African-American World War II veterans honored at banquet
Posted November 11, 2008
Updated November 12, 2008
Raleigh, N.C. — American Legion Post 157 honored African-American World War II veterans at its annual banquet Tuesday night at the North Raleigh Hilton.
The men fought the enemy and discrimination in their own services. Among those was Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert Sharpe, a Navy veteran of World War II.
At that time, Sharpe said, blacks were expected to be stewards who cleaned and made the beds of officers. He refused and paid dearly for that, he said.
"I was court-martialed, sent to the brig and lived on bread and water for 30 days at a time. The Navy did everything they could to break me, but they never did,” he said.
He remembers two things capable of breaking the racial barrier: enemy bullets and bombs.
During the Battle of Okinawa, Sharpe's vessel came under kamikaze attack.
"When your life depends on the person next to you fighting along beside you – you really don't give a damn about his color,” Sharpe said.
After a few years, Sharpe left the Navy, but decided to return in 1950 to study to become a corpsman.
"I was the only black in a group of 200, and they made my life miserable," Sharpe said.
Despite everything, however, he graduated near the top of his class.
"When that is the only country you know, good or bad, she is your country and you fight to defend her with your life,” Sharpe said.
These days, Sharpe is an assistant professor of health education at North Carolina Central University. He says he is glad to see the day an African-American was elected the commander-in-chief.