My mother and father's engagement picture

As is with big events, I once asked my father where he was when he heard the news about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He told me that he was already in the Army, and was resting in the barracks. It seems prior to WWII, he had enlisted in the armed forces, and the day after seeing Gone with the Wind in 1939 embarked on a new life, and hopeful career which was, in fact, a way to move forward, away from an economy lacking in jobs, and opportunity.

As time wore on, my dad had moved up the chain of command, but seemed stuck; especially if he was going to remain in the Army as a career choice; he had reached the top rank of a non-commissioned officer. On or about 1943, he took a test, and qualified to enter Officer’s Candidate School (OCS) which was designed to provide the Army with enlisted men who possessed leadership skills, but were unable to attend West Point. OCS was an intensive training period of 90 days after which the candidate would graduate with a commission as First Lieutenant.

OCS was extremely intense, and it seemed that men were cut from the program left and right. One never knew if they would be called into the commanding officer’s office to be told they were packing and going home. My father said there were something like 40 guys in his group, and when they got near the end of training, his group had dwindled down to about 12 people.

As is expected, with the intensity of the training, the group became very close, and by the time graduation came, these 12 individuals had suffered, and worked very hard for their officer’s commission. My father still remembered walking around the base in his new officer’s uniform, garnishing his first salute, and giving the person a dollar; a tradition at this time….I have no idea if it is still done.

Once the 90 day wonders had completed their training, and received their officer’s gold bar, they were invited to a local country club for a party. Of the 12 men in my dad’s close group, one person was told he could not attend. He could not attend his graduation party because he was black, and the fort, being in Virgina, suffered from race discrimination.

When my dad told me this I was stunned, but then he looked at me and explained that all the guys got together, and told their fellow officer that they had been through a lot together, and that no matter what, they would stick together. They, as a group, sent word to the commandant that they all declined to attend the graduation party. The men stayed in their barracks, were given permission to have some beers, and they celebrated by themselves, each one of them equal in the eyes of the other.

My father was a immigrant from the war torn former Austro-Hungarian empire, came through the gate at Ellis Island, and was now and officer in his new country. He, and the other men in his group, brought action to the words on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

When I was told this story, I was very proud of my father.