War Correspondent Comes Home
By REGGIE CAPES
Charles Black leaped off the rain-slickened plane Saturday, helped his wife down and turned a grinning, sun-tanned face to an admiring throng at the Muscogee County Airport.
No one in the crowd – from Columbus Mayor B. Ed Johnson to the unknown Fort Benning private waiting for a flight home – could deny that somebody important had come in on that little twin-engine plane.
Columbus’ “man of the hour” and The Ledger-Enquirer’s war correspondent had come home after almost four months of living in the jungles of Viet Nam.
“No. 1, man,” grinned Black in answer to a reporter’s question, “How does it feel to be back?”
In soldier’s slang, “No. 1” means something like “the greatest.”
“It’s mighty good to have him back,” added a smiling Mrs. Black, who had flown in from Atlanta with her hero husband.
Wearing an Army field jacket decorated with the stenciled words “Black, Enquirer” and an airborne wing insignia, Black was ushered into the airport lobby.
Publisher Maynard R. Ashworth of the Ledger-Enquirer newspapers embraced the bushy-eyebrowed Black as he was half-way in the door. The Fort Benning Infantry Center Band blared out with “He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” and the crowd broke into applause and shouts of “Welcome back, Charlie.”
Airport employees paused momentarily to watch as the beaming Ashworth guided a somewhat embarrassed Black to the television microphone.
“Charlie, we’re glad to welcome you back,” said Ashworth. “You’ve been a real correspondent between the boys in Viet Nam and their loved ones back home. We’re proud of you and we love you for what you’ve done.”
Mayor Johnson spoke next. “On behalf of the people in Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley, I sincerely welcome you. May God bless you in all your endeavors,” he said.
Mayor Johnson read a proclamation praising Black’s “unusual bravery and rare dedication (which) have brought honor to us all.”
“Mr. Black has won national fame for himself and Columbus through his unique and unparalleled coverage of the war, and has established a reputation rivaling that of any war correspondent of our time,” the proclamation said in part.
Bowing to the clamor of “speech, speech,” the short-haired, red-faced writer approached the mike.
“I’m glad to be back -- real glad,” he commented first. “I can’t get over all you people coming here in this rain,” he added.
Referring to the First Cavalry Division now in Viet Nam, he said, “You can be proud of them. They’re doing an important job and they know it. They’ll do it. They’re a wonderful outfit. I hope every damn one of them gets back.”
His brief speech over, the band played the march from “Bridge on the River Kwai,” as individuals moved forward to greet Black, among them Maj. Gen. Robert H. York, commanding general of Fort Benning.
Gen. York praised Black’s war coverage ---- which as Newsweek described it has been “Like Ernie Pyle, getting the PFC’s story -- and said “it has meant a lot to the people of Fort Benning and especially to the wives of men fighting in Viet Nam.”
Three widows of Viet Nam war dead presented roses to Black. They were Mrs. Ollie Miles, 920 Illges Rd., widow of Sgt. Palmer B. Miles, Mrs. Oradell Hill, Sand Hill Arms Apts., widow of Sgt. Leroy Hill; and Mrs. Marjorie Barrett, 4606 Moline Ave, widow of Sgt. Thomas J. Barrett.
Mrs. Miles, representing “hundreds” who had followed Black’s stories about their fighting men, spoke a few words of “thanks,” as did James H. Hill, commander of American Legion Post 525.
Others on hand to greet Black included Mrs. Gordon H. Kitchen, senior hostess, USO, a score of Ledger-Enquirer employees and Columbus – Fort Benning – Phenix City residents.
One woman stood in the crowd with tears flowing down her cheeks.
With the formal greetings over, Black was swamped by a crowd wanting to embrace him or to shake his hand.
Black, who has faced and shot at enemy troops in his work, took it all in stride as did Mrs. Black who was equally swamped.
For a good 20 minutes, he met and spoke with people, some old friends, others total strangers.
After the crowd thinned out, Black talked with a reporter who asked him what he planned to do back home.
“I’ve got two little girls, one and three, to see,” he smiled. “One was just walking and the other just started talking when I left home. I’m going to spend some time with them.”
He also mentioned a Christmas party he planned to attend.
“I’ll tell you something else I’ve got to do.” He pointed at a bulging briefcase full of notes, “I’ve got a whole campaign to write about.”
Black opened a huge travel bag filled with souvenirs and clothes and pulled out a box of Philippine hand-made cigars which he presented to Ashworth.
At Ashworth’s insistence, Black donned a red British paratrooper’s beret and posed for photographers.
From the bag he pulled out a copy of the Saigon Daily News and stood with several people discussing the way the paper handled its news.
The surprise welcome for Black -- he had already bought a plane ticket home in Atlanta before he learned that a chartered plane was coming for him – displayed in part the high regard people have for this man.