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Making it stick

Why do we remember some things, and forget others? That's what author Peter Brown and psychologists Henry Roediger and Mark McDaniel set out to answer in their new book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning.

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American RadioWorks |
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Making it stick

Why do we remember some things, and forget others? That's what author Peter Brown and psychologists Henry Roediger and Mark McDaniel set out to answer in their new book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning.

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American RadioWorks |
Photo: Dierk Schaefer

Making it stick

Why do we remember some things, and forget others? That's what author Peter Brown and psychologists Henry Roediger and Mark McDaniel set out to answer in their new book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning.

Recent Posts

American RadioWorks |
Photo: Dierk Schaefer

Making it stick

Why do we remember some things, and forget others? That's what author Peter Brown and psychologists Henry Roediger and Mark McDaniel set out to answer in their new book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning.

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Home | Oral History Archive | Reporter's Notebook


interview with:
Samuel King

Listen to Samuel King Interview

Samuel King
Courtesy of Samuel King

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 You can listen to and/or read the interviews -but please DO NOT QUOTE from the transcript.


Samuel King interviewed by Kate Ellis and Stephen Smith
Little Rock, Arkansas
August 24, 2002

{Kate Ellis:} They didn’t want you to know you were being treated like second-class citizen.

{Samuel King:} Right. I never knew that until I was teenager. Didn’t hit me until governor stood in that door and wouldn’t let those kids—

{KE:} Were you in Little Rock then?

{SK:} No, I was living in Milwaukee. Talking with people, I said I was born in Arkansas and never experienced anything like that. They told me I had my head in the sand.

{KE:} Your parents protected you.

{SK:} I know that now. Where we lived, one block this way was as far as you could go. I didn’t know at the time that it was that bad. I played with white kids. At a certain age we had to separate, and call them “Mr.” and “Ms.” Some of them I knew and we still treated each other right. After I was grown and come back down here I had some bad experiences stopping at places—mostly about my wife and kids. One time in, I was getting gas and my little kids wanted food so I went in for sandwiches. Waitress made me wait and then took my order. Cook came out and said, “We don’t serve niggers in here.” I looked at him a long time and said, “What did you say?” I thought about it and remembered I had wife and kids in there, so I ran out there and told the guy to quit pumping the gas. I said “If I can’t get sandwiches for my children, I don’t want no gas here.” He said, “I don’t know.” And I said, “I do” and I pulled it off. Kids cried and I told them the burgers are better down the road.

In 1956, we came down on the train and my baby took sick, throwing up. Conductor got me some milk. I had no idea they was tearing the partition out in Union Station. My wife went to bathroom, and I watched the baby until I fell asleep. Baby got down and started to wander over in other section. I jumped up and went looking for him and he was laughing with people. So I picked him up and started to go back and somebody said I didn’t have to, that I could sit on this side. I said I didn’t want trouble. He said it was changing. So if they hadn’t been with me, it’d been a different attitude.

{KE:} Your kids being there softened their attitude?

{SK:} No it was me, a lot of things I wouldn’t do on account of them. I was in Illinois one time and guy said something to me—not that I’m a violent person but things set you off. We had some words and I backed down because I had my wife and kids there. My daddy was same way about me. When I wasn’t 12, my dad was working at feed mill. White guy came in and said, “I saw some nigger boys playing on the grass and told them if I catch them again, I’m going to put my foot in their so and so.” My dad walked over to him and said, “What did those boys look like?” because my nephew and I had brought his lunch. So he brought us in and said, “Was it one of these,” and the white guy said, “No”, and my dad said, “If somebody put their foot in my boys, there’d be some problems.” That’s all he said. And went on back to work. People do things for the best interests of people depending on them.

All documents, films about Korea—never see black people in them. When I got there the majority of guys was black. Slaughtering them every day. They were 19, 20, joined to see world and have fun, and wind up getting killed. Some friends of mine didn’t come back. What do you do? When I came back in ’52, the only thing they did was take us off ship, put on bus, took us to Fort Lauden, we had state dinner, general welcomed us back to U.S., and we went on furlough. Some got discharged.

{KE:} No fanfare, big parade.

{SK:} No nothing

{KE:} Experiences living in south did they influence how you thought about going off to war?

{SK:} Because of way I was brought up—my parents taught me to contribute to your home, and U.S. is home. Lot of unfairness here. But we always hoped things would get better. My father and grandfather wanted to make life better for their kids. Dad used to say, “All you need is an opportunity.” Some of us didn’t get it and it hurt a lot of people, because not everybody’s as strong—I was taught to survive.

In Fort Smith, I stopped in a place with two white boys. Guy would only give us two beers, though I had on the uniform. I walked outside and told them to finish their beer. They were sorry and I said, “It’s not you.” You can legislate all the laws you want to. But you cannot legislate feelings. It’s about people caring about each other. 9/11 you saw how people showed a lot of love toward each other—something always got to happen to bring that out. I don’t know nothing about Africa—I’m fifth generation in America. It’s just something you gotta work through. When I was a kid […]

Now I can understand how people felt about Joe Louis—he was a hope and an idol to black people. When I was growing up I didn’t realize. Milwaukee wasn’t perfect, but it was different. Guys I know who grew up in the south had it different. We are not teaching our children enough about what happened to us. That’s why a lot of black kids don’t know about history of African Americans. Their parents want to spare them some of the moments they went through. There’s people younger than me that went through that. How do you change it? I guess everybody has to take the blame—black and white. I remember a speech that Eleanor Roosevelt made and in one part she said people do to you what you let them. I got a copy of that speech at home. I always remember that. You gotta fight for what you believe is right. When you do the right thing you feels better. Somebody going to benefit from it.

{SS:} Is that how you felt when you went to Korea?

{SK:} More or less. It wasn’t something I cherished—but I had relatives in service. The only difference was I was the last surviving male in my family. So I wasn’t to go in combat.

{SS:} Under Army rules you weren’t supposed to see combat.

{SK:} Right. When I complained about it I was already overseas. Same with Vietnam War—my older sister’s last son got killed there. I took basic training with some white boys and some of them didn’t go to Korea. Most all the blacks went to Korea. And they sent some to Germany, some stayed in camp. But practically all blacks went. It’s been like that all the time. Something else I didn’t understand when I got there. I got assigned to all-black outfit because that’s primarily what was over there then. The enlisted were all black, one or two black officers, but head of company was white. And I’m supposed to be from a generation that wasn’t ignorant anymore—a lot of guys with me had some college. We talked about that.

{KE:} What would you say?

{SK:} We’d talk about what we wanted to do when we got out, go back to school and change certain things. Somebody gotta make a change. Martin Luther King started while we were over there—we read about him in Stars & Stripes. We didn’t think he was going to go too far. But it’s got to be commitment and total dedication—nothing halfway. I imagine he was satisfied with what he did. Changing things takes a lot out of you and alienates you from other people. Can’t spend enough time with kids. Sometimes your very family don’t believe in you. Sometimes you can convince people out there quicker than your family.

They dropped fliers while we were over there. Remember the guy that got executed a second time in North Carolina named McGee. They had his picture on fliers and dropped in our area. It did upset us. We talked about it, saying we’re over here fighting a war and a man can’t even get a fair trial because he’s black. And the chair malfunctioned and they put him in it a second time and killed him. He died because of hearsay. A white lady said he winked or something. We’d be sitting around and we’d pick up the dirt from after they bomb—it’s worthless—here’s what we are risking our lives for and we still ain’t counted. When we came back, they loaded us onto buses, gave us steak dinners. I know we were somewhat naïve but we just accepted what was going on because that’s the way it is.

{SS:} Korean propaganda – do you think they had any effect on morale of blacks?

{SK:} They did. The attitude was get this thing over and get home. It did have some bearing on it but it was an embarrassment to us, for someone in a foreign country to know how we were treated. And we over here fighting these people to make it better for somebody back home. We get back home and it’s not going to be any better and we knew that. Still we had a job to do. We felt we should do it; we had family back home. What we would do in Korea, if we could stop them from doing it in America, and after we got over there and saw how those people being treated, and things that happened, nobody that ever went in service want the war. It destroys everything; I’ve seen fathers with their daughters out there, using them to get food. And those people would kill each other for food. I think the experiences we got there were an eye opener. I’d never seen a person kill somebody for food or go down in a garbage pit for food. We were poor but we didn’t have to do that. We still had our morals. My sister was never out there to try to get food for the family. Most of the guys had a religious background. My generation and the one before me had that stronger than today—faith and hope. They believe that they don’t have to act like somebody else, turn into that person. The Bible says turn the other cheek. If I treat you well even though you treat me bad, it’s gonna bother you the way you treat me. And perhaps your attitude might change. Then I’ll have a better time under you. Color don’t make the difference; it’s what you believe that makes a difference. If somebody’s being treated wrong, you don’t see that person’s color, just see them as individual, human being. I wouldn’t wish that for me, so I don’t wish it for you. That’s the part that really hurt when they dropped them fliers that said, “Lay down your arms because you’re not the perpetrator.” They’d done their homework; they had facts that we didn’t know anything about even. Family is a strong thing in America. That tradition of family will forever be there. A lot of effort was put into.

{KE:} When you were there, your unit was integrated – what about that?

{SK:} When they brought whites in, it was a totally different feeling that we had. Could have been because we were far from home. We accepted them, told them things they needed to know. Army teaches buddy system, so that’s what we done. The first guy we got in – think he was from NY – name was Lucas. We were off the line then, and we had these cots. You’d make it up like home. Lucas had picture of girlfriend up – the guys would go up and take her picture and say, “She’s staying with me tonight.” He didn’t do anything maybe because he was the only white there. One guy Batson kept her for two days. So then the other whites came in. Lucas was old hat by then and break in the other whites. I’m sure he told them what to say and what not. It was a total acceptance when he came in. None of us knew whether we were gonna get out of there or not. It was a different feeling – you always talked about positive things so as not to alienate people. That’s not taught.

{SS:} You were forward observer. What was your rank?

{SK:} Sergeant.

{SS:} You had whites reporting to you?

{SK:} Yes.

{SS:} Was there any tension?

{SK:} Tension the whole time I was there. I can’t identify whether it was racial or not.

{SS:} But in terms of whites reporting to you?

{SK:} Oh we did have one incident with one guy. He was just blatant. He came into the outfit with a chip on his shoulder. We’d tell him what to do—very few people wore stripes over there because Koreans and Chinese would try to get leaders first. The older guys who’d been there wouldn’t wear their bars or stripes. They thought if they take a leader it would stop but if you kill lieut. a sergeant takes over. This guy didn’t want to obey orders. We didn’t give a lot of orders, but there were certain things you had to do. I never had any contact with him because I told him if you don’t go on guard we send you back to Japan to the stockade. I didn’t have any involvement with him; I just heard he was difficult, so when they sent him over to me, I put him on the 12 hour post, not the 24, because he was just coming in, so we’d work him into longer posts. If we heard small arms fire we’d go looking for it. But I asked for volunteers for that, because it was dangerous. I was fortunate to get volunteers. We were American soldiers, trained, going to come back.

{SS:} This guy didn’t give you any trouble, though.

{SK:} No, I went out to check him and he was outside because I guess he didn’t want to sleep in there with them black guys. Everything was all right, so I went back.

{SS:} Black guys had a tent?

{SK:} No, a tank we were guarding. Couldn’t sleep in no tent.

{SS:} Black guys were sleeping in the tank.

{SK:} The tank is open, with canvas top over it. This was a reconnaissance tank, what we used to carry personnel. I can’t say that was the reason he was standing outside. I had had some black guys on guard going to sleep; you can be court-martialed for that. But I only know of one guy court-martialed for that. Too much going on over there to punish a guy going to sleep. That was a code of ethics over there. Sometimes officers would lead guys on dangerous patrols just to get medals and rank, so they did away with the officers. Nobody talk about it, nobody going to admit it. It did happen.

We were fighting alongside people who looked like people we were fighting. I couldn’t tell difference between South and North Korean. Our dialects are different (in U.S.), but black Americans in Arkansas look just like me. Same way with Koreans. We captured a guy one time, a North Korean Lieutenant; he went to school at Berkeley, California. They could fool us. One guy we caught we used as houseboy and he had a map of our outfit in his pocket. He was there spying on us.

{SS:} What happened to him?

{SK:} They took him back to the rear. When we retook Seoul and lost a lot of soldiers, and some of ours we found with hands tied in the back and shot in the back of the head. So what do you do when you find American soldier like that? You do something to the enemy. Lot of times our prisoners didn’t make it to camp. I never done it, but I know one guy who’d always volunteer to take them to camp, and they always jump him and try to take his gun so he’d have to kill them. I know three times he went back and he always had a story and nobody investigated. I don’t know if everybody think like that, but having seen what we did, we knew Korean prisoners didn’t have a chance. Chinese was a different ballgame.

{SS:} They were different kind of fighter?

{SK:} Yeah, they come off the hill like Indians. They didn’t care about firing, nothing. They used drugs we found out later. Opium. We fired 50 caliber machine guns at them and that’s anti-aircraft weapons, bullet as long as my thumb. Go through a quarter inch of steel. We were issued M-1 rifles, which only shoot 8 at a time, so I went to BAR, which is automatic—shoots a 45 shell like pistol, but more powerful. You got an automatic man in the center, and that’s the one they try to kill first. We put two—we put one in the front and one in the rear. We changed standard formation to protect selves better.

{SS:} When the Army integrated, were you in favor?

{SK:} It didn’t make much difference to me. I had no problems with it. It wasn’t a big deal, as long as people respected each other.

{SS:} Were you in favor of larger-scale integration? Some GIs said they really wanted it.

{SK:} Primary reason was more recognition and better for blacks. They was restricted. Before integration, black officers in World War II could only discipline black men. When I came up, it was mixed. When I was a noncom officer, if you messed up, you got put on report, no matter your color. I didn’t care what color you was. I had to do a job to maintain my outfit. If you was a screw-up, you had to go. It wasn’t a problem in my outfit. It gave black officers a broader […] Benjamin O Davis was restricted at West Point, but after integration he was able to move around. He had some good ideas and it made the outfit better. Made him better. 999 came into being because they had an integrated Army. History’s already been made. They made a great unit, and now anybody can be in it to made it a great outfit. The purpose is to make it a great unit.

{KE:} Why aren’t there more black 999 vets at this reunion?

{SK:} I don’t know. We’ve been trying to figure this out. Well some of them are not around anymore, and some have health problems.

{SS:} Well white guys have health problems too.

{SK:} I know, but most of the guys out here now came over after me. I don’t know why they don’t come. It’s a lot of fun and 999 is what we have in common. I don’t think integrating the outfit bothered it at all.

{KE:} You knew a white guy would watch your back.

{SK:} Even in basic training they instill that in you, I don’t care what color. One thing about the Army, you trained to kill, nothing else. So when a guy get caught up in combat—think they made a movie about it—where he got into killing. We had a guy like that, a Ranger, who went behind the lines with a knife, no gun. He got into it so bad they had to send him back. When he got to the States, he had problems there. You never get adjusted back to the way you were. How do you move past it? I don’t know.

{KE:} How did Korea change you?

{SK:} I ain’t never going to be the same no more. Seeing the killing, all that, we grew up in a day. If you was 19 years old when you got there, you was 25 the next day. When I look at people, I don’t look at them like I did before I left. You have a compassion while you over there and see somebody get killed, know you’re not going to see him anymore. In life when somebody dies, it’s different. You talking with a guy, 15 minutes later he gone. You ask what he did to deserve this. You keep groping for an answer and then you get committed to what you’re doing.

{SS:} Did war change you as African American?

{SK:} Definitely. One of the ways is, it changed me in terms of how I look at people. We were put together over there. Once in combat—no color. There were unpleasant situations, but […] It was mostly blacks over there because whites weren’t jumping up for military jobs. Made me realize how valuable life is. You gotta put as much as you can into it, and it’s not all you. Life is not for you alone, you share what you got. We shared a lot of things, gave each other small things, like longer breaks.

{SS:} It’s learning through suffering.

{SK:} By suffering you learn to care about others. Sometimes you’d take the place of somebody else if you felt you were stronger than they were. Sometimes guys volunteered and didn’t come back. So the guy they’d helped would go visit the dead one’s family—say I’m here today because of him. You don’t think about it, just do.

{KE:} How do you think integration in military changed race relations in America?

{SK:} I think it changed some attitudes, but when you talk about racism, I don’t think that’s ever gonna change. It’s ingrained in the system. It’s the person got to change, it’s an individual thing. People tolerate you because of some laws, but it’s not how they feel about you. Integration in military covered up a lot of stuff that’s still coming about today. Look at controversy around Powell as Joint Chief of Staff. Look at how many years it’s been since Truman signed the order. When this guy was commanding forces in Kuwait, and I read in the paper that he was one of the qualified people for joint chief, he wasn’t the qualified person. He was the only black in there—I don’t know why Bush did it. He said he got the best man for the job. I think if Truman had never integrated Army, perhaps this would have happened. But you compare Army now and then and we’ve fallen down a whole lot from where we were. Since integration, women said they wanted to be in combat. I don’t think she really wants to be, and I don’t want to see her in it. Sometimes it was two, three weeks we didn’t take a bath. We don’t put a lot of emphasis on what it’s about now, and like I said the Army’s about killing.


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American RadioWorks |
Photo: Dierk Schaefer

Making it stick

Why do we remember some things, and forget others? That's what author Peter Brown and psychologists Henry Roediger and Mark McDaniel set out to answer in their new book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning.

Recent Posts