Huntsville businessman Charley Burruss looks back on his life and sees where things could have turned out much differently.
His mother raised four children by herself in the Binford Court housing project. He attended the all-black Council High School and then the newly integrated Butler High where he played basketball. He was the first African-American to serve on the school’s student council. He graduated with Butler’s class of 1968, the first graduating class from the new building on Holmes Avenue.
Burruss spent a year at Alabama A&M University when he dropped out to work so he could earn enough money to finish school. He was working in Atlanta for IBM, training to become a customer service technician, when he received his draft notice.
At 19 he got drafted in July 1969. After basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and military police school at Fort Gordon, Georgia, the Army sent him to Vietnam right before Christmas 1969. He spent two Christmases in Vietnam during his 13 months there.
“I’ve been blessed,” he said.
Burruss didn’t experience combat in Vietnam. The only fighting he saw was from a distance when he went up north for a weekend about six months into his tour to see a fellow Soldier from Huntsville. They watched the faraway explosions at night as spectators.
“And I consider that a blessing from God,” Burruss said. ‘I know that he was looking out for me.”
The relatively uneventful duties of his military police assignment could be traced to when he initially reported to the relocation station at Tan Son Nhut Air Base near Saigon.
“They asked in the relocation station: ‘Anybody got any typing experience?’” Burruss said. “So my hand goes up. See I type 60 words a minute accurately. That’s on your old Underwood typewriter. Actually I took typing in high school at Councill.”
He was assigned to the 720th MP Detachment, a sentry dog unit, as the mail clerk in the orderly room and the executive officer’s driver. While his fellow MPs were responsible for perimeter security at Long Binh, his typing skills were needed in the office.
But unfortunately he drove a jeep for an executive officer, a second lieutenant, who had an instant dislike for the 6-foot-4, 185-pound, African-American Soldier with a beard.
“He had never seen a real live black person before he came into the Army and I scared him to death. He was from Iowa,” Burruss said.
About eight months into the tour, the executive officer became the company’s commanding officer and he filed treason charges against Burruss. Without warning, the Huntsville native was removed from the unit and isolated in a room at the headquarters. “My heart just dropped. I mean I was scared to death,” he said.
Two months later, after the charges proved unfounded, Burruss was reassigned to a small MP detachment at Bearcat which was south of Long Binh. The Bearcat detachment’s commander, a second lieutenant, had known Burruss previously and realized the charges were fabricated.
“And he just swooped in like a guardian angel and took care of me,” Burruss said, again counting his blessings.
He spent the rest of his tour with desk duties at Bearcat and he extended to 13 months so he could leave the Army when he returned to the states. When he arrived in San Francisco in January 1971, Burruss left the Army as a specialist four.
Burruss, 69, is president and chief executive officer of Kudzu Productions Inc., a creative media services company which opened in November 1979. His business partner, Landon McCrary, has been with the Huntsville firm since the start.
His wife of 27 years, Bobby Bradley, retired in 2003 as a successful businesswoman. She sold her former company, Computer Systems Technology or CST. She co-founded a nonprofit called Village of Promise which helps disadvantaged youth. Burruss has a daughter from his first marriage, Tameca Rogers of Atlanta, and two grandsons. One of the grandsons, Chester “Tre” Rogers, is a wide receiver for the Indianapolis Colts in the National Football League. His other grandson, Chase Robinson, is an entrepreneur in Atlanta.
Burruss likes fishing and traveling. He and his wife enjoy traveling internationally and in the states.
The Vietnam veteran shared his thoughts on this nation’s commemoration of 50 years since the Vietnam War.
“Too little, too late,” he said. “It was an unpopular war. And we as servicemen were just pawns in the whole thing. And a lot of undeserving young men are suffering some today as a result of their experiences in that war. And I just hope that the VA and the administration will do a better job of taking care of veterans that have suffered. A lot of them don’t deserve the situation that they’re in. And I say that knowing how blessed that I was.”
Editor’s note: This is the 244th in a series of articles about Vietnam veterans as the United States commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.