SHREVEPORT, La -- As we open African American History Month, let's meet Versa Clark. He joined the Air Force right out of the now closed George Washington Carver School south of Shreveport in 1964.
He was looking to further his education. But he would soon learn about war.
Versa tested into logistics. His first assignment in the Vietnam War was in 1968 at Ton Se Nhut Air Base, where warehouses stored spare parts.
"We had to inventory and make sure that we had what was necessary to complete the mission," Versa explained.
But his station was right across from a mortuary for our fallen troops. Versa talked himself in for a tour.
"It was kind of an eyeopener as to what war was really like. I saw a lot of our wardead," Versa says. "We had Army people that were fighting in the fields. And we were just their backups."
Not that Versa was completely out of danger. Especially heading back to base with the crowd at curfew.
"There might be a sniper across the street and would shoot. And the MP's would shoot the lights out and we had to scurry to get on base," he says.
There were also rocket attacks.
"When you got the alarm it was grab your mattress and get underneath the mattress," Versa said.
He had another tour back near Saigon that ended in 1973.
"I was glad for the opportunity to serve," Versa says.
He points out that the war coincided with America's Civil Rights movement. Martin Luther King spoke out against the war. He believed it diverted spending on programs to help poor blacks, and it disproportionately sent young black men to fight for freedoms for the South Vietnamese, while blacks still struggled for freedoms in the U.S.
But Versa kept his eye on the mission.
"There were quite a few people that realized we were all there for one reason," he says.
Now, five decades later, Versa borrows a phrase from King for the young generation.
"Have a dream," he said.
Versa says that means getting an education and seeking opportunity. He used the G.I. Bill to get a sociology degree in urban regional planning.
He returned to Shreveport in retirement in 2012 to help take care of his mother. But he also keeps busy here working with groups for economic development, especially in the Cedar Grove area.