By Micha Green, AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor, [email protected]
He correctly trained and served his country, yet was denied his just due because he was Black; 76 years later and John James, 98, is finally being saluted as a second lieutenant.
James was drafted in 1941 and was planning to head to the Pacific, but after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in that same year he decided to apply for officer training in Fort Benning, Georgia.
“It was a long shot,” James told the York Daily Record. “There were 21 of us in a class of 200. All the rest were White.”
He finished training, but the day before he was to become an officer he was told, “I’m not going to grant you your bars. You’re being transferred,” James said.
Because White soldiers were not allowed to be subordinate to Black officers in the Army during World War II, it was not uncommon for African American soldiers to be denied their officer bars.
After the War he moved back to Philadelphia, where he still lives, worked at the Post Office for 35 years, had 3 kids, became a widower in 1969 and then remarried. When he retired he did a lot of fishing.
With all that life, he never mentioned he had trained to be an Army officer, until three years ago when his daughter. Dr. Marion Teresa Lane, found his class photo at Fort Benning.
Upon finding it, he told her to throw it away, yet Lane was determined to honor her father.
Lane worked with the Army Review Board who felt that there was not sufficient evidence to commission James. Then Lane wrote United States Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), whose office took on James’ case and eventually got it through.
James was officially commissioned at the Museum of the American Revolution’s Liberty Hall June 29, complete with color guard and dignitaries present.
Although not awarded the commission owed to him, he bravely rose to face one of our most challenging times in history, Casey said. “He was denied recognition of his service to his country simply because of his race, because of the color of his skin.”