ST. PETERSBURG — Nearly 70 years ago -- July 26, 1948 -- President Truman ended segregation in the military.
Truman declared all members of the armed services would have equal treatment and opportunity, regardless of race, color, or religion.
Ninety-four-year-old John T. Ayers joined the Marines when he was just 18.
“Sometimes I wish I hadn't have went in. That boot camp was something else. Especially for black folks, anyway. They looked like they were trying to run us out. They didn't want us there in the first place, you see,” Ayers said.
He was one of thousands of black men - the first African American Marines ever - who were segregated. They went through basic training at Montford Point boot camp and served with dignity in the Pacific.
“They were shooting over our heads. It took us three hours to go half a block. We had a time in Saipan. And I don't even like to talk about it,” Ayers said.
Ayers fought for freedom from tyranny as his civil rights were denied at home.
So when he heard about President Trump's ban on transgender people serving in the military - he said the President is dead wrong.
If you can do the job, he says, you should be allowed to serve.
"That's the way I feel. As long as you can do the job,” Ayers said.
Ayers did the job for four years, serving alongside men and women alike.
“Shoot, some of them women are stronger than the men,” Ayers laughed.
He earned himself a Congressional Gold Medal in 2013 and was personally recognized by President Obama.
Asked what service is about to him?
“Free! To be free!” he replied.
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