Bedford H. Forte Jr., 94 | U.S. Navy
1942-46 | Petty Officer 2nd Class
As a teenager, Forte clashed with his stepfather. Rather than obey his orders or make matters worse, Forte signed enlistment papers to join the U. S. Navy in 1942. Today, he honors more than 270 black soldiers who fought in the Civil War by placing flags on their graves in Cleveland’s Woodland Cemetery.
Racial prejudice starts within the four walls of a house. If you take a bunch of babies and put them in a playpen, they don’t know black, white, Chinese, Japanese, Korean or nothing else. They’re all babies.
You just have to live with it and overcome it.
In section 72 of the Woodland Cemetery on Quincy Avenue, there are 272 “colored” troops from the Civil War. On their stones it says, “USCT,” the United States Colored Troops. I’ve flagged those graves every year for four years.
At the time I went in, the United States Navy had begun to accept “colored” men into the Great Lakes as seamen equal to the whites. Before that, any “colored” that went into the Navy was either a steward, a cook, a baker or a fireman.
We had our own mess hall, our own barracks, our own drill hall. The main side was all Caucasians. We were altogether different. We did not sleep together, we didn’t drill together, we didn’t train together.
Once there was a chief petty officer who used the wrong word to me. He used the N-word, and I knocked him on his behind and stomped the hell out of him. I tried to kick his face off.
I was court marshaled for fighting.
It’s just like going to jail.
You’d eat bread and water, and you’d eat one full meal every third day.
You learn over a period of time how to do a lot of things that you didn’t want to do.
If I didn’t want to do something, I’d take a penny or a dime and heat it, put it in my mouth and go to the sick bay.
During World War II, my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, she had been in an accident. I was in Boston, Massachusetts. You’re not supposed to go more than 50 miles away from the base. I caught a train and came all the way from Boston to here, because she was in an accident. I just said the hell with it.
If my wife were alive today, we would be married 72 years. Love and affection overcomes all time. If there’s no love and affection, it don’t last.
I still love her.