James was drafted into the Army at age 18. He was raised in Marshall, Mo., and attended high school in Sedalia. Basic training was at Fort Riley, Kan. James remembers the winter there with 22 below zero temperatures and laughs when he says on the firing range he would put his hands on the rifle barrel to warm them.
BRANCH OF SERVICE: Army Buffalo Soldiers
YEARS SERVED: 1942 to 1945
HOMETOWN: Marshall, Mo.
FAMILY: Married 52 years to Virvie, 1 daughter, 4 grandchildren
James was drafted into the Army at age 18. He was raised in Marshall, Mo., and attended high school in Sedalia. Basic training was at Fort Riley, Kan. James remembers the winter there with 22 below zero temperatures and laughs when he says on the firing range he would put his hands on the rifle barrel to warm them. When sent to California to learn Morse Code, James was given the chance to be in the Cavalry, but being on a horse was an entirely new experience. He was given his choice of nearly 500 horses and chose one that would throw him off three times before landing him in a tree. Not adapting to this life, James was handed a pitchfork and given stable duty called Stable Patrol for the next two weeks. However, he did learn that taking an apple each day to one horse would eventually lead to a friendship and better horse behavior.
His next duties were to guard a train tunnel used to deliver supplies going overseas to the troops. Eventually, in December 1943, the horses were sent north and no longer used in the Cavalry, which led to infantry training and a train trip to Newport News. James recalls the racism he experienced on that train since the Cavalry consisted of black men with the officers being white men. Shades on the train had to be pulled down during the day and the stops at night were the only chance for getting up and exercising. Until they departed for overseas, the men would frequent the service club on base. The room had a rope down the middle dividing the races and at the end of the night huge fights would start that the National Guard would be called in to end. James still wonders why that happened when each man there was fighting the same war and would all soon stand together against the enemy. He blames it on the drinking.
James was soon on a liberty ship to N. Africa where Patton and his 3rd Division were. He was now with the 1334th Combat Engineers and was then sent to Algiers, Strait of Gibraltar, and Naples on supply ships. When in Naples his ship was bombed and unloading the supplies was hazardous duty. The nearest safe house was in an old abandoned school where they ate C-rations and watched bombing all around them. At night the sky was lit up with tracers that reminded them of the 4th of July. No one could shoot back since that would identify their location so they stayed there until able to proceed in a long convoy to the front lines carrying ammo. With empty trucks after the ammo was delivered they carried the dead bodies back with them. James says you don’t make close friends because of the casualty rate they saw.
In 1945 with enough points to be discharged James came to back to Kansas City to work for a cleaning business. He quit that job and began work for the Postal Service until his retirement after 33 years. James states that in 1948 when Truman integrated the Army, it took another three years before white soldiers would take orders from a black officer. He is happy for the changes that have been made in the military and he continues to belong to the Buffalo Soldiers Organization.