Memorial Day weekend events in Germantown honor fallen soldiers and living veterans

Stephen E. Sherman, 92, didn’t know a thing about segregation until he entered the Army. Born and raised in Colorado, he was the lone African American on his high-school basketball and football teams. No one seemed to care.

“We were all one,” Sherman said.

As young men across the country rushed to enlist after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Sherman got his first taste of segregated society.

“All my football buddies went in at the reception center [for enlistees], and they had to go this way and I had to go this way,” Sherman said. “I’d never seen that.”

Sherman did tours of duty in both the European and Pacific theaters of World War II, fighting in the Battle of the Bulge and also silencing remaining Japanese forces in Okinawa in 1946.

As is obvious from his brightly-adorned military jacket, Sherman rose the ranks during his time in the military. He ended his service with the distinction of “Staff Sergeant,” but he prefers “Commander,” which he has embroidered on his hat.

Honored at ACES Museum

On Saturday, hours after a Memorial Day event hosted by state Rep. Steven Kinsey, Sherman was at the ACES Museum in Germantown with other African American vets for a day of barbeque, story-telling and remembrance.

Located on the corner of Germantown Avenue and Price Street, the museum houses a preserved “unofficial” USO used by black soldiers during World War II.

“The main reason I came out here is because that USO is intact,” said Sherman, who has visited the museum several times in the past.

A California resident, Sherman traveled to Philadelphia after a call from museum co-founder Dr. A.V. Hankins. The two met at the Democratic National Black Caucus a few years back, and Sherman, impressed with Hankins’ work with the museum, has supported it ever since.

“She’s done so much for this community that when she calls me, I come,” Sherman said of Hankins, who has operated the museum ever since she discovered the former USO in the building that was supposed to be solely her medical practice.

“Our whole thing is positive history,” Hankins said. “In the 1940s, they used to call black people ‘spades,’ so that’s where we got the name from.”

The museum is home to exhibits featuring prominent and forgotten black soldiers of past wars, and on Saturday, it played host to a medal ceremony commemorating numerous African American veterans from the area.

What it means to them

One of the veterans honored was former U.S. Marine Anton Ricardo Austin, who served in the Vietnam War.

“This is a dedication to all the Marines and Army people who have sacrificed,” the 65-year-old Southwest Philadelphia native said. “It felt great. It’s a great honor for the service we’ve put forth for this country.”

Austin, who is quick to chant the Marine “hoorah” acknowledgement to anyone who asks about his time in the military, was severely injured in Vietnam.

He took severe bullet wounds to the leg and torso during his tour of active duty, which lasted about seven months. He said that he owes his fellow soldiers, both black and white, for his life.

“If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here.” Austin said. “You’re just put up to the test, and thank God we passed.”

For Philadelphia native Rasheeda Mouzone, who served in the marines during peacetime, from 1986 to 1990, the event was an opportunity to connect with “heroes.”

“For me, it’s coming out and connecting with folks like this gentleman,” she said, pointing to Austin. “I wanted to be a part of that network.”

The ACES Museum is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The morning event

The bass, tripes and quad drums of the Impulse Alliance rumbled on Germantown Avenue Saturday morning as members marched in formation for State Rep. Stephen Kinsey’s “Salute to the Veterans.”

Brad K. El and his wife Crystal of Boaz and Ruth Incorporated, have sponsored this four-year established drumline of young men and woman.

“We bring the children out and show them other vets,” Crystal told NewsWorks. “This is their first [time] doing this event.

“This group is new to veterans because a lot of them don’t have veterans in their families. So, for them to have a new experience of knowing what a disabled veteran is, and learning history, and they can meet with the elders in living color.”

Brad El, a disabled veteran who served in peacetime Hawaii for the Navy from 1981 to 1989, is the president of the World War II Black Navy Veterans, which was founded in the Great Lakes as a social club for the cooks and service men who did not receive their rank because they were of color.

Today, there are about three living in Great Lakes. Brad and Crystal, the secretary, lead the Philadelphia chapter of Navy veterans — six WWII vets and one Korean War vet.

“We appreciate their service and want to keep their legacy alive,” Crystal said.

The scene itself

After Impulse Alliance marched to the Soldier’s Monument, the formal ceremony began.

Representatives of both the Marine Corps and Air Force presented the American flag. A representative of State Rep. Rosita Youngblood spoke. Nathan Thomas, a Tuskegee Airman, talked about the historical importance of WWII and congratulated the work of Kinsey in the Germantown neighborhood.

Veterans and community members then walked to witness the laying of the military wreath.

Once the gate was unlocked, Chauncey L. Ivey and Kinsey carried the wreath and placed it inside of monument. With a moment of silence, Kenney Taylor blew into his golden trumpet and played a patriotic melody.

Kinsey concluded the ceremony by talking about his older brother who served in the United States Marine Corps and younger brother who is currently serving in the United States Army.

“You fine men and women, you are my linkage to history,” Kinsey said. “As I reflect, all of us should recognize that Memorial Day is one of the most important dates on the calendar. Today, those of us who are here are fortunate enough to reach out and say thank you to the men and women who have served our country.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.