OCALA — George Taylor still beams with pride three-quarters of a century after defending his country as a combat infantryman in World War II during the era of a segregated U.S. military.
“I was in one of the few outfits of black soldiers carrying guns. I loved the infantry,” said Taylor, 98, adding that the outfit was “unusual” for the time because they had officers black.
Taylor, a native of Red Bank, New Jersey, served from 1941 to 1945 with the Massachusetts-based 372nd Infantry Regiment.
The 372nd Infantry set up facilities in places such as New York, Brooklyn, Long Island and Jersey City to “prevent sabotage by enemy agents and the so-called ‘Fifth Column’ from December 1941 to April 1943, before to be shipped to Hawaii to prepare for an expected invasion of Japan,” according to “A Factual History of the United States 372nd Infantry National Guard in World War II.”
The story was provided by Military Records Supervisor Keith Vezeau of the Adjutant General’s Historical Services Office in Concord, Massachusetts.
“Locations in and around New York that were vital to the life of the great metropolis and the country as a whole were constantly monitored. ships, tanks and communication systems,” the story states, with troops “on duty around the clock and Sundays and holidays were forgotten, because on those days the enemy was most active” .
Special subway trains coordinated with regular civilian service to transport soldiers, the story says.
In April 1944, the regiment began training for its “primary mission…to fight the enemy on the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific Islands” with some elements training in the mountains of Arizona . By April 30, 1945, “four years after the team was called up for active duty”, the 372nd had departed on three ships for Hawaii and “jungle training” in preparation for a possible invasion of Japan. “On August 15, 1945…it became known that the Japanese had agreed to surrender unconditionally and a general cessation of hostilities was ordered,” the story reads.
Gorham Black, of Ocala, a retired US Army colonel who served from 1963 to 1999, including two tours as an infantry commander during the Vietnam War, said his father served in the 365th Infantry, a black combat unit that served in Italy during the World War. II.
“When you see footage of the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944 in Normandy, France, you don’t see a black (American) soldier, not a single one,” Black said. He said black soldiers usually drove trucks or did other tasks.
A February 2, 2007 article on the US Army website discusses the history of segregation in the military.
“During World War II, more than one million African Americans answered the call of the nation, despite the persistence of segregated units and discrimination. Civil rights leaders of the time considered service military as a way for African Americans to gain rights and African Americans served with distinction in units such as the 761st Tank Battalion, 555th Infantry Parachute Battalion, 99th Pursuit Squadron, and 332nd Fighter Group. facilitated by troops of African-American quartermasters who drove supply trucks for the Red Ball Express,” the article noted.
The article states that a committee headed by President Harry S. Truman issued a report titled “To Secure These Rights” which “condemned racial segregation wherever it existed and specifically criticized the practice of segregation in the United States Armed Forces. “.
On July 26, 1948, Truman signed Executive Order 9981: “It is hereby declared that it is the policy of the President that there shall be equal treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed forces regardless of race, color, religion or national origin,” the article reads.
Taylor, who now lives in a health and rehabilitation center in Ocala with his 59-year-old wife, Cecil Taylor, an Ocala native who met her husband through family while she lived in New Jersey , recently reflected on his service in the military and the years before and after.
George Taylor was born on August 30, 1919. His father operated Taylor’s Auto Body, an auto body and body shop. He said his mother always dressed him in starched shirts and some of his friends called him “Little Lord Fauntleroy”, in reference to the fancy outfits.
The family lived through the Great Depression and after high school, when George was considering a career, he saw several local funeral home owners who seemed to be successful and decided to go to school to learn how to be an undertaker. His family helped him with a house to use as a funeral home.
When he first heard of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, he said he listened carefully to radio reports and was soon serving in the 372nd Infantry.
Taylor served as a platoon sergeant overseeing 45 men and was “proud” of it. He said his team protected bridges and other structures in New York and New Jersey from attack by enemy agents infiltrating the United States during the war. He said his squad once intercepted a small boat, possibly from a German U-boat, but all occupants escaped.
Taylor said that in 1945 his outfit was sent to Pearl Harbor to prepare for a planned invasion of Japan, but Truman dropped the A-bomb and the invasion was unnecessary.
Taylor moved back to New Jersey and took over the family body shop and at one point owned a bar with another family member. He had three children with his first wife, Minthaw, who died in 1952.
He married Cecil, now 97, in 1959. She worked with New Jersey Bell Telephone and the State of New Jersey.
They moved to Silver Springs Shores after retiring in 1981 and have been at the health and rehabilitation center for about two years.
George Taylor participated in the Ocala Honor Flight in Washington, DC in 2012.
Although he said he was not bitter about past segregation, one childhood memory that still bothers him was sitting on the separate balcony of the Carlton Theater in Red Bank while his friend, Mario, who he said was of Italian descent, sat downstairs. .
“I gave Mario 10 cents to get into the theater,” Taylor said, adding that the venue is now the Count Basie Theater.