State in 1950 and planned to pursue further education, when suddenly he was again inducted into the U. S. Army! According to his wife Geraldine, he served for two years in Korea, and she moved from their home on the outskirts of Orangeburg into the city during his stint in the Army. As soon as he was discharged, he began doctoral studies.

The Korean War ended in July 1953, and, a month later, Frank A. DeCosta, Jr. (1935-1999), the son of Beautine and Frank A. DeCosta, entered Howard University, where he joined the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps.

Frank A. DeCosta, Jr. (1935-1999)

Later, he was appointed Cadet Commander of his Unit and selected as the Most Outstanding Air Force R.O.T.C. Student. Upon graduating, he served for five years, from 1957 to 1961, as a Second Lieutenant in the U. S. Air Force, was sent to Yale University to study intensive Mandarin Chinese, and was assigned to the Pacific as an Attachment Commander.
His family did not hear from him for two years, heard that he went under cover in Communist China, and was given suicide pills to take in the event of capture. Like many DeCosta veterans of this nation's wars, Frank seldom talked about his painful and often traumatic experiences in the military.

Dr. Robert “Bobby” Samuel DeCosta Higgins (1932-1964)

During the 1950s, another member of the family, Dr. Robert “Bobby” Samuel DeCosta Higgins (1932-1964), the son of Eugenia DeCosta Higgins and Bishop Samuel R. Higgins, also served in the military. Bobby's son and namesake reported that his father joined the Navy right after his 1956 graduation from Meharry Medical College and was in the Navy from 1956 to 1958, primarily at Camp Pendleton, California.

Charles Raymond DeCosta (1936-2010)

In the 1950s, Charles Raymond DeCosta (1936-2010), the son of Olive and Benjamin Robert DeCosta, Jr., entered the Marine Corps as a Private and completed the course as an engineer equipment mechanic at the Engineer School Battalion, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina on May 28, 1955. He had a standing in the course of 9 out of 30, meaning that he was in the top third of his class. On July 13, he flew from Moffett Field, California and arrived at Kadena, Okinawa on July 20. On September 4, 1956, he flew from Japan and arrived in San Francisco on the 5th. He was promoted to Sergeant on September 15, 1958. Seven years later, the country became involved in another war when U. S. combat troops arrived in Vietnam to support the South Vietnamese.

Roger DeCosta (b. 1947)

The long, drawn out war ended in 1973, with the signing of the Paris Peace Accords. Charles Raymond's brother, twenty-year-old Roger DeCosta (b. 1947), participated in the Vietnam War as an Airman 1st Class E4 in the Air Force from 1967 to 1971.

Joseph “Joey” Hunter

The 1980s ushered in the first military career officers in the family. Joseph “Joey” Hunter, the son of Jerry and George W. Hunter was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Air Force, serving in duty stations from K. I. Sawyer, Michigan; Kunsan, South Korea; and MacDill, Florida.  Joey served almost ten years, leaving the service as a Captain. 

James Anthony "Tony" Price

The three Price brothers, sons of Georgiana Hunter Price and George Price, all served over twenty years each in the U. S. Army. George retired as a Brigadier General, after 28 years in the military, during which he served in the Korean War, Vietnam War, and Cold War. His last position was Chief of Staff of 1st U. S. Army, located in Ft. Meade, Maryland.

William "Billy" DeCosta Price

His oldest son, James Anthony “Tony” Price, was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and received a B. S. degree in civil engineering from The Citadel in 1980. Later, he completed the Engineer Officers Advanced Course and received a degree in civil engineering from N. C. State University. He served in Germany during the Cold War, participated in Operation Golden Pheasant in Honduras, and supported operations in Bosnia and Kosovo. He was promoted to Major in 1992, after holding various leadership positions: Executive Officer, Company Commander, and Platoon Leader. Tony served with the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers from 1980 to 2003, when he retired as Lieutenant Colonel (LTC).

William “Billy” DeCosta Price

His brother, William “Billy” DeCosta Price received a B. A. degree in economics from Davidson College and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U. S. Army. He completed U. S. Army courses in nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) weapons, as well as ranger, airborne, and jumpmaster training. He became a leader in the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. He participated in Operation Golden Pheasant in Honduras, Operation Just Cause in Panama, and Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. In 1997, he received an MBA from Averett University, while working in the Pentagon. During a two-year stint in South Korea, he assisted with a presidential visit and participated in six joint exercises between U. S. and Korean forces. His last assignment was working in the Office of the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Army at the Pentagon, where he was responsible for over $3 billion in operational funds. He served in the Army from 1982 to 2003, when he retired with the rank of Major. (In the photo, his parents, Georgianna and Brigadier General George Price are pinning Second Lieutenant insignia on Billy.)

Billy and Bobby
are standing
George and Tony
are seated

The third brother, Robert “Bobby” Edward Price, was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U. S. Army after completing ROTC and earning a B. A. degree in psychology from the University of Virginia in 1984. Later, he received an M. S. degree in International Relations from Troy State University and another M. S. in Information Technology Management from Colorado Technical University.  He also completed graduate study at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center, Command and General Staff College, and the National Defense University. Bobby participated in Operation Desert Shield in Saudi Arabia, Desert Storm in Kuwait, and Operation Bright Star in Egypt after the terrorist attack on September 11. He held many responsible positions in the Army and led a team that prioritized over 4,000 construction projects valued in excess of $37 billion. Highly decorated, he received the Legion of Merit Medal, Bronze Star Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, and the Army Meritorious Service Medal. After twenty-two years of active duty (1984-2007), he retired as Lieutenant Colonel. (In the photo, Billy and Bobby are standing and George and Tony are seated.)         

Dr. Robert S. D. Higgins

During the waning years of the last century and the early part of the 21st Century, family members in the military included not only the three Price brothers but also John DeCosta, Robert Higgins, Darrell DeCosta, and Charles Raymond DeCosta, Jr. In the 1990s, John, the son of Senora and Frank A. DeCosta, Jr., served in the Air Force, where he became a communications technologist. Several others were affected, in one way or another, by the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, because those events led to a war in Afghanistan (2001-2014) and another in Iraq (2003-3011). Although some of the family were not deployed to the Middle East, they performed vital support services to the troops. For instance, Dr. Robert S. D. Higgins, the son of Patricia Higgins and Dr. Robert Samuel DeCosta Higgins, had finished medical school and had completed a residency in heart surgery. He joined the U. S. Army Medical Corps as a Major and was attached to the 339th General Hospital in Oakmont, Pennsylvania, where he served from 1989 to 2005.

Darrell DeCosta

More recently, Darrell DeCosta, the son of Janet and Steven DeCosta, served in the U. S. Army, 1st Infantry Division, from 2001 through 2005, including a fourteen-month deployment in Iraq, during which he was promoted to Sergeant.

Darrell is in the middle behind the kneeling soldier

The most recent recruit is Charles Raymond DeCosta, II, the son of Gertadine “Greta” and Charles Raymond DeCosta, who joined the Navy in 2016.

*Marine Corps Major General (ret.) Leo Williams, who is married to DeCosta descendant Vicki Davis Williams, added this clarification: “Beginning in 1943, Black Marines began serving in segregated units in the Marine Corps. Prior to 1943, Blacks served in segregated units in the Army and Army Air Corps, and had long served as stewards and cooks aboard ships in the Navy. These segregated units in the Army, Army Air Corps, and Marine Corps continued until President Truman ordered the desegregation of the U. S. military in 1948.” DeCosta in-laws, such as Leo Williams, Benny Dukes, Russell Sugarmon, A. W. Willis, and others, have also contributed their part to the defense of our country.

Charles Raymond II

This preliminary study of the role that DeCostas  have played in the United States military forces in the last century--from 1917, when Herbert A. DeCosta joined the Army during World War I, to 2016, when Charles Raymond II entered the Navy during the unrest in the Middle East--reveals that men in this family have contributed patriotically and heroically to their country. They have defended the United States through its wars in Germany, Italy, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, as well as during military conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo, Panama, Honduras, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Afghanistan, and Iraq. They have done so in spite of the initial segregation of troops, harrowing conditions, and sacrifices of their health and careers.

Although DeCosta women have not yet experienced active duty, they have made many sacrifices in support of their military partners. This is a history of which the DeCosta family can be very proud.

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We Were SoldiersOnce...and Young: Ia Drang - The Battle ThatChanged the War in Vietnamby Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. GallowayIn November 1965, some 450 men of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, under the command of Lt. Col. Hal Moore, were dropped by helicopter into a small clearing in the Ia Drang Valley. They were immediately surrounded by 2,000 North Vietnamese soldiers.

Three days later, only two and a half miles away, a sister battalion was chopped to pieces. Together, these actions at the landing zones X-Ray and Albany constituted one of the most savage and significant battles of the Vietnam War.How these men persevered--sacrificed themselves for their comrades and never gave up--makes a vivid portrait of war at its most inspiring and devastating. General Moore and Joseph Galloway, the only journalist on the ground throughout the fighting, have interviewed hundreds of men who fought there, including the North Vietnamese commanders.

This devastating account rises above the specific ordeal it chronicles to present a picture of men facing the ultimate challenge, dealing with it in ways they would have found unimaginable only a few hours earlier. It reveals to us, as rarely before, man's most heroic and horrendous endeavor.