BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - In 1943, Biloxi resident James Taylor was an 18-year-old black man in the Navy. January 30th of that year, was a day he will never forget. That's when 22 sailors died after their ship was hit by a torpedo.
"I thought I would not make it," Taylor said. "But then I prayed, and I made it through."
Taylor was one of six black men who served with 250 fellow sailors aboard a destroyer with the fifth fleet in the South Pacific.
"That was awful," he remembered. "That was the most segregation I have ever experienced in my life."
The six black men were crammed into one small room on the ship. Taylor would load the front guns on the ship, but most of the time he and the other black men on board were only allowed to serve as stewards.
As a stewart on the ship, Taylor would shine the officers' shoes and do their laundry. There was no mingling of races, and at times, the black sailors feared for their lives. Taylor worried he would be thrown overboard if he was caught walking the deck alone.
But times have changed. Taylor was one of nearly 80 WWII vets recently invited to visit the war memorial in Washington. In his 88 years, it was one of Taylor's happiest moments.
"Seeing that monument was a tear jerker," he said with his voice choked with emotion. "It just made you want to cry and then it made you proud to be an American."