James “JJ” Jordan made a pivotal decision after graduating from the all-black Councill Training School in 1968 in Huntsville.
After receiving his draft notice in 1969 from the Army, with the Vietnam War raging, he decided his best option was joining the Air Force that September. He wore the blue uniform for 22 years and said he has no regrets.
“Life experience. Something no book can give you,” Jordan said. “Unbelievable. Broadened my horizons so much. And from a little country boy, that was my ticket for evolving into a man.”
He had basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. His specialty was administrative/postal with a secondary in personnel. The Air Force took him to Mississippi, Arizona, New Mexico, the Pentagon, Saudi Arabia, Korea, Germany, Australia and Denmark. He spent 1972 at Clark Air Base in the Philippines.
“It was tough because there was so much disdain for Vietnam that the Soldiers suffered because of that,” he said of the antimilitary sentiment during that era. “Anti-Vietnam protests, riots back in the states, Kent State.”
Jordan didn’t personally witness the protests against the military but he did see racial discrimination by members of the public. He remembers when a white man in Mississippi told him he needed to go to the black barbershop across the street in 1970.
He grew up on a farm as the oldest of 11 children. His father had served in World War II and the Korean War. He sometimes had to miss school so he could work on the farm. “It was survival,” he said.
When he was about 10, he remembers his father sternly correcting him when he inadvertently went to a water fountain reserved for white people. That was just the way things were in that era.
“I saw Huntsville grow up from a little cotton town to what it’s become. I saw it,” Jordan said. “Every time I came back (between Air Force assignments) it was growing tremendously.
“Huntsville avoided a lot of the racial things, like in Birmingham and Montgomery, because of Redstone.”
He retired in 1992 as a master sergeant at what was then England Air Force Base in Alexandria, Louisiana, and returned to his hometown. Jordan worked 16 years for the city of Madison’s Parks and Recreation until retiring in 2010 as maintenance supervisor. His two sons, Travis and Keith, also reside in Huntsville.
Jordan, 69, has belonged to the Air Force Association since the early 1990s. He is a member of the Men’s Ministry group at Bicentennial Chapel and he is the senior deacon at St. Bethel Primitive Baptist Church in Huntsville. He likes doing his missionary work, working out at Pagano Gym and following sports. He is a big fan of the Dallas Cowboys.
He shared his thoughts on this nation’s commemoration of 50 years since the Vietnam War.
“I think they should do more because (Vietnam veterans) are forgotten heroes,” Jordan said. “Paid a big price for an unpopular war that they had nothing to do with. The country has come a long ways but still has a ways to go – until it reaches the point that Dr. (Martin Luther) King referred to by judging by the content of your character and not the color of your skin.”
Editor’s note: This is the 232nd in a series of articles about Vietnam veterans as the United States commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.