In 1948 President Harry Truman passed a law integrating the U.S. military. Three years later Joe Dinish in Kings’ Gate Subdivision, Port Charlotte, Fla. was drafted into the Army out of high school and was eventually sent to Korea. He served 13 months in the war zone as a combat medic in 1952 and ’53 during the height of the war.
What makes his story a bit different? He was a Negro.
“I don’t know how I became a combat medic,” Dinish said 65 years later. “Most of the Negroes in the military in those days were given menial jobs.”
After basic and combat medical training at Camp Pickett, Va. he went to Korea in 1952. Dinish became a member of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, 15th Regiment, 3rd Medical Battalion station north of the 38th Parallel that divided North Korea from South Korea.
Most of his time while in Korea he went on night patrols with his unit. There were two types of patrols—Contact Patrols where the U.S. forces battled the North Koreans or Chinese forces or Intelligence Patrols where they went into enemy territory to gather information.
“I went on many of these patrols as the unit’s medic,” he said. “The Geneva Convention decreed that medics were non-combatants, so we didn’t carry firearms. That didn’t stop the North Koreans or the Chinese from shooting us. The enemy knew if they could knock out the medics that would be a demoralizing factor.
“Much of my time in the Army was spent at ‘Outpost Harry,’ an observation hill top north of the 38th Parallel. If was from here we went on parol into enemy territory.
“We were out on patrol when we were attacked by the enemy. I was hit by shrapnel and was wounded seriously enough to spend three weeks in a Japanese hospital recovering from my wounds,” the 82-year-old former medic recalled. “Then I went right back to my unit in Korea.”
He wrapped up his combat time in mid-1953. Dinish had the required 36 military points which allowed him to sail for the USA.
“I arrived by troop transport in Oakland, Calif. after 17-days at sea. From there we took a troop train to Fort Jackson, S.C. Because I was a combat medic they wanted me to be an instructor at the Combat Medic School at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. They sent me by bus to Texas to become a teacher.
“I was very young at the time and didn’t realize that much of the South still had segregation laws. Everything in the Army was integrated by then,” Dinish said. “When the bus stopped in Memphis, Tenn. I went in an all-white diner to get something to eat. The waitress wouldn’t serve me even though I was in uniform.
“‘Soldier boy, I can’t serve you here. If you want something to eat go to the back door of the restaurant. I can serve you there.’”
While he was getting the bad news from the waitress about getting served, three white guys were eyeing him.
“One of those white men got behind me and poured ketchup down the back of my uniform.
“At that point I’m thinking to myself, ’I can’t whip ‘em all, but I decided I sure as hell could get me one of them.’’’
The next thing Dinish knew a white policeman—one of three officers who were in the restaurant—put his arm on his shoulder. He took him to the bathroom and helped the young soldier clean the ketchup off his uniform.
“I got back on that bus and I never got off again until I got to Fort Sam Houston,” Dinish said recalling the racial incident in Tennessee more than five decades ago.
Growing up in Everglades City in the ‘40s, he was no stranger to race relations in the South.
“The most education a Negro in Florida could get back then was the 8th grade. I graduated from the 8th grade at Dupont Elementary School in Everglades City in 1947,” he said. “My father and grandfather wanted me to have a better education so they sent me to Alabama where I graduated from high school.”
After his time in the Army as a combat medic, Dinish decided he wanted to go to college. In order to accomplish this goal he needed funds and only the Air Force would provid him with scholarship money. He signed up and got his college paid for by the Air Force, but after graduation he had committed to serve five more years in the military.
He attended the University of Louisville in Kentucky in the ’50s. He wanted to play professional football. He majored in physical education in college.
Dinish played end on Louisville’s football team. In those days he weighed 265 pounds and was fast. The quarterback on his college team was the legendary Johnny Unitas.
“Many people don’t know it, but Unitas was drafted by the Pittsburgh Stealers Football Team,” Dinish said. “The Stealers cut him and the Baltimore Colts picked him up.”
The rest is history. Unitas went on to become a Hall of Fame quarterback for the Colts.
When Dinish graduated from Louisville he had a chance to tryout for the St. Louis Cardinals professional football team. It didn’t happen because he also had a five year Air Force commitment he was required to honor.
After five years of service in the Air Force he was a master sergeant. He decided to get out of the service and try his luck in civilian life. It didn’t take Dinish long to realize there wasn’t much it the way of opportunity in the civilian workplace in the ‘60s for a Negro.
He re-upped and went back in the Air Force. When he retired in 1991 Dinish had served 39 1/2 years in the military and was a Chief Master Sergeant (E-9), the highest enlisted grade in the Air Force.
After retirement from the service, he went to work for a medical research paramedical company located in New Jersey. He worked for the firm for 21 years until his second retirement.
Dinish moved to Florida 11 years ago. His son, Sean, has a master’s degree in Instructional Leadership and works as a ‘headhunter’ for a firm recruiting college students.
“Through the grace of God I’ve had a very interesting life,” Dinish concluded.
Name: Joe Louis Dinish
D.O.B: 20 April 1935
Hometown: Tunnell Springs, Alabama
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: 1951
Discharged: 22 March 1991
Rank: Air Force Chief Master Sergeant (E-9)
Unit: Third Infantry Division, 15th Regiment, 3rd Medical Battalion
Commendations: Purple Heart, Bronze Star Medal, Air Force Training Ribbon, Longevity Service Award w/ 1 Silver and 3 Broze Oak Leaf Clusters, United Nations Service Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal with w/ 1 Hour Glass, Korean Service Medal, Air Reserve Service Medal, Maritoriouis Service Medal, Korean Presiential Unit Citation, Good Conduct Medal with 3 Bronze Loops.
Battles/Campaigns: Korean War
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 and is republished with permission.
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