Pittsburg American society was racially segregated during the 1940s, and that included the military during World War II. Though they were fighting to protect the same country, black and white soldiers were separated.
Still, Shedrick Ross, 92, now thinks that maybe he should have made a career in the U.S. Army.
He was among several veterans who shared war stories recently at Carrington Residential Care Center.
Born in 1917 in Alabama, he came with his family to Croweburg in 1921. As a child he attending Washington School, which was strictly for “colored” children, and later went to Cockerill High School.
In 1935, he and his older brother, Claude, joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and earned a salary of $30.
Ross joined the U.S. Army after Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941. After training at Fort Eustice in Virginia and Camp Stewart in Georgia, he was shipped to England in June 1942, leaving behind his beloved wife, Maxine, and their baby son, Howard Lee.
“It took 15 days to get to Liverpool,” Ross said. “We landed on Mother’s Day.” He was a soldier in a medic unit, and was not normally armed.
“I got a medal for shooting, but I didn’t want to be a sharpshooter,” Ross said. “They’d put you in a tree somewhere, and somebody would shoot you out of it.
“But when I was in the Battle of the Bulge, they gave me a rifle,” he said.
The largest land battle of World War II, it lasted from Dec. 16, 1944, to Jan. 28, 1945. Ross said that the last night of the battle was the worst night of the war for him.
“I took care of 20 German prisoners of war for two days and two nights,” Ross said. “I had a carbine with one round of ammunition, and I could have shot one or two of them if they tried to give me any trouble, but they didn’t. You know, the Germans were very well trained. There wasn’t a trade in the world they couldn’t do.”
Though he saw it under bad circumstances, he said that Germany is a beautiful country.
“If I could take a trip, that’s where I’d go,” he said.
But he saw some horrible things during the war, including many dead soldiers along the Rhine River.
“In France I saw men and women walking along with packs on their backs and no place to go because they’d been bombed out,” Ross said. “War is hell; it’s bad business.”
The war ended with Japan’s surrender on Sept. 2, 1945, and Ross returned home on Dec. 7.
Merlin Zollars, also a Carrington resident, served in the U.S. Navy from 1944 to 1946 and again from 1950 to 1951. His part of World War II was in the Pacific, including Guam, Saipan and Tinian.
“While we were there, they were doing the 1,000 plane raids on Tokyo from Tinian,” Zollars said. “Then we went to Okinawa and had two typhoons. I was there when the Japanese made one final foray on Okinawa. They flew in, landed and set fire to an ammunition dump. It was like the Fourth of July. We just moved things out of the way and let it burn out.”
Herb Rhodes served in the U.S. Army from 1953 to 1955 and was stationed in what was then West Germany at the same time as a certain American singing idol.
“I saw a bunch of people standing around somebody and it turned out to be Elvis Presley,” he said.
Rhodes was a border guard along the boundary between East and West Germany.
“The Russian guards had their German shepherds, and all we had was basic ammunition,” he said.