The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

June/July 2002    
 

The Good Fight:
Charlie Montgomery and George Duggins

BY JIM BELSHAW

Charlie Montgomery and George Duggins tell one of those six degrees of separation stories, one of those tales of coincidence about kid things and white guys and black guys growing up in the segregated South, separated by race, railroad tracks, rivers, neighborhoods, and all the other natural and unnatural ways people find to divide themselves. Thirty-five years after the story begins, they tell it again. Listeners laugh and the storytellers laugh in the telling of it. Then Charlie Montgomery and George Duggins go back to the business of working together with a common purpose.

As with most stories of this kind, the first telling came accidentally. It began when the Moving Wall was coming to the Tidewater area in Norfolk, Virginia. Montgomery and Duggins, longtime members of VVA, worked on the project.

One day, as they drove through Montgomery's childhood neighborhood at the end of Chesapeake Boulevard, Montgomery said, "George, when I was kid, we used to have these battles down here with the black guys. We used to throw dirt clods and rocks across the river."

George said, "Yeah, and we used to throw stuff at the white guys."

This is how good stories begin - a casual conversation, a moment of recognition, a smile of remembrance.

It was the mid-1960s. Brown vs. the Board of Education had been on the books for a while, but the Norfolk area was still segregated, its neighborhoods and schools black, white, and separate.

George Duggins, VVA's national president from 1996-2001, grew up in Barraud Park.

"It bordered on the river," he said. "We used to throw rocks at the white guys across the river. The rocks never made it all the way across the river, but we'd throw them anyway."

Charlie Montgomery, the Virginia State Council president, grew up on the other side, Shoop Park.

"We'd throw dirt clods and rocks, but there wasn't any real violence," he said. "No fistfights, no knife fights, nothing like that. A lot of times it was more like hiding in the bushes, and you'd throw something and see if they could see who was throwing it. I don't remember any harsh words being said."

Charlie didn't think it was a racial thing, though he remembers bad times in his neighborhood when it came to racial matters.

"Back in those days people didn't get along all that well," he said. "I saw racial things happen in my neighborhood. But my mom and dad never had that kind of hatred in them. I just wasn't raised that way."

On the other side of the river, George Duggins said it wasn't a "gang" that hung out near the river. It was just a bunch of kids who grew up together.

"The rock throwing wasn't hostile," he said. "I think it was more just to see if we could get a rock across the river. Norfolk was part of the segregated South, but the kind of hostility you saw in places like Birmingham and Selma wasn't present in Norfolk. I think because Norfolk was a Navy town, it did away with that hostility. It's the only reason I can see. There was a lot of interaction because of the heavy government employment."

Duggins said he didn't think the neighborhoods were all that far from one another anyway.

"We weren't the wealthiest people in the world on either side of the river," he said. "People on each side of that river were just common working folks."

Charlie and George went to their separate high schools, then to the same war. "A lot of guys from my high school went to Vietnam," George said. When Charlie came home, he met other rock throwers.

"When I came back from Vietnam, I went to work for the city of Norfolk," he said. "I ran into firemen who had the same story. 'Oh, yeah,' they'd say. 'I was on the other side, throwing rocks at you.' "

In the late 1980s, each now a member of VVA, George Duggins and Charlie Montgomery met.

"We just kind of clicked," George said. "He was a real go-getter in the organization. We had the same goals for the betterment of the organization, and we became friends."

George is a few years older than Charlie. They don't know if they were heaving rocks across the river at exactly the same time. It's possible. But as stories go, well, you never know for sure.

"It's just one of those things," Charlie said. "You ride by, and you say something about it. Back in those days we were so far apart and then we got older and went to Vietnam, and now we're working together on all these issues. Back then we were fighting each other, didn't even know each other. All these years later here we are fighting for veterans rights and all the things we do in the chapter."

   

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