We continue as a nation to right the wrongs of generations past. I hear from time to time of how the military has long been desegregated, and for some, perhaps that’s true. Let’s take a look.
On July 26, 1948, U.S. President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981 which reads, “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the president that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin. This policy shall be put into effect as rapidly as possible having due regard to the time required to effectuate any necessary changes without impairing efficiency or morale.”
This executive order seems more of a suggestion than an order. Some in charge of military decision-making viewed it as not a requirement, and one famous general indicated that he would obey it only when it applied to all aspects of American society. It wasn’t until September of 1954 that the last all-black military unit was abolished.
James Henderson, 93, a Troy, Ohio, resident and a World War II Air Force veteran, defines himself not as Black or African American but as “an American.”
He was born the oldest of five children in Lima, Ohio, in 1927. He graduated from Whittier High School where his most challenging subject was history, and his favorite subject was math.
He played football where he learned teamwork and as he indicates “what to do and what not to do.” He explains this by saying while in a huddle where “Right 33” or “Left 34” is called, that indicates to players their movement on the field. An Ohio State University fan, he says, “I don’t like it that OSU is not playing because of the virus.”
Basketball was on his agenda at Whittier as well, and his favorite player now is Lebron James although he believes James should not get into politics but should “keep his mouth shut and play ball.”
Henderson ran track at Whittier, the 100-yard dash and the 230-yard dash, and was inspired by the lesson about Aryan supremacy Jesse Owens taught Adolph Hitler at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin where Owens won four gold medals.
In 1944, Uncle Sam invited Henderson to come aboard, and he served until 1947 in the U.S. Army Air Corps which became the U.S. Air Force in 1947. His training was at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas and Lockbourne in Ohio before he was shipped to the Philippines as part of the war effort in the Pacific Theater.
Henderson was unfortunate enough to lose the four fingers on his left hand when a hand grenade exploded. As he tells it, “You know you pull the pin and count one, two, three and throw it. The grenade did not explode. When I went over and picked it up, it exploded. I was able to continue working my job, using my thumb of my left hand and my right hand to drive a semi- refueling truck and refuel B-17s, B-24s, and B-25s.
In terms of President Truman’s decision to bomb Nagasaki and Hiroshima, he says, “That’s what he should have done — to make sure we would win the war, to save Allied lives that would have been lost if we had been required to invade the Japanese mainland.”
Unlucky for him, a Japanese soldier, who didn’t know of Japanese Emperor Hirohito’s surrender on August 15, 1945, punctured Henderson’s ear with a bayonet. He says, “The Japanese never believed they could lose the war, and many committed hari kari when they finally learned they had lost.”
After the war, he worked in hotels in the Lima area as well as at the Western Ohio Steel Foundation as a chipper before attending the Hobart Welding School and being employed by Hobart for 42 years.
Henderson shared his memories of a sister, Magnolia, who went to the Tuskegee Institute to train to be a pilot, but died in her sleep after choir practice one night before she could complete this goal.
He has opinions about the issues that dominate our news cycles:
· He says, “All lives matter, not just Black lives as we all come from God,” and he is opposed to demonstrations.
· He considers himself neither Black nor African American and reports, “I am an American.”
· Discrimination has not touched him, he maintains, in the military or in his work life.
· He says he doesn’t have “much use for Obama” and asks, “What did he do in 8 years?” He also says, “Democrats want a socialized country so they can tell us what we can eat and the kind of car we can drive.”
With no football to watch this fall, Henderson is tuning in to “Murder, She Wrote” and practicing his artistic skills, painting by numbers.
Thank you, James Henderson, for your service to our country.
Vivian B. Blevins. Ph.D., a graduate of The Ohio State University, served as a community college president for 15 years in Kentucky, Texas, California, and Missouri before returning to Ohio to teach telecommunication employees from around the country and students at Edison State Community College and to work with veterans. You may reach her at 937-778-3815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.