Warren Tuggle and his family were run out of Biloxi, Mississippi, about 65 years ago by the Ku Klux Klan.
The Tuggle family was black, and Warren was a 17-year-old high school graduate in 1947 when they left town.
“Until I was 17 we had very little problem with the Klan. Our family was Catholic. Our church was integrated and our neighborhood was integrated, too. Then the Klan got very active. There were huge white crosses in town with blood dripping from them,” the 89-year-old Punta Gorda retiree recalled.
“My mother decided to move the family to Boston to live with her sister,” Tuggle said. “She thought we’d have a better life if we got out of Biloxi. So we started out taking the train north. But we stopped at my stepfather’s home in Virginia on the way up and spent the summer there.”
Tuggle decided when they reached Boston he would enlist in the Army so he could improve his education and move on in life. By this time, it was early 1948, but President Harry Truman hadn’t integrated the armed services yet.
Signing up in the Army with an eye toward advancing one’s education was tough if you were black.
Tuggle went to boot camp at Fort Dix, New Jersey Since he volunteered for the service he was able to select his occupation specialty.
He wanted to be a medical technician which meant his training would be at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
After three months of medical training, he was reassigned to a 155 Howitzer unit at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He was going to be one of the soldiers who stacked the spent shell casings, not a medical person.
He wasn’t happy with his situation. He didn’t want to stack spent artillery rounds and decided to do something about it.
“I wrote a letter to Capt. Dale Van Vacter, director of the laboratory where I wanted to work at Sill,” he said. “This resulted in an interview with the captain. She decided I was more valuable to the Army working in the lab than stacking empty artillery shells in the field. She took my request for a change of jobs to the hospital chief of staff who immediately approved it.”
Tuggle became a lab assistant at Sill. This caused additional problems because there were no black living facilities connected with the hospital. He was provided accommodations in another part of the base where black soldiers were billeted.
Tuggle tells the story of a newborn baby with very rare -AB blood. More blood of this rare type was needed to perform a procedure, but they couldn’t come up with the required blood. He suggested they check the blood type of every soldier on base at Sill. They did and only one soldier was found to have the necessary -AB blood. But he was black.
“Capt. Van Vacter checked with the parents about life-saving blood from a black soldier. She said they could care less. All they wanted to do was save their child’s life. The baby got the rare blood and its life was saved.”
After four years in the service, Tuggle’s tour was up. He went from private to sergeant 1st class during his time in the Army. His main concern when he was discharged was education.
“I knew I had to have a better education if I wanted to succeed,” he said, “So when I got out of the service I took the G.I. Bill.”
It bombed on Tuggle. He was all set to attend medical classes at Tufts University, a prestigious ivy league school outside Boston. Problem was his G.I. Bill funds didn’t come through so he was stuck without much money. He cancelled going to Tufts and signed up to attend a junior college in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He graduated in two years with an associate’s in medical technology.
He went to work at St. Mary’s Clinic in New London, Connecticut, for several years. After that Tuggle started his own laboratory — Tuggle Medical Lab, New London — for more than 30 years.
After he retired he moved to Port Charlotte in 1994. He had four children with his first wife, Jeanne: Michelle, Suzanne, Denyse, and Gabrielle. His second wife is also named Jean.