The last time we sat down with Reverend Matthew Southall Brown, Sr. he told us the story of his military service.
“When I graduated from high school,” Brown recalls, “I got my diploma in this hand and my orders in that hand. The military back then was strictly segregated. I went in at 17… maybe 17 1/2 and quartermaster they called it. Stacking gasoline, washing pots and pans, cleaning latrines, and the Red Ball highway and that kind of thing.”
Pastor Brown, a member of the Greatest Generation, was a trailblazer on the battlefield– among the first African American soldiers to fight in World War II.
“I was with the group 2,221 African American soldiers they selected and scattered us out throughout the infantry,” Brown says.
The year was 1943. He was serving in Europe when the Battle of the Bulge broke out.
“We went up there and got a crash training. And they put us in that fight to close that bulge. So, we went up there and we fought gallantly. I saw a lot of heroic things done by African American soldiers that never, never got reported.”
Now, at 97, Brown is on his way back to Europe– to the Netherlands– to celebrate 75 years of peace and liberation from German attacks.
He’s been invited to commemorate and memorialize 32 black volunteer infantry men buried in the American Cemetery at Margraten. He will pay tribute to those soldiers who fought in the Netherlands and talk about his own experiences in the segregated U. S. Army and the temporary desegregation ordered by President Eisenhower.
He says he’s looking forward to this moment with ‘great anticipation.’
“The people in the Netherlands sent me a temporary itinerary,” Brown explains. “I’m to meet the king and the queen. I’m to meet people of the American Embassy. And I’m to talk to maybe upwards of one hundred young people. I pinched myself when it became apparent that I was going. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.”
Brown says he never imagined returning to Europe. And while he can’t turn back the hands of time, he can move forward to make a difference.
“This country, America, did not try at the beginning of black presence in America. But your country and my country and his country is trying very, very hard now to change that image and I’m helping them. I’m assisting them because I want it changed, too.”
Pastor Brown is also one of seven WWII veterans who will be honored for his bravery in the European Theater– also known as the Second European War.
He will be accompanied by one of his sons and grandson to the Netherlands.
They are leaving August 28th and will return September 6th.