A Place Called Home
Joe LaNier grew up in the Jim Crow–era South and served in the segregated Navy during World War II. All he knew was separate and unequal. Until he came to Denver.
In late 1943, LaNier had seen a small black-and-white advertisement in the Columbus, Mississippi, newspaper, the Commercial Dispatch. Uncle Sam looked directly into LaNier’s young face, finger pointed at him. Even though LaNier knew the military was segregated, he wondered if perhaps this was the route he could take to escape the racism and poverty of northeastern Mississippi.
A small recruiting office kept normal business hours in Columbus, but it was there only to pique interest and funnel recruits to a larger office in Jackson, which was a few hours away. Without much thought, and without consulting with his family, LaNier decided to go in, alone. A retired Navy man turned recruiter named C.B. Roberts sat and talked with LaNier. After their discussion, LaNier was ready to join, but he didn’t know that to officially enlist he had to first convince his father, Joseph, to sign the necessary papers. LaNier had no idea he was too young to do it all on his own. He was 17 years old.
LaNier walked home with paperwork and then explained to Papa, as Joe Sr. was known, how he could help the family with a U.S. Navy allotment every month, and Papa agreed without hesitation. At 17 years and 10 months old, LaNier was accepted into the service. The teen was eager to leave the gravel roads and cotton fields of Columbus and take a chance.