Former soldier during the 1967 riots reflects on their mission in Detroit

DETROIT (WXYZ) - There are differing opinions about what happened when the 1967 riots broke out: Those who torched the motor city and those who had to defend it.

In our Detroit 2020 report - looking back to move forward -  we talk with one of the men who was only a teenager when he was airlifted home with rifle in hand as a soldier with the 82nd Airborne.

Daryl St. Arno feels free riding his Harley on an open road without a care in the world.

For years it has been his outlet, but this battle wounded Vietnam Vet was not so carefree when he first became a soldier.

He was only 17 when called into duty.

St. Arno says "I was a 17-year-old paratrooper who just got out of airborne jump school and I was assigned to the 82 Airborne Division in Fort Bragg North Carolina."

Hewas in round the clock training and knew at any moment he could be shipped off to Vietnam.

St. Arno says, "One day training went from jungle warfare to urban warfare - riot control - and we didn't really know why."

That riot training with M-14 rifles would soon be forced into action in Detroit.

St. Arno says, "They woke us up and said we're going, we're going. Thing is we didn't know if we were going to Vietnam or where we were going, we grabbed our gear and they threw us in trucks."

They were airlifted from Fort Bragg to Selfridge Air National Guard Base here in Michigan - not far from his grandparent's home.

St. Arno says, Tthey drove us down to a street named Grand River. I'm thinking Grand River, there's a Grand River in Detroit, I wonder what's going on."

St. Arno soon realized Detroit had been set a blaze, but he had no idea why.

St. Arno says, "Windows were busted, everything was charred, we didn't really see any people because, when they heard the 82nd Airborne was coming, they got out of the way."

Their mission was to clear the streets and no one was to be left behind.

I asked St. Arno if he was prepared to kill if he had to?

St. Arno says, "Well I was prepared to used a vertical butt stroke to smack someone in the head, I wasn't going to shoot somebody."

St. Arno couldn't believe what he was seeing, but as a soldier he knew he had a job to do.

I asked him what was he afraid of most?

St, Arno says "Well, I knew it was wrong and I was afraid for my parents. I didn't know how big this thing was and they were at 8 Mile and Lahser, we were at 8 Mile and Woodward."

There were no phones, of course no internet, so he couldn't check on his family. So after a couple of hours, some soldiers were told to load up and leave.

St. Arno says, "Everybody on the truck is from Detroit, there was a sergeant on the truck who said 'yeah, we're sending you all back to Fort Bragg, so you won't have to shoot your relatives'."

St. Arno says people tried to describe this as a noble rebellion, but as a soldier he saw no nobility. He says this was a riot and they burned the city down.

Daryl and I jumped on his Harley and headed to the spot where he remembered being dropped off 50 years ago.

I asked was he sad when he walks in Detroit and he sees 50 years later many lots are still empty?

St. Arno says, "Yeah, it's sad because we learned nothing and we didn't recover."

St. Arno fondly recalls traveling along a once immaculate Grand River by bus with his grandmother, where now empty lots sit where once booming businesses lived.

St. Arno says, "I never felt anger about it,  I was just doing my job, I knew they were wrong I wasn't going to argue with them about it , there's nothing right about burning your city down."

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