Charles Spotts, 68
Charles discusses being drafted into the army during the Vietnam War and the car accident that changed is life forever.
What was it like growing up?
We grew up on a farm in the country in Fruitdale. We did a lot of yard work in the cotton fields and stuff like that. It was rough. It was someone else's farm that we were living on. My dad wasn't working for them. He must have just known them. There were good people though. They weren't prejudice, just down-to-Earth people. Everything looks so different out there now. It's changed.
We used to do a lot of fishing because we lived nowhere from the river. We would catch the fish and then bring them back home to cook. My dad used to do a lot of hunting for wild hogs and deer. We lived on the wild game of the land. I was 14 or 15 when we moved to where my Daddy lives now.
In 1969, I got drafted to the military.
What was that experience like?
Well at the time, the Vietnam War was going and they were drafting people just like that. I was taking jungle training the first week. The field pack weighed 75 or more pounds, it had everything you'd need in combat. The first weekend that passed was when I got in the accident. I guess it was a blessing in disguise. You take eight weeks of basic training. After the first four weeks, they give you a weekend to go home or wherever. I chose to go home with my buddy because we were stationed close to his home. He got killed though in that auto accident.
Was that the one that involved a group of your friends?
It was his friends. I was just visiting. One of his homeboys died and he died. He didn't hit nobody. He just lost control and hit the soft shoulder. Busy talking, ya know. They were in the front talking and I was in the back. I just drifted off to sleep. We were out partying and clubbing here and there all night. We decided we would just go across town to this spot they knew. It was misting rain. I'll never forget it. I heard 'em talk, I had my eyes closed, and then all of a sudden I felt a jar. The jars came in slow motion. I believe that car flipped about four or five times. Everybody got thrown out of the car except me. They pulled me out the car, left me on the ground, and said that I wasn't gonna make it. They took everybody else to the hospital. They were standing right over me and shining the light in my eyes. Rain was hitting me in the face. 20 years old! All I could think about was that my life was about to end. I proved them wrong though.
When I got to the hospital, they had my buddy on a stretcher. He had just passed, but his leg was broken. The bone was sticking out and his leg was hanging off the stretcher in the emergency room. I'll never forget that. They didn't even show his buddy. He was gone, probably dead before he even made it to the hospital. The driver just had a little scratch over his eye. He was okay, but he didn't have a driver's license. So the policeman in the town kept asking me the question, "Who was driving the car?" I knew who was driving, but it wouldn't have brought my friend back no way, in fact he would've probably gotten sentenced for manslaughter. When the police asked me that question, I was watching him and he got real nervous, I guess thinking that I was going to tell on him. I didn't though. I didn't do it.
Do you know what happened to that guy? The one that was driving?
I don't know whether he's still living or not. I looked at it like this. His conscious is going to get him. He's the one who killed his homeboy. He's going to get punished anyway so why send him to prison? He was older than any of us.
I talked with his sister that night before I was transported out to another hospital. She told me to come back and let them know what happened after I got all straightened out. I came back through that little town back in the 80s. I was with the railroad then and I thought about it. I almost stopped - in fact, I did stop and said that I would see whether I could find him and his family. I took about 15 or 20 minutes just sitting in my car, trying to decide what to do. I finally said, "No, I'm just gonna leave this alone." I never did see him after that night. They were good people too, you know, you could tell. They're probably still living, probably up in age. I was 20 and I think that his sister was probably in her late 20s or early 30s. I met his mama. I met the whole family. I was just like part of the family.
How did that affect you?
It affected me a lot. I was having nerve pains then. I was young. I always stayed in shape. I kind of stayed ahead of the pain and was always in the gym or doing something. That's how I made it through! When I got out of the military, I got a job at Ingalls shipyard.
And on an emotional level?
Uhhh, I had nightmares for a few years behind that. After I got out of the military, I had them. I would wake up in a cold sweat. A few of them probably woke you up [pointing to my grandmother] too. Finally, they just eased up, you know? They say time heals all wounds.
I was bounced all around in that car. I fractured three of my vertebrates in my lower back and I was all bloodied and busted up. That's why the paramedics thought that I wasn't going to make it. Imagine somebody standing over you saying that you're not going to make it. I can remember it just like it was yesterday. I could never figure this out, but my sister's oldest child was the only person that came into my mind. Charlene. I don't know why, but I thought about her. She was a little ole' knot back then - probably a couple of years old.
But it affected me a lot. Sure did. But I was just strong enough to survive it. It's starting to get the best of me now with back pain. I think about what that doctor told me back then. He was a German doctor and he said, "The older you get, the worse it's gonna be." He said, "You'll probably make it through life okay, but it's going to affect you in time." I laughed at him. I was 20 years old and active thinking that I wouldn't let a little old accident like that get me down. I made it through though and got a long way to go. I'm gonna outlive my dad. He'll be 95 years old January the 5th.