That Army soldier in the photograph is my maternal grandfather, David Terrell, Sr.
The World War II draft began in October 1940. In 1941, at the age of 21, my grandfather registered for the draft.
On April 9, 1942, in Fort Benning, Georgia, my grandfather was officially enlisted in the United States Army as a Private. He served four years, and was honorably discharged on January 8, 1946. He worked in the mess halls and boiler rooms at Fort Dix and Camp Kilmer in New Jersey.
In 1945, my grandfather and his fellow servicemen were in Staten Island, New York Port of Embarkation awaiting orders to board a ship bound for Europe when news was received that the Axis forces had unconditionally surrendered.
Being black in the military during that time was not a pleasant experience. Jim Crow was still in full effect for enlisted men and women who were serving and fighting for the freedom of a country that treated them worse than second class citizens.
I spoke with my grandmother to find out if my grandfather shared any of his experiences in a segregated Army with her. Her first account was of my grandfather riding the Army bus back to the South. Before arriving at the Mason-Dixon line, black soldiers were allowed to sit anywhere they wanted on the bus. However, once the Mason-Dixon line was crossed, and they were officially in the South, all black soldiers had to move to the back of the bus.
Her second and third account was about home loans and jobs. Black soldiers would come back their hometowns and try to purchase homes only to experience loan companies dragging their feet in the approval process. Jobs that black soldiers did for years in the Army were suddenly unqualified for the same jobs in their hometowns. I felt angry, suffocated, and oppressed just hearing about it. I cannot even begin to imagine just how deep those feelings ran for the ones who had to endure it.
During his life, I doubt my grandfather ever received a “thank you” for his service. He did get his “thank you” in death with a military funeral complete with a gun salute and Taps.