Keywords: First Avenue South
Map Coordinates: 29.383, -94.905
Keywords: Booker T. Washington School; Careers; College; Community; Discrimination; Dr. Dorothea Jones; Education; Marvin Peterson; Montford Point Marines; Teachers; WWII
Subjects: African American--Social networks; African Americans--Education (Higher); African Americans--Education--Texas; African Americans--Families; African Americans--Military service; African Americans--Religion; African Americans--Segregation; Vietnam War, 1961-1975
BROUSSARD: Today is Tuesday, March 28th, 2023, and we are in TexasCity, Texas at the Annex Building. This is Brenda Broussard, the Archive Assistant with Moore Memorial Public Library. I am working on the African American Oral History Project initiated by Moore Memorial Public Library to aid the African American community in building the historic narrative and to fill in the gap of the historical record.
Today, we have the distinct pleasure of interviewing retired US Navy RearAdmiral Osie Combs of Texas City. Admiral Combs, I'd like to ask if you could introduce yourself, starting with, my name is and I was born in, and then tell us a little bit about yourself.
COMBS: Well, thank you. Good afternoon. My name is Osie V. Combs, Jr., asstated, Rear Admiral United States Navy, retired. Was born in 00:01:00Longview, Texas. Moved to Texas City in 1954 with our family. For that purpose, I grew up in Texas City, attended the Texas City high schools and junior high school and elementary school in that reverse order. The elementary school and junior high school considered of being at Booker T. Washington Elementary and Combined School. During the period of time or the desegregation of the schools, I went to the high school, Texas City High School at that particular time. Finished the full three years in Texas City High School. From there, went on to college to the Prairie View A&M University from '67 to 1971. After 1971, I was commissioned in United States Navy and during that summer and stayed 00:02:00in the Navy for twenty-eight and a half years and retired as a Rear Admiral.
That's for introductions.
BROUSSARD: Very good. Let's go back to your family. So, what are the names ofyour parents?
COMBS: Since I'm a junior, (laughs) my father's Osie V. Combs, Sr., and mymother's Anna Moss Combs. The parents' names, brother Frederick Lewis Combs, Sr., and my sister, Ajurella Combs Heard.
BROUSSARD: And where was your family from originally?
COMBS: They were both from East Texas up in the Longview area. Tatum, Corsicana,that area, as well as staying in Longview for a period of time.
BROUSSARD: So, growing up in Texas City, it was you and your siblings--
BROUSSARD: --all going to the school and stuff pretty much at the same time?00:03:00
BROUSSARD: And, what was that like?
COMBS: Siblings. (Combs, Broussard laugh) We were, uh, we were basically, I'mthe middle child, two years apart, brother older and a sister. Nice average, good growing up community. You know, really it was just non-eventful at the time. I mean, we were in a loving village-like community. And you often hear people talk about nine, ten blocks type deal over a certain area consisted of our livelihood growing up with a strong Christian based background and a strong family sense from the community. 00:04:00
Everyone kind of knew each other in the little community we grew up with. Withthat said, we had exposure primarily through the church, going to different activities that I liked outside of the city. Every summer, for the majority of the time, and I can't remember any exception, we would take a trip to different parts of the state. We would go to San Antonio, The Alamo. We would go up to Six Flags of Texas. We went to San Jacinto Battleground. We would take a trip for exposure, which I would say is extremely valuable today when you consider many were unable to travel, get outside of their communities. And even today there are people that are just on the same blocks, don't go out and have 00:05:00the exposure.
So, we were very fortunate to travel. We learned the work ethic of earning moneyto save for the one summer trip, and to go to different places as a fun activity for the youth. Very strong active youth program within the church. And I was at Barbour's Chapel Baptist Church where we grew up. In addition, we would go out and fellowship with other churches, but the activities were centered around a very strong religious background and just being exposed and loving life as a young kid.
BROUSSARD: So, you mentioned that being able to take a vacation.
BROUSSARD: That suggests to me that your family was doing maybe a little bitbetter economically?
COMBS: Not really.
BROUSSARD: So, what kind of job did your--
COMBS: --Not really.
BROUSSARD: Not really? So, it was all in just saving pennies?
COMBS: My brother would say that it was saving and hard and we worked together00:06:00 to save the funding. My brother, who's a doctorate in ministry, would tease me by saying that we took the "R" out of poor; we were "po". (Broussard laughs) Okay? So, it was not about affluent and having that. The parents worked hard. We were taught to save our funds, our money. So, we had a goal. We wanted to travel during the summer with, again, the church group. So, we had to save. Okay.
BROUSSARD: So, what jobs did your parents have?
COMBS: Well, my father, after his stint in the Marine Corps during World War II,earlier than in Longview, then he came to Texas City, um, the early fifties. Again, I came in '54, so he was here a couple years before us. Would travel back and forth between Texas City and Longview. He worked primarily as a 00:07:00laborer in the construction industry as a laborer. That's what was afforded to him at that time. Okay? Now, my mother was a, um, she was a seamstress and a domestic worker. Okay? So, strong. We had a family group but worked. Those were the jobs that they had and were available.
BROUSSARD: Did you have other relatives here in Texas City?
COMBS: Yes. So, I had a couple of cousins in Texas City and also what'sconsidered the West Texas City- La Marque area. In fact, my father stayed with his nephew who was actually older. My father was the youngest of the, uh, I think twelve siblings. So, his nieces and nephews were older than he was. So, one of those was his nephew who stayed with where he would live and 00:08:00then worked the different jobs. Okay? So, there were those relatives in those areas. Yes.
BROUSSARD: What about your grandparents? Where were they from?
COMBS: The grandparents were both from East Texas. The grandfather on mymother's side was there in Longview. I never knew my grandmother on the mother's side. She died at an early, --at the age when my mother was a child, and her baby sister was born, that their mother died shortly after that. And they were reared by their aunt and uncle who also were in Longview. So, that's who they considered their parents. The grandfather, David Moss was again, a 00:09:00single man at that time. The grandfather, um, made the decision early in their childhood that they were little girls. So, the, --his brother-in-law, okay, was named Andrew Bell. The, my grandmother was named Essie Bell, who passed. So her brother and his wife did not have any children, reared the two, three girls. So, we called them, that was kind of the grandparents on, my mother's side. And the grandfather would see all the time. He lived a long time. My grandfather on my father's side, I never got to meet him. He was deceased and the grandmother was, again, my father was very young compared those, so I didn't know 00:10:00those at all. So, the grandparents that I knew pretty much the grandfather, David Moss and Emma and Andrew Bell were considered grandparents. Okay?
BROUSSARD: All right. What about yourself? Were you married? Do you havechildren of your own?
COMBS: I am still married. I'm fifty-one going on fifty-two years to the same lady.
COMBS: Yeah. Thank you. And we have two lovely adult daughters. Nograndchildren. But we have--, so--.
BROUSSARD: Your wife's name?
BROUSSARD: Iris. That's pretty. All right. And two daughters, what are their names?
hold: Melanie and Natalie.
BROUSSARD: Now, do you remember your address growing up?
COMBS: 805 First Avenue South.
BROUSSARD: And was that the house that you stayed at the entire time that youlived in Texas City?
COMBS: Uh, yes. I mean, we had one or two other houses, were so small, --was onethat we moved to another one on Third Avenue. But I don't know how 00:11:00long we stayed there, a year? It was too small. I know how long, but the majority of time that I grew up staying was at 805 First Avenue South, which was right, you know, next door to the church. Being that you walk down the steps of the church, there was one little apartment, That was us. So, it was--, so, we always was at the church. So, we stayed on that street. Okay?
BROUSSARD: Now, we talk about the neighborhood being this ten blocks or so.Would you define it for me, as in what streets you considered?
COMBS: Oh wow. We were, I guess, First Avenue South on that street going fromEighth, I guess it's Eighth, and going up to, yeah, Ninth Street, pretty much to Tenth Street, because there was a small store on Texas Avenue. If I 00:12:00took Ninth Street and walked. First, Second, Third, somewhere around Fourth Avenue. It's a street. Third or Fourth back there. That was it. There was a set of projects. There was a, the little, small swimming pool. There was a little small ball field that area. You go around and picked up the high school, uh, Booker T. Washington was the element, --combined elementary, junior high and high school. That area going down to Sixth Street, Sixth Street and going back up, uh, --pretty much like Texas Avenue, Sixth Street, Texas Avenue, down to Ninth Street. That, that little area, uh, --that was clearly my area of kind of growing up in that particular area. And then there I was, I didn't go the whole gamut. I went to get a haircut or somewhere close, but I was, mmm, 00:13:00three or four little blocks, and pretty little tight reign. Kind of, you know, that invisible wire, you know, --don't go beyond. Okay? But we went around that, and we had a little recreation center. So, there was a lot of activities around that. I mean, a lot of fun activities within those, in that area.
BROUSSARD: So, what kind of fun activities? Was it, all of the neighbors gettingtogether for social events?
COMBS: Well, with the, uh, a lot of the, you know, again, in addition to thechurch activities, there was the, uh, I guess the thing we liked was the recreation center. We were fortunate enough to have that adjacent to the school. That where, after school activities or weekend, we would go to the recreation center, learn how to play, uh, table tennis, pool and some of the, --just socialized together with the kids and pool and doing everything, uh, billiards basically. And then there was the, uh, the swimming pool next to it during the, uh, the summer times. But it was kind of that area, uh, between the 00:14:00church activities playing. And I, you know, played baseball and activities and outside. So, it was a nice, healthy environment for where we were and what we were doing. We were quite active, very busy.
BROUSSARD: What was the racial and economic makeup of your neighborhood?
COMBS: Well, it, that those blocks were pretty much African American. Okay? If I remember.
BROUSSARD: And would you say everyone pretty much on the same economic plane?
COMBS: Well, they were there, there were, uh, now there was a mixture. Therewere, uh, when people were able to have the jobs, I mean, they were working, they were families. Again, there were extended families, there were schoolteachers in the area. In that area. There were, um, I remember the minister of one of the churches was on the same street, was there. There were factory workers that worked at the plants. Um, so it was a, um, 00:15:00--today we would find it as a, you know, blue collar community on the lower scale of a blue-collar type wage earner. Not a lot of wages, but you had, uh, there were many families that had consistent jobs. And there were those who relied on the union work where they did not have consistent job, but they were able to get employment. Um, so, you know, and people survived. And I often think of my mother who had the, uh, as a domestic worker was there with work, but she augmented the income. And especially when my father was not working, when they, you know, like most union jobs, you work a period of time, and then you don't, you know, type deal. So, Dad had a, um, a job for a long time 00:16:00consistently for as a labor working on construction job. Then when that type of activity dried up, then things got a little tough. Um, you know, he wouldn't work, but he, you know, worked when he could. But I always remember my mother working as a seamstress at night and a day, and I mean, --she pretty good seamstress.
BROUSSARD: How did she get to the domestic jobs that she had though?
COMBS: She would get picked up by the, the employer.
COMBS: Come pick her up, or I think the majority of the time she would just getpicked up. Picked up and dropped off.
BROUSSARD: Okay. What about holidays in the neighborhood? Did it seem likepeople celebrated certain holidays more publicly around there or, you know, did you have any kind of parades going on around certain holidays?
COMBS: No, I don't remember all of the, uh, a lot of the parades and00:17:00things around that Walking(?)(?) Street. No, I don't. Um.
BROUSSARD: Was it mostly around the church functions?
COMBS: But most of the activities that I grew up was around the church functionsand activities.
BROUSSARD: And you said you attended Barbour's Chapel, correct?
COMBS: Barbour's Chapel.
BROUSSARD: What influence did the church have on you?
COMBS: Well, we have a strong influence, very, um, religious backgroundinfluence. It's the influence that basically guides my whole life. Just, it's one of the critical fundamentals of my life or strong religious background. Just work every, --working in a church, even after adult life, continue being involved in the church a whole bit. So, it was just natural. I mean, the foundation is very solid. The church. 00:18:00
BROUSSARD: What pastors stand out most in your mind?
COMBS: Well, I grew up in a Reverend F.M. [correction: J. H.] Scott, who was thepastor at the time that I knew, and I was baptized by Reverend Scott. So, during my time of knowing until I finished, it was Reverend Scott. And of course, I, --the other pastor at the time was on First Baptist and Barbour's Chapel were on the same block, basically, Reverend F.M. Johnson, who stayed down. So, I mean, those were the two ministers, did not know of the Methodist minister that much, but it was the third church. But those were the churches within eyesight that, that I knew. So, those were the ones.
BROUSSARD: Were there any social groups for young people in the churches thatyou attended?
COMBS: Well, yeah, we were part of the Baptist Training Union, what's calledBTU, and that's where most of the youth activities were centered 00:19:00around. That's in addition to the Sunday school classes, but it's the afternoon function, what what's called a BTU was where the foundation for the youth were located. Not counting the youth choir, you know, that's the typically a youth choir, but it was that Baptist Training Union was the fundamentals portion for the young people. And being a part of that union, we would go out and compete with other churches and other cities. And of course, we always had the, um, --we were proud of the fact that it was our goal. We would win every time. So, we did not accept second place, but we would go somewhere and that was a driver for many of the people you talked to have not, or will talk to, was part of that group that learned how to be extremely competitive and good as a, at 00:20:00a very young age and we took it to heart.
BROUSSARD: Well, so far everyone we've interviewed has mentioned the TrainingUnion, Baptist Training Union. They also have mentioned being competitive, but no one has said anything about there being competitions with the Training Union. What were those?
COMBS: We were not only; we were competitive against each other. Learning thebooks of the Bible, and the speed and the things. We would go out and some of the people within the church association, --we would compete against other churches. How fast could draw, you know, --Bible contest, can you find scripture? Could you march around the church? Hold a cadence? And, and we could do that quite well. So we were, a lot of, some of us were learning music, but we were very young learning in how we would march around the church. How 00:21:00we would have biblical drills, scripture reciting things. And we would win. Simple as that. We would win. So, we again challenged each other. How fast could we find a script, find a scripture, I mean that required knowing all the sixty-six books of the Bible and finding it quickly and just doing it quickly and memorizing and scripture statements. So, we were very well trained.
BROUSSARD: And would you say that this translated into how well it seems thatyour cohorts from that time period did in school?
COMBS: That's correct. We were trained. We were, I mean, it was an education. Itwas an ability to expand the mind. It was outside of, of just the basic schooling. I mean, so you go to school to learn how to use your abilities. So, 00:22:00when you are placed in a situation where you can learn to read, I mean reading was, you know, was mandatory. We had to learn to read. How quickly, because speed, --how fast can you get there. Understanding that there was a sense of, of urgency about doing things, and being correct and not coming up with the wrong answers. So, when you practice that in parallel with what you're being taught at school. It's a very powerful combination. Um, you know, education is more than just learning the ABCs in, in school. Those are the tools, but how do you apply that in life is what, is where we fail or succeed. And so you establish an environment where a young person can excel, make mistakes, but come out very strong, is a winning combination. Okay? 00:23:00
BROUSSARD: So, um, you said Booker T. Washington, when you were goingthere, it was all of the schools combined.
COMBS: That's correct.
BROUSSARD: Into one. So, you graduated with it still being combined or?
COMBS: No, the uh, --during the time of desegregation, Texas City, uh, made thedecision to integrate the high school first, prior to the junior high school and elementary. So, that was in the mid-sixties. So, we could only go to high school. We would go to Booker T. up until the ninth grade, at least when I was there. So, I finished the ninth grade. Then I went to Texas City High School, ten, eleven, twelve. So, that was the break at the time. So, prior to that, --now my brother went, um, --he was two years older, so he was a senior. I think he went his junior and senior year. Junior and senior year where I went ten, eleven, twelve. He went eleven, twelve. Um, so that's the way that 00:24:00break was. Now after I graduated, I am not sure of that transition, --that they all finished ninth, but there was a decision then, then bring the junior high school on board. I'm not sure of that year. So, it was that period of transition, but mine was the full three years in high school. I was in a class that actually, --the first class to get the full three years in high school. Um, so I went, there was the guess '64, '65 timeframe. Okay?
BROUSSARD: Okay. Well, when you were in elementary school--
BROUSSARD: And primary school--
BROUSSARD: And such, how did you get there? Did you walk?
COMBS: Elementary school was three blocks and the junior high school, walked.Walked to the school seemed like a, it was three blocks away. I walked to school 00:25:00 there and participated in afternoon activities, like for band. I was in the band, for example. Um, actually was started music second grade. So, that was the, um, that was a good thing. And music at the time, there were many of the kids, um, learned music at an early age. So, I started in second, typically come in fourth with second grade, learn how to play music, um, at that time.
BROUSSARD: What instrument did you play in band?
COMBS: I actually finished playing most of the brass instruments. I learned howearly, starting with little bit of drums. I started with the trumpet or coronet and moved to the baritone and learned how to pay, play a little bit of the brass instrument. And I finished up with a, as a French horn player and played French horn in Texas City High School.
BROUSSARD: And what was your favorite subject in school?00:26:00
COMBS: Well, (laughs) my favorite subject was math and those numbers. Anythingthat did not evolve reading. In other words, my least favorite was history, but now it's one of my favorites. Okay? But, I love the sciences. Uh, so anything with science and engineering related, math related, anything that would challenge the mind was my favorite subjects.
BROUSSARD: Were you on any of the sports teams in school?
COMBS: Not in school. My, I was a music major so then--
COMBS: --And I love music. And again, since the second grade, all the waythrough high school. Um, it was actually, uh, --had the ability to get a music scholarship. I was, uh, was impressed by Professor Renfro, who was 00:27:00the music director at Texas City High School at the time. When I was ready to graduate, he approached me by saying that he could get me a music scholarship to the University of Houston. I was so in awe and excited about it, but my decision was no. I wanted to be an engineer and I turned down the music scholarship. But I love music and not loved. I said, I love, I still love music. So, it was--
BROUSSARD: --So, were you in the Glee Club?
COMBS: Not Glee, I was an instrument. Music.
BROUSSARD: Oh, instruments.
COMBS: Now, we could sing.
BROUSSARD: You could sing music.
COMBS: Now we could sing through the church. So, being in a Glee Club was not achallenge. We had the ability to sing growing up, I mean at church. So, we learned how to sing and do okay and can read music sight read. We can do, read music, play music again and do that and little piano, I mean, so, we 00:28:00could do those things. But I chose to be instrument and, and I just loved music. Okay.
BROUSSARD: So, what teacher--
COMBS: --Now, I did play baseball.
BROUSSARD: You did play baseball?
COMBS: Growing up in the little league baseball and playing activities and wewere able to compete against other little cities around in the little league, playing baseball. Um, and we played up, I guess I was up to thirteen and we had an extremely good little baseball team. And, and my brother went on and I noticed that him, but he went on and played actually at Texas City High on the baseball team and actually was competing at that time as a baseball player. And actually com--, he competed against Nolan Ryan. So, when Ryan was in Alvin, he was in Texas City. And when Ryan was offered a professional baseball, 00:29:00I'll say my brother was as well. He was offered the ability to play professional baseball. He turned it down, he went on to college. But so, we were very competitive and, you know, athletic, although I did not play, but they, uh, the city sponsored Junior Chambers competition for track, participated in that and could run, could win, and came out pretty good and come out first place in my division and those type things. So, we had the athletic ability. I just chose to play math, I mean, play music too.
BROUSSARD: Mm-hmm. What teacher had the most influence on you?
COMBS: Well, there were a couple. The first teacher, and I believe it's mostimportant in any young person's life, was preschool. Miss Ophelia was her name. 00:30:00 A little one room schoolhouse in Longview, Texas, (Broussard laughs) where we were together. And to the point that, um, we understood how the ABCs and the numbers to the point, I mean, I had to have been a, a terrible little three-year-old type deal and four-year-old. I was a middle child. Would demand everything. So, when my brother graduated from, --and we held graduation ceremonies, so when he graduated from preschool to attend elementary school, I demanded that I would graduate too. It was time for graduation. It was so much so that I had to have a cap and gown and a diploma during his graduation. So, he has a picture to prove it. (Comb, Broussard laugh) He had kept it. 00:31:00Now, I was given a blank piece of paper for a diploma, and my tassel was a different color. I didn't know that until he pointed out much later. But I demanded that it was time to graduate, and I was disappointed when I, when I had the cap and gown on, and we moved to Texas City. I had to start preschool, I mean, elementary school, I mean, kindergarten. Okay. I said, "What do you mean? I already graduated." So, that was a fun year. Um, and I was bored to death. So, most influential teacher, preschool teacher.
The next, um, teacher I would say was the fourth-grade teacher. Not what onewould expect, but the name is Mrs. Davenport who stayed on the same block, three houses down. Fourth grade. Why was she influential? Well, I was quick, I was pretty good, I was smart. I could scan something and give the answer 00:32:00out. And giving us, homework assignments and she asked that do my homework and I was fast enough to scan real fast and get an answer. Well, I was asked the question, looked down, scanning, and when I got up, you know, raised up to get a answer, she was there, and I got disciplined right on the spot. And that was at the time where it was appropriate to discipline the kids. And actually, I got a nice little, I can't say a beating, that's inappropriate, but you know, I didn't say that. But I couldn't get out of the chair, and she taught me the value of doing my homework. Okay? From that day forward, I never failed to complete a homework assignment all the way through graduate school; never 00:33:00failed. So, I would have to say she ranks high as one of the most influential teachers.
Then the eighth-grade teacher was Professor Carter, who was a Rhodes Scholar whotaught English and writing. I have not had a better English professor than Professor Carter who taught writing, sentence structure, and going forward. All the way through college, not one. So, I would say those were in that growing up area. Um, and so those were the most influential, I would say, a group of teachers growing up. Now, there were other great teachers that's going through college and, and in graduate school, but I would put that subset on 00:34:00top because of their dedication and their push toward excellence in education. Okay?
BROUSSARD: Well, let's go ahead and move on over to college for a little bit.What were your college aspirations when you were in, still in high school--
COMBS: --And I wanted to be an engineer.
BROUSSARD: So always? That was--
COMBS: --Always. Since age of two and a half, where I would, um, considerworking on little things. And my sister was two and a half, maybe I was, maybe I was three going on four. You know, that, that bad three, four-year-old, that area. Well, I was that kid where my father told me, don't bother his tools. Well, that's telling a little four-year-old that just means I'm going to go pick it up. Well, I was fixing a little crib for my sister was in, she was a baby in the crib, and I put the hammer inside of the crib and she promptly 00:35:00picked it up and hit me in the head. (Broussard laughs) So, when I cried and was telling the daddy, he said, "Well, I guess you won't bother that tool anymore." So, that was his method. I, I didn't, wouldn't stop me. But I was always fixing something. I wanted to be an engineer. And that continued all the way through college to graduated. I wanted to be an engineer and all of those things. It just fascinated me to, you know, between a doctor, one point doctor and engineer. But it was the putting things together in on the mechanical side. Okay?
BROUSSARD: So, where did you go to college?
COMBS: I went to Prairie View A&M University, majored in electrical engineering.As, as an undergraduate.
BROUSSARD: I was going to say, all of the degrees or?
COMBS: No. As an undergraduate and as a graduate, I went to MassachusettsInstitute of Technology, known as MIT, where I received two advanced degrees on two different levels. One was a master's in mechanical engineering 00:36:00and the other was the, um, the equivalent to a doctorate, which is the Degree of Engineer in Naval Architecture, ocean engineering, naval architecture. Okay? And I was there from nine--, the summer of 1974 through the summer of 1977.
BROUSSARD: Now, I know it's not about Texas City, but quickly tell us how youput those degrees to work.
COMBS: Uh, wow. Quickly. So, when I graduated from college and in the Navy, Iwas, uh, you're going to put me on the spot, but I won't, this is over. Okay. I, I finished from Prairie View A&M University in '71. I finished the top engineer of the school of the university, um, as an engineer. So, then on active duty for 00:37:00three years, still on active duty, there was the Vietnam War going on, but I was in the engineering side. I was selected as an engineering specialist in the Navy, the first African American ever selected by the Navy to be an elite engineering group in the Navy.
So, that was done in 1971. That's it. I just said no one else has thatdistinction. I was the first. Went to, was time to go to graduate school. I went to, --attended MIT. I was the first to ever be selected, African American to go to a MIT in the eighty-eight-year history of the establishment of that program. So, I went to MIT as the first. I fell in love with mechanical engineering, working around in the engineering department on board the ship. So, I switched from electrical engineering to pick up the master's in mechanical engineering. And a lot of people say night and day is electrical/mechanical, but I 00:38:00loved it. So, working as a mechanical engineer, --engineering, and then we had to do naval architecture because of our degree. Our degree was in the, there were naval architects that had come out, responsible for the design and building construction of ships.
So, the Navy will, uh, pick of our engineering group that were, let's use aterm, about a thousand of these elite engineers in the Navy. Highly trained and specialized. The majority would go to post-graduate school in Monterey, which is a fine, fantastic university. But they would take a very small group and go to MIT for this elite training in naval architecture. And I was selected to be one of those to go. Um, from that, worked in all engineering disciplines within the Navy as far as designing, building ships. Um, so I put all that to use as 00:39:00 being a more of a system engineer, structural engineering, which led to my retirement having worked at an engineer as being charge, --having been in charge of all ship construction in the US Navy, Navy construction and repairs. So, I had that responsibility for all of the activities. And then along the way, I was responsible for the design and building of ships. Um, and a lot of things like, I actually designed the Seawolf class submarine, uh, and there's Seawolf Park right here in Texas City. But knowing a local Texas City person designed at Seawolf, the, the major Seawolf program. Also, the second, um, ship design is the Connecticut, and the third ship of the Seawolf class named President Jimmy Carter. It's the USS Carter. I was responsible for the design of the USS Jimmy Carter and had the distinct pleasure of meeting him in his ceremony 00:40:00where they were christening his ship. We were two people in the room congratulating each other. As President, he said, "Admiral, Thanks for designing my ship." So, those are fond memories.
So, how do I put all that together? Yes, I was in charge of all of that and Ialso did a lot of the cybersecurity in, for this country and first unmanned submarine for the Navy. So, there's a lot of things that I was able to do. That's how I put all that together. Just wanting to be an engineer, doing new and exciting things.
BROUSSARD: Wow. A absolutely incredible accomplishments.
COMBS: Thank you.
BROUSSARD: Um, and I'm glad that you mentioned that about the Seawolf, because Ithink, uh, it's so close and no one really realizes that. That's why. (laughs)
COMBS: Yeah. It's, it's close--
COMBS: named after that
BROUSSARD: Texas Citien. (Ed. Note: Seawolf Park is a memorial for theSargo-class submarine that sank in WWII and is the namesake for the Seawolf-class nuclear attack submarines that Combs designed.)
COMBS: and, and it's, yeah, influence to that. And, and other things that thatpeople don't realize. The, uh, --one of my projects of building the Los Angeles class submarines, they called 688 [class] submarines, was the USS Dallas 00:41:00 and the USS Houston were two projects in front of me. I mentioned those two submarines, not only the Texas submarines, but those two submarines were used in the movie Hunt for Red October.
BROUSSARD: Oh, okay.
COMBS: And what people don't know in Texas City, those were my projects. So,when you put all that together, I used that Texas City degree and influenced of, uh, something that, you know, a few people will read about, think about.
BROUSSARD: Well, we're going to make sure they find out about you now (Combs'laughs). You can't, you can't be, uh, too humble anymore. We're going to let everybody know.
BROUSSARD: Well, let's go back to your childhood here in Texas City for a minute.
BROUSSARD: So, besides getting into your dad's toolbox and tearing things apart,what did you do in your spare time?
COMBS: Blowing up things.
BROUSSARD: Blowing, blowing up? (Combs, Broussard laugh) Oh, no. Are we going tohave run-ins with the police now? (laughs)
COMBS: No, no, no, no. Inside, in inside my house; in my home. And I00:42:00would say that I was the little kid, when you ask about the parents' income, they saved whatever. And I was a demanding little kid. So, I had the little microscopes. And today I'm saying, "How did the, --were they able to," --they just saved money to just satisfy this little kid to learn how to read; use a microscope. And, and we were in the, --and I forget which grade where you learn about electricity. We've all had those little science things. You had a little box, you had the little light bulb, you had the battery and you had wires. So, you connected. Well, my battery was dead. Okay? So, I said, "I know how to make this light shine." So, I took a hair pin off of my mother's dresser, connected it to the wires, and I plugged it in the socket--
COMBS: --and I blew myself up. The lights went dim. Mother was00:43:00sewing, she said, "I know he did it. What has he done now?" So, after I was getting up off the floor and looking at my hands, soot and burned little hairs off my little arm and, and finger had scars on and putting something on because I had burned myself. And, and I just said, "It worked!" So, in my spare time, I was doing little, little engineering, little experiments. So, now I was not doing horrible things. I, it was just, and --
BROUSSARD: (laughs) Just trying to kill yourself, that's all.
COMBS: Just doing little things. Um, so it was that. What made things work? Youknow, well, I can get electric. Why? And that's what I, that's what I did. And you know, as far as education and other times just out there being a normal little boy playing, wrestling. And on Saturday mornings, I would love to, --when we finally got a little TV, little black and white TV, --on Friday 00:44:00night wrestling. You know, they would come up when they were really doing things. And um, and I would watch that show, my brother would watch that show, then we would try it out on each other. Very dangerous. Then I could not wait until that Saturday morning to go out and try my new-found hold(Broussard laughs) on some of the little boys. And that's what I did. And, you know, learn how to wrestle. And I just, I would study and capture what they were doing and go out there and see if it worked. Yes, I'm able to do that, but hm.
BROUSSARD: About how old were you when you got your first TV?
COMBS: Ooh, I don't know. These were the early black and whites. I don't know.It was before sixties, so however age I was, teenager, ten? I was somewhere like, --it was still yeah, --little, little, small, black--
BROUSSARD: Who were your friends growing up? Your best friends?
COMBS: Mm, well, best friends were growing up in the church and, and00:45:00un--, and unfortunately, and I'll mention him now, one of my best friends were just passed, and we had his funeral on Friday, was Curtis Simpson, um, --was I consider, my very best friend. And in church we would always be together. You would see him. We see me. That was there. And there were a group of, I guess there was a group of little boys influenced by the church that were the sons of this group of women called the Four-eleven Club. They were all below four foot eleven tall. These mothers, (Broussard laughs) each had a couple of sons, some of them had three, but set us on the front row to church. So, we were all little friends. We grew up together and they kept us all out of trouble. Or if we got in trouble, we all got in trouble together. Not in bad trouble, no, we were just there. "Just, don't do this". "We tell you don't do that", et cetera. So, I considered those were friends, those were Simpsons, those at the 00:46:00Hightowers. And there were a couple of Arnolds, Arnolds in there, that group of, of, of little boys in the church. Those were close friends growing up. And then there were some girls that were around at, in the community knowing my sister and stuff. So, we were little friends there. Um, like right, grew up right there. One of the city councilmen is Dorothea Jones Pointer. I mean, we grew up right there together. We were just there. And the Godfreys and there, and, and we were just around. We were just right there together. Those were friends. And then we go to the high school areas and a good friend was an Arnell Crayton and the guy that went on to be part of Texas City and went on and played in a band. And there was Marvin Peterson, they call him Hannibal now, Lokumbe, he's a famous jazz trumpeter from Texas City was, --we graduated together. I 00:47:00mean, very famous trumpeter that played jazz and introduced jazz to the city of Texas City. It was featured in the local foot--, Friday night game. So, it was a lot in the band. So, we were a group of there. So, he was there. Those were the type of friends we had. But most of those friends I mentioned in there were that Terry Ellison, Lynn Ellisons, the brothers and Charles Ellison. I mean, those were the ones right there together. So, I would say Terry Ellison, we went to school together. Charles Ellison and the ones that I mentioned. I mean, those were the friends right there. Those were the friends.
BROUSSARD: So, when you were younger, what kind of things did y'all all do together?
COMBS: Younger being that time, that's--
BROUSSARD: --like, like in, yeah, before high school.
COMBS: That's what I said. We were in church.
BROUSSARD: In church?
COMBS: In church. We were the one, we, the ones we would go on the, the fieldtrips. And, um, and we had a little small singing group, so we were there. So 00:48:00that was, that's what we did. And we, you know, played baseball. I mean, that's kind of what we did.
BROUSSARD: And you had a playground close by?
COMBS: The playground? Yes. The uh, over at the park area was a play area,playground area, the football, and you know, playing. just out there. You see kids today running around, just playing, --group together, playing ball and stuff, and that's where we would grow up and do, in that little area. I mean, that was it. Playing together, playing baseball when we was there, playing, um, you know, little pick up football games. And the, uh, a guy, one of the kids crossed the street was Billy Williams, was a big, big guy, could play football. I mean that, that type stuff. So, we were there and, and we played sandlot football out there on the school grounds without pads. And when you're running up there in full tackle. And, and my mother thought I was too small to, to play sports in high school, but yet we went out for fun, no pads hurting 00:49:00each other and breaking arms and legs and, but that was, that was the fun. Okay. Just good clean fun that you would expect little boys get into. Nothing bad, no trouble, no law, none of that. Just, just being a little boy.
BROUSSARD: So, when you hit high school and stuff, what kind of things did youand your friends do on the weekends?
COMBS: Well, on my weekends were tied up with the church activities.
BROUSSARD: What about movies? Did y'all ever go to the movies?
COMBS: I can't remember going to, uh, movies. Movies were just not my thing. ButI, I don't remember, don't recall going to movies. But no, most of my activities outside in the high school years was actually being part of the band, Texas City High School band. Um, and that was very demanding in high school to 00:50:00do that and to keep up with the studies and academics and that type stuff. Okay?
BROUSSARD: Do you remember any places in the community that were kind ofconsidered, I don't know, maybe trouble spots or places where you were warned to stay away from or?
COMBS: Well, it was kind of a unwritten rule, you know, law until they, uh,actually segregated city, you know, we could not go into, uh, although we didn't have the money anyway, so it never bother me. But going into different establishments that were considered whites only be honest with you, um, that we could not, or to the counter, the little local drug store, --going in or those type things. Uh, pretty much you just did not go north of Texas Avenue pretty much. So, I mean, that was, --you kind of can define unwritten law. That was kind of like a dividing line there, at the time. And certainly, that 00:51:00was kind of my dividing line, unless I went to the, uh, --would walk up to the grocery store, not the little, small store on Texas Avenue, but kind of a little larger grocery store. I don't remember the name of it, uh, but would walk up there to that store. Walk up. Come back. You know? And the, uh, --there was, --it was on sixth Street as you would go up and would pass the Wiener's. I think there was a clothing type store. I remember that. Walk past that. And I remember that. Places, right? Is, uh, and I'll just--
BROUSSARD: --Are you talking about Weingarten's that was right next to theWieners, or?
COMBS: Well, Weingarten's was a, the, the, uh, --
BROUSSARD: --Further down?
COMBS: --Drug store. Well, Wein--, there was a, there was a drug00:52:00store. Then there was the, was it called Wiener's?
BROUSSARD: Wiener's was clothing store. Mm-hmm.
COMBS: Clothing. And then there was a grocery store.
COMBS: I think somewhere in there. Okay? So, those were the three areas that Ididn't, I think it just kind of went to. Uh, grocery store, and the Weiner's. Yeah.
BROUSSARD: You remember any other places that, that you would go to shop at andstuff like that? Anything?
COMBS: No, that they, as the little, that was considered a little town sectionon Sixth Street, you go up before it started going out farther. Might have gone up to a couple of select stores or something up there, but I just don't recall.
BROUSSARD: What about like a barber?
COMBS: Oh, that was Wise Barbershop, famous on Sixth Street and I passed by itthe other day. The little building is still there.
BROUSSARD: Still there.
COMBS: Okay? Isolated there, is where I would, walked down, um,00:53:00again, down the Sixth Street. If I went, yeah, we'd go down the Sixth Street, but that was that, that line. And, and now there were people that stayed on the other side of Sixth Street going toward Bay, but I didn't know many of the people, but I knew of a community of people back, kind of going, if you go long ways that way. But on Sixth Street, Wise Barbershop was where I would get my haircuts. And, um, and when he, uh, actually was Wisdom, --uh, Wise, when he passed, there was a lady who took over, name is Vera. I don't remember her last name, but she would cut my hair. That's where I got the haircuts, period. There, back. That was it.
BROUSSARD: Mm-hmm. Do you remember it being, um, a place where politicaldiscussions and such happened?
COMBS: Well, all, barbershops, you would say in African American communities00:54:00(Broussard laughs) across the country, there's a, was a gathering place where there were discussions being all type discussions, being political gathering, whatever. But there were, uh, there were discussions in the barbershops. Now not the only place. I mean there was a, a place there and then there was obviously there was church-based discussions, and then there were community activities that took place as well. I mean, there was, um, discussions and during that period of time in this country, the NAACP was quite active in this, you know, still active today, but there were discussions around NAACP and those ---------(?)(?) of the period of times there. That's correct.
BROUSSARD: So, you mentioned y'all really didn't have the money to go out andeat. So, did you--. Were there any restaurants or diners or anything that you remember going to? 00:55:00
COMBS: Well, I remember that, but they had, --the big treat for uswas on a Friday after he got paycheck, he would go to Perkins' Barbecue and bring us back barbecue. And that was a big plus for us. Barbecue doesn't taste the same, you know, unless you make it yourself these days. But, uh, he had a good handle on it. And that was on Third Avenue and Sixth Street going that way. I used to know that. And that was the, uh, that was the, to be the eating place. Again, a lot of stuff from church, and I think coming, --bringing back something was, that was the treat, uh, for that.
BROUSSARD: And what was the name again?
COMBS: P-e-r-k-i-n-s. Perkins' Barbecue.
BROUSSARD: What about ice cream?
COMBS: I can't remember.
BROUSSARD: Can't remember any of that? Something like that?
COMBS: All I remember is that Perkins' Barbecue and, but then again, if, if over00:56:00by the rec center there was a little small shop there where they had hamburgers there and might had ice cream. But I didn't have money for the ice cream. I just remember having a little bit of money on occasion, got a burger and stuff, but did not have a lot of money until I would work when I became, you know, in high school, little summer jobs. We had a little work study program, and we had a little money there and saved money. Could go buy clothes or do things like that. That's what I used my money for, to buy a pair of jeans or something new. Um, and then the junior, senior year, uh, I was able to go out and work as a, --old enough at that point to work as a laborer, so I could save some money. I think it was actually my senior year. I was old enough to go work out as a laborer and save money to pay my first year at college.
BROUSSARD: And where did you work?00:57:00
COMBS: In just local plants, but the local union for Labor Union. So,we've got assigned out. Um, I don't remember if it was in the, which, what, what are the plants or facility that was being built, whatever. And just going out, digging a ditch and doing what was required, and got a little money. Saved the money to go to college. That's how I got in, first year. Worked my way though--
BROUSSARD: --Did it on your own. Um, did your family own a car?
COMBS: I say no because dad had a car, smaller, but it was wrecked, totaled. ButI basically, we grew up without a car. We had to rely on rides to, uh, my mother's family and friends or dad's family and friends to go places. So, we would always have to, to get a ride. And that continued, uh, small, it 00:58:00 continued. Um, we went to Texas City High School, you know, we got the bus to go up there. If we had band practice in the evenings, afternoons, the bus could not bring me back. So, I had to walk back from Texas City High School back down to, uh, where we lived. A very specific route. The same, people know who I was. Or I got a ride with Mrs. Crayton, Arnell Crayton's mother, because he was in the same class with me in the band. I'd often get dropped off. But we did not have a car growing up.
BROUSSARD: So, was the specific route for your safety?
COMBS: Well, I, it was the shortest route to get to the school, but I use it interms of my safety. As well. I had enough sense to know that I just, I had to go somewhere direct and get back. I did not invite any unwanted 00:59:00activities or putting myself at a risk.
BROUSSARD: Well, since we're at that discussion there, what, how would youdescribe the racial tensions and stuff in Texas City at that time?
COMBS: Well, Texas City, um, fared a lot better than most cities, certainly inTexas and across the country. Uh, from my perspective, it was a relatively smooth transition from the predominantly Black community in, in, in integrating the schools. Um, we were able to do it through sports and through music. Those were the two drivers. And through academics, believe it or not. We were competitive academically. Um, we had great musicians because we were, again, we were taught music very early. Um, and we had decent athletes. I mean, 01:00:00they were very good athletes. Um, to the, uh, uh, I mean they were just very good athletes. So, being able to participate in ego??, and one of my most memorable things during that timeframe, and it shocks many people. Texas City High School band participated in a Rose Bowl parade. So, funds were raised by the City of Texas City, and the whole band went to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl parade; and we marched in that parade. That had, --that was, um, sixty-five-ish '64, '65, that whatever that January, probably that timeframe. If we think about the racial climate in this country, going across a segregated South 01:01:00to the West Coast with no incidents, was pretty remarkable for Texas City. That was the, um, spirit that I remember from Texas City. I'm sure there were issues but did not see them as opposed to places and other cities. Many, many cities in this country did not desegregate schools until years and decades later. So, we had a, a fairly decent transition from my perspective, big picture-wise, um, compared to the mood of the country. So, lots to be said for Texas City. Haven't done that. Now, were there problems, were underlying currents? Oh, absolutely. No one is naive enough to believe that that did not happen. (Clears throat) 01:02:00Okay?
BROUSSARD: So, what kind of issues do you remember when they integrated theschools here? Because you're in that first graduating, full graduating--
COMBS: That full group, right.
BROUSSARD: Yeah, that full group.
COMBS: Like I see mine was, uh, uh, I didn't see the issues academically. Imean, it was about competition. Holding our own. I mean, so, I didn't have any issues there in school. Just get in there and get the work done. Either we, (laughs) either we could do it, or you could not do it. Uh, so that was fine. And in music, either you could play the music, or you could not. And we competed for the different seats in the band. Either you could do it or not. And it was, I thought it was very fair. Either you could, --you knew if someone was better or whatever. And so was not held back in that regards. So, that was fairly smooth for me. Athletically, I guess my brother would have to express, because he was the athlete, he's played the baseball. I mean, he could have 01:03:00had some challenges and stuff. And he was the, uh, and, and there were things I smile about. For example, he was the co-most valuable player. First time ever c-o. As opposed to being the most valuable player. So, you can say, "Well, okay", and you can make of that what you want, but so you can say, "Well, why not"? You know? Or Arnell Crayton for example, valedictorian. Well, he's top boy in his school. Mm. Big deal. Then you ask, well, why not? Same as number one, but not number one. Right? You know, when you look at it from that perspective and say, "Hmm, okay, a lot of places it didn't, that didn't even happen." So, uh, you can always say, "Well, could things been better?" Things would always be 01:04:00better. So, at the time when you dissect the onion or you peel the layers back, you have to ask the question, okay? "Was it progress?" Yes. Could things be better at, --things be better today? There are there, --there's as many challenges today as it were then. Some of them are covert, overt, whatever. Same, same. So, at that time, I give the overall transition, those challenges. Okay. Now, were there still issues as a little young Black boy growing up, knowing if I did something, was I subject to be in trouble? Yes. Okay? And I do remember a specific incident, uh, that guides me today, --as I mentioned, going past those stores. And Wieners was one of the examples. I would work to save my money at the little, small store on bagging groceries. And got a little 01:05:00 money from bagging as a little kid, a little job on Texas Avenue. Remember that?
BROUSSARD: Do you remember the name?
COMBS: No. The little, --I just don't remember the name. But that was what, --saved money and go up, and I would see a pair of pants or something I'd want. I would save enough money to go buy that shirt or pair of pants. Okay? On the way up to the, the grocery store, one day I saw it. Was in there, and on the way back, I was confronted by the security manager. And said, you know, that I had stole a pair of pants. I said, "I don't steal. I didn't do it." I mean, I buy my stuff. I come up here, I would buy my stuff. And just said, "You know, you did it." "They say someone saw you", and said, "Don't ever come back here anymore." I was very angry about that. I left accused of doing something, and I 01:06:00haven't done something. There was nothing on me, anything. And certainly, I'm not crazy enough to go back to a crime. And I said, "There was a young, --another person in the store was over looking at the pants, and maybe, --obviously you have us confused." Okay? And, nah, that came back and, and, and said, "You did it", you know, --come, "Don't ever come back in the store again." Said, "Oh, well, I'll never come back in the store again." I was so angry, I went home. I sit there, I had thoughts of calling NAACP and said, "Let's go and just shut the store down." That's, --I was that angry, and said, "That was not right." That was my introduction to being singled out, possibly accused of things that was just not right or getting stopped. That continues today. I mean, you're driving down, you're stopped just because you're Black or 01:07:00you're stopped, whatever. Introduced at an early age, --continues today. I mean, we know the media, what's going on now. I was subjected to that as a small. Now, was that right? No, absolutely it wasn't right. But it's something I remember. Yes. So, very cautious as I go in the stores right now and don't pick up and don't touch things, because I don't want to deal with that, those allegations type stuff. So, I remember that. That was not a good experience in my growing up and I still remember it. I remember it just as if it happened yesterday. Now that's the, that's the one I would say one, uh, issue. But other than that, I did not, uh, experience other things at all.
BROUSSARD: Do you remember the sit-in at Weingarten's at the counter, the lunch counter?
COMBS: I remember. I don't know if I was part of that sit-in, but I do know01:08:00 after they opened it up, I, I felt good going, sitting up at the little bar stool and ordering a fountain drink or something like that. But I, I, I know of it, but I don't think, I was not part of the sit-in.
BROUSSARD: Not part of it, well, yeah, Johnnie Henderson took about a dozenstudents, up there--
COMBS: --Well see that was, was a little bit older. That group was older than Iwas at that time. I was, no, I, I did not--
BROUSSARD: --A little older. You didn't participate in that.
COMBS: But I was aware of the sit-in. But I think things long way after that. Okay?
BROUSSARD: So, you remember anything else like that during that time? During the--
COMBS: --No, I actually, I don't,
BROUSSARD: --in Texas City?
COMBS: I don't, I, I, I really, I do not.
BROUSSARD: We have, we, we have a few people say they remember some things and alot of other people are like you say, no, I don't remember any--
COMBS: --They, there were a few that were older than I was, that were poor------(?)(?), some things like that. But here again, there was a was very mild compared to other things you hear. For me, I was not exposed to that. And a lot 01:09:00of that, we were sheltered from that. And again, I didn't, I didn't go around. I just was not part of it. How much I don't, I don't know --what took place. Okay.
BROUSSARD: So, that sheltering, do you think that goes back to the community,your churches and your community--
COMBS: --Community, churches, family. Dad was an old marine--
BROUSSARD: --Did you leave your doors unlocked in your community? Do youremember leaving the house doors unlocked?
COMBS: I never. We, we, it was, we considered safe, but we weren't stupid crazy.So, the, uh, um, the doors were locked.
COMBS: It was more locked to make sure we stayed in. I always joked that, uh,didn't go out, do not go outside. We would, it would be locked for our safety, but we did not. Uh, no, our doors were routine locked all the time. That's just the way it was. So, go ahead.
BROUSSARD: Do you recall any disasters growing up?
COMBS: The, the disaster, of course I knew of, and the history was01:10:00the explosion in 1947. That was prior to my birth, but people continued to talk about that, so I knew of that disaster and the remnants of that. Hurricane Carla was the disaster that I'm aware of in the sixties, the flooding of the water and wiping out a sizable number of the homes in Moses Lake and those other areas. And the, the tree falling on top of our rental place, and my bedroom, --brother bedroom that they toppled right down the roof. And had we been in there, it would've been an issue.
BROUSSARD: Oh, goodness. But you were okay?
COMBS: We were okay. We were able to, um, uh, mother and father got a car.(Clears throat) Excuse me. And they didn't get it, but our uncle, --somehow, we got to Houston with one of, uh, my uncles, uh, on my mother's uncle's 01:11:00side, the one who raised her, had a brother in Houston. And we went to their house to stay. So, we were able to get out of Texas City at um, very last minute. And so, we did not. But that's the disaster I remember. That's another thing, is that was it.
BROUSSARD: Was your house flooded or were you displaced from any of it for very long?
COMBS: Well, when the water went down, the only thing that, --again, we were, itwas the tree, the roof, the garage layer, I mean, that was it. But we were able to go in there and get it cleaned up and stay in the house. We didn't have that was it. We weren't no long-term displacement or anything.
BROUSSARD: What do you remember about like, for healthcare and stuff like that?Did you have a doctor, family doctor you went to or?
COMBS: No. Don't recall that the, uh, there was an injury. Uh, we went up to thelittle local clinic when I, uh, cut my thumb off pretty much cut--. I 01:12:00was a little boy, right, in ninth grade shop. Right. Just (makes a slicing motion and sound) scars to show and then put it back together. Um, (laughs) so, I remember the shop instructor went up to the little clinic of putting it there for the school and make sure it was treated that way. And other little minor work that we would go up. My dad would pay for it, take care of it if it was not free. And a couple times I had like a, what I remember, a major boil that was on my chin and actually was very large and I went up to, uh, I don't know if it was Danforth or whatever, the little clinic was up there. And they, --I remember lancing and cutting it and solving the issue. And, and I specifically remember my father asking, how much do I owe, and the doctor said, no, no 01:13:00charge, you know, that type stuff. But I don't remember, um, no, the, --we did not have what you considered medical insurance like today and stuff. No, just no. Did not have.
BROUSSARD: And a family doctor?
BROUSSARD: Rely on home remedies a lot?
COMBS: Well, you just don't get sick, right?
BROUSSARD: (laughs) You just weren't allowed to. Huh?
COMBS: (laughs) Or you got --
BROUSSARD: What about when you're blowing yourself up from--
COMBS: No, that was--
COMBS: Well, I didn't go to the doctor then, again. I mean, I did not go to thedoctor. It just got the baking soda and the butter and the put on my arm and wipe it off and, and just let it heal. And, and I see the scar today, and I look at that finger on occasion. It still reminds me, don't do stupid things. So, it's still there on the thumb that I cut off, and it's smaller than the other one. Say, don't do stupid things. So, uh, so I still experimented even in the military, but I didn't do anything now. (Broussard laughs) I just did fine.
BROUSSARD: Going back to, your family and so you didn't go to01:14:00restaurants, so I'm assuming your meals were prepared at home.
BROUSSARD: And mealtime and stuff like that. What was it like around the dinner table?
COMBS: Don't be last. (laughs) Okay. There were, uh, --there was meals. The, um,uh, it was fine around the dinner table, what we had to eat. We respected that. The parents were able to provide for meals for us. It didn't have to be a lot. It was fine. Uh, ate a lot of chicken. Learned how to cut up a chicken, blindfold. I could cut it up better than anyone else right now. I mean, that was my job. We could learn. I could just take apart, just cut it in. So, I learned how to do that. Learned how to take the rocks out of the pinto beans or snap the peas. And we would go up to East Texas and some of the friends and family up there and bring back the greens and stuff like that. So, there we were able to have meals and survive and didn't go without. We respected what we 01:15:00had. And it's like the, uh, in the discipline, the mother said, "You might have only one pair of jeans, but they could be clean, washed, ironed, and look fine." And, you know, taught how to sew, to cook, you know, clean. That was the routine of the discipline that we had. And the statement that mother would say, "Well, teachers taught us how to iron our shirts." And she said, "Well, if you go to, it is going to be you there looking at if it's the wrinkles and the frown." So, I learned how to be perfect in ironing things. It was just that type stuff. And same with the food. We did not waste the food. Uh, so, we were there. It was fine.
BROUSSARD: What about holidays? What kind of special things did you guys do?01:16:00
COMBS: Just, you know, growing up and, you know, time off will befine. I just don't remember. I just don't remember a lot of the holidays, those things, I just, it just all blended in. Not that we think of holidays today and, no, that was no big deal for me.
BROUSSARD: All right.
COMBS: Now, Christmas was always obviously special that, um, always looking fora toy or something. Easter was always very special because we often did plays both around the Easter plays and learning speeches and learning and, and then Christmas plays and speeches. So, we learn, I mean, those were the holidays that stood out to me. Okay?
BROUSSARD: So, yes, you and I, speaking on the phone for, as a pre-interview,had come across the fact that it, it seems like an disproportionate number of people coming out of your community have gone onto college, gotten 01:17:00those degrees, and not just moved into the workforce, but have gone into very exclusive and successful careers using that. And it just seems, like you said, it always keeps coming back to that early education and within the church starting the educational process. And then the teachers that you had at Booker T. Washington. Everyone that we've interviewed just goes back to that, that religious upbringing, the education that occurred. Can you expand on that?
COMBS: Yes, yes. And the sense of the community. And that was an undercurrent.We worked to succeed. When you consider the, the times. Um, education was a fundamental building block. Um, how to conduct oneself. What's 01:18:00important? Education again; we believe that we would, -- to set the standards, not just achieve the standards. And certainly, there are many of us who paced ourselves and if you, you know, the question was always, "Are you good enough?" You know, people ask that, "Can they succeed?" Whatever. That was never the question in our minds. It's like, "Can you keep up", in my mind? So, when you look for me that I achieved, the standards, or say we looked at this bar, this certain level, we didn't see you. I said, "You are correct. Look up. You're looking too low." So, that's the drive, that's the filter that runs throughout that community. Meeting the standard was only the minimum. The sky's 01:19:00the limit. How far can you go? What are you going to do to make your mark on society? So, you can name the people. Here you have a, a world-class trumpeter, as I mentioned, --a Marvin Peterson called Hannibal. His records is out there. Director, you have Dr. Dorothea Jones. Dotty Jones, an ambassador. You have, I mean, I was blessed to achieve the rank of admiral. I mean, it just goes on. I mean, you had professional players and, and that come out of this. And you have council people now, and you have schoolteachers. You have people that going on and worked in their professions, uh, uh, lawyers, engineers, all the professions. They've come out. That was the expectation. That was the minimum. It was just what we were going to do. Again, and if you talk to those, and I found that was very interesting. As I would go, --something that was very interesting, I would go out and talk to other people in general, and you listen 01:20:00to them, talk to them, "What are you doing?" So, it was a, it was a little different dialect, little unique. And that you asked them questions, you would get a response back. For those kids we grew up with. They knew how to express themselves. And quite often they would tell you what's on their minds, you know, but they, they were fine. So, there was no intimidation as far as to go forward. So that the, the, the religious foundation, the strength of the families, --the village. Father, mother in there, --were enough family members there. One in trouble, you, we all got in trouble. And that was their communication. They talked together. Education. Okay? And just loving life and that we had a sense of responsibility. We were, --my generation was the transitional generation. The, the parents' generation was those out of World War 01:21:00II. The father was a Marine, part of the Montford Point Marines; the first Black Marines that fought in this country in World War II. So, he was on the invasion forces. My uncle, --I mentioned my grandfather had the three daughters, but he had a son who was massacred during the Battle of the Bulge, who was there, whose record was sealed secret for fifty years from our family. We found out. So, things happened. And so, when you stand on those shoulders, that was that generation to make a difference. Now, they came back to discrimination. They came back to, --things were less than ideal, but they survived. But then our generation came along, was to bridge and the transition, non-violently, based on what they had built to transition to a better outcome. 01:22:00
So, we were in that transitional generation to face the dogs, the lions and the,and I say that the, the wild things, the fire hoses and the whole bit. That was my age group generation. We were the Vietnam generation, where this country was torn up. But many of us, classmates and all, have gone on and was participating in fighting the war. Classmates who did not come back. Classmates who did not come back mentally. Classmates who came back, who later committed suicides. And some of us came back in one piece with disabilities and stuff. But so, we, we, we went through the whole gamut of coming back and then there were some that didn't go. So, we were in that pivotal time of this country. So, we participated in that. So, we were in that transitional group. Okay?
BROUSSARD: Well, let's bring up politics then. What about voting? Do youremember the first time you voted? 01:23:00
COMBS: I remember the first time, but I do remember casting votes. Imean, I was in the military and sending absentee votes and stuff was avenue we go to and voting and doing that stuff. Yeah, I do remember voting.
BROUSSARD: Do you remember politics being important in the community while youwere still here in high school?
COMBS: Well, a little bit. I could pick up on the politics, but I did not getinto a lot of the politics at that age. That was just not my focus going through. It was, was education to grow through and, and, and prepare myself to get a good job. I knew I could not stay at home. So, I had to be prepared.
BROUSSARD: So, for you, your, I would say your political activity while you werehere probably was closer to making sure that you were a part of the labor union and maybe NAACP?
COMBS: Well, my political activity was basically zero.
BROUSSARD: Oh, okay. (laughs) Well, I don't know. Joining the Navy,01:24:00
COMBS: Well, that's not political. That's, that's duty to country and serve.
BROUSSARD: Yeah. Well--
COMBS: That's not political.
BROUSSARD: --but during Vietnam,
COMBS: That is a sense of responsibility. Okay?
BROUSSARD: But you were, you were facing at that time of Vietnam where it wasbeing made a political issue--
COMBS: --Yes, it was political, but when I grew up, I mean, it, it's politicsfrom that. The issue one studies from those times, there were many young men refused to go. There were many drafted, in my opinion. It was disproportionate for the African American communities.
BROUSSARD: And that's not an opinion. As a historian, I can tell you the numbersback that--
COMBS: --Okay, right?
COMBS: That was disproportionate. Okay. And I knew I would've gotten drafted ifI did not go to school. There were many drafted out of college, not in the right thing. So, my decision at Prairie View was driven by two things. One, 01:25:00well, three. I mean, it was a neat little school, I liked when I went there as a fourth grade in a band, and I that I'd never forgot that. That's another story we talk about, um, in music. But they had an Army ROTC, --a land grant school, just like Texas A&M. Every male student was in the naval, was in the ROTC program. And by being in the ROTC program, I was somewhat protected, not getting drafted. And I said, if I'm going to go, I will go in as an officer. Smart enough to know that. So, that drove me there. They had a great engineering school. Okay, so it says sound like what I do. And I had gone there as fourth grade was my first time going there as part of the little Booker T. Washington band. Um, so from that perspective, getting involved in that politics, I knew I 01:26:00 had to go. Either I was going to get drafted and we had a couple of bef--, year, a year before. And I remember the high school football player, Rufus Hood, who was a high school quarterback at Booker T. Washington, because that was prior to being able to go to Texas City, had gone to Vietnam and you know, take Vietnam. I remember a couple other names. Now, Rufus was, was killed in Vietnam. And so, we had that group. But I knew, if I was going to go now, I was going to go in as an officer. And then they had the, the drill there and during band marching, whatever. And it was just a natural and discipline. And I was, --father a Marine, and I mean, I, I was, I was good to go in the military. And one of the trips that we had gone on was the Battleship Texas, San Jacinto. Getting on a training, the guns, this big battleship and it, it fascinated me and therefore ended up going Navy. So, there were lots of things that you, I had 01:27:00gotten exposed to. So it was, I looked at it as a sense of responsibility. I also looked at it as a sense of survival. I knew what would have happened. So that's politics aside there. Now, when I was there, and hopefully later we have an opportunity to talk about there were less than one half a percent of Black officers in the Navy. When I got commissioned and why they set up the first unit at Prairie View, first historical unit up there. It was to make a difference. So, were there challenges? Yes. So, when you look at that foundation, the build and make sure you're successful. Yeah. I went through all of that. And the come out on top is what, --from Texas City, what we were taught to do. Just doing what we were taught to do.
BROUSSARD: Well, Admiral Combs, I'm going to want you to be able to get to your01:28:00next meeting that you have. So--
COMBS: Thank you.
BROUSSARD: Do you have any final thoughts that you want to talk about for, youknow, for your, that time period of, of living here in Texas City? Anything else you'd like to talk about, or we didn't touch upon?
COMBS: No, I, I don't know. I think we touched on a lot of things. I, I enjoyedmy time living in Texas City. We were considered to have stayed in a city. Many other places in Texas were considered not cities. They used to tease me different places. Well, I stayed in the city. I know about the country life. I was in the city. Now I knew about the country going up to East Texas a little bit. But I stayed in the city. Great educational experience. I felt at the time, Texas City had probably one of the best educational systems in the state, in the US. And I, I've said that many, many times. Great education. There were dedicated people in Texas City for our success. That was not the 01:29:00Black community, white community, that was the Texas City mindset. The city wanted to be successful. The city took action to make sure its citizens were successful with the backdrop of the industrial environment and the influence of people coming in and out. The, the city was not stagnated with just one little mindset. It was more open, and it was a matter of embracing that openness. No one is naive and to, to believe that, that things didn't happen. Oh, yeah. You know, but, you know, a dull roar compared to other places. So, Texas, Texas City has a lot to be proud of. Some things they would, would like to do more, 01:30:00 you know, like. But you know, when you, when you compare it against the mood of the country, like, you know, could've started with more councilmen, first, more people in political offices, more people going into other jobs, more openness of loans and that type of stuff. All of that undercurrent was there. As an example, last year of college could not get a $400 loan from a local bank, although guaranteed a commissioning salary, denied that. I remember that. It haunted me a long time. So, those things happened. To work your way all the way through college and Vietnam, they cut the student loans and all of those things and ended up needing $400 to finish school. Many were denied loans to do that, 01:31:00to have a better life. I'll never forget that about Texas City. Despite that, succeeded. Had I held a grudge, I would not have tried to recognize and represent Texas City when they asked me where did I go to school, and where I was from. I would proudly tell them that I went, you know, to Texas City High School. I went to Prairie View A&M University. Got a great education, great school, great city, and to do those things. But $400 made the difference in my success in this case. And then father borrowed money, begged, whatever, to end up getting $400. And not only one student, he had two kids in college at the time. And we all, we both graduated, daughter, my sisters behind me. Um, so it's, it's, um, it was good. So, it was a very powerful ten blocks, 01:32:00whatever term you want to use it now. Um, a lot of pride. Um, a lot of strong individuals taught how to be successful and to go out and to make a difference. We walked out to, to make a difference. And I'm, I'm glad to hear many of my classmates and friends have done quite well. I was only trying to keep up with all the greatness I'm hearing about other people. That's how I'll leave this.
BROUSSARD: So, thank you very much. And this concludes our interview withAdmiral Combs. Thank you so much again for sharing your stories and being part of the Moore Memorial Public Library, African American Experience Oral History Project.
COMBS: Thank you for asking me to participate. Been my, honor. Thank you.