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Three from area first black veterans on Honor Flight

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    Roland Jones, 90, of Toledo still has his Army jacket. He says black soldiers were made to train with broomsticks instead of rifles.

    The Blade/Andy Morrison
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  • Three-from-area-first-black-veterans-on-Honor-Flight

    Willie Hamilton, 84, an Army Air Forces vet, has been on the Honor Flight waiting list since 2008.

    The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
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  • Three-from-area-first-black-veterans-on-Honor-Flight-3

    Eugene Goolsby, 88, of Toledo says discrimination kept him from the front lines. He was relegated to ammunition duty.

    The Blade/Jeremy Wadsworth
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Three-from-area-first-black-veterans-on-Honor-Flight

Willie Hamilton, 84, an Army Air Forces vet, has been on the Honor Flight waiting list since 2008.

The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
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Eugene Goolsby preferred not to go into detail about the discrimination he faced in the Marine Corps during World War II in 1943.

Instead the 88-year-old Toledoan pointed to a Web site that described the cramped facilities and poor conditions for the first black Marines, at a segregated camp in Montford Point, N.C. And when black servicemen wanted to return to the camp from nearby Jacksonville, N.C., bus drivers routinely passed by them and picked up white servicemen.

All true, Mr. Goolsby confirmed. He procured a photo of himself aiming a rifle in front of one of the tiny huts at the camp. Because of discrimination in the Marine Corps, he said, he was not allowed to fight in the front lines and was instead relegated to ammunition duty.

But today Mr. Goolsby and two other area black veterans - Roland Jones and Willie Hamilton - are traveling to Washington along with 21 other World War II veterans to see the World War II Memorial for the first time.

Three-from-area-first-black-veterans-on-Honor-Flight-2

Roland Jones, 90, of Toledo still has his Army jacket. He says black soldiers were made to train with broomsticks instead of rifles.

The Blade/Andy Morrison
Enlarge | Buy This Image

The three men are the first black servicemen to participate in the free trip conducted by Honor Flight Northwest Ohio. This is the organization's 14th mission since it began in 2005.

The cost of each flight, including transportation and food, - more than $30,000 - is covered by donations from individuals and private companies, according to Jim Tichy, a member of the local organization's board. Depending on the weather, participants visit several other landmarks, such as the Korean War Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and Arlington National Cemetery.

Veterans who want to go on an Honor Flight sign up and are then placed on a waiting list.

The list now has nearly 500 names, and 365 veterans have made the trip.

Three-from-area-first-black-veterans-on-Honor-Flight-3

Eugene Goolsby, 88, of Toledo says discrimination kept him from the front lines. He was relegated to ammunition duty.

The Blade/Jeremy Wadsworth
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Mr. Tichy said he doesn't think it signifies anything that there have not been any black servicemen on the trip before now. But, he added, it is "long overdue."

Mr. Hamilton suggests it's possible that black veterans simply were not aware of the opportunity and did not sign up.

The 84-year-old from Holland said he has been on the waiting list since 2008. Mr. Jones, who served in the Army, said he signed up last year and Mr. Goolsby said he has been on the list since 2006.

Mr. Hamilton, who was in the Army Air Forces, said he is looking forward to just having a good time on the trip and honoring family members he lost in the war.

When he served in 1944, the air corps was segregated and, because of his race he had trouble even getting a shop to serve him a cup of coffee.

Mr. Jones, 90, of Toledo said that during his basic training at Fort Eustis in Newport News, Va., he and other black soldiers were not allowed to use rifles and were instead given broomsticks.

"There was a convoy of 30 or 50 trucks and only two guns in the hands of the leader of the convoy and an officer," he said. "That's all we had for firepower."

Things did not get easier when the black servicemen returned home, Mr. Goolsby said. He had trouble finding employment in Toledo in 1945, and banks turned him down for loans. "People weren't doing anything for black veterans," he said. "Living in Toledo was just like living in Georgia."

The three men agreed that the Honor Flight was a step in the opposite direction, and they hoped more black veterans would take advantage of the opportunity.

The veterans are expected to return to Ohio tonight for a celebration with family and friends.

Contact Aliyya Swaby at:

aswaby@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.

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