Vets will always be Vets

By Walik Edwards, BASN Staff writer
Updated: May 29, 2012

The few, the proud...the 369th Vets

The few, the proud...the 369th Vets

CALIFORNIA (BASN) For four years of service with the late, great Tre-Ford Little League in the Bronx, New York, I wore the red and white of the 369th Vets. My coaches were the only two black coaches in the league, Mr. Brown, who led practices by flawlessly hitting fielding practice to our infielders and outfielders swinging a bat with one hand – he had both hands, but chose to hit balls at us with just one – and Mr. Clark, who Mr. Brown called Buzz.

Of the eight teams in our league, I’m sure we were the only team who had military sewn on the front of our uniforms. With the exception of the Mariners, the other teams were sponsored by the Italian-American owned merchants in the neighborhood. During those days, I’m sure none of us 9-12-year olds understood sponsorship, etc. We just wanted to just play baseball, and for some us, win the biggest trophy.

My last game with the Vets was a championship game. It was also the first time we received an inspirational speech from Mr. Brown. The talk introduced us to the men on the front of our uniform. They were black soldiers who fought on the front lines in France during WWI, and their service was eventually lauded in Europe and the United States. They had an uphill battle being a segregated black regiment in a foreign land, and the lone black soldiers in France.

We were the lone black and Puerto Rican players in the league, placed on one team. It wasn’t war, and as I learned as the only black player on our league’s All-Star team who participated in the initial rounds of the Little League World Series tournament, there was no overall animosity towards our team because of our skin color or ethnicity.

During the LLWS tourney, teams were announced via public address announcer, and I used to get some of the bigger applauses, and Italian mothers asked my mother if I could come over for dinner, and Italian grandmothers who spoke little to no English would grab me by the cheeks and just smile. It was explained to me by one mother that some Old Country Italian women had a healthy fascination with black children. Maybe it was because they were not around them in that great of a frequency, or something else…..

Back on point, Mr. Brown’s speech talked about the real Vets and how we represented them in comparison to their numbers, but now there was a chance to honor them. As preteens, this was all we had to give. We won, but I’m sure most of us won for ourselves, and not necessarily for the Vets, who have a great story I think you’ll enjoy, and will learn that African-American military history is beyond the Tuskegee Airmen, and the Civil War soldiers from “Glory.”

Thank you, 369th, my grandfather Robert Lee Scarborough, and all of our soldiers past and present on this Memorial Day.