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WWII veteran proud of his time served

Jeremy Hauck
The Gazette

(2/19) Emmitsburg sent more than a half-dozen black men to the U.S. armed forces during World War II, but their names are not listed in any historical record in the town.

Richard Weedon, 82, feels connected to those men. He lives in Emmitsburg now, and served in the Navy during the war. Weedon is originally from Sunnyside — a village south of Frederick city — but it’s been more than 60 years since he called anywhere else but Emmitsburg home.

In an interview at his Emmit Gardens home last week, Weedon leisurely described some of his two years, three months and 28 days as a sailor at war.

‘‘I ain’t no young blood anymore," he admitted.

Roman Catholic icons hang on the walls of the home Weedon shares with his wife, Barbara. A bay window looks out onto a flagpole Weedon placed there when he moved to the home 31 years ago, from North Seton Avenue.

He came from a family of 10 children. Two of his brothers, now deceased, also served in the military. His two grown daughters, with his first wife, both live in the region. Since he retired from a 34-year career in animal farm management and maintenance at Fort Detrick in 1980, he’s been devoting his time to family, church, books and refinishing antique furniture.

Earlier this week, Weedon opened a 1945 photo album from the Yorktown, Va., Navy ordnance depot to a picture of himself. A 20-year-old with a thin, black mustache looks out from the page with a lopsided grin.

He worked in the torpedo shop at the base, which was, of course, segregated at the time.

‘‘We had our own different barracks, mess hall, everything," Weedon said. ‘‘I knew that’s how it was, so I never really held it against them. Some of the white people were very nice."

In the days long before the U.S. granted blacks equal rights, Weedon and his black friends found it necessary to go to ‘‘the black section" of town for USO dances.

He still remembers when he came face to face with overt racism on a bus ride home, long ago.

‘‘So, I sit about middle ways," he said. Three white men, wearing sailor uniforms just like his own, ambled down the aisle, and told him to move to the back. ‘‘So I told them I wouldn’t."

Even when the bus driver himself came back to tell Weedon to relocate, he refused to budge, he said, and the men had to be content with that. ‘‘I paid for the ticket, and I’m sitting where I’m sitting," he said.

Weedon won’t find such discrimination in Emmit Gardens, according to Guy A. Baker Jr., who lives next door to the Weedons.

‘‘I’ve probably known him for at least 40 years," Baker said, characterizing Weedon as ‘‘very laid back."

‘‘I don’t think he has an enemy in the world," Baker said.

Weedon still shows signs of racial consciousness, though. He hesitates to go to movies – he remembers when blacks were only allowed to sit in the back row.

‘‘He doesn’t say it, but it’s there," Baker said.

Despite decades of integration, traces of discrimination remain.

The exclusion of black veterans from Emmitsburg’s war histories is a deliberate oversight that has not been corrected, according to Mike Hillman, president of the Emmitsburg Area Historical Society.

Hillman has run www.emmitsburg.net, a nonprofit Web site that includes hundreds of pages of local history, since 2000. One of those pages is a long list of WWII veterans from the area. In compiling the list, Hillman noticed that there were no black veterans in his source material — the memorial plaque in front of the American Legion Francis X. Elder Post 121 and a 1946 catalog of veterans. It struck him as strange, Hillman said.

‘‘It was like, something is missing here. There have always been blacks in Emmitsburg," he said, adding that, as a Navy Lieutenant from 1978-83, he worked with many black officers.

His inquiries led him to meet Weedon about two years ago. Last week, Hillman acknowledged that the task of tracking down other black veterans has not been so easy.

‘‘We know that they contributed, we know they fought for their country, we just don’t know who they are, or what happened to them," he said.

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