HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) – “I am doing great. It is a wonderful afternoon. Just a little cloudy in Hampton, otherwise a great day.”
That quick and cheerful response may make one wonder “What’s he been drinking, and eating, and doing, to sound so, so, full of life, at 100 years old?”
Major Anthony Grant, U.S. Army, Retired, reached the ripe (old) age of 100 this past January. On his 21st birthday in 1942, he, and the rest of the nation, were still reeling after the Japanese surprisingly attacked Pearl Harbor Navy Base in Hawaii. That prompted the United States to join World War II, and thus, begin drafting all able-bodied young men into the armed forces. Grant received his notice at his home in Harlem, New York that April.
“I was working as a printer’s apprentice because I loved the printing trade,” said Grant, looking into his computer’s camera during the Zoom interview.
Grant was born in New York, but, while a toddler, his mother sent him to St. Lucia, to live with family in the Caribbean islands. That island is about a 3 1/2 hour flight, southeast of Miami, Florida.
Fifteen years later, Grant was back in the Big Apple, with big dreams for an 18-year-old “negro from the Islands.”
“Eventually, I wanted to become a journalist. That was my aim in the long run.”
Grant’s first assignment was to report for duty in April at a government office in downtown Manhattan. He arrived two hours early.
“I was not scared, but I was nervous, because, in anticipation of what was going on. I realized that once I got in the Army, my life would change forever.”
Those changes began with an introduction to racism.
Grant did basic and specialty training at the Army’s Fort Dix, New Jersey, and Fort Lee in Petersburg, Virginia.
“My commanders forewarned the Black troops, especially those from the north, to be very careful when you visit the town(s).”
When he and other troops wanted to leave a base and travel into a community, Grant said the buses would load all the white troops first.
Attitudes towards Black people, farther south, were more threatening.
“There’s a town called Grenada, Mississippi and I was in the camp near the base for six months. And I went in town only twice. I only spent 15 minutes. Walked one or two blocks and came right back, because I didn’t want to give the police any excuse.”
Like many other Black people in military service during World War II, Grant was assigned to the Quartermaster Corps. He loaded, stored and delivered supplies to troops fighting the enemy on the front lines.
In June 1944, those front lines were about 50 miles of beach along Normandy, France. Grant and his battalion landed several days after the massive allied attack on German Forces, better known at “D-Day.”
More than 150,000 American, Canadian and British troops captured the beach and began pushing the occupying German forces inland.
By the time Grant arrived, about 10 days later, “within the beach itself, it was complete chaos. Burned equipment, abandoned clothing, abandoned shoes, abandoned helmets, burned out jeeps.”
As allied forces pushed toward Germany, Grant’s troops supplied them. And, they, too, came under fire.
“I’ve been shot at, and in turn I shot my weapon, but there was no immediate act like hand-to-hand or person-to-person exchange. Out of about 500 men we probably lost about 10. And the 10 were fired upon while they were driving their trucks in a combat area.”
Throughout the interview, Grant kept referring to “we.” He said he and his fellow soldiers were a team, and that no one accomplished anything alone.
After the war, Grant remained in Europe with the occupying troops. Eventually, he served all over the continent, Korea and Japan, Grant slowly moved up the enlisted ranks, and topped out as a Warrant Officer 2. He was offered a commission and retired after 20 years with the rank of Major, in 1963.
Meantime, Grant and his wife, Bernadette, raised two boys and two girls. Bernadette died in 2015. Grant was 95. The loving couple had been married 67 years. Their legacy also includes nine grandchildren, six great grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.
He still appears to be in good health, possesses a quick wit and hearty laugh, at 100 and a half years old.
When asked if he has a secret to longevity… “Yes, I do.. ha ha.” Mr. Grant shuffles several pages of notes, thinks for a moment, then looks up and says, “Have a positive mind, have a positive mind. Things will get better tomorrow.”