NAACP honors black veterans Arundel chapter recognizes 17 who served in wars

November 10, 1996|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,SUN STAFF

William Snowden Keyes remembers too well the life of a black soldier during World War II.

"We had to fight everybody. The Germans, the Japanese and the Americans," recalled Snowden, who was drafted into the Army in 1944 and served two years with the all-black 4341st Quartermaster Corps.

On Friday night, Keyes and 16 other veterans who served in the U.S. armed forces in conflicts from World War II to Operation Desert Storm were honored at La Fontaine Bleu in Glen Burnie during the 52nd anniversary and freedom fund banquet of the Anne Arundel branch of the NAACP.

Before 600 people who attended the banquet, the veterans -- who were nominated by churches and community organizations -- received citations of thanks from Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Anne Arundel County and plaques from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"We wanted to do something special for them," said Gerald Stansbury, president of the Arundel NAACP. "Most of the veterans don't get the recognition they deserve. They've done a lot to bring freedom to this country."

Keyes' 200-man unit, which was commanded by four white officers, took basic training at Camp Breckenridge in southwestern Kentucky, where black soldiers had to ride separate buses back and forth to the nearby town of Breckenridge when they got passes.

And while they were in town, they had to be careful around the locals.

"If people bothered you, the best you could do is make some slight remark. You couldn't count on support from your officers," said Keyes, 75, who was nominated by Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.

After they were discharged from the military, many of the veterans honored Friday became educators and business leaders who found time to participate in civic activities, Stansbury said.

'Used for so much'

Keyes, who served in the European and Pacific theaters, is a substitute social studies and art teacher at South River High School.

He gives lectures on the role black soldiers played in World War II to schools and community groups.

"We've been used for so much. Nobody ever gave us credit for anything," Keyes said.

Rodney Jones, 76, of Annapolis served two years in the Army after he was drafted in June 1943. The NAACP award holds meaning for him and other black veterans, said Jones, who has owned a vending machine business for 20 years.

"It's something to give some of our people recognition, which sometimes we didn't get in the service a long while back," said Jones.

Jones was nominated by Stanton Community Center.

As a truck driver with the 471st Amphibious Infantry, Jones helped ferry supplies and some of the 30,000 men put ashore at Iwo Jima in the South Pacific.

Glad to have served

The mission involved making repeated trips under enemy fire.

"I was nervous and all that, shellshocked," he recalled.

"I went in on D-Day, the first day of the battle," he said. "I saw a lot of men falling on the side of me."

Despite the segregation and discrimination they faced in the military, Keyes and Jones agreed they were glad to have served their country.

"This is one of the greatest countries in the world," Keyes said.

Pub Date: 11/10/96

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