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Memoirs by local authors are good reading

By Scott Bigelow

 

Two memoirs by Lumbee authors were on my reading list recently: Moon Dash Warrior (1998) by Delano Cummings and Hotdogs on the Road (2017) by Lena Epps Brooker. 

 

Both books are in the library of the Robeson County History Museum. While the library was created to stimulate interest in local authors, I confess I had not read either of these books, but I’m glad I did.

 

The Vietnam War was the war of my generation. Most books on the war concern politics, strategy and military actions from authors who did not do the fighting.

 

Moon Dash Warrior is a beautifully crafted story of Cummings’ three tours fighting in the jungles of Vietnam beginning in 1966. 

 

From the farming community of Saddletree, Cummings felt it was his patriotic duty to fight communism for “peace in the world.” He never wavered from that view.

 

A tough farm boy, Cummings was well equipped to be a Marine and to survive the extremes of jungle warfare. In his first tour, he joined in several large operations in a hotbed of enemy activity,

 

Pfc. Cummings quickly earned a reputation as a skilled point man on patrols. His sixth sense, guided by an Indian spirit, detected danger and kept his platoon safe from ambushes and booby traps.

 

There is fierce fighting and the casualties mounted as Cummings turned into a “hardcore fighting machine. I had done what I was trained to do: kill the enemy.” 

 

At the close of his first tour, Cummings participated in the live-in occupation of a village. He learned later that his village had been overrun by the enemy and all the Marines there were killed.

 

The loss of friends and fellow soldiers was one reason he re-enlisted twice. Cummings was happy to be home on leave, “but my head kept going back to Vietnam.”

 

From a “grunt” on his first tour, Cummings earned promotions to sergeant and became a leader of small reconnaissance units, “the best of the best.”

 

The purpose of recon units was to hide in the bush, spot enemy movement and call-in artillery and air strikes. Moon Dash was one of his code names.

 

The end in 1971 was bittersweet for the veteran, but his desire to return home to his people, his ancestors and the Lumber River was strong.

 

Cummings’ memoir is riveting and an important piece of the American experience.

 

COMING of AGE IN ROBESON

 

Epps memoir is also a part of American memory. It is a story of a young woman of color growing up in the Jim Crow South, more specifically, growing up Lumbee in Robeson County.

 

Epps grew up in the Saddletree Community where her father, Frank, was principal of Magnolia School. Beautifully told, the story is a trip down memory lane for Robeson readers, although not always a happy one.

 

Epps was a standout student in high school and the only person of color at Meredith College. College in Raleigh, where she thrived socially but struggled academically at first, was a window on the South of the future.

 

The title Hotdogs on the Road is a metaphor of Epps experience. The family took many trips to Person County, where her father’s people lived.

 

They could not stop at segregated restaurants in rural North Carolina. But a hotdog was such a special treat for the children that it provided insulation from racial barriers.

 

Children grow up and realities are sometimes cruel. Epps felt the sting of racial hostility, but her parents’ guidance saw her through. 

 

“My realization that no one could determine who and what I was based on the color of my skin was a huge step in adulthood .. I liked myself just the way I was.”


Two memoirs, two Lumbee authors, two good reads.

 






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