PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (CBS Local) — A veteran of World War II who was forced to leave the military because of the color of his skin calls an honorable discharge to correct the injustice “a miracle.”
Nelson Henry Jr., 95, of Philadelphia, was notified Monday that his discriminatory “blue discharge” from 1945 had been changed to honorable.
“It’s unbelievable. I’m still wondering if it’s a dream,” Henry told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “I had my doubts, believe me.”
More than 48,000 soldiers, including Henry, were given blue discharges between 1941 and 1945. Of those, a disproportionate number were black, gay, or lesbian service members.
In Henry’s case, he had accepted a “blue discharge” to avoid court martial after receiving “several minor infractions” — letting a fire burn out, ignoring a command and stealing a baseball glove — that his lawyers contend were unsubstantiated.
Denied some veterans benefits, Henry had sought to have his “blue discharge” changed in the 1940s, but got nowhere. However, when his lawyers filed an appeal in March 2019, the Army Board for Correction of Military Records, due to Henry’s age, agreed to expedite its review, which typically takes at least 18 months.
The Army reviewed hundreds of documents and said it found no evidence of misconduct, ruling that Henry had been targeted by his superiors and “that there may have been an environment of racial discrimination” that led to his eviction from the Army.
“He served his country with honor and is entitled to have this injustice corrected during his life by upgrading his discharge to honorable,” the board said in a May 24 letter. “The board discussed that there was evidence that an injustice occurred.”
Henry said he has one regret — that his wife died before the Army cleared his name.
“After 71 years, I thought she would be here to celebrate with me,” he said tearfully. “That’s the thing that hurts more.”