It has been nearly 60 years since one area veteran was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army, and my how times have changed.
Cecil Williams, 80, of rural Rolla, was drafted into the U.S. Army and served for two years — from 1953 to 1955 — the same time as black and white servicemen were being fully integrated in the armed forces.
Before integration, servicemen of different ethnicities served in segregated support units, with a lot of the black units being overseen by white military commissioned officers.
There were the Buffalo Soldiers, established by Congress as the first peacetime all-black regiments in the regular U.S. Army in 1866 and the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-American pilots who fought in World War II.
But Williams said the thought at the time when he served began to change and people began to question, "Why have two armies fight?"
And that's when President Harry S. Truman ordered the integration of the armed forces.
While Williams had never served before, he didn't know how much of a difference there would be, but noted that there were regulations servicemen had to follow regardless of any changes.
"You just had mixed soldiers ... we slept in the same bunks," Williams recalled.
Williams said both blacks and white worked things out and got along in his unit. Williams said he would help read a fellow soldier's mail and help him write letters.
He said because many of the men he served with were from the South, they all got along. "We always had a lot to talk about," he said.
His wife, Velma Ruth, who he married one month before being drafted, said both blacks and whites "were there for the same purpose. I think it went a lot better than they expected."
Williams served in the 10th Medium Tank battalion (U.S. infantry) and was a squad leader during basic training at Fort Chaffee, Ark. He later served at Fort Hood, Texas, but never served overseas.
Many of Williams and his wife's family members also served in the military during World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War.
"It was a patriotic thing," Williams said. "We as a people pitched in and did what we had to do."
Before being drafted, Williams attended Langston University in Langston, Okla., and has an industrial arts education.
After the service, Williams worked for three years teaching airmen how to repair aircraft at the Amarillo Air Force Base in Texas.
In 1958, he moved to Rolla and later worked for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). For some time, he moved to Menlo Park, Calif., with the USGS, but returned to Rolla around 1984. He retired in 1990 from USGS.
Page 2 of 2 - He was a substitute teacher at the vocational-technical school in Rolla for 11 years.
Williams and his wife celebrated 59 years of marriage this past October.
Williams is a singer and songwriter and wrote the lyrics and music to the book "The Black West in Story and Song," which was written by former UMR professor Michael Patrick and illustrated by Rolla's Keith Conway.