Olivia, North Carolina
One day in 1943, Willie Howard was waiting at a bus stop in Tennessee with several other men from Camp Tyson when a local sheriff drove by, circled back and told the men to get in the car. The last place Howard, 20 years old, and the other African Americans wanted to be was in the back of that car, but they did as they were told. Black troops at Tyson had frequent run-ins with local cops. Southern civilian police were notoriously hard on black soldiers – and the Military Police were hardly better. With their bus hours away, there was little choice but to do as they were told. The soldiers were much relieved to learn the sheriff was taking them to the station to wait for their bus, off the street and out of harm's way. They made easy target for redneck locals who had a problem with a black man wearing the uniform of the United States Army. Southern whites often viewed a proud display of patriotism by men of color as a provocation. Later, the sheriff drove them back to the bus stop. “He was concerned for our safety,” Howard said. “If he hadn't done that, God knows what would've happened to us. We didn't have to be warned — we knew. If you were raised in the South back then, you knew.” Howard landed on Utah Beach with the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion on D-Day, June 6, 1944. As he waded to shore, a shell landed just feet away. It was a dud. And he lived. Willie Howard died on Feb. 19, 2017, one month shy of his 94th birthday.