Warren Tuggle of Punta Gorda and family run out of Miss. by KKK in ’47

Warren Tuggle of Punta and his family were run out of Biloxi, Miss. 65 years ago by the Ku Klux Klan. The Tuggle family was black and Warren was a 17-year-old high school graduate in 1947 when they left town.

“Until I as 17 we had very little problem with the Klan. Our family was Catholic. Our church was integrated and our neighborhood was integrated, too. Then the Klan got very active. There were huge white crosses in town with blood dripping from them,” the 89-year-old recalled.

“My mother decided to move the family to Boston to live with her sister,” Tuggle said. “She thought we’d have a better life if we got out of Biloxi. So we started out taking the train north. But we stopped at my stepfather’s home in Virginia on the way up and spent the summer there.”

Toggle decided when they reached Boston he would enlist in the Army. He could improve his education and move on in life with the help of the G. I. Bill. Signing up in the Army with an eye toward advancing one’s education was tough if you were black and this was before President Harry Truman integrated the services.

Toggle went to boot camp at Fort Dix, N.J. Since he volunteered he was able to select his military occupation specialty. He chose medical technician which meant his specialty training would be at Fort Sam Houston, Tex. After three months of medical training he was reassigned to a 155 Howitzer unit at Fort Sill, Okla. Despite his MOS the Army was going to make him stack spent artillery casings, not serve as a medical person in the Army.

Toggle wasn’t happy with his situation. He didn’t want to stack spent artillery rounds and decided to do something about it.

Capt. Dale Van Vacter, Sgt. Tuggle’s immediate superior who ran the medical lab at Sill. She was responsible for getting him in the medical business initially. Photo provided

“I wrote a letter to Capt. Dale Van Vacter, director of the laboratory where I wanted to work at Sill,” he said. “This resulted in an interview with the captain. She decided I was more valuable to the Army working in the lab than stacking empty shells. She took my request for a change of work orders to the hospital chief of staff who immediately approved it.

Tuggle became a lab assistant at Sill to begin with. This caused additional problems because there were no black living facilities connected with the hospital. He was provided accommodations in another part of the base were black soldiers were billited.

Tuggle tells the story of a newborn baby with very rare -AB blood. More blood of this rare type was needed to perform a medical procedure, but they couldn’t come up with the rare blood. He suggested they check the blood type of every soldier on base a Sill. They did and only one soldier was found to have the necessary -AB blood. Problem was he was black.

“Capt. Van Vacter talked with the parents about life-saving blood from a black soldier. She said they could care less. All they wanted to do was save the child’s life. The baby got the rare blood and its life was save.

After four years in the service Tuggle’s tour was up. He went from private to sergeant 1st class during his time in the Army. His main concern when he was discharged was education.

“I knew I had to have a better education if I wanted to succeed,” he said, “So when I got out of the service I took the G.I. Bill.”

But it bombed on Tuggle. He was all set to attend medical classes at Tufts University, a prestigious ivy league school outside Boston. Problem was his G.I. Bill funds didn’t come through so he was stuck without much money. He cancelled going to Tufts and signed up to attend a junior college in Cambridge, Mass. He graduated in two years with a B.S. in medical technology.

He went to work at St. Mary’s Clinic in New London, Conn. for several years. After that Tuggle started his own laboratory—Tuggle Medical Lab, New London—for more than 30 years. After he retired he moved to Port Charlotte in 1994. He had four children with his first wife, Jeanne: Michelle, Suzanne, Denyse and Gabrielle. His second wife is also named Jean.

Name:  Warren Mullo Tuggle
D.O.B: 8 March 1929
Hometown: Biloxi, Miss.
Currently: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service:  1948
Discharged: 1952
Rank: Sergeant
Unit: Medical Technician, Fort Sill, Okla.
Commendations: Good Conduct Medal
Battles/Campaigns: Cold War

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Dec. 10, 2018 and is republished with permission.

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