90-Year-Old Veteran Shares His Story of the U.S Military Coming Together

BROOKVILLE, Pa. (EYT) – Brookville resident Ira Minor is a Korean War and Vietnam War veteran who still, at 90 years of age, is active with the Brookville Veterans of Foreign Wars, Brookville American Legion, and the Brookville Honor Guard.

He started out his military career as a fresh-faced recruit from Brooklyn, New York, and later became a Russian translator and a warrant officer, managing the personnel of a thousand soldiers.

Born in 1928, Minor came of age during the uncertain times of World War II.

As a young man, he always wanted to fight for his country, particularly since his father, who had a tremendous influence on his life, was too old to enlist for WWII and never had the chance. Eager to be a part of something bigger, Minor joined the New York State Guard at age 18. However, the racial injustice in America at the time, a product of Jim Crow-era legislation, threatened to dash Minor’s dreams of military advancement.

“A lot of people in the service at the time who hadn’t served with blacks felt that we shouldn’t have served,” Minor explained.

“And then a lot of them felt that Negroes could serve if we served in a menial capacity.”

Blacks during WWII were relegated to segregated divisions where the U.S Army gave them combat support roles such as cooks, quartermasters or gravediggers.

“The people who did a lot of grunt work were black troops,” Minor said. “We felt we could be pilots, machinists and all that.”

The success of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African American military pilots in WWII, proved them right. Still, discussions with President Roosevelt in the early 1940s to ban discrimination in the defense industries went nowhere.

Minor described the discourse of this time in America when all working class citizens were struggling to assert their individual rights.

“Everybody was fighting for job opportunity,” Minor explained. “In our case, it was to be in the military to be pilots, or on ships and become officers. But that was denied.”

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As labor movements solidified around the United States to protect the working-class Americans, the black labor movement moved to confront racial inequality in the U.S defense industry. This led activists to take on segregation in the U.S Military. In 1948, Ira Minor, along with thousands of other young African American men led by Civil Rights activist, A. Philip Randolph, wrote letters to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover declaring that, if drafted, they would resist. The group had already petitioned President Truman but to no avail.

So, why petition Hoover?

Minor says he believes it was a strategy designed to put pressure on the one most influential person who might otherwise condemn the protest movement. In other words, if they could convince Hoover, they could convince anyone.

“I think because some people thought anything we would do to protest would be anti-American,” Minor said. “But Hoover was a watchdog of being an American. I think it was because he would be the one to perceive us to be un-American.”

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It worked. Soon after, President Truman issued Executive Order 9981 abolishing discrimination “on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin” in the United States Armed Forces. It was considered progress for individuals and organizations in America working for social justice. But, how the executive order would be implemented, and more importantly when it would be implemented, was still unclear.

In 1950, the Korean War was heating up, and Minor received his draft notice in the mail. Not sure whether or not the U.S Military would hold true to its order to desegregate, Minor took a leap of faith–but it wasn’t easy.

“In one way it was traumatic,” Minor admitted. “It was being away from home under the control of people I didn’t fully trust until then. Even though I had been in the guard, I didn’t know the army.”

Fortunately, Minor – and many other men in his position at the time – saw a steady, but certain, change in the U.S Military. In Minor’s case, he found something he could believe in.

“What was so weird about it, once I got to know the army, I stayed 22 years,” he said.

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After induction in New York City, Minor went to Fort Devens, Massachusetts, for training. He soon became a company clerk.

“I was exactly like Radar on M*A*S*H,” Minor joked. “In one way I was the New Yorker who knew everything, but I hadn’t met all these people. I kept my head down and a lot of times I put documents in from of the CO (Commanding Officer) and said, ‘Sign this, sir, but you don’t want to read it!’”

Minor was then shipped to Germany where he went to school for eight weeks for more training as a company clerk. The opportunities to continue training and education suited Minor who is an avid reader. Encouraged by his father, who was a big proponent of education, Minor never turned down a chance to learn.

“In the military, you’re never finished learning,” Minor said. “And, you were always training the guy below you to do your job. In civilian life, you are preventing that person from getting your job. But in the military, you’re always looking for someone to do your job and showing him how to do it.”

Minor added that the fact that people were working together to make each other better was one reason why he wanted to stay in the army.

It was during his time in Germany that Minor says he became certain that integration in the military had been successful. When Minor started out, he was in an all-black unit. Gradually, one position at a time, he saw white soldiers assigned to previously all-black units and vice versa. Still, racial tensions existed, and it wasn’t until around 1953 that Minor saw the men in his unit demonstrate their loyalty to the unit without consideration for race.

“One unit always fights another unit over inconsequential things,” Minor explained. “I remember, we fought the other unit–fighting over who could go to which bar or talk to which girl–but it wasn’t a white versus black unit fight. It was two units fighting each other; we were both integrated. That’s how I knew integration worked. We did it side by side with our buddies, and it didn’t matter if they were black or white.”

He added that this was the type of camaraderie that people, white or black, didn’t often experienced in civilian life.

“We may have had our differences, but we were sticking with our comrades,” he said. “Somebody would lay down his life for you even if he didn’t like you personally. You were his comrade, and that’s it. That’s a thing a lot of young veterans miss about being in the military, they are cast adrift in a way. The civilian life becomes dog eat dog; it’s hard to navigate that.”

After some time in Germany, Minor applied to the Army Language School in Monterey, California, to take a year-long course in Russian. He had plans to be a translator. Minor and his young family, a German wife and her daughter, soon moved to California. From there, he went to Fort Meade, Maryland, where he started in the Military Censorship Unit reading and censoring letters that came in and out of the war zone. Not long after, he moved to a more tactical unit in Germany where he interrogated defecting German soldiers.

At the onset of the Vietnam War, Minor was stationed in Cameron Bay to help open up transportation. That’s where his hard work in educating himself led directly to his military advancement.

“By that time, what happened was, I applied to more schooling and did a lot of schooling through correspondence courses, so I had footlockers full of documents going back and forth,” Minor recalled.

“I had studied so much that I had figured out a way to get promoted to be an officer and became a warrant officer in Personnel.”

Minor worked as the Personnel Officer for a group of about a thousand men scattered all over Vietnam.

Though Minor admits that his job in Vietnam was stressful, particularly being away from his family, he says that he didn’t experience the type of turmoil that many other soldiers did, which he attributes to his relative age and life experience at the time.

“I was about 10 to 15 years older than the average grunt–seventeen and eighteen-year-old kids who had never been anywhere,” Minor explained. “I had read The Red Badge of Courage and talked to other veterans…The war was not a shock to me, after being in the Civil Rights wars, what could happen to me wasn’t a shock.”

Before the end of the Vietnam War, Minor returned to civilian life, settling down in Maryland with his family. He worked for several temp agencies doing some work for Sears and Montgomery Ward. Minor then spent nearly eight years updating law books before he and his second wife moved to Brookville to be closer to his daughter, her husband, and their children.

These days, Minor keeps busy and stays healthy exercising at the Brookville YMCA and volunteering at the Medical Arts Building in DuBois as a receptionist. He keeps up with his fellow veterans having breakfast, swapping stories, and honoring their fellow veterans who have passed away.

Minor reflects on his life and his military career with a mix of cynicism and hope.

“On a personal level, I’d say I’m a little bit more jaded because I sometimes don’t have the super positive outlook on the world that I should have,” he admitted.

“If I wasn’t a religious person–I’ve always been in church, sung in choirs, always from the earliest days I was a churchgoer–if it wasn’t for my faith, I probably wouldn’t have any hope for the world at all. But, I see the young ones growing up, and I see that there’s always hope.”

“You have to keep the faith; you can’t give it up.”


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