By Jack Gurner
October 11, 1962 – Photographs of the Water Valley Army National Guard unit preparing for riot duty at Ole Miss appeared in the Herald. The unrest at the University came as federal marshals were ordered on campus to aid in the enrollment of James Meredith.
By the time the photos appeared the rioting was over and things were beginning to return to normal in Oxford. However, about a week and a half earlier, on September 30, 1962, it was a different story. A group of young and inexperienced Water Valley Guardsmen were thrown into a situation for which they were not prepared.
On that Sunday, the Water Valley Guard was among the first units – if not the first – to arrive in Oxford. Bobby Cox, retired educator, was a 21-year-old Corporal at the time. He was in the first truck to drive into the circle toward the Lyceum building.
Cox said that bricks and chunks of concrete were being hurled at their convoy. His truck ran off the road after the windshield was smashed. “We formed a line around the Lyceum,” he said.
Jack Welsh was driving a jeep in the convoy and remembers the bricks flying all around. “The next morning when we put the windshield down it had three bullet holes in the bottom part,” he said.
Cox spoke with pride in the Water Valley unit. “The Guard handled themselves in an exemplary manner. The unit had no riot training, but everyone kept their cool.”
The young men conducted themselves as soldiers, Cox added. However, if the tear gas had not held the mob away from the Guard, many of the rioters might have been killed. The unit had been issued rifles and carbines as well as steel jacketed ammunition before going on campus.
Several members of the unit received minor injuries. The most seriously injured was Bill Quinn who was hit on the head with a brick.