VETERANS DAY 2017
Belfield armed with medicine, science in the military
By Rebecca Bunch
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
U.S. Army veteran Louis Belfield never served in the military in a capacity that required him to fire a weapon, but the duties he performed ultimately saved lives.
From 1961-1963 Belfield served as a lab tech/botanist in the Redstone Arsenal Medical Corps at Huntsville, Ala.
“We tested antibiotics for sensitivity and collected data in the lab before doctors prescribed them to soldiers and their families,” he said.
Among the drugs tested for safety were penicillin and tetracycline, he said.
“Doctors were looking at what drugs would help heal someone from a potential illness,” Belfield said.
His unit also looked at ways to prevent allergic reactions to medications. The team performed autopsies too, although Belfield said he was thankful he only had to participate in three such procedures during his time at the base.
“I did have to draw blood from von Braun,” Belfield said, referring to Wernher von Braun, a German scientist who was part of a V-2 rocket team recruited in post-Nazi Germany and brought to America as part of Operation Paperclip. That group worked on Army missiles and eventually became a part of NASA in the early days of the space program.
During his years at Redstone, Belfield also had the opportunity to see President John F. Kennedy when he visited the facility. Years later, as a civilian, Belfield visited Dallas where Kennedy was assassinated and the book depository and saw the room where shooter Lee Harvey Oswald hid during his attack on the president.
Belfield said the most blood he ever drew in a single day came on Sept. 10, 1963, when President Kennedy federalized thousands of members of the Alabama National Guard to prevent their use by Gov. George Wallace who was attempting to prevent black students from attending nine previously all-white schools in Birmingham, Mobile and other locations.
“I drew more blood that day than ever before,” Belfield said. “I know I drew blood at least 200 times.”
When asked about the most valuable skill he learned while serving in the military, Belfield quickly replied “discipline.” And discipline, he said, is a trait that remained in the years after he left the military.
Belfield, a Rich Square native, graduated from the University of Greensboro where he took part in the now-famous Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins for Civil Rights. He became one of the first black teachers in the newly consolidated Edenton-Chowan school system and retired in 1997 as assistant principal at John A. Holmes High School. He also served three terms as a Chowan County Commissioner.
But his greatest fulfillment in life came, he said, when he met the love of his life, his wife, Jolyquin, a librarian in the local public schools. His original intent when he came to Edenton had been to eventually return to Greensboro, a city he said he loved. But the couple remained here and raised their family.
And, as it turned out, Belfield wasn’t finished with close encounters with American presidents. In 1986, he celebrated with students from the Holmes graduating class as they had their commencement address delivered in the White House Rose Garden by then-President Ronald Reagan.
Today, Belfield and some of his fraternity brothers – members of Alpha Phi Alpha whose members have included Civil Rights leaders Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Andrew Young – can be found tutoring and teaching life skills to young black men in the community.
“We’re trying to serve as mentors and a positive influence in their lives, trying to lead them down the road to a good life, one that matters,” he said. “I really think we are making a difference.”