Denver C. Blackwell, 76, veteran of D-Day invasion

February 21, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Denver C. Blackwell, who participated in the D-Day invasion and was the last of the six Blackwell brothers who served in the Army during World War II, died Wednesday of lung cancer at Harbor Hospital Center. He was 76 and lived in Cherry Hill.

Born in Elberton, Ga., and raised on McCulloh Street, Mr. Blackwell attended Frederick Douglass High School.

In 1943, he was drafted into the Army and trained as a "duck driver" for an amphibious vehicle.

He served with the 817th Amphibious Truck Company, an all-black unit that participated in the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944.

"There were six Blackwell sons in the service at the same time, and this was the only family in Baltimore to receive a banner of six stars, one for each son, which hung in the window of their McCulloh Street home," said niece Iona Williams of Northwest Baltimore.

"His brother, Ross, was in the infantry. Hubron was the first black Air Force pilot from Baltimore and one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen. Raymond fought with the infantry in the Philippines. Irvin was an Army clerk at Fort Meade, and Clinton was a supply clerk in Alaska. [Denver] was always very proud that they all came back alive," she said.

Angry that the contributions of black troops had been largely overlooked during the 50th anniversary D-Day celebration in 1994, Mr. Blackwell told the Afro-American, "I was hurt because I didn't hear anything about black troops. Black soldiers that I know were in the invasion."

Recalling basic training, he said, "We knew we were in a segregated Army. You didn't talk back, because you had that basic training, and you did as you were told or you'd get court-martialed, and as young men we didn't want that.

"You don't know how proud I was to come home in my uniform and see my girl. My mother was proud, my church was proud. I was very proud," he said in the Afro-American interview. "And I was proud of all those guys all of them."

According to Army records, 1,700 black troops landed at Normandy on D-Day.

Mr. Blackwell was discharged at war's end with the rank of corporal. He later was an active member and served as president for five years of the 815th-818th Amphibious Truck Companies D-Day Reunion Group.

He had worked for 25 years for T. Talbott Bond & Co. as a service technician before retiring in 1987. He was a part-time driver delivering blood for the Laboratory Corp. of America from 1987 until 1995.

Described by family members as a "quiet and humble man" who seldom spoke about his war experiences, Mr. Blackwell spent years researching and acquiring genealogical information on his family. He assembled an archive of hundreds of photos and videotapes of family members and oral interviews. He also enjoyed attending annual family reunions.

"He was known as the historian of the family," Mrs. Williams said.

Mr. Blackwell was also an excellent baker who was known by his family and Cherry Hill neighbors for his rum and pound cakes.

He was a member of the Free State Grand Lodge of the Masons and enjoyed traveling.

He was a member for 69 years and a trustee of Sharon Baptist Church, 1373 N. Stricker St., where services will be held at 6: 30 p.m. today.

He is survived by his wife of 53 years, the former Myrtle W. Brooks; a son, Kenneth Blackwell of Baltimore; two sisters, Marjorie Ann Dixon and Eva Fennell, both of Baltimore; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

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