Nathaniel Edmonds was ready to leave his southern Georgia hometown in 1973.
So he convinced a boyhood friend, Wesley Mason, to join the Army together under the buddy system. Mason found the Army wasn’t for him and served three years.
Edmonds retired as a sergeant first class in the military police after 20 years. He met his wife in the Army. All five of their sons have served in the military and two remain on active duty.
“The United States military has definitely been good for my family,” Edmonds said.
He and his wife of 44 years, Rosa, also a Vietnam-era veteran, visited Redstone on Aug. 23 for the graduation of their youngest son, Capt. Arron Edmonds, from the Command and General Staff Officer Course. They reside in Columbus, Georgia.
A portrait of the Edmonds family is displayed in the National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning in Columbus.
Three of the sons – Arron, Keith and Whitner – were at Officer Candidate School at the same time at Fort Benning. Keith had graduated earlier. Arron is stationed at Fort Eustis, Virginia; and Keith is a major at Presidio, California. Whitner retired last May as a captain after 20 years of service.
“They had gone to OCS together. That was the first time they had three brothers go at the same time,” Edmonds said. “That was a wonderful thing.”
Things weren’t so wonderful in this country when Edmonds joined the Army. He was from Moultrie, a small town 28 miles south of Albany. His mother moved to New York in 1961 and left him with her parents in Moultrie. Edmonds remembers his grandfather sympathized with the civil rights movement. When the freedom riders would travel to Moultrie from the northern states, his grandfather, who was well to do, would give them a place to stay. “He caught a lot of hell from that,” Edmonds said.
When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, Edmonds’ mother felt southern Georgia wasn’t the best place to raise a black child. So she returned to Moultrie and moved her son to Spring Valley in suburban New York.
“It was an entirely different life. People judged you by who you were, not by the color of your skin,” Edmonds said.
He stayed in New York until 1973 when he graduated from high school. When his mother decided to move the family back to southern Georgia, Edmonds decided to join the Army together with his friend.
After basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, he went to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, as a field wireman with a field artillery unit. Edmonds saw the military policemen in their sharp uniforms and jeeps and decided to reenlist to become an MP in 1976. He went to advanced individual training at Fort McClellan in Anniston where he said he encountered racism. “You had no business being a military policeman – from your drill sergeants to your commander, just people in general,” he said. “You had no business being in certain parts of town at nighttime.”
His first duty assignment was Fort Bliss, Texas. From there he went to Germany, Fort Meade in Maryland, Hawaii, Fort Benning and Germany again where he retired in 1993. He returned to his family at Fort Benning. He served as a Department of Defense police captain until he retired in October 2016.
Edmonds met his wife, Rosa, in 1974 at Fort Sill. He was a private first class and she was a specialist, a nurse’s aide, in the Women’s Army Corps. She served two years.
Their oldest son, Carlos, 44, of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, is a defense contractor with the National Security Agency. He left the Air Force as a captain in 2005 after six years. Whitner, 42, of Columbus, is an Army civilian at Fort Benning. Nathaniel III, 41, of Atlanta, served two years in the Army and works as a contract specialist for the state of Georgia. Keith, 39, the major, is attending contracting school in Presidio. Arron, 37, the captain, is a quartermaster officer at Fort Eustis. Four of the five sons have master’s degrees; Arron is pursuing his. Each son has three children so Edmonds has 15 grandchildren.
“They felt that dad was successful (in the military). They felt if dad can be successful in there, they can be successful in there,” he said.
Edmonds, 64, shared his thoughts on this nation’s commemoration of 50 years since the Vietnam War.
“I think it’s great due to the fact that when we were Soldiers we were not well-liked by the American public during those days,” he said. “But as time evolved, America has fallen in love with their Soldiers – even the Vietnam-era Soldiers such as myself. Nowadays even the Vietnam (veteran) Soldiers are being recognized for their service. And it’s a beautiful thing.”
Editor’s note: This is the 236th in a series of articles about Vietnam veterans as the United States commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.