PLAQUEMINE

Henry Felton may be 102 years old, but he remembers his time in the U.S. Army like it happened yesterday instead of 74 years ago.

And the World War II veteran, who will celebrate his 103rd birthday Aug. 22, says he would put on those Army fatigues all over again, despite the hardships he had to endure as a young black man serving in the military before the civil rights movement.

“I had good days, and I had some bad ones,” the lifelong Iberville Parish resident said. “But someone had to fight. So I did it.”

Felton joined in 1942 when he was 29 years old. He became a private first-class in the 4077th Quartermaster Service. His four years in the Army would first take him to Camp Claiborne in Alexandria before he was shipped off to the Philippines to join Allied forces trying to seize control of the islands from Japan.

“I just wanted to see things, see the world,” Felton said about his desire to join the military. “But I didn’t like the Philippines that much,” he added with a chuckle.

When asked what it was like to be a black man in the military back then, he gets a faraway look in his eyes and goes silent for a minute before shaking his head and simply replying, “traumatic.”

Despite those hardships, Felton racked up five medals and several other various accolades related to his service. His decorated history was lost six years ago when his surrogate granddaughter’s home burned down, destroying all of his medals.

But with some help, family, friends and the staff at the retirement home where Felton now lives, he may be getting a lot of those medals back.

During a recent celebration in his honor at Plaquemine Manor Nursing Home, the American Legion Post 167 presented Felton with its honorary recognition for his military service. That same day, the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs also presented him with the state’s Honor Medal. The state is also looking into replacing Felton’s lost medals.

Receiving both brought tears to his eyes.

“He served during a time when it was difficult for African-American men in the military,” said Gary Williams, with Clarity Hospice, during the nursing home’s program in Felton’s honor. “Thank God we’ve come a long way.”

Felton was honored by the nursing home as one of the oldest, living military veterans in the area.

Staff at the nursing home say Felton often regales them with colorful stories about his time in the military. The spirited vet has been living at the facility for 4½ years.

Katie Price-Anderson, who he’s called his surrogate granddaughter since he started dating her grandmother after leaving the military, describes him as a man who “never sat down” and loved to crack jokes. Felton worked various jobs throughout the years, the longest being at a sawmill in Plaquemine.

He also raised chickens and was a member of a singing group.

Felton had an identical twin brother and a daughter, both of whom are deceased.

Anderson said Felton still drove a car until he was about 82 years old and was pulled over by police. During the traffic stop he was informed by authorities that his driver’s license was suspended.

“After that, he said, ‘Forget it!’ and started riding a bicycle around town for the next 10 years,” she said. “I think that’s what helped him with his longevity. He told me the other day he would live to be 200 years old.”

“I told him I’d be (in heaven) looking down on him,” she quipped.

Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.