GLADSTONE, Mo. — Each of our life stories is part of America’s story. One Gladstone man has quite a story to share, and the perfect listeners to hear and record it.
“Thurston Walker, Paul Hamilton,” Gene Berry recalled the names of men in the photo that is more than 60 years old. The names aren’t forgotten or the place.
Korea. A war that in one very big way changed America. Gene Berry was there in the Army.
“That’s when I first became aware of integration,” Berry said.
President Truman had desegregated the military, and the war hastened the process. Gene shared his memories with Army Major Cedric Burden from Ft. Leavenworth.
“I’m thankful for all the veterans who’ve paved the path so I can wear this uniform today and have those luxuries,” said Major Burden.
Travis Loughary, a veteran, was there, too, recording Berry’s story.
“You really can’t do much better than someone who was there right at the forefront of integration,” Loughary said.
Berry shared funny tales.
“They even gave us beer. So you say they don’t do that anymore?” he asked Maj. Burden as they all laughed.
Berry has vivid memories of watching the USS Missouri.
“They’d be blasting that harbor. You could read the newspaper out there at night — light things up,” said Berry.
Berry told them there was no tension in his desegregated platoon.
“Never had any problems. Everybody had a job to do and went to do the job,” said Berry.
But there wasn’t a promotion for Berry. His commanding officer was also African American.
“He never promoted me because people would say he was favoring me, you know,” said Berry.
The story was told below a mantle with a photo of America’s current commander-in-chief.
So how did Major Burden and Loughary connect with Berry?
Berry is in hospice, end-of-life care. Crossroads Hospice has the Life Journal program that relies on volunteers and nursing students from Park University.
Loughary is studying to be a registered nurse. The lesson here? Every patient is a person.
“It’s just not diabetes. It’s Korean War vet or trailblazer for integration,” said Loughary.
And it’s a story worth preserving for Berry’s grandson who’s a Marine, and for all of us.
“MacArthur, his thing was ‘Old soldiers never die,’ we just fade away,” said Berry.
The story of this old soldier will live on.
Crossroads Hospice will put Gene’s memories into a book for him and his family. Volunteers are needed to collect these stories from veterans or just visit with them. To apply, call 816-333-9200 or go to firstname.lastname@example.org