GLOVERSVILLE — While Ambrose Anderson is one of the men who made the ‘Greatest Generation’ just that, for the longest time, he received hardly any recognition for his deeds.
“All I did was what they told me to do,” Anderson said.
Years ago, on a blood-soaked beach, the Gloversville native dodged bullets while delivering ammunition to frontline troops. Some of the guys around him weren’t so fortunate.
He saw many things he wishes he hadn’t, and the World War II veteran still has vivid memories of the time he spent both in and out of battle as a member of the all-Black 8th Marine Ammunition Company.
Very few of those memories are the good kind.
“I could tell you stuff you don’t want to know,” Anderson said. “I remember getting on the train when I went into the service and going to the back. From that day on …”
Anderson was talking about the racism he endured during his military stint that began at the segregated Camp Montford Point in Jacksonville, N.C., and continued after his departure when finding a job and making ends meet was difficult, and recognition of his gallantry under fire was next to none.
“He went right back to being a second class citizen,” said Clifton Park resident Mark Yingling, who advocates for World War II veterans.
“The way they treated us [in the service], I came back bitter,” said Anderson, who began his two-year military hitch in 1943 after he was drafted at the age of 18. “Things got better, but we are still not there. The United States is not there yet.”
But change is coming, and it can be seen in events like Friday’s where the man known to his friends as “Cowboy” had a very special and significant 95th birthday. Following a parade of vehicles filled with waving well-wishers that traversed up and down Forest Street, state Senator Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, presented Anderson with the New York State Liberty Medal, the Senate’s highest honor for service and valor. .
“As we commemorate your birthday, we do more than that. We salute your service,” Tedisco said to Anderson, adding later on. “Because of you, we get to love so many freedoms.”
“It’s overdue,” Yingling said. “He won’t say it, but I will. It’s overdue.”
Anderson enjoyed another noteworthy day in 2012 when he and the other surviving members of the Montford Point Marines were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
“I didn’t know if I’d ever come home,” Anderson said of his military service, before continuing “I would do it again.”
Anderson was part of the allied invasion force’s second-day wave at Iwo Jima in mid-January of 1945.
“I knew I was in a war when I saw Marines floating in the ocean, and when I hit the beach and saw a Marine get his leg blown off,” Anderson said. “A corpsman was working on him, and I remember him yelling, ‘I’ll never play football again.”
Anderson remained on Iwo Jima until the island was secured.
“I didn’t see the flag,” Anderson said in reference to the famous photo of the flag raising ceremony. “But I was there.”
While on a battleship sailing to Iwo Jima, Anderson’s ship was attacked by Japanese kamikaze pilots. The corporal crawled into a hole and started feeding a gunner machine gun ammunition.
“We were all scared,” said Anderson, who was a football and basketball standout at Gloversville High School before his military career “It was bad. We just did what we had to do.”
After Iwo Jima, Anderson served in the occupation of Japan at Sasebo.
“Any time we hear of an Iwo guy or any World War II veteran having a birthday, we try to do something,” said Yingling, who orchestrated Friday’s festivities.
Anderson has six children, including four with his second wife, Betty, whom he was with for 47 years until her passing in 2004. The Forest Hill Towers resident worked as a mechanic for Ryder and retired in 1986.
Reach Jim Schiltz at [email protected] or @jim_schiltz on Twitter.