Local WWII vet reflects on challenges of being an African American soldier

Black History Month

Bill Miller said the barracks were segregated -- black soldiers had substandard housing, while white soldiers had better conditions

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – To celebrate Black History Month, World War II veteran Bill Miller shared stories about life as an African American soldier back then — and some about how his wife stood by him through it all.

Bill has been married to his wife, Elizabeth, for 76 years. He knew she was the one when they met at a house party.

“He wanted to walk me home and I only lived right across the street from where the party was,” Elizabeth said. “So he didn’t have very long.”

She was 19 and Bill was 20 when they got married right before he was sent overseas. It was not an easy transition.

“It was scary because sometimes his mail didn’t come as fast as I would expect, but we’re glad everything turned out good,” Elizabeth said.

Bill said war was frightening because you never knew which day might be your last.

“I had to lead our trucks in these blackout towns and there were no lights, and some of these buildings had snipers. That’s what we were so afraid of.”

During these transportation duties, they would lose a few soldiers on the way.

But as an African American soldier, war wasn’t Bill’s only worry.

“We were more afraid of war but we were more cautious of the treatment that we were receiving,” he said.

He said the barracks they stayed in were segregated. Black soldiers had substandard housing, while white soldiers had better conditions.

“A lot of this, we should have been right in the middle of it but we were on the outside looking in on it,” Bill said.

He said there were a lot of limitations on African American soldiers.

“We couldn’t understand why we were over there, doing the same thing for the same country who was represented by Americans but still, they’re treating us as under it.”

If he could take one lesson he learned, it would be to always be true to yourself.

“Be the best you can be wherever and whatever you might be involved in,” Bill said. “You need to not take a backseat to any group or anyone but be yourself, and stand tall, and look high and straight ahead.”

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