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"A white fella told me [after the Pearl Harbor attack], ‘Well, we have a battle,’ and I said, ‘No, we don’t have one; you have a battle,’ because...I was a real victim of discrimination here in Texas, and I knew I wasn’t wanted, period."(Video Interview, 4:29)

   Reby Cary
Collection image
Reby Cary in uniform [1943]
War: World War, 1939-1945
Branch: Coast Guard
Unit: USS Cambria (APA 36)
Service Location: New Jersey; Saipan (Northern Mariana Islands); Japan; Tinian (Northern Mariana Islands); Leyte (Philippines); Luzon (Philippines); Okinawa Island (Ryukyu Islands); Key West, Florida; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Pacific Theater
Rank: Radioman First Class
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Having grown up in Texas in the 1920s and 1930s, Reby Cary had experienced racial discrimination and was eager to avoid it in the service. So when he was drafted out of graduate school in 1942, he enlisted in the Coast Guard, which was actively recruiting blacks to become able-bodied seamen. He trained as a radio operator and served aboard the Cambria, a ship involved in the invasions of Saipan and Okinawa. Cary was accepted as an equal aboard his ship, so it was more than disappointing when he returned home to find the status quo, right down to black veterans being denied postwar job training. He persevered, becoming an educator, an author, a businessman, and a state legislator.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (8 clips)
» Part 1 
Download: video (72 min.)
»Photo Album  (8 photos)
 Other Materials
»View List (2 items)
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 Video (Interview Excerpts) (8 items)
Drafted while in graduate school; did not want to go into Army and train in the South because of racial discrimination; recruited by Coast Guard with promise that they were looking for black men to be apprentice seamen; thought the Coast Guard would not send him abroad during the war, not reckoning it had come under control of the Navy. (01:12) Had never heard of Pearl Harbor; told white man who said, “We have a battle” that the battle was not his because he had felt discrimination and felt unwanted; sent to Florida after training in Manhattan Beach; prejudice in Miami, but in Key West, the base broke down barriers and integrated the mess hall; assigned to Ft. Lauderdale, where he was segregated only briefly in mess hall; went to war on a segregated train, came home on a segregated train. (03:50) In Key West, chief wanted to assign him to kitchen duty and he refused, citing his college education and status as an apprentice seaman, so he was trained as a radio man there and in New Jersey, where he was third black man to be a radio operator; studied hard, knowing how weak he was in math. (02:29)
After school in New Jersey, back to Miami; incident on an elevator with a white man incredulous that Cary had a stripe on his uniform indicating he was a radio man; stuck in Florida for a time until a chance meeting got him assigned to the Cambria in San Francisco. (02:01) For him, no discrimination aboard ship; blacks in kitchen looked out for him at meal time because of his rank; saw action during invasion of Saipan; watched as Marines were picked off and their bodies floated by his ship; captain put in report that there were “few casualties,” which he disagreed with but was told to hold his tongue; the closer they got to the action, the larger the attendance at chaplain's services; worst danger was around Okinawa; Japanese attacked them at night, so there was no let-up. casualties,” which he disagreed with but was told to hold his tongue; the closer they got to the action, the larger the attendance at chaplain’s services; worst danger was around Okinawa; Japanese attacked them at night, so there was no let-up. (06:47) Disparity between fighting a war for freedom and knowing that discrimination still existed back home; angry that after he had served and was discharged in Louisiana, he had to ride a segregated train back home to Texas; racial climate has improved, but discrimination still exists in more subtle forms. (03:23)
Minister organized training in Ft. Worth for black WWII veterans after they were denied access to city program; he finished his Master’s Degree at Prairie View in 1948; for most part, war had changed nothing for blacks; could not get job as a radioman; told prospective employers he was in the 52/20 Club: for 52 weeks, drew $20 unemployment compensation. (04:36) Defending your country when it's threatened; getting behind the troops during a war; saving protests for after the war is over; champion of free enterprise; concerned about too much government regulation on businesses. (03:16) 
 Other Materials (2 items)
Biographical information Congressional veteran commendation 

Home » Reby Cary
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  October 26, 2011
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