More about Army Officer Candidate School
The official Army OCS website
U.S. Army during the occupation of Germany
History of the 116th Combat Engineer Battalion
More War stories
Sun-burnt Irishman in Army OCS
I was drafted that same year by the U.S. Army. I didn’t get to graduate from high school. I married my wife, and the next month I was in the United States service, shipped off to Fort Leonard Wood Mo. After I finished my basic training, I went to clerical school, because I knew how to type. I got tired of that and said, "Can I do something else?" I applied to Officer Candidate School. I graduated in 1946 and was the only African-American in my class.
After I graduated from OCS, I went back to L.A. and showed principal my diploma from OCS, where I studied algebra, bridge building, demolition, highway and road construction and most of the things that engineers do, and he said, "Well I think you earned your high school diploma."
I was the only non-college graduate in the class, and thanks to the help of my fellow candidates, I made it through. I never would have made it if they hadn’t sat down and schooled me and taught me the things I never learned in high school. I’ve thought about that through all the years. These guys took me under their arms, Cornell University, Yale, they called me the sun-burnt Irishman, my last name being an Irish name.
My dad’s father was Irish. His mother was a slave. My dad was one of 12.
They were all siblings and children of the plantation owner. The funniest thing about that, Dad’s 6-foot-1, his brothers, 6-foot-1, 6-foot-2, I’m 6-1. I met a couple of his brothers later in life, and they were 5-foot-7. They were dark and short or light and tall. That comes from the mating of the short slave woman and the tall Irish plantation owner.
My father left the plantation and joined the Army and went on to go to Spokane University and retired a bird colonel. He later became the commander the 7th Regiment California National Guard in L.A. I joined his unit as I was just getting discharged and served under him. That was something else too.
After OCS, of all things, I was reassigned to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., the Ozark Mountains, by the way. I was later transferred to Fort Lewis, Wash. Since the war was over and the troops were coming home, I got an early discharge and returned to L.A. I was discharged about a year afterward. The war was over and so forth, and they were letting troops go. I went back to L.A. and worked a few odds and ends jobs.
Two years later, I re-enlisted in the U.S. Army as an E-6. They weren’t taking any officers back in the service. I was assigned to Mannheim, Germany. I was first sergeant of a transportation company over there. I brought my wife and two children over there with me. We spent three years living there in a little village called Feudenheim, Germany. There we lived the life of Reilly. We had a maid, a gardener, everything. Two-bedroom furnished apartment provided by the Army. It was the German occupation. There were blocks and blocks of German neighborhoods occupied by American troops. We struck up some nice friendships with the German people. My children were only 3 and 4 then, and our maid was like a surrogate mother to them. It was one of the highlights of my Army career.
Then I came back, and Oops, Korea.
So I was sent to Korea just as the war was ending. Of all things, I was a first sergeant with the 116th Engineer Battalion Combat HQ. Had a good time, met a lot of people. I stayed there a year after the war and was transferred to Yokohama, Japan. I sent for my wife and kids again, and we spent 2 1/2 years there in Yokohama. We had a good time, enjoyed the culture. I was fortunate that it had given me a taste of the European flavor, now I get the Asian. I learned how to speak a little of both languages. I forgot a lot of it, but I know some of the slang phrases. It was a wonderful experience.