The 1967 Riot in Detroit 3

Adversity is something you get used to as a Firefighter. Things go wrong at fires. You don’t have time to check the manual on fire tactics. You must rely on instinct and experience. We were fortunate to have many seasoned war veterans on the job in July 1967. They quickly organized a battle plan with the safety of Firefighters as the prime objective.  Three command posts were set up to deliver fire service to the city. Runs were taken in rotation with a unit returning from a fire going to the rear of the line. Armed soldiers and police manned the perimeters of the three command posts. By the third day there were enough National Guardsmen to assign a man to ride shotgun with each rig. Snipers were being hunted. The distinctive sound of 50 caliber machine guns hammering away at rioters, who were firing at public safety officers, echoed through the night in Detroit. It was a scary sound, especially if you were next up for a run.

We were exhausted after returning from a fire scene where we came under fire by a car load of armed men. We tried to get some rest. I walked to the front lawn of the Training Academy which served as the central command post. My running mates and I stretched out next to Squad 4 which was parked on the lawn near the street. Suddenly there was a shout from a soldier guarding the overpass near Grand River on Warren Avenue. It was a critical check point protecting the command post. I heard him shout, “Halt, halt or I’ll fire.” I heard the car engine roar and the squealing of wheels. The intruders were headed our way. The sentry opened fire with his M-1 rifle. His weapon exploded repeatedly as he fired at the charging automobile. Other soldiers and policemen opened fire. The staccato sound of a burp gun and rapid fire automatic pistols joined the din. It was over in less than a minute. My instincts made me roll under Squad 4’s rig seeking cover behind a rear wheel. The rig started up as Squad 4 moved to leave the area. I had to quickly roll out from under the moving apparatus. I hoped the gun battle was over. It was. Looking toward the overpass I could see a car slowly rolling backward down the hill. The windows were shot out and the hood and doors were full of holes. Both doors were swung open. The air was saturated with a hazy blue smoke drifting across the scene. The car came to a sudden stop as it crashed into the concrete pillars supporting the overpass. I could see a bloody body hanging out of the passenger side of the car. Two men died that night. They were additions to the statistics that saw 43 people lose their lives during the 1967 riot. It was one of the sad things that I witnessed as my city  descended into a tragic time in its history.         

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