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WWII veteran Willie Edwards tells his story

Willie Edwards was drafted in 1943.

Willie Mack Edwards grew up in Alabama.

"Right on the Limestone-Madison County line," Mr. Edwards said.

He had a big family. There were seven boys and seven girls. They all worked on the family farm.

"I was going from pillar to post down through there until I was seventeen. Then I came here," Mr. Edwards said. "I got tired of that farm."

Two years later in 1943, he got his draft notice.

"I was kinda glad to get it because I had I had got laid off from my job," Mr. Edwards said.

Mr. Edwards says he wanted to go to the Army like his brother, but they told him they needed volunteers for the Navy. They sent him to Florida. He spent his time cooking for the officers there.

"Just about all of the blacks they were in the officers cooks, " Mr. Edwards told us. "They would have to make up the officers beds, shine their shoes. It was just a valet. That's what they were."

During World War II African American sailors served primarily in non-combat roles.

"I got transferred from Jacksonville to Pensacola," Mr. Edwards said. "Went to the diner, and they put me on the last seat of the dinning car and put a black oil cloth between me and the rest of the people. That's where I had to eat."

Mr. Edwards remembers clearly how difficult those times were

"I didn't think too much of that, but it really didn't dawn on me too much because that's what I'd been used to but you know," Mr. Edwards said. "There's lots of incidents that I ran in that was much worse than that."

Mr. Edwards says during the war he saw that things were starting to change in the Navy. Segregation in military ended in 1948. On July 26 of that year, President Truman issued the executive order abolishing segregation in the military.

Mr. Edwards came home after World War II, but was called back during the Korean War. He came back to Chattanooga in 1952, and then was in the reserves for 27 years.

He has a wall in his home with military photos and awards. I asked him what he thinks about when he looks at this wall.

Mr. Edwards said softly, "I'm thankful. I'm thankful. I'm thankful."

Mr. Edwards came home and raised a family. He told us he worked two jobs to support his family for years. He worked at DuPont for thirty years, and was part of the push for integration there as well.


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