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Home | Oral History Archive | Reporter's Notebook

AMERICAN RADIOWORKS
ORAL HISTORY ARCHIVE

interview with:
Mark C. Hannah

Listen to Mark Hannah Interview



As part of the research for Korea: The Unfinished War, American RadioWorks conducted almost 100 interviews with veterans and historians. We've made those interviews available here. Rough transcripts accompany each interview - but these are incomplete, and often paraphrase the speaker. The authoritative source should be seen as the audio recording, not the transcription. You can listen to and/or read the interviews -but please DO NOT QUOTE from the transcript.

Transcript:

Mark B. Hannah interviewed by David Cline
Houston, Texas
January 10, 2003

{David Cline:} This is David Cline, it is Friday, January the 10th for American RadioWorks, if youd introduce yourself.

{Mark Hannah:} My name is Dr. Mark B. Hannah II Im a resident of Houston of 14 years, Im a retired educator, I live in Houston, Texas.

{DC:} How old are you and what unit did you serve in?

{MH:} I was born September 3, 1933 and I went in the service by putting my birthday, my birthday was coming up that September and I went in that April, 10th of April, of 51. I first was inducted in Kansas City, Missouri and from there we went to Fort Custard, Michigan and from Fort Custard, we went to San Francisco and we received shots overnight and we were loaded up on General Black ship. Id never seen a ship in reality. It held over 5,000 some soldiers. So immediately I was segregated into, surrounded by Euro-centric young men and I had officers come in there and say, Youre in charge of this section like that. So the next time when I went out on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge for about five days, after the fifth day they say, Now hear this, hear this and that and the troops say, General Black will be going to Hawaii to take basic training. So there I found myself the only, we were Negro and colored then in 1951, and I was the only Negro in my company and I was frightened and immediately they went to work on me.


I was up on the third barracks, there were three levels, the main, second, third and pranks; they would pull pranks on all the fellas but they were pretty heavy with me. They put snakes and tarantula spider that had spiders on top of it about the size of a quarter in my bed and I found all types of insects and so Im going to go ahead and say this, I once woke up with something going around my mouth and it was semen. So shortly after that, the next thing was I didnt put a razor blade in my razor because I didnt have any fuzz or anything and so I left my razor and went into the shower and the next thing I knew the sergeant, I cant think of his name, someone told him I didnt have a razor blade and so he began to make me shave in the morning and at night with a razor and I didnt know how to shave with a razor and so it blackened my face.

And we had 16 weeks of basic training and 10 of those weeks I slept on the commode rather than get into bed. And one of those weeks I got permission one evening after cleaning my equipment to go down to the day room and write letters home and so this sergeant first class, this field sergeant he saw me in the day room and he just came and knocked all my papers and just pulled me up and pushed me up the steps and I scarred myself all up and he just gave me a whippin and beat me. So they didnt take me to the hospital but I was pretty beat up and they decided to let me stay in the barracks while the other guys, they didnt want this to get out, but I refused. I went out on my mission like everybody else all beat up. So they told me that they demoted him and sent him off to Korea, I dont know.

I had this other sergeant, Sergeant Samuto (sp?), American Japanese sergeant and he kept encouraging me and Id been taught by my grandparents and other folks that we as Negroes had to work two, three times harder than the white man. So I just put that to work. I did not let my mind get physical though I was called nigger and I just lived above it and I did very good on my stuff and I was appointed Battalion Soldier of the Month and that was very encouraging to me because I was able to spend a weekend with the base commander and his family for that honor. And thats the first time I ever saw a municipal pool and I was able to swim in that. But I didnt go into Hawaii that much because we could not go anyplace downtown in Hawaii, Honolulu. There was no place that black could go into, no place. This was 51.

And some, by the grace of God instead of me going directly to Korea as that unit did, I was sent back to leadership school in Fort Riley, Kansas and thats about 80 miles north east of Wichita, Kansas where I was born and raised. And that was very challenging because we had to, it was petty OCS so we had to put pasteboards in our sleeves and shine our shoes and I was the only African American in that company, but it wasnt quite as tough. It didnt have the racial prodding that I had in Hawaii.

{DC:} All the officers were white?

{MH:} Right. And all the noncoms were white. But going to leadership school that gave me an opportunity to go to the main fort and we trained guys that were older and drafted into the service. And so I had a heavy voice and I had that to work for me and so my fathers 32nd degree Mason and so he was able to talk to the brethren at the lodge to let me go in as a juvenile at 17 and I became a full Mason before going overseas. So when I went overseas, I was in Honor Guard but the guys didnt want me there, so they shipped me to H-Company Mortar Company 81mm. So Im the only African American in that company.

{DC:} And this is in Korea? The Honor Guard is also in Korea?

{MH:} Yes, but the guys didnt want me there. I was a good soldier. I was really a good soldier.

{DC:} How did they let you know they didnt want you?

{MS:} They didnt tell me they just shipped me out. And so I got there and being a corporal that would make me a squad leader and so the guys there in the 81mm company didnt want me to be in charge of their company and so they said, Well, well just kill the nigger and so the CO, he was a Mason and I was wearing my ring and he asked me to become his valet and his jeep driver and I refused. I told him my uncle told me that in World War II the only thing Negroes were able to do were to drive jeeps or cook and so I refused. And he sort of liked me and said Im going to give you 30 days and he went past the 30 days.

{DC:} 30 days meaning?

{MH:} To make up my mind to be the valet and I refused and so they didnt let me back on the mortars any kind of way so I was just there because those guys said, well kill him. So I wasnt quite used to that coming from Wichita, Kansas. After finishing grade school you just automatically went to Horace Mann Junior High or North High or East High. My father finished high school and he was born in 1913. And we had our own park on the corner with nine-holed golf course, we had tennis courts and pool and field house and they had two baseball diamonds and I thought everybody lived like that. Dr. Forman and next to him, Dr. Scott, Dr. Jeeter, on my street it was Dr. Simms and Dr. Bell and Mrs. Flakes and my grandfather lived right behind her so this was all new to me. I knew we had the problems, but I didnt know anything that rough.

So they sent me up one night to C Company to 224 Charlie Company and Im the only black there and those guys were eating turkey and all that stuff and I said, God you guys eat well here and they said, Well we frequently go up on Pork Chop Ridge and I couldnt finish my dinner then, and they made me point man. And I had these ribbon deals and they had this 348 Battalion and this tank deal and it was a battle that we lost and had heavy casualties and I was in a foxhole with four guys and a mortar came in and killed them and my right leg was burned and they were still scuffling with me about that now. Im getting together with some of my colleagues now that were a part of that company and division and I went to a convention and I was still the only black there a couple of months ago in San Antonio. So weve all grown and theyve written letters that I should get a Purple Heart.

So anyway, we moved after going off of Pork Chop Hill and then I was made platoon sergeant and so one night the CO sent for me and told me that I would be going down the foot of the hill and operate the tram that night. I was going home and they needed me to take him up and show him around and stuff like that and by me being a sergeant the jeep will pick you up tomorrow. That night my whole platoon got killed.

{DC:} So you were on the tram that night?

{MH:} I was on the tram, but I knew every one of those guys that were coming down that night.

{DC:} So how many were killed?

{MH:} It was a whole platoon plus and there are forty some men in a platoon, 48 if I can remember right.

{DC:} So 48 men got killed in one night

{MH:} Probably more than that. But that was in my company. Ill show you the letter. They said that it was a night that they couldnt believe. So I just knew that they were going to send me back up there, but I went on and so I go into Japan and I only had 18 points. You had to have 39 to rotate out of Korea, I only had 18 and so thats what Ive been working on. He gave me wings. So the next thing I knew I arrived in the States, I was in Camp Carson, Colorado.

{DC:} Why do you think that he rotated you out?

{MH:} It took me a long time to deal with that. As it did when those four guys got killed and I didnt, I just got burned. It was only, I would say this last 3 or 4 years that a light came on and I had to contribute that because everyday I read the 27 Psalms plus other things and The Lord is my light and salvation and It goes on to say the He protects us and so I contributed it to that. And so anyway, I got back to Camp Carson, Colorado in Colorado Springs and I was wearing my sergeant stripes on the base and I didnt even think about going off base because I didnt know anybody in that part of the country. And so I was arrested by two MPs on the base. And the first thing was about the sergeant stripes and they could not find any other records on me other than that I was shipped in there and so the base commander said well this guy surely isnt AWOL because hes on the base. He was shipped in here but we have no records on him. And he said, Where do you live soldier? And I said, Wichita, Kansas. And he said, Howd you like to go home for 45 days? And I said, Yes, sir. So he said dont wear those stripes. I said, yes sir but I wore them.

So when I got back they really didnt tell me anything and the next thing I knew I was in a replacement company in Tacoma, Washington and something told me, and this was my first encounter with a lot of blacks and it was on the north fort of Fort Lewis, Washington and they frightened me too because I had never been around that many blacks and the guys the way they carried on cursing and gambling, I just had not done those things. Thats after coming from Korea.

{DC:} And this was an integrated camp?

{MH:} They all were black in the replacement company. It was supposed to be integrated and this was in 1952, but it was all black in this replacement company. But somehow by the grace of God they shipped me to the main fort replacement and I asked if I could change my MOS into a cook because I was raised up around hotels and waiting tables and so I got this sergeant, Sergeant Greenberg, he was in the Philippines and had a good portion of his face cut out where he was one of those that went through real tough stuff and he was very cordial to me and I went in as a cook. And I was a first cook and probably three months I was assistant mess hall and in this particular company we fed probably from 2000 to 3000 per meal and I could do typing and so Sergeant Whitaker was his name, he was the mess sergeant.

So the officers wanted to have a party in the mess hall deal and so I knew how to make hors d'oeuvres and how to cook the clams and so they really liked that. And I used to put on a show outside; they had four grills to make the pancakes and where they had four guys, I did it all by myself. And come back down and turn 'em over and so they got rid of sergeant Whitaker and became the Mess Sergeant in the largest mess hall in the main fort. And that was a very pleasant deal for me, the best I had ever had in the service and I was wanting to be a disk jockey and I bought a lot of equipment and at night I would be over in the mess hall and I would be in the mess sergeant out there and Id set up my turntables and a lot of guys used to come over there. In fact I was the only black in that company too. And they used to come over and watch me turn the tables and listen to the music and I liked jazz and Dave Brubeck and so theyd get around and I started going to the radio station and doing that in Tacoma, Washington.

So my time to get discharged April 10, 1954 well two months before that they offered to make me a warrant officer if Id stay, but I knew that I wanted to go into the ministry and I knew that I wanted to get married. So I got out and I did get married mostly because I had sent over six thousand dollars home while I was in service and my mother was saving it and I discovered it wasnt saved, it was a brand new house and new garage and fence and I said, Well you could of asked me. Well I have seven sisters under me and by that time they were all born and my youngest was born in 1950 so dad extended the house out and built a dorm upstairs.

But my grandfather, my dads father was very upset too because I wanted to buy a car and pay cash for it and I said, Mama lets go to the bank. And she said, You have to wait until your dad gets home and I didnt want to wait because he didnt get home until 5 and the bank closed at 2:30. So thats the way things have gone and I had such a deal in the Army and it worked for me and I knew that I had to get an education. That was the first thing.

So our first went to the Denver Baptist College for two years and then I was discovered and Dr. Curtis Perry went down to Bishop College in Norfolk, Texas; it was founded by a group of illiterate ex-slaves in 1981 and first five presidents were white. It was named after Colonel Nathan Bishop and he donated money to the college and it is just a very historical school for ministers and educators.

And I hadnt even finished high school but I always tested out. I never did take a GED test. I was an avid reader, I read all the time and when I was a kid I read comic books and my mother used to get so angry but my sons have them now, my grandchildren, thing like that worth money now. But as I taught in the system, if anybody can read a contraction, I said it creates a good mind, if you can read contractions and have an understanding and you can go beyond the cartoons and the captions and still have your dreams and at that time we used to listen at the radio. It was like lookin at a movie and this is what a lot of our younger people dont have, that creativity. I discovered more so than really being active in the ministry I felt that I could reach more low-socioeconomic kids in school systems than in the church. So I started teaching in Rochester, NY and I was ministering at Second Baptist and I was on the campus where Dr. King walked on in Chester Pennsylvania 18, miles southwest of Philly and I did a years internship at Temple University and drugs a third of it, halfway house, penal institutions, but it was in three different sections that I did my internship at Temple University.

And then I went up, I was called to a church, I could have had a church in Pennsylvania, but my wife went shopping and we had a little daughter two and a half months old and said she went shopping for some throw rugs but that wasnt true she was in a sexual deal with one of these other professors and she came from downstairs and she left Nikka in the bassinette with her bottle and she could not regurgitate. She was strangled to death. And Marcus, the youngest one was probably about four years old.

And so that was a real tough thing plus all of this, my 50 some years that began with the army is in every day of my life. Like one day, every day of my life, I still have sweats, I bathe four or five times a day or more, I used to get in trouble for using up all the water. Because its the blood. See we didnt have, in Korea, we had helicopters but they could not come up on the hilly terrain and mountains, we had to get them back there. We had to bring them off patrols. We left nobody. Bloody, dead whatever we brought them back up the hill and there was quite a few just blood, blood. And still to this day I dont take bathes because its like bathing in blood. And I just discovered this last year that all these years Ive been showering with my eyes shut. I never paid that any attention, it just becomes part of your deal.

{DC:} Were you ever diagnosed with post-traumatic shock disorder?

{MH:} Im having a hard time getting there. Because this is where he has three degrees, he studied psychology and things like that and so its a battle. This is the letter to the President and I have a very good congressman and I wrote Congresswomen Sheila Jackson, but Im not in her district. But I got a letter yesterday from him. Heres one of the maps of where we were up there in Korea up there the 40th Division. And some of my colleagues they deny, I have 12 or so different metals but they said that I was not in combat. Here in the regional office they said that I was not in combat. They were thinking about the cook, truck driver stuff but here, one of my colleagues was a major and though I was a corporal there see it says I was in, exemplary performance of ground combat. Where I got my badge. And I told them I was shipped out of the mortar company and this tells you that Mark Hannah was reassigned.

{DC:} Has it been a battle to get these documents?

{MH:} Yes.

{DC:} How did you go about it?

{MH:} When I went to the convention. To the 224 Convention and this was me in Fort Riley, Kansas and this was me in Hawaii. I had a good, good friend. He signed my fathers name and a general signed my mothers name. Thats another thing, I forged my mothers name to go in there.

{MH:} This good friend of yours is from Hawaii?

{MH:} Yeah.

{DC:} So you had some friends in Hawaii?

{MH:} Yeah and we would go around town and go into the businesses and things and we had fun catchin the bus and touring and running around a little bit. But he was my very best friend.

{DC:} Whats he doing now?

{MH:} I dont know and I cant even think of his name. And see Rosie wasnt in my company, Rosie was in an all-black company in D Company or something like that. I went over there a few times to visit Rosie over there in the day room and those guys would be over there shooting pool and cursing and Rosie could handle that. He grew up in a different part of Wichita in the North End and his father was a hobo so Rosie would carry a knife and he was a gambler.

{DC:} The neighborhood that you described growing up in with all the professionals, was that white?

{MH:} No that was black. I didnt even know about middle class. I have this letter from he was a major, Garrel and his letter that he talked about my platoon. They talk about how that night it was a bloody deal. I got on the computer and started looking up this stuff and I started calling these guys and just that following Wednesday they were having a convention and so I called my son and my other son said, Dad dont worry about it, Ill make you reservations. They are like my fathers now and they have respect for me. All of them finished college. [] And John here sent me this and talks about how I should get the Purple Heart since you were burned in the leg and the congressman, I just got this back in the mail yesterday and he got my medals for me. He did so much for me and his name is Congressman John Culberson. And his assistant Ms. Hodges have worked with me over a year.

{DC:} Tell me how it feels 50 years later having served your country to be still fighting.

{MH:} Its sickening. I almost wanted to take my medals and throw them in the river. I cant listen to the news with our president talking about another war and sending our young guys over there. And theyre talking about not going to the draft because theyre 17 years, I was 17 years old on the front line and also World War II and Vietnam, those guys were young guys too. And I did some research in World War II that in the south let go many prisoners to go fight and they never had to go back into the system again. And I think they ought to do the same thing again today. The taxpayers are paying 40 some thousand dollars a year for these guys, put em in the service. Not that the discipline they have to go through to be an American soldier.

But it breaks my heart. If it werent for my oldest son who is more compassionate and the number two son is sort of that way. Its very depressing. Yesterday and today is really the first day that Ive been out of my place in about a month. Thats why people know me there. Sometimes they check on me. My mother, even when I was in the Dallas School District I used to go buy a case of beer when I was getting off of work on a Friday and then Saturday morning I was going and getting another case of beer and my mother sent the police out to my place many times because I didnt answer the phone. My sons will say, Well Dad when you get ready, you give me a call, so they just know. And when I visit them I have to stay a week and its very hard. Im good for about two or three days. Today is very hard. It took me 51 years to get my medals. They said they lost my records.

{DC:} What happens after 3 days?

{MH:} Im ready to be back home. I dont like crowds. I like the school teaching, and working with the kids and I go on weekends and tutor, but I dont let people get too close to me. Not even my sons. And yet we give big old hugs. They tell me what to do and how to do it. And I like that. My wisdom is a little better but I pride you young people because you have quick minds because you had the old and the new.

{DC:} When did you retire from teaching?

{MH:} 96 Well, they sort of retired me. I was a little vocal. Because I came down hard on, for instance well have something like Huckleberry Finn or To Kill a Mockingbird and the books tell you to talk about discrimination and segregation and as an African American I know more about it than the book and so a lot of the kids would go home and say, Well Dr. Hannah said this or that and so youre not working for the kids. So I was very candid with them and dealt a lot with dialect. And I said its not about how you speak the word, its how you put them together and you should not try to rid yourself of your dialect, your ethnicity and lets try and deal with subject verb agreement.

I have some wonderful letters and God has used me and this battle that Im having with the VA is a tough one. I have all of this information here. And where I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 97. And they said that I told them that and I knew nothing about that. So I have all this stuff and they say, Well you didnt turn in this form and that form and right here is the form and it was stamped and my counsels said this is taking place because I went with the racial issue. Like that letter that you have there, but it needs to be talked about and Im not talking about it in an ugly way.

{DC:} Just say what you just said.

{MH:} I brought up the racial issue Mr. Hunt who is my counselor at the Veterans Center and he is African American and he has a lot of inside stuff and there is another counselor there at the VA and I brought up the racial deal and he said thats your problem right there. They dont want to deal with that right now. Theyd just as soon have you out of the way for as long as they can. And the VA in Wichita, Kansas read all of my letters. Somehow they said they were lost from 55 up until 83 when Jesse Jackson was there. And that was because of Jesse Jackson.

I was the pride of Wichita, because here is a guy that came from a family of eight children and served his country and earned three degrees and has five different teachers certificates equivalent to a regular masters. So its really tough. Ive aged a lot. And then my counselor Dr. Torvetti (sp?), shes an Indian and so made the statement, Well youre able to come over here and my enemies that I fought against and immediately they are taught against African Americans and I said, If you had your scarf on and she took that and she whipped me to death. And also I was very candid and I said, Well I know that under the Muslim that women dont have much to say in their family and now youre here now and youre going off on the men and I went off on her. So they changed me from her and I made the statement that I felt like taking her computer and throwing it on top of her and so they called me in two months ago and I know every camera was on me and they wanted to know whether I would get physical, stuff like that. So they changed my counselor.

I have a euro-centric woman and she has dealt with me in a way I never have been dealt with before. She explained to me about how this goes on and so I think things will be a little different. I should never have been under Dr. Torvetti and sure those people are grateful for this country as am I. Ive lived against those times when Ive wanted to walk off the planet my way. I got rid of all my weaponry. I thought many times about boom, boom, but its my sons and my grandchildren. Although these problems are existing in our society in a high-tech way, but just look at these guys, heres Ashley at Stanford University and her roommate, she talked about going skiing this weekend, freshman in college and that keeps me alive.

{DC:} Thank You.

END

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American RadioWorks |
(Photos: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library)

The First Family of Radio

When Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president in 1932, he and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt both used the new medium of radio to reach into American homes like never before. They rallied the nation to combat the Great Depression and fight fascism. The Roosevelts forged an uncommonly personal relationship with the people. This documentary explores how FDR and ER's use of radio revolutionized the way Americans relate to the White House and its occupants.

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  • 11.10.14

    Radio: FDR’s ‘Natural Gift’

    President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a radio natural. He spoke in a confident, informal way, using simple words and phrases that were easy to grasp.
  • 11.12.14

    The Roosevelts as a political team

    Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt were not the first White House couple to act as political partners, but they were the first to do so in such a public fashion.