When 63-year-old Bobby White served as an infantryman in Vietnam in the late 1960s, he and his fellow African-American soldiers had a handshake ritual they called "The Dap."
"It was sort of amazing," White says. "Sometimes the guys touched each other's hands, their arms, with a charismatic sort of flair. And sometimes it would go on for a minute to five minutes, just to show appreciation that you, as another brother serving in the war, we are connected to each other."
White, who lives in Miramar, is the Commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8195 in West Park, made up mostly of African-Americans. He's also editor of "Post 8195: Black Soldiers Tell Their Vietnam Stories," an autobiographical anthology penned by 23 members of the VFW Post.
The stories in the book bear witness to the cruelty and brutality seen by most servicemen in the Vietnam War, but they also highlight the unique conflicts confronted by virtually every black soldier.
"During that time, we were fighting a war in America for our own civil rights. And we were fighting for America in Vietnam," says White. "So the black soldiers had to find their own identity and their own culture at some point within that conflict."
One of the most poignant stories comes from 65-year-old Willie Ferguson, of Miami. He recounts one night in the highlands of northern Vietnam, when he was harassed beyond endurance by a squad leader and a platoon leader, both white. Later, a white friend of his saw Ferguson's distress and offered to take his place on a dangerous detail. The man was killed by enemy mortar that day.
"It left a sense with me that I could never be prejudiced," Ferguson says. "It kept me in a neutral zone where I tried to overlook a lot of things as the years passed by."
White says every contributor to the book suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He says the idea for the book came about after the veterans starting telling their stories in group-therapy sessions as part of their PTSD treatment.
You can buy a copy of "Post 8195: Black Soldiers Tell Their Vietnam Stories" at the VFW Post located at 4414 Pembroke Road, West Park.