Leon Bass was born in Philadelphia, PA in 1925. He joined the US Army in 1943 and served as a member of the all-Black 183rd Engineer Combat Battalion attached to General Patton's Third Army. Leon's unit was involved in the Battle of the Bulge as well as the liberation of Buchenwald. After the war, Leon went on to receive his doctorate, teach, and speak about the Holocaust and racism.
In this interview, Leon describes his first experiences with the realities of war and death. He reflects upon his decision to join the US Army and fight for his country, even though he experienced discrimination and racism in the United States.
And it became my first experience with, with death and dying. You see, up to this time, I had never seen anybody even shot or wounded. But here, I saw the bodies on the grave registration trucks. I saw the bodies of people that I knew. And I remember another time, I saw someone I didn't know. He happened to be white, he's about my age, and he was on the ground and his eyes were wide open. They were blue. He had blonde hair with, and his hands were frozen above him, his body because the weather was so cold. He had been alongside the road for a while. And I looked down into those eyes and I realized that I could end up just like that. And that's when I began to question my wisdom for having joined the Army. And, uh, I wanted to know why I was there. What in the heck am I doing here when I can't get a drink of water, when I can't ride on a bus, when I can't eat in a restaurant? And here I am, putting my life on the line, fighting for rights and privileges that I'm denied.
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