The Idea

Large Scale Portraits of people with a lot of life experience that integrate the actual words of their stories into the lines and wrinkles of their faces.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Frank- Transcript



I was born in September the 17th 1919 in Cleveland.

I was there till I moved to Grand Rapids. There was a hotel on the corner of Grandville and Goodrich. That was my grandfather's hotel and the Horse Show Bar. I tended the bar and I went to technical school. I went to Davis tech and when I came out I didn't have nothing to do so I joined the CCC camp- Civilians Conservation Corp. They were segregated so I was with a bunch of my own people. I worked in the forestry cutting trees and stuff. But when I got out, there was a law and the only job I was allowed to get was I had to be a doorman at a hotel or you had to shine shoes or join one of the foundries- do the hard work here.  That was in 1937. I had gone to technical school. I could've done more but I wasn't allowed to.

My dad had 3 Negro baseball teams. I used to fight. I trained with Mayweather- Floyd Senior on Wealthy and Jefferson. I had a Golden Glove team and we all boxed. I trained with Tony Tucker and Dale Newhoff. I won two of the three years. Grand Rapids, Frank.
We were the only ones that had a Black Boxing center. Tony Tucker fought Tyson when Tyson was first coming on.  These were the guys I was training with. We trained them. I got satisfaction out of doing that because we were a target- the only black team in the city. I knew if I didn't do it nobody would. We were the first to do this- a black team.  We had Buster Mathis - he went pro.

But, I was a bad boy because I was always into something- anything that happened in town and my dad having the hotel- he was very affluent- he was discouraged because I
didn't try to be something other than what I was.  Then the babies came whoever they was. I kept getting into little scrapes fights. I was a bad boy really. I cant say I wasn't. Dad had a friend -Walter Cole- a detective - dad told him, "We got to do something with that boy and Walter says, "I'll fix him. " So he went down and registered me downtown- the police department. They say take him down and register him and send him off to the armed service. That's how I got in the Navy. I had two babies by two different women and the babies were due about the same time so I had to get out. Oh yeah, I was a bad boy. There was so little for guys to get into in that time that you do just the opposite. Because my dad was a bar owner and everyone knew about that, My dad was a wrong doer all his life. Dad made whisky and put it in the buggy and put the pillow on top and put me in on top of the pillow and he'd go to his people where he'd do business- he was a bootlegger. I must have been about 6 years old and there was an Indian guy and he and dad were bootlegging and this Italian guy that dad owed him some money and wouldn't pay him. He abducted me and kept me until dad gave him the money he owed him.

I was afraid of my dad all my life. He'd leave home and wouldn't come back for a couple of weeks and I 'd be with my aunt or cousins or something. Then family services took my sister and I. They separated us. I didn't know where my sister was until we were sitting in a movie and I heard a little girl snapping her gum and I thought that sounds like my sister and I turn around and she was right there behind me.

I am 91. I'll be 92 this month.

When I went into the navy I had never been aboard ship. I didn't know how big they were. I couldn't swim I joined- I wasn't drafted. And they sent to me to Norfolk, Virginia. They had signs there- I had never been South, "Niggers and dogs keep off" in the grass. I got scared. I got on board ship and didn't come out.

I went in the navy as a steward mate third.  That's the lowest thing you can be in the navy. I stayed ten years and when I come out I was still a steward mate third. I got no advancements. And I was responsible for these guys- all these guys from the south; some of them illiterate but that didn't bother me. I thought I was going to join the navy and be a Seaman but, these guys was cooks- mess attendants that's what they called ya. All you did was take care of the officers, shine their shoes, get their uniform ready, make their bed, feed em . I wanted to be like the white sailors I didn't know one from the other but I spent the whole ten years working with these people right here.

When they sent me they didn't tell me that I couldn't qualify for whatever it was I could do.  I joined and when I got to Hawaii it was still smoking. We were on our way to Pearl and that scared me quite a bit but I said, "Well, I'll come out I'll be alright" and I couldn't swim but that wouldn't do any good anyway.

They put me in this mess attendants white coat like you serve on the ships and what not but I stayed there. I said,  "Well, I can qualify and be a seaman or a machinist like the rest of these guys" but none of these guys that you see on there had any rank we were all the same including me and I appealed.  The West Virginia was hit 9 times by bombs. When we got there we stayed in housing. We couldn't stay in the West Virginia cause it was sitting in the mud.  They raised the ship up without any insides. We went back to the states with nothing in the ship but water. It was just a hull. It didn't have any furniture and it was war time. It was kind of dangerous going across the Pacific without no guns, no nothing. We didn't have anything. We went back to the states, refitted it and got out of there just in time to get to Iwo Jima . We lost a couple of guys. Then we went to Okanowa and took that Island. A lot of fighting.  But when the fighting would come about there would be an alarm and we'd go below and pass ammunition. I didn't want to go down there with all the doors locked cause the water will break through. Because if your hit you can't get out cause all the doors are locked. You know I went to the officers but none of them could get to the upper echelon.

I was on board that ship for 10 years.  I played football with the team and I did some boxing and I got along with all the officers and I appealed to each one and each one said they'd see what they can do. I said I want to be like these guys.  But all the time I was in  there I didn't get a rating or nothing I got the same story every where I went and I got confused and I didn't know where to turn or who to go to so I just took it.

Everywhere I went I worked for the captain. I was on the Dixie and I was on the Patterson destroyer. I got to be friends with all these guys. Eventually, there was a white kid over us on the gun station when the war started and they gave me a break and  put me topside on the main deck and I stayed there for a while and his name was Todd and he got hit. He got wrecked, you know. He was hollering one night in battle and the tracers he would see there and think they were planes coming in and he just lost it like that and they removed him. The gunnery officer talked to me and they thought enough of me to send me to gunnery school and I was the only one that went out of that group. It made me feel good because my assignment was Todd's place- white kid- and he was in charge of all these guys and the guns. When he cracked up Mr. Broadhagen, his name was, he vouched for me to go to Gunnery school. They taught us how to identify silhouettes of ships. They indoctrinated me. They didn't want to put another white kid over all these blacks. Mr. Broadhagen - he was lieutenant commander - I come out they placed me on top of the deck and I was happy about that because I could see the action. You can't see nothin in that hole and I had a gun on the ship - 20 mm guns. I stayed there with the big helmet on but I never could get the chance to be anything but a mess attendant. They treated me well. Nobody hurt me. Nobody mistreated me but they just didn't move me up. I came from Grand Rapids and these kids all come from the south and they didn't know anything. They were just there to be used like "You do this. You do that. But I was in charge for quite a while.

I begged and begged and begged these guys and I played football with em and I got along with everybody on board the ship but I could never get anybody to feel the way I felt . I just stayed there for 10 years. That's the only bitterness I have against the navy. I stayed in the navy from the day of Pearl Harbor until the day of surrender in Yokohama Bay. That was the end of the war. I stayed on that ship all that time. I came home and I appealed but it come to no end.

I think it was a hand me down thing from the captain. I think the captain of the ship was prejudiced and he didn't think of us as equal but I knew all the crew we got along fine. But that couldn't be nothing else. I never go a chance to have an audience to say, "Well, you're qualified" I never had a test - you know how they evaluate your rank as you go up. We never had that. I just stayed there day after day. Whatever came up, we went along with it. All we did was serve the officers, coddle them, lay out their clothes- housekeepers. But, I couldn't qualify for anything else. I wasn't allowed.

We had one accident when a plane hit the side of the ship and killed two guys.

That was in Iwo Jima. Then, in Yokohama when Macarthur signed the peace treaty I was there.

After that they put me in the CBs. The people that come in and do the work -  a Construction Battalion.

I wanted to live according with the whites.  You see pictures of guys with flags and what not but you never see black guys doing that not in the whole entire thing until Doray Miller. Doray Miller was just like I was, he'd clean up the sheets and what not but, he ran up on deck and saw the captain was mortally wounded. He shot one plane down and they made a hero of him.  He didn't know what to do. He wasn't trained, but he reached and grabbed the machine gun. But they won't mention this. You won't read about it too much. I knew Dory before. Then he was sent to another ship. I got a gun. I was assigned to a gun for a minute shooting.  I seen a plane coming in deck high and the plane blew up about 50 yards away from me and we were firing at it and it just ran out of gas and blew up and I turned my back and one of those pieces hit me. Nobody got hurt but that was pretty scary.
My knees were shaking and I didn't know what was going to hit me next. I had the headphones on and I heard from the bridge Group 19 has been wiped out. That was the ship I was on. You couldn't see nothing but smoke. But you don't run away from a battle. It was a suicide bomber.

Other times you had to turn out the motor and just ease along slowly and turn out the lights because you were in dangerous territory you can't smoke, you cant make a light, your ships dark - blacked out . I got scared a couple of times.

But, I had a sense of responsibility and no place to go.

I remember the day that one of the sailors got hit and the battle was over and they come down with the stretcher and this guy's arm was hanging by a thread- he was dead and they came by and I thought, this is real.

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