Elijah McKelvin, like many in his time, joined the United States military forces to fight in what was the deadliest conflict in human history.
But unlike many servicemen, McKelvin was one of a relatively small number of African-Americans to serve.
Those men fought two wars. The war against Fascism and the war against racism.
“I can tell you some stories about being in the Navy. A Jim Crow Navy,” said McKelvin.
From the very beginning of his service, just 3 months after his 18th Birthday, Elijah McKelvin faced widespread racial discrimination that had followed him to the Pacific.
“They wouldn’t give Black sailors any liberty, liberty means to go aboard (ashore), like on a little vacation. But they never would allow us off the ship. They would tell us that we may be kidnapped and people take our identification. That’s the lie were telling’. And they would tell the natives that we were monkeys, stuff like that.”
And though he served with honor McKelvin couldn’t help but feel that his country didn’t acknowledge his service.
“I was kinda glad to serve my country but it still left a stigma of unaccomplishment of certain things that I could do. I never felt that I was a full-fledged Navy man.”
McKelvin was honorably discharged from the Navy at the rank of Seaman first-class. He wanted to be bosen mate, so he studied and passed the test. The Navy denied him, saying he would have to serve another 18 months.
“You feel bad serving your country and you come back and you find segregation still haunts you.”
More that 60 years later, he’s skipped a few ranks.
“I couldn’t join a white yacht club, they wouldn’t accept us, they got some right here- so I joined the Breezy Point, an all-black yacht club. I’m still a member of that today. I became captain of my own boat.”