They served out of a sense of duty … whether voluntary or mandated … but most importantly, they served with honor.
The members of the Johnnie Baker 291 Post of the American Legion gather monthly – almost exclusively – at the legion hall, 2038 W. Broadway Ave., Minneapolis. However, the Oct. 24 meeting convened down the road at 1815 Bryant Ave. N., home to Insight News. The change in venue was to allow the members to talk candidly via a live-to-Facebook broadcast of the “Front Room Sessions” hosted by post member and Insight founder and editor-in-chief Al McFarlane. Less about “war stories,” the members of the predominantly African-American post shared “life stories.”
“They (the U.S. Army) came and got me … I was drafted,” said World War II veteran Wayne Glanton.
Glanton said he was a student at Dunwoody (now College of Technology, then Technical Institute) studying engineering and drafting when in 1940 he was drafted. A gifted student, Glanton ran into problems due to ethnicity almost immediately.
“When I got my orders they sent me to an all-white outfit. When I showed up they asked what I was doing there and I showed them my orders and the guy called for the captain,” recalled Glanton. “The captain came out and screamed, ‘This is a segregated unit’ and I asked, ‘Well, why did you send for me’ and the captain told me I scored in the top five percent of my class.”
Glanton was sent to an all-Black unit but he said there was resentment from white soldiers who had to learn their engineering skills from Black soldiers.
“Boy was I glad to be back home and not have to deal with that (mess),” said Glanton, talking about returning to civilian life.
At 97, Glanton is the oldest active member of the American Legion in Minnesota.
The Rev. Sam Reuben has conflicted emotions about his time in service.
Originally scheduled to be drafted in 1961, Rueben was allowed to finish college at Tuskegee Institute (now University). A week after he was set to join his active duty combat unit, but newly married, his wife was diagnosed with cancer and he was granted emergency leave.
“My unit left without me,” said Rueben. “Some of those guys I trained with I never saw again. I’m sure some of them got killed. My wife died; it was like bad luck and good luck at the same time. I think about it a lot.”
Elton Johnson, who served during the Vietnam War, told harrowing stories of his time in uniform.
“I was over in Vietnam and our planes we were in were getting shot at and it scared the (mess) out of me,” said Johnson, a commander of the post. “But I was lucky; I was fortunate to come back home.”
Andrew Rose is also a commander of the Johnnie Baker post and served during the Vietnam War era. He said the post is a needed resource for veterans.
“We do a lot in the community, offering programs for middle and high school students and turkeys and things like that for the community, but most of all we’re here to provide support and services for our veterans,” said Rose.
Renee Day is one of those who benefitted from the Legion. Day is a Vietnam era veteran but didn’t serve in the war. Thus, he didn’t believe he was entitled to the benefits to which other soldiers were entitled. Because of that belief Day suffered through homelessness.
“I went in not knowing about benefits or anything. I was sending all my money back home to get my mother out of the projects,” said Day. “I don’t want to feel like I didn’t deserve what I received, so I didn’t know anything about different types of discharges. So I had this honorable discharge and didn’t know anything about what that offered to me. I was 30 years lost … out on the streets, but because of Johnnie Baker I’m receiving benefits … VA benefits and such. (Because of the Johnnie Baker post) I’m in the apartment I’m in today.”
To watch the full interview with members of the Johnnie Baker 291 Post go to www.facebook.com/145233765561468/videos/627368784334348/.