Ira D. Ferguson
U. S. Army
Civil Rights
Dates of Service: 05/22/2008 - 12/22/1969
Lineman, 122 Signal Corps
Audio Samples

Ira was born in Cullen, Louisiana, one of eleven children of Marvin and Ruth Hartwell Ferguson. His father worked for the railroad, farmed and "did odd jobs," Ira says. The young Ferguson grew up on the family farm, helping raise chickens and hogs, and crops such as potatoes, greens, peas, and cotton. Ira picked cotton, once receiving only two cents a pound. "That was slavery," he says. "Two cents a pound and you'd pick all day to try to get a hundred pounds for two dollars a day." The family lived in a four-room house, where Ira recalls seeing ice "stuck on the inside" on some winter nights. They illuminated the house with coal oil lamps, slaughtered their own hogs, and preserved the meat with salt and smoke. "We called it `dry salt meat," he says. Ira graduated from Charles Brown High School, an institution for African-Americans in Springhill, in 1966. He recalls segregation as an era when he often was denied the use public restrooms, and was forced to order food from the backs of restaurants. Ira was drafted into the U.S. Army and entered basic training in May of 1968 at Fort Polk near Leesville, Louisiana, where he trained with both M-14 and M-16 rifles. At Fort Gordon in Georgia he received advanced individual training in communications as a lineman, learning to install telephones and string wire. Ira says the army sent him to Korea because his brother already was serving in Vietnam. Arriving in Korea in November of 1968, Ira was stationed at Camp Howze and placed in the 122nd Signal Corps, but saw little duty in communications because of the harsh winter weather. He then was sent to Quick Reaction Force (QRF), a unit composed of "a few squads," and trained to counter quickly an enemy attack. Assigned as an infantryman in the 38th Infantry Regiment, he was sent to Camp Dodge near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between South and North Korea. Often, he relates, small units of North Koreans crossed the border. "A lot of times we didn't let them fire first, but if they get the first shot, then you can defend yourself," he says. "That's the way it was. We weren't supposed to attack, just defend." Live fire broke out on his first day on duty at Camp Dodge, with "bullets and bombs and everything going off," he says. "They were shooting and we were shooting. Hills were on fire and people were running and crying and hollering and praying. It was pretty rough." He believes nineteen were killed that night. He says the camp was so near the enemy "they talked to us sometimes, about once or twice a month" over large speakers. "This lady would get on the speakers and harass us. When she'd finish talking, then they'd start shooting," he relates. Ira was sent on "suicide missions," usually lasting about three hours, which took him into the DMZ where the ground was strewn with mines. With two infantrymen accompanying him, he made sure a metal detector system, strung along the border to pick up movement, was working. Occasionally, he was able to catch a bus for a two-hour trip south to a recreation center called RC One, and relax for a few hours. "You could go to RC One and listen to music or buy a hamburger, cheeseburger, play games, go to a movie," he recalls. Ira returned to America on December 22, 1969, and was discharged at Fort Lewis in Seattle, Washington, with the rank of E-5. He was released from the army five months early because of his continual service (seven days a week) on the DMZ. Ira married Maxine Williams in 1970. (They would have three children and eight grandchildren.) He returned to a pre-service job at Louisiana Ordnance Plant in Minden, working on an assembly line making 4.2 mortar shells. After nine months he entered Louisiana Tech in Ruston, then spent twenty-seven years he was director of the drafting department of E.L. Burns Company in Shreveport. Ira says he is still being treated for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for his service. "I knew when I came home I wasn't the same person," he says. "I couldn't go to a place or anywhere without having my back against the wall, or staying alert." Talking to a counselor, he says "was just like a burden lifted off my shoulders." He reports he also was exposed to Agent Orange, a defoliant used in Vietnam, but also sprayed, he says on the DMZ. Race relations in the army, Ira recalls, ranged from confrontational to fraternal. He says he encountered "one or two guys that were pure racists or mean--that was downright mean to me," he says. In his unit, however, "we were just like brothers. We looked out for each other," he says.