Forgotten Flight Oral History Transcript


KG: Kelsey Glander

C: Cordell

Transcribed by: Jackie Salg


KG: Okay, so we’re gonna start if you could state your name and tell me a little bit about yourself, where you grew up, your family life, and if you didn’t grow up in Richmond, what brought you here?


CT: Okay, my name is Cordell, first name, middle initial, J, last name, Tollar. I’m not from Richmond. [Laughs] I’m from New Jersey. I grew up in Newark, New Jersey.


KG: Okay.


CT: I came here – my family however, is originally from Virginia.


KG: Okay.


CT: So I have relatives and stuff here. I came here for a change of pace. I had a situation where me and one of my kids bought a house together and it didn’t work out and I needed to get away from her before I killed her.


KG: [Laughs]


CT: [Laughs] So, here I am.


KG: Can you tell me a little about your life today?


CT: Pretty much, I’ve been here for a little over a year. I’m a Vietnam era vet. I’m also a recovering addict and [undistinguishable] in twenty-five years, so that consumed a big part of my life, over thirty years, as a matter of fact. I’m sixty-eight.


KG: Okay.


CT: So, here I’m basically trying – this is called transitional housing. So I’m just basically just trying to transition to the next phase of my life.


KG: Okay. When did you join the military and what lead to your decision to join the military?


CT: I initially got drafted. When I joined the military, I got drafted in June, the third, 1967 – basically right out of high school. Matter of fact, I graduated from high school when I was seventeen and back then, you had to be eighteen to legally get a decent job. So – and waiting for – actually, I wanted to go away to school but it wasn’t happening, so I – on my eighteenth birthday I got drafted. And I had ten days to do whatever I wanted to do and then reported to Fort Dix.


KG: How did your friends and family react? What did they think?


CT: Well, basically at that time everybody was getting drafted, ya know? Like, if they weren’t getting drafted – well, basically – well, we had a plan when I was in high school; it was me and four other friends. We were gonna join the marines and yada, yada, yada. But what happened was we had one friend who didn’t like school so he quit. By the time we had graduated from high school, they had sent his body back from Vietnam so that was the end of that plan.


KG: Yeah.


CT: You know, so anyway, I ended up getting drafted and I did my basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey.


KG: What was the training like?


CT: It was –


KG: And what branch of the service?


CT: I was in the army. Training is basically is, they tried to get you indoctrinated to their way of doing things. So after eight weeks of that, I went to Fort Benjamin Harrison to finance school. After leaving Fort Benjamin Harrison…my sinuses are messed up…


KG: Yeah, mine are too, it’s okay.


CT: Now I almost bled to death here.


KG: Oh my gosh.


CT: I busted a blood vessel. But anyway, I ended up in Cleveland, Ohio at a missile base. And I was a finance clerk; I stayed there for five months. Then I left Cleveland and I came right back home to New Jersey to a place called Highlands, New Jersey. Highlands, New Jersey is like a resort area near the water, fishing area, stuff like that but it’s also another missile base. And I worked, now they call it Staples, so I ran something like that in the military.


KG: Okay.


CT: And I was in the military for three years.


KG: What are some of your most memorable moments from your training portion or from the beginning?


CT: Not a lot.


KG: Not a lot?


CT: No, because I – from the beginning didn’t like the military.


KG: Yeah, why not?


CT: There was a lot of stuff going on back then that a lot of people aren’t aware of. You know, you have – I told you I was eighteen when I went into the military. So I never really got a chance to experience a lot of life and stuff. And I knew about racism and stuff but I didn’t know to what extent it existed until I got into the military, you know, so…


KG: Can you elaborate a little more on that?


CT: When I was stationed in Cleveland, Ohio, we used to go to the USO.


KG: Mhm.


CT: And they would give us tickets to the basketball games and the movies. There was a movie that came out: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? We couldn’t go to the movie theater to see it because of the bomb threats; they threatened to blow up the movie theater if they showed the movie. Now I don’t know if you know about that movie, it’s Sydney Poitier. And he started dating – did he? I think he dated a white woman; he went to meet her family.


KG: Mhm.


CT: Okay, they didn’t take too kind to that.


KG: Right.


CT: Alright. Then we had – you ever see the show Mash that came on television –


KG: Yeah, mhm.


CT: Mash, okay. It was years before the military would even let them show that on military bases.


KG: Oh, wow.


CT: A lot of people don’t know that either.


KG: Interesting.


CT: You know? And then like, we had a couple of the race riots at the peer over on Fort Dix.


KG: Mhm.


CT: So, and then at the same time, like I told you, I’m from Newark, I drafted June the third, 1967 – the following month, we had the riots in Newark.


KG: Mhm.


CT: So, a lot of stuff going on.


KG: Yeah.


CT: You know, a lot of stuff to think about and then like I said, I was only eighteen. So I’m like, you know…


KG: Yeah, did they ever send you overseas?


CT: No, no.


KG: What was it like exiting the military?


CT: Actually, when I got outta the military it was fun.


KG: Yeah?


CT: Because I had a chance to – I started working like – it was -I got outta the military at 70’. And that was sorta like the time when you could go anywhere and get a job. Like, as a blue-collar worker you could go anywhere.


KG: Mhm.


CT: People even – the post office allowed, I don’t know if you would know, because you weren’t even born yet.


KG: [Laughs]


CT: But nobody even wanted to work for the post office.


KG: Mhm.


CT: Until after 1969, they had this massive postal strike – nation wide postal strike and then they started paying decent wages in the post offices. And a lot of people, you know, you could go to the post office, you could go to Western Electric, General Electric, Ford Motors, General Motors, there are all places in New Jersey. Here was the tobacco industry and stuff. And you know, DuPont; you name it. So it was good and then I got introduced – I got a chance to go to college.


KG: Okay, where did you go?

CT: I went to Essex County College.


KG: Cool.


CT: You know, so you know, I got a chance to do some things.


KG: What was it like going to college after having served in the military?


CT: It wasn’t that bad actually, because there were a lot people. At that time there were a lot of vets coming home and a lot of vets –


KG: And a lot of people similar to you.


CT: Yeah, so there were a lot of vets that had stuff in common with you.


KG: Mhm.


CT: You know what I mean, outside of being in the military and stuff? And so you know, like I said, it was a fun time, actually in the beginning, you know? I got introduced to drugs in college.


KG: Mhm.


CT: You know, so.


KG: Are there things that you miss about being in the military?


CT: No.


KG: No? How did your family when you decided to go to college?


CT: Well actually, my father just wanted, because like – you’re moving outta- he wasn’t, my father wasn’t, my father wasn’t one of those – he had eight sisters. My father is from Cumberland County. He had eight sisters and no brothers. And my mother is from Buckingham County, out in the boonies.


KG: Yeah, my boyfriend has a – his family has a cabin in Buckingham.


CT: Yeah well, that’s where they’re from.


KG: Yeah.

CT: I –


KG: [Laughs]


CT: And my mother had eight brothers and sisters, so you know, they – with my father, he didn’t really care. But my mother, she was just happy, you know, because she always said, you know like, “My job is to feed you, keep a roof over your head, yada, yada, yada. Your job is to go to school and get an education because your father only went to the tenth grade. Now you can either move out, you can either do that, move out, or I’m gonna kill you.” So those were my choices.


KG: [Laughs] So tell me a little bit more about college.


CT: It was – I was always a good student when I wanted to be.


KG: Yeah.


CT: You know what I mean? Because I was one of those kids, when I was in school, when I was in regular school, I really didn’t have to study hard, you know what I mean?  I was pretty good in school when I wanted to be but I always gravitated towards the negative, you know? So, but college was a lot fun because I’m a people person.


KG: Yeah.


CT: You know what I mean? So I became president of the Entertainment Committee and stuff like that. So we put on a lot of functions. Most of my classes were pretty interesting, you know? Once again, it didn’t – it wasn’t that hard…


KG: Yeah.


CT: …when I wanted to apply myself, so.


KG: You mentioned a lot of other vets going to school at the same time as you. Did you know anyone from, you know, your unit or stay in touch with anybody who also went to college?


CT: No, no. Actually, these were all new people I met along the way, you know?


KG: Okay, okay.


CT: Because see like, back then our GI Bill was better than what they have now.


KG: Yeah, yeah it is. [Laughs]


CT: Because what they have now sucks.


KG: Yeah. [Laughs] Do you still keep in touch with any of your friends from the military?


CT: No, most of the people that I grew up with, or associated with, a good percentage of them are no longer with us.


KG: Okay. Why did you leave the military after only three years?


CT: I didn’t like.


KG: Okay, yeah?


CT: [Laughs] I did not like it.


KG: Understandable. Do you think that your service changed your worldview?


CT: Not really.


KG: Okay.


CT: Because see, by me being stationed so close to home, I was home a lot.


KG: Yeah.


CT: Because actually I only worked, I worked from eight to four and then I would go home and come back to work the next morning.


KG: [Laughs] I’d say that’s the best type of drafting for Vietnam.


CT: Yeah because a lot of people didn’t even believed I was in the military.


KG: Yeah…yeah. What types of challenges have you faced since you left the military?


CT: Like now or in general?


KG: In general, yeah.


CT: Okay well like right now, one of biggest, especially being in this state, I’m a three time convicted felon.


KG: Okay.


CT: So those are barriers that I have to overcome here.


KG: Mhm.


CT: Because this place so backwards, you know what I mean?


KG: [Laughs] Yeah.


CT: It’s like they have – and some of the things they do are illegal, you know what I mean?


KG: Mhm.


CT: I just lunch with somebody yesterday, a friend of mine that works – well actually she works for the homeless now – but she used to manage the apartment complex that I used to live in.


KG: Mhm.


CT: And a lot of the places we go to looking for housing, you know, they say, “Well we don’t except felons.” Well if you’re dealing with [undistinguishable] or getting any of their monies that’s illegal, that’s discrimination.


KG: Right.


CT: A lot of people don’t know that.


KG: Mhm.


CT: And the way the state is set up, if you are a felon they take away all of your rights. I’m from New Jersey so I have most of mine. Like, I can vote and stuff.


KG: Yeah.


CT: Here, it’s like [makes sound]. You know what I mean?


KG: Yeah.


CT: You know, so those are some of things that I’m facing right now. Plus this system that they have at the VA…


KG: Yeah.


CT: …which sucks.


KG: Yeah, can you tell me more about your experience with the VA or other service organizations?


CT: Well, okay supposedly I’m in the [undistinguishable] program. And what that means is that they help you by getting you a voucher, and you know, because I’m on a fixed income.


KG: Right.


CT: Well, seeing that I’m one of the people that do what you’re supposed to do, you know, like, I see – I have a mental health worker, I take medication, you know, yada, yada, yada, yada. The way this program is set up, I’m like one of the success stories, as far as following the program.


KG: Right.


CT: You know what I mean. But to the people at the VA, that’s an excuse for them to say, “Okay, well you know what to do. You’re able to take care of yourself so we’re not going to give you a voucher.” You know like, they had me on an emotional roller coaster for about two months because they gave me one, they took it back, they gave me another one, they took it back.


KG: Oh, man.


CT: They gave me another one, you know? Just the different things that they do and, “We’re going to help you do this, and we’re going to help you do that.” They haven’t helped me do anything.


KG: Yeah. How did you become homeless?


CT: Well, I lived  – I don’t know if you – well you’re from, you say you’re from Richmond?


KG: Yes.


CT: So you know where Chamberlain Avenue is?


KG: Yes.


CT: Okay, I lived on Chamberlain Avenue.


KG: Okay.


CT: And one day this nut came into the office, murdered one lady and almost murdered the other one.


KG: Oh my gosh. When was this?


CT: This was like almost two years ago.


KG: Okay.


CT: And it got to the point where I was afraid to come out of the house. I was like, “Oh no, I can’t do this one.” You know, because there was always something going on, and you know this is the stuff that– I told you I was a recovering addict – that I stay away from it.


KG: Right.


CT: You know what I mean? So I was, “Nahhh. I can’t. I can’t do this one.”


KG: Yeah.


CT: So I gave up my apartment and put my furniture and stuff in storage and I thought I was going to be able to find housing and stuff right away, and I couldn’t.


KG: Mhm.


CT: So I ended up on the streets for a minute and then there’s a place down the street called Rivercity that works with vets.


KG: Mhm.


CT: You ever been there?


KG: I have not.


CT: Oh, okay well anyway, where –


KG: But I know where it is.


CT: Okay, but one of the counselors that worked there, he knew somebody that had a recovery house so they let me stay there for a couple of months until I came here.


KG: You mentioned – I think that you said you’ve been sober for twenty-five years. Is that…


CT & KG: Clean for twenty-five years.


CT: There’s a difference.


KG: Okay. Did –


CT: One deals with the substance…


KG: Yeah.


CT: If you don’t know the difference one deals with the substance – AA deals with the substance. Alcoholics, I mean, Narcotics Anonymous deals with the disease concept.


KG: Mhm.


CT: Which is all-inclusive.


KG: Right.


CT: Okay, so…


KG: Have you – when you became homeless, was that really hard to…?


CT: Well actually, the recovering community is who helped me.


KG: Okay, right.


CT: You know, so…once you buy into the concept and the system, like you can always – you know, you’ll find somebody that will help you.


KG: Yeah.


CT: You know and that’s what happened for me.


KG: That’s good. How long were you struggling with homelessness before you hooked up with them?


CT: About two months, yeah about two months, somewhere along in there.


KG: Can you tell me about the places you’ve stayed during that two months?


CT: Yeah, well it was the summertime.


KG: Yeah.


CT: We would sleep in the park. Meet a young lady, you know, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.


KG: [Laughs]


CT: You know? Like been around the block a few times, so.


KG: [Coughs] Sorry, I’ve got sinus problems too with some post-nasal drip. What was the most hardest thing for you during those two months?


CT: I’m a street person, you know? And so because using drugs I would like – I’m from New Jersey – but I would go to New York and escape for two to three weeks; just hanging out, meet different people, hustling to support my habit, whatever. So it wasn’t, actually it wasn’t really a big deal, you know, because you learn how to live off of the land.


KG: Right.


CT: You know and wherever you go, you know weed when you see it.


KG: Yeah. What’s the hardest or what’s something that you struggle with now in your situation?


CT: Just being – just not having my own space.


KG: Yeah.


CT: You know? Having a roof over my head? You know?


KG: Yeah.


CT: Like here, there’s like – how many – I think there might be twenty-five, twenty-seven people here now. You have about twenty, twenty-five different personalities. SO you have to learn how, you know, everybody’s pretty much on meds. So you have to, you know? Somebody might be having a bad day and you know, you gotta be flexible. You gotta be able to you know, think on your feet.


KG: Right.


CT: And with me, I’m a little older than, actually I’m the second oldest person here.


KG: Mhm.


CT: So I’ll be sixty-nine in October. Washington is seventy but wait we got one other guy.


KG: [Laughs]


CT: But he’s a pain in the behind. He’s seventy-five but…you know, so you have to, you know, know how to deal with people because you’d never know…


KG: Yeah. Can you tell me about your daily life now? What’s your every day look like?


CT: Well I’m at the VA between two to three times a week.


KG: Okay.


CT: I have, like, this is nitroglycerin.


KG: Mhm.


CT: I have a stain in my heart. I have a herniated disc in my lower back. I have a – I had cysts on a kidney so now they’ve formed a mass so it’s more I have to go see about that. I have high blood pressure, slightly enlarged prostate. What else? Depression, which I take medication for. That’s pretty much it.


KG: So you just hanging out at the VA? What do you do on the days when you’re not at the VA?


CT: I do the flea markets on the weekends.


KG: Okay, that’s fun.


CT: I’ve been every weekend. I have my own business too.


KG: Oh, that’s cool. Tell me about that.


CT: Well, actually I got downsized from my job in 2004 for[?} waste management. So prior to that, I had started my own business. So I just kept at it.


KG: What kind of business?


CT: Like during the summer, I’ll sell like women’s sun dresses.


KG: Okay.


CT: Infinity scarves, stuff like that, you know?


KG: Cool.


CT: I just started – we just invested into men’s styles. That went pretty well, so.


KG: Awesome.


CT: And then like, I like to read a lot to so then I’m at the library a lot. I went to Northside Learning Center, became computer literate, so I’m on the computer a lot looking for different merchandise, looking for different information, stuff like that, so.


KG: Cool. Do you have friends here? People you talk to everyday or people in your life that are…?


CT: Pretty much.


KG: Yeah?


CT: There’s family members and a few people that I met here. I don’t talk to everybody, you know?


KG: Yeah.


CT: I don’t like drama, I don’t like a whole bunch of stuff going on so if that’s what you’re doing then you won’t see me.


KG: Yeah. Is your family close by?


CT: Mhm.


KG: Yeah? Do you –


CT: Because I had a lot of family members that I grew up with that moved back here.


KG: Okay. What – can you remind me what brought you to Richmond?


CT: I needed a change, from killing my kid.


KG: Oh, right.


CT: [Laughs]


KG: Is it easy to make friends in your current situation?


CT: Of course it is. I’m a people person, so I need people wherever I go. Like my youngest daughter, I know, you know we were here for the family reunion? And we took the down to Busch Gardens and all of a sudden this girl was like, “Hey, Cordell, how you doing?” She was like, “Where you know here from?”


KG: [Laughs]


CT: But she used to live in Newark and now she lives in some place in Virginia and we just happened to …


KG: Be at the same place.


CT: Yeah, so you know, but I’m always meeting somebody, somewhere.


KG: Yeah, yeah. Do you feel that the fact that you’re a homeless vet shapes the way other people think about you?


CT: Well most people don’t know I’m homeless.


KG: Right.


CT: Because I’m one of those kind of people, that if you see me, you wouldn’t know unless I told you. You know, or you wouldn’t even know because I know one time I was on trial and I got to court before my lawyer and they thought I was the lawyer.
KG: [Laughs]


CT: [Laughs]


KG: That’s funny. What do you think civilians particularly don’t know about the experience of veterans?


CT: Well, see, a lot of people judge, you know what I mean? They never walked in they’re shoes, but they’re real quick to judge other people, you know what I mean? And you know, which is very unfair. You know, or just like, I told you I’m a three time convicted felon.


KG: Mhm.


CT: If I didn’t tell you, you wouldn’t know.


KG: Yeah.


CT: If you go – anybody that I’d have dealings with in here, like if I ask somebody from here to write a reference for me?


KG: Mhm.


CT: I could get one just like that.


KG: Right.


CT: You know what I mean, and you would say, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.” Then when I tell you about my background, and people go, “Ohhhh.” But that’s not who I am.


KG: Right.


CT: You know what I mean? So these people, they’ve been around me long enough, they know who I am.


KG: Yeah.


CT: You know? So.


KG: Why do you think that, I know your situation was a little different, but why do you think that veterans in general, become homeless?


CT: Well a lot of vets don’t feel like dealing with the system because the system stinks, you know especially in a place like this. This place is hard. You know what I mean? It’s really, the system stinks and a lot vets just say, “You know what,?” You know what I mean, they don’t feel like dealing with the system. You know, you have mean that have been wounded, all kinds of problems, you know? And no one actually – it’s all talk and no act. Because when I first got here, I used to do volunteer work with this agency that worked with returning citizens from prison. And we used to meet with the governor, and all of these politicians, and all of these people and we wanted to change recidivism and all of this stuff, and we wanted to do all of these things, and it’s all talk. You know, in a lot of ways, it’s the same thing with vets. It’s the same thing; it’s all lip service. You know what I mean? Because like I told you, I’m on a fixed income, my monthly income is a little under eleven hundred dollars.


KG: Mhm.


CT: You know, with a voucher I would only have to pay like, thirty percent of my income towards rent.


KG: Yeah.


CT:  There should be a question. You follow what I’m saying?


KG: Yeah.


CT: There shouldn’t be a question. This place, the minimum wage – I was getting food stamps and the lady – and what happened was at the time, my income was only nine hundred and eighteen dollars but being a Vietnam era vet, I qualified for a partial penchant, which was a hundred and fifty-two dollars.


KG: Mhm.


CT: Hundred and fifty-four dollars. My food stamps were a hundred and forty-six dollars. The lady – they could my food stamps down to – no, it was a hundred and twenty-six dollars – they cut it down to forty-six dollars.


KG: Oh, wow.


CT: And the lady was like, “Well, your rent’s only five hundred and sixty-five dollars.” Duhhhh….five hundred and sixty-five dollars out of…..?


KG: Yeah.

CT: Right.


KG: Utilities, life bills.


CT: Right, right. So you know, you do the math.


KG: Right.


CT: You know, but this is one of those places where the minimum wage is seven dollars and twenty-five cents and a lot people, you know they think it’s crazy, but they don’t know just how crazy it really is.


KG: Right.


CT: You know what I mean? So, you have a lot of people that get left out when you do that.


KG: Mhm.


CT: And it just so happens that a lot of them are vets.


KG: Yeah. What are you most proud of?


CT: Of being a good father because like, my youngest daughter, we’re like husband and wife.


KG: [Laughs]


CT: We’re both libras; we’re joined at the hip.


KG: Yeah.


CT: If I don’t check in every three days, it’s like, she’s calling around she’s, “Where is he at, what’s he [undistinguishable].”


KG: [Laughs]


CT: And then I have a son in North Carolina. It was like, I hadn’t seen him in like twenty-five years. So we managed to bond and build a relationship. So those are the things that, you know, I’m proud of.


KG: Mhm.


CT: You know, most everything that I accomplish due to bad choices that I made, you know like I messed them up or that’s a [undistinguishable] in my past. You know so, you know. But, and I’m like a… like here I’m like a, what would you say? Like if somebody wants to know something, they come and ask me?


KG: Okay.


CT: They’re always looking for me. [Undistinguishable]


KG: [Laughs] Is there anything in life you regret?


CT:  [Pause] I do but you can’t take it back.


KG: Yeah.


CT: You know what I mean? It’s done. What’s done is done. All I can do now is be the best person I can be going forward, that’s it.


KG: What are your goals for the future?


CT: Get out of this place. You know what I mean? I know a lot of stuff, I – you know, like I’ve accomplished a lot. I’ve lost a lot you know, because of the choices that I made so I don’t really, you know – it’s not – you know, I just want like peace of mind. That’s basically what I want. You know what I mean?


KG: Yeah.


CT: Want to be able to come home, relax, enjoy myself, I like music, you know what I mean? I like shows and stuff like that. You know, those are things I still do.


KG: Yeah. How do you feel about charity, when people, you know people coming in to volunteer places or organizations that are…?


CT: I do it.


KG: Yeah.


CT: I was working with [undistinguishable] until my back went out.


KG: Okay.


CT: So I had to stop doing it.


KG: Yeah.


CT: You know they do different things. You know, I go and volunteer and do what I can do but you know, I believe this would be a much better place if more people did. You know what I mean? Because right now this great country that we live in is so divided and so messed up. Like, we all live on the same planet.


KG: Yeah. Why do you feel the need to give back?


CT: Because somebody helped me. You know, I didn’t get clean by myself; people helped me. So that’s how we pay it forward because you helped somebody else.


KG: Is there anything else you’d like to tell me about your experiences?


CT: Oh, well jail’s not fun to talk about.


KG: [Laughs]


CT: [Laughs] Being sick because you don’t have drugs, that’s not fun. But, we pretty much, you know? I’m divorced and stuff like that but you know.


KG: Okay, that’s everything unless you have anything else to add or?


CT: No.


KG: No, okay. Thank you.


CT: We good?


KG: Yeah, let me get all of this stuff.