Ray Marbarak, August 12th, 2016
JW: Hello, my name is Julia Westblade. Today is August 12, 2016. We are in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial and we are sitting down with—
RM: Ray Mabarak.
JW: This recording is for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 1967 Project. So, can you start by telling me where and when you were born?
RM: I was born in Detroit on the east side on January 25, 1922 and I was born on 2408 Mt. Elliott. And from there in 1926, we moved to Cadillac Boulevard on the east side of Detroit, a very fine home right near Water Works Park. That was in 1926 and I went to Annunciation High School for 12 years, I went from first grade to twelfth grade. 12 years with a parochial school, which is a very good education. I also went to Southeastern High to take mechanical drawing and shop because our school didn't have it to offer it. I went there on Saturday for four hours and I graduated from there and went to work at Chris-Craft Motor Works up in Algonac. I was making 70 cents an hour building engines. That was in 1940-41. Then in ’41 they decided to change jobs because they were driving them out 40 miles a day each way. So I went to aircraft school on Woodward and Stimson and I learned how to do aircraft riveting and repair. And I finished up with that and one day I got a call from Briggs Aircraft to come down and interview for a job building airplane wings. So in the spring of 1942 I went to work for Briggs Aircraft. At that time, they were building wings for the B-17, the Willow Run was just being built at that time and I decided I wanted to join the military. In November of 1942, I decided to join. I went down to join and they said, “You can’t join because you have a 1-E essential occupation deferment. You can’t join because you have to build airplanes. You’d have to get permission from your employer. I went back in, they said, “You’re crazy!” but I said, “That’s what I want to do, I want to fly a plane.” So, November of 1942 I was sworn in at the Detroit Olympia Stadium. Fifteen thousand people there on a Sunday night, November 2. I took the oath of enlistment there and they told us they’d let us know when we were going to be called in—
JW: What branch did you serve in?
RM: Army Air Corps, Army Air Corps. At that time, the Army Air Corps was part of the Army. The Air Corps did not become U.S. Air Force until 1947.
RM: And I got home one day and the later part of October and said you are being sworn in on the 2nd of November at Olympia Stadium and I took my oath of office-enlistment office-and at the time I went to join, I weighed 122 pounds, and I was only five feet five [inches] and they said, “You’re too light; you need to weigh 126 pounds.” So what I did is I bought six bananas and a quart of milk and sat in front of the Federal building and ate those six bananas and drank that quart of milk and rushed in and said, “Hurry up and weigh me!” And I managed to pass the physical. Well, this was November 2 and they said, “We’ll let you know when we’ll call you in.” And I went back to work and in January 23 I got a notice, a report on a Friday night that the Union Depot Station on Fort and Third Street-they had two railroad stations, they had Michigan Central and Union Central and we had no idea where we were going and I said goodbye to the family and all of sudden, we end up in Florida in Miami, right on the beach, not too bad in January. And we went down for training. I came home in June of ’43, they had a small riot at Belle Isle and I can recall that happening and it was not very pleasant.
JW: What do you remember about that riot?
RM: Not too much, I was in military, I had to leave on a Sunday afternoon to go back. I was at the station at the University of Toledo, that’s where I’d take my pre-basic and I recall, most of all, I remember Belle Isle being a hot point, and they had a lot of altercations there. I left to go back to school and of course, when I went back to Toledo, went down for a classification in Nashville in May of 1943 and they didn't need any more pilots and they wanted to make me a navigator bombardier, but I didn't want to do that, and they said, “What do you want to be?” And I said, “I’ll be a tail gunner on a B-17,” which is really, a dumb thing to do but I went off to Jefferson barracks and all of a sudden, I’m on a train going to Canada State College, went to engineering because they wanted to make me an engineering offer for Germany. March of 1944, they wipe out the program and I end up at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri Infantry, the division. What happened at that time is that they were getting ready for the invasion of Europe and they needed a lot of replacements because they knew they’d have a lot of casualties. They took all the people out of our division and sent them to Europe to be replacements. You remember the movie “Saving Private Ryan?”
RM: You may recall the scene where they were counting the dog tags and they saw all these young guys coming in and they were replacements, brand new people. Some guys were killed, they’d never fired a rifle. So we trained for Japan, we did our training in Fort Leonard Wood. We went to California to San Luis Obispo and they have Camp Cook California and Camp Callan, California. We trained with the marines for invasion and we were on landing ship tank, landing vehicle personnel, and we learned how to jump off of a ship and get into the small boats. Some of the ships had big ramps and we just dropped the ramps but we were on these landing vehicle personnel and they had a ramp on those. They had like a platoon of people, like, 40 people and a little higgins boats. They had a lot of casualties so we were training for the invasion of Japan. In December of 1945 when they had the Battle of the Bulge, we were in California ready to go to Japan for the invasion there, which would take place later that year. Patton had lost a lot of troops in the Battle of the Bulge and he wanted 9,000 troops. He called for replacements and they sent our whole division over to Europe. So we went over to Europe, we ended up in River Valley, we took the towns of Siegburg and Solingen and Düsseldorf and then went on down to Bavaria, Austria, Bavaria, and Czechoslovakia and finished up the war there May 8, 1945. We were the first unit out of Europe, came back to the States, got back on a boat, went to Japan to drop the bomb. We came on down to the Philippines and when they signed the treaty on the Missouri, we ended up going to Japan as occupation, our division had like 25,000 square mile of territory to be occupied. And of course, we got out in 1946 and joined the Guard in ’47 and of course was with the Guard in 1967. At the time I got out of the Army, they wanted me to join a reserve, I said “Forget about it.” But I did join the Guard and I was in the Guard for about 35 years. So that’s how we end up being involved in the riot of 1967, quite an experience.
JW: Yeah, so growing up in Detroit, and then you went down to Florida and Missouri, those places around the country. I know you were on a military base but growing up in Detroit, how were those areas different? Did they seem different to you than growing up in Detroit?
RM: The other parts of the country?
JW: Yeah, like Missouri.
RM: No, I’ll tell you, Detroit had about a 1,800,000 people in Detroit. Right now, I think you’re down to about 660,000. During the war, there were so many people in Detroit working in the defense industries, like Willow Run and the tank. Detroit was The Arsenal of Democracy because they built, it was a beautiful city, it had a lot of trees, I lived on Cadillac Boulevard we had Water Works Park, it was a great place to live. We had lots of nationalities, and of course, they had what they call Black Bottom there on Hastings, which was were mostly the Afro-American lived there but I never grew up with racism whatsoever because my father had a store down on Elmwood and Hendricks and we had employees there and most of our customers were African American and different nationalities and I don't recall any such thing as racism. We had people working for us, we had people working in the store. That’s the way I was brought up is everybody’s a human being. What happened in 1967, it was hot, probably like today, and we never had air conditioning in our house, we’d just sweat it out. There was no such thing as air conditioning. I used to sleep at Belle Isle when I was working the night shift. I’d go over to Belle Isle to sleep during the day because it was cooler. But Detroit was a marvelous place to live in. It had beautiful homes and beautiful streets and it was actually way ahead of the time as far as people are concerned. In fact, during the war, there were so many people in Detroit that the area around the Chrysler plant, and Hamtramck and where they built cars, that they had rooming houses. People lived in a rooming house, maybe eight or ten people in a house. People rent out their rooms and they had so many people that the day shift slept in the bed at night and the night shift slept in the bed during the day, the same bed. In fact, when they built Willow Run, they built all these apartments with housing for the workers and I remember, I was a [jig ?] leader for building airplanes and I had 24 Rosie the Riveters working with me and I’d say that, well Kentucky had more people coming to Michigan than any other state. There was a lot of industry in Ohio but nothing in Kentucky so a lot of these people came up and I trained a lot of women how to do riveting, it’s quite an art. They’re called Rosie the Riveters. In fact, the Ford plant hired—remember the movie “Wizard of Oz?” Remember all the small people in it?
RM: Ford hired all those small people to work on the aircraft industry because they were so small they could get into a corner that you couldn't get into. We used blind riveting, I mean you could rivet around a corner. It was interesting. But Detroit was a marvelous place to live, it really was and I had a great childhood. I enjoyed my childhood, we had the Water Works Park right there. Are you from the east side at all?
JW: No, I’m not.
RM: Are you from Detroit?
JW: I grew up about two hours away.
RM: Where’s that?
RM: Oh, is that right? But it was a nice place to live.
JW: Yeah, it sounds like it. So you were in the National Guard and you had been in the National Guard for about 20 years.
RM: Well, no. At that time, I joined the Guard in 1947, I was in the Guard at that time for ten years. Because I got out in 1982. I got out of the service in 1946, I joined the Guard in April of ’47, the riot happened in July of ’67, that’s ten years. At that time we trained. They didn't do a lot of training for riots, it wasn't part of the military. We were National Guard for United States. We were trained for combat, we were trained for artillery, we never really got much training as far as riot training. After that, they started riot training at Fort Custer of attacking buildings and breaking windows and firing, the whole thing. What happened to go on with the story, what happened in 1967 is that the powers to be took all these young men and put them on street corners, they were getting shot at. They shot the streetlights out. Nobody took care of feeding them, they didn't have any change of clothes. We didn't know where they were. I was in a unit with an officer, and we didn't have no idea. In the Berlin, they had a deal in Martin Luther King, they an altercation but they found out from the riot of ’67 that you never take a military organization and break it up and take individuals from it. You have to have a command, you have to have a unit commander, a platoon commander, a squad leader, sergeants in charge of their troops, and sergeants in charge of corporals and corporals in charge of privates, and privates in charge of PFCs. But it wasn't until then that they really found out that they needed more training for domestic problems. Our people worked with the police department, we rode with them. The people in Detroit were very, very kind. I remember we had people in almost every public school. I was stationed at the auditorium where we had state police, city police. We slept on folding cots for all the troops and of course, we fed them. But we had a lot of people that brought food for the military. A lot of civilians, residents of Detroit. They’d come to the schools and they had cakes and they had different things and they brought them. Today you’d have to check it all before you eat it. In those days there was no such thing as worrying about someone poisoning you. People were doing it out of the good of their heart. My in-laws had a store on Gratiot and Mt. Elliot, which was right in the middle of all the things. But they were always good to the people and the people in the neighborhood protected those stores. If a merchant treated these people properly, the people protected them. There are an awful lot of good people in this city. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who aren’t.
JW: How did you first hear about what was going on in the city?
RM: How did I feel?
JW: How did you first hear about it?
RM: I got back, we left Detroit Sunday morning, which is the day of the riot. Saturday night when they had the altercation about raiding the blind pig, and that’s when this all started. When I left, and I lived on Harvard at the time, we left at about 8 o’clock in the morning to go back to Grayling and we got to Grayling and someone said, “Have you heard about Detroit?” and we said, “No, what happened?” and they said “There’s a riot and we might be called up.” They said, “Make sure you’re available.” Because I was an officer, a motor officer, and my function was to take a convoy down to Detroit. And at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, I believe it was about 5, they said, “We’re leaving tomorrow morning. We have to get all the equipment loaded, we have to get ready to go.” And we left at 3 o’clock in the morning from Grayling, at dark, and we got to Detroit at about 8 o’clock in the morning. That’s when we got the impact. They had a curfew at 8 o’clock at night you had to get off the streets. No one was allowed on the streets. Being on the armory out there on Eight mile road, you could hear all the traffic coming back and forth and after 8 o’clock, the traffic started to slow down and at midnight, there was nothing moving. Nothing moving. Only the military and the state police were roaming the streets. My truck got a bullet hole in it on the Lodge. We left the Lodge coming downtown. We passed the motels there at the Boulevard, East Grand Boulevard and West Grand Boulevard and 94, there was a motel up there and they were firing rifles at military equipment. I have a bullet hole right on the back of my truck. And my brother worked, was a court clerk for Judge Colombo, who was a recorder’s court judge. The courts at that time were working on a 12 hour shift, noon to midnight and midnight to noon. My brother and Judge Colombo were on midnight to noon and they were down at the recorder’s court down there. Being in the military, I could go anywhere I wanted. I took a vehicle the night I got shot at, I took a vehicle and went on down to the court and sat there and Judge Colombo said, “Are your weapons loaded?” And I said, “Yes, sir.” And he said, “Good, we may need them.” They had all these court cases, all these looters, they were all black of course because that’s where the riot was. What they were doing at that time was they were taking all the people who were being arrested to Belle Isle and putting them on buses. They put them on buses, they fed them bologna sandwiches, they kept them on buses, and allowed them to go to the bathroom. And then, when they came to court, they’d bring whole bus over and they kept them there until they’d had court time and they’d bring them into the court room. Now, I can recall sitting in the court room, on the side in the witness stand. I can recall, one fellow was a very nice looking gentleman and Judge Colombo was really, a very fair judge. And they said to him, “You don’t look like a person who’d be looting.” And he said, “I’m not.” And they said, “Well, what were you doing in that store?” He said, “I was trying to get these kids to stop stealing, I work for Ford Motor.” And he said, “I was in the store trying to get these kids out and the police came in and they arrested me.” And they said, “How long have you been on this bus?” And he said, “Three days.” And they said, “You know, you don't belong on that bus.” He said, “I’m just going to charge you for three days but you’ve already served that time. You’re not guilty, you’re a good person.” He started to leave but they said, “No, you can’t leave now because they have a curfew. If you go out in the streets now, you’ll be arrested again.” Then there was another fellow, I can recall very vividly, another fellow they charged with arson. The judge said to him, “Did you burn that house?” And he said, “Yes, sir.” Judge said, “Why’d you burn that house?” He said, “Well I came home one time and my girlfriend had another man in the house and I decided to burn them out.” Another fellow was charged with looting and possession. He had a washing machine in his trunk that was brand new in a carton. He said you're charged with looting. He said, “I didn’t loot that, I bought it from a guy at a traffic stop. I gave him a five dollar bill for a washing machine.” But there was a lot of different stories happening but unfortunately, it happened. It happened and I know that.
JW: So you said that the National Guard hadn't done much with riots before that. Do you think that the National Guard was prepared for what was going on in Detroit or no?
RM: Well that’s a loaded question. We were prepared for combat. Didn’t matter what kind of combat. Training for a civilian situation, I think that the big mistake, in fact during the riots, it was getting a little bit out of hand, and they called in the federal-we became federalized, it means we were actually under Army control and they brought in General Throckmorton. I don’t know if you've ever heard that term before?
JW: I think so, yeah.
RM: General Throckmorton was the Commander of the 82nd Airborne. The 82nd Airborne came to the state fairground, they set up tents over there. Was the Army better than the Guard? Maybe they were better trained, because we had a lot of young people in the Guard. But we were not functioning as a unit, we’re functioning as a whole bunch of people. Because they took our people from us. There’s a lot of criticism of the National Guard but they did their job as they had to do. We had to train for holidays, decoration days, Fourth of July we’d ride with the state police and there was no Guard. They had state troops. The Guard was activated for the war in 1943 when they had that thing at Belle Isle. There was no National Guard at that time, they had state troops. But the state troops were people who didn't go into the military. There were a lot of people who offered to be state troops, but they didn't have the training. We had training, but the training was not aimed at civilian training, it was aimed at military, that was our function. We’d go to war. How do you handle, you know, they had the Kent State situation during the ‘Nam war. They had people, they become unruly, they become dangerous. The Guard is well trained now. They trained a lot of for civilian insurrections but let me put it this way, the troops and the Guard were civilians wearing a uniform. The National Guard, they were your brothers, and your cousins, and your uncles and your parents and your neighbors. And the Army, when they came in the 82nd Airborne, they had a few problems too with the unruliness with the military because they were different. They were different people, they were not Detroiters. So the Guard got a lot of criticism-uncalled for, in my opinion. They never got to the root of the problem. They did their job. We did our job.
JW: Were you assigned to a specific area in the city or did you go all over?
RM: What happened is that they took the battalion, or maybe had company, and put them in Central High School. I think the 82nd Airborne was at Eastern High. They took wherever they had places to sleep, maybe gymnasiums, they put a company there and they patrolled the area there. My job at division headquarters. Our job, we had five battalions. I was at the headquarters. I was stationed at the artillery armory with the headquarters. I was also a motor officer and I used to be in charge of equipment so I used to make sure that the units around the city that [unintelligible] was operating in tune because they came through us.
JW: So as someone who grew up in Detroit, how did you feel seeing what was going on in the city?
RM: I feel worse now about what’s happening in Detroit than I did then. I have to qualify that. You had pockets of areas that were not very good. Today, you don’t live in Detroit now do you?
JW: I do, I live by Wayne State.
JW: I live by Wayne State.
RM: Okay. Detroit had 1,800,000 people. Detroit was a beautiful city. And now it has 660,000 people. You had a very high influx of housing. What’s happening to the neighborhoods is sickening. If you drive around the neighborhoods, I feel very, very disappointed, I just feel terrible because I remember Detroit as being a vibrant city with beautiful homes and beautiful streets. Now I drive around the city and I say, “What did you do to my city? That’s not the city I remember.” I realize they’ve had problems, they’re still having problems with the police forces and they have racism but I don’t know what your leanings are politically, but I’ve said this and I’ll stand up and say this again, is that the United States has more racism, more intolerance, more meanness, whatever you want to call it, than ever before in my lifetime. I’ve been alive 94 years. I have never, ever seen where the blacks hate the whites and the whites hate the blacks and the rich hate the poor and the poor hate the rich and the immigrants hate the citizens and the citizens hate the immigrants and the young hate the old. It seems like there’s nothing but hate in this world. I mean, I’m disappointed by what this world is coming to. We never had the problem we’re having today. The whole world, the world is not a nice place to live anymore. I mean, you have to take your shoes off to go on a plane. I mean, I remember getting on a plane and running down the concourse with five minutes to get on the plane and running down and get on the plane and it’s like no one trusts anybody anymore. I feel sorry for my grandchildren, I feel sorry for you. Because it’s not a safe place. You have, it seems like there’s no more ethics in the world, there’s no more love in the world. I’m not a racist, I have some of my best friends are different color. I can recall, the Guard the military probably had less factions than the civilian. I can recall in the Guard, I was in charge of housing up in Grayling, and they said we have a Chaplin coming tonight, Chaplin Hopkins, and they came about 2 o’clock in the morning, I said, “Well, have him come in and come with him to building 208, I have a room for him. I’ll be in that building, tell him to come in.” The next morning, I wake up and there’s this big, strong, Afro guy sitting on the floor doing pushups. And I get up and I said, “Good morning,” and he says, “Good morning.” I said, “I’m Chief Mabarak.” And he said, “I’m Chaplin Hopkins.” And I said, “It’s good to have you aboard.” I said, “We have breakfast at 6 o’clock. Do you want to go?” And he says, “Yep.” And I took him around, I showed him around. He became my best friend that I ever had, he became a Full-Bird Colonel in the state of Michigan and he and I used to hug each other, a lot of good people. You’ve heard of Alexander Jefferson, the Red Tail Tuskegee Airmen?
JW: I’ve heard of the Tuskegee Airmen.
RM: Okay, Tuskegee Airmen. Alexander Jefferson is a colonel, he was retired Air Force. He was a pilot in the Tuskegee Airman. He was born a month before me and joined a month before I did. He joined October ’42 and he was born in November ’22. We were real good friends, we have lunch together all the time and I’m going to tell you the statement that he told me.
RM: I’m going to tell you a statement he told me, “Raymond, you and I are brothers.” I said, “We are.” He lived on the east side of Detroit, I remember, the old cold days and all the other things and there was a lot of discrimination, naturally, and there still is discrimination. There was a lot of discrimination when I went to school. I couldn't move to Grosse Pointe until 1940 because there was discrimination. But, he said to me, “I’m happy that my family were slaves. Because if they weren't slaves, I’d still be in Kenya marching around a fire at night.” This is a black colonel, U.S. Air Force saying to me. He said it. Could I say it? No. He can say it, but that’s true. I’m sorry, sometimes I get off tangent.
JW: That’s okay.
JW: That’s okay. So how do you think the city is doing today? So you said that you—
RM: I think the city is dong marvelous. I think they’ve made marvelous—you know, the street lights are on, they’re getting rid of the homes. Unfortunately, there’s something about destruction which is inherent in a lot of people. Windows being broken, trash -- I think Duggan is doing a great job because he’s a good communicator. He won with a write-in ballot, which is unheard of. He’s doing a good job. He has some good people. Do they make mistakes? Certainly, they make mistakes, but they’re trying. They’re tearing down homes. I think Detroit—it’s my opinion, I think there’s too much emphasis on Midtown and Downtown and not enough on the neighborhoods. And now they’re starting block clubs. I have friends of mine, who are white, who are starting block clubs, they’re getting people together. My personal opinion and you can turn that off-
JW: No we can leave it on, that’s fine. Unless you want me to turn it off?
RM: No, personally, I feel the biggest problem in Detroit is that there’s no fathers. There’s a lot of daddies. And there are children who are growing up without the proper guidance. You have a mother who has four or five children and she’s working. I grew up as a family unit. I had a mother and I had a father and they taught me and they educated me. My daughter has a child and they spend a lot of time on homework and education and having them get smart. To me, the problem is that you have too many people who don’t have anyone to love. And unfortunately, they get into the wrong crowd. You see it happen all the time. There’s a lot of good people in this world. There’s a lot of bad people in this world, doesn't matter if they’re black, white, red, brown, Ethiopian, or Irish or whatever you want. There’s a lot of bad people in this world, there always have been a lot of bad people in this world. But Detroit has a long way to go, until they get to where they don't destroy the homes that are there. What would it take for the neighbor who has a nice home to turn around and cut the grass next door to him? There’s something about breaking glass that seemed to be -- when we’d do our riot training at Fort Custer, I’d spend time on riot training. We used to practice mob control and gas mask drill and teargas. And they’d have a building and all the windows would be broken out. It seems like people get a big kick out of taking a rock and throwing it through the window, they like the sound. So you have these homes where all the windows are broken. Detroit has a long way to go but they’re working. You’ve got to get more people with more pride, that’s my own opinion.
JW: That’s okay. And then one thing I forgot to ask earlier. So, I’ve heard you use the term “riot” when you’re talking about ’67. But we’ve heard other people use terms like “civil disturbance,” or “uprising,” or “rebellion.” What do you think, how do you define what happened?
RM: A disturbance is a disturbance but a riot is an uncontrolled problem. That’s a riot, when you have, I think a disturbance is marching or protesting, a disturbance you're disturbed. Doesn't mean that men who are disturbed are angry. I think when you have a riot, people are angry. When you have a disturbance, you have irritated people. To me, disturbance doesn't mean destruction. Riot means destruction. Why is it, when you have these things happen like in Jefferson City, why do people take and loot a store of a person who’s worked his whole lifetime to develop a store and work it unless he's a mean person, why do you have to turn around and? My family grew up, not wealthy, we weren't poor but we always had-during the Depression, we ate. We never resorted to taking things that didn't belong to us. I feel sorry for teachers today who are subject to some awful things. I mean, if you want to talk to some teachers who ought to take and kill somebody when they get spit on and punched at. I mean, young people, the young ladies, young men who are trying to do their job and get spit on because they’re not trained. Because the biggest problem in this country today is the number of people who continue a pattern of welfare. You have three or four generations living in a house and all three or four generations are on aid. There is no reason that this country should have 42 million checks going out every month for aid. I have a relative who has a sister who has two children. And they had a daddy, they don’t have a father. And she lives in St. Clair Shores and her family lives in Grosse Pointe, her relations live in Grosse Pointe. And she didn't let her sister adopt them because that would take control away from her but they spend all their time with her sister. She works as a waitress, makes good money at a very, very successful restaurant. But the state of Michigan is paying her rent $850 a month but her children are on food stamps, she’s on ADC. What makes a person like that take advantage of a system? She doesn't need it. They don't need it. There’s so many people in this country that don’t need this aid, they become used to it. There’s someplace you have to turn around and to me, the education of some of this country is a failure in a way. Because not every child should want to go to college. There are so many trades people in this country that need trade. To me, the education system should be geared toward training people for life. Some people come out of high school, they don’t know how to write a check. They don’t know how to balance a book. They can’t multiply 11x12 or 12x12. They don't know. But who’s fault is that? Is it the government’s fault? No, it’s the people’s fault. If you don't train a child, they don't get trained. And unfortunately, to me they should have more trade schools and more places where people can learn a skill and they teach them different things. Except that it’s not happening. I don’t think it’ll ever happen.
JW: Do you have anything else you’d like to add today?
RM: Don’t get me turned on! No, I’m fine.
JW: Well, if you think of anything, feel free to contact us. Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.
RM: So, did you learn anything?JW: I think so!