Monday, October 18, 2010


I've been away working on three story ideas. I am still waiting for information from the National Park Service in Hawaii about Randolph Williamson. I also have an op-ed I am pitching about a very sad family experience and my third writing project is about quilting. Is quilting a dying art? Or, does anyone younger than 60 hand sew quilts?

Wow, when do I get to sleep? I don't. It's midnight and I had planned to be in bed by ten p.m. Oh well. Life is so exciting. I do have a writing project for this blog and I hope to post it by Friday. In the meantime, check out
Sharon Denise  

Monday, September 20, 2010


It appears I am not the only person who has problems blogging every day. Today fellow blogger Maggie Sullivan wrote about the notorious "Writer's block," that writers sometimes experience on her blog titled "I simply found it difficult to write" Sullivan notes that writing on a blog several days a week is "as pressing as keeping a deadline for a newspaper or magazine.”

Sullivan, who is a published author and editor, describes the process of developing an idea and transferring that idea from her brain to paper. She also writes that sometimes this work did not make it from the brain to the blank page, but rather "remained, often untended and with no conscious effort on my part, continued to grow," she writes.

Like Sullivan when my work does not make it from my brain to the blank page, it remains, often untended and with no conscious effort on my part, continuing to grow. Sullivan writes that she believes "our worst nightmares, fears and insecurities are the product of those lousy weeds needing to go to the trash."

What does this mean for aspiring writers like me? Sullivan writes that her stories are" event-driven, an alter-ego, a character from an ongoing series, the memory of someone from my childhood or the man across the counter at a diner this morning." This is also true for me. For example, I am currently working on an article I hope to convince my local newspaper to publish.

Last year I interviewed a wonderful 92-year-old woman in my city named Millie Dunn Veasey. Veasey, who is black, had served in the Women's Army Corps (WAC) during World War II. She casually mentioned that one of her classmates died on board the battleship USS Arizona December 7, 1941 during the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, HI. I have carried that bit of information in my brain for more than a year without understanding the impact of what she had said. I mentioned this young man, Mess Attendant Second Class Randolph Williamson Jr. in chapter one of my book. I even checked the Arizona casualty list and found his name. But, I did not connect the dots – this young man from my state may have been one of the first men to die in that war. More importantly, he may have been the first black man to die during World War II. This is relevant.

Thus, like Sullivan I had an idea that was event driven churning around in my mind but it would take time before that idea could make it to paper. The way Sullivan describes this process is that "the idea gets stuck in your brain, it becomes that germ and most of us, at least at the beginning, never know what we’ll get, a bouquet or a tangled mess."

Sullivan wrote about her feelings and experiences but she also described my writing journey and probably that of many other writers as well. Today Sullivan motivated me to write for my blog. Last weekend I completed a 1,000-word draft about my shipmate, Petty Officer Williamson and I am working on my query letter. Wish me luck and if you are an inspiring writer check out Sullivan's blog.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


I have been away from my blog for nearly three months. When I started this blog, I did not realize how much time and effort it would take. I still believe my primary goal, which is telling the story of black men and women who served in the US military during World War II is worth telling and I intend to complete my project. However, I now understand it is not as easy as I thought it would be.

None-the-less, after working on other projects and completing a one-month deployment with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in Kentucky in support of a flood disaster relief there I am writing again.

This was my second deployment with FEMA as a research/writer. Working in a Joint Field Office External Affairs Office (public affairs office) is just like working in a Navy public affairs office. The only difference is I did not have to wear a uniform or call anyone 'Sir' or 'Ma'am'.

I learned something from this experience. It is good to be able to do honest work – especially when that work makes a difference. This experience also reminded me of how important my twenty-year military experience was. The military is where I developed my work ethic. The first two weeks I was in Kentucky I worked from7 am until 7 pm, seven days a week – nothing new for a sailor. It was rough, but I understood the reasoning. I was comfortable in Lexington, which is about 100 miles away from Pike County, where most of the mid-July flooding occurred. But there was little comfort for many of the families in the flooded areas where it was a 24-hour a day, seven day a week reality – I could not complain.

In spite of the long hours, many of the Disaster Assistance Employees or DAEs (as we are called because we are FEMA's reserve force) are older. Some are retired and several of my co-workers are in their seventies and older. Like me, many DAEs are also ex-military.
It is unfortunate that it takes a disaster, such as an earthquake, oil spill, hurricane or a major flood to bring work for DAEs like me, but natural disasters and sadly some man-made disasters cannot be avoided. I have been following Hurricane Igor in the Atlantic right now. I live in North Carolina and hope this category-four storm does not hit my state. It looks as if it may possibly hit Bermuda. I was stationed in Bermuda and as grateful as I am that the US is not in danger I am not relieved that the storm may hit Bermuda. All I can do is pray that the storm stays out to sea and disappears.
In the meantime, I am writing again and I am writing about the black military men and women who served during World War II. I owe them so much.

Friday, June 25, 2010


Yesterday I spent some time in the State Library of North Carolina looking at microfilm of back issues of The Raleigh News and Observer. As I scanned the newspaper pages from 1941, I was struck by something odd. The headline of every story involving someone black included "Negro" in the headline. Headlines for stories involving whites did not indicate that the subjects of those articles were white.

I read sports stories with the first word of the headline reading, "Negro." The headline for auto accident reports began with the word "Negro." Even obituaries identified the deceased as "Negro."

I am still trying to understand why the N&O staff felt the need to indicate when a news story was about a black person. Was this to warn white readers that they could skip the story? Or, was it a way to notify black readers that there was some news about them in that issue? Today I can not understand the relevance of identifying stories about a black person.

This was the world Invisible Warriors fought to change. I was in the library looking for information about Randolph Williamson. Williamson was a Raleigh, North Carolina native who was killed onboard USS Arizona during the December 7, 1941 surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. I believe Williamson was probably one of the first black men killed in the war and certainly the first black man from North Carolina.

Now 69 years after December 7, 1941 I sit here in my comfortable townhouse, typing away on my laptop and enjoying a comfortable middle class life thanks to men such as Williamson. This morning when I read my morning paper, the N&O none of the headlines identified race in headlines. Things really have changed.
Copyright © Sharon D. Powell, 2010 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Yesterday I attended the funeral of a family friend. Jack Wiggins, who was 92 when he died, had been a family friend for as long as I could remember. He was also an invisible warrior (black men and women who served during World War II). When I started working on my book, I drove 50 miles from my home in Raleigh North Carolina to his home in Nash County. When I got to the house I knocked several times, but no one answered. I later learned Mr. Jack, as we knew him, no longer lived in the aging, clapboard house he had lived in when I was a child. He had moved into a mobile home behind the house. That was two years ago. I planned to go back to interview Mr. Jack but never found the time – now I have lost my chance to interview him. Another warrior has taken his story to the grave.

After the funeral, I talked to Mr. Jack's son and his younger brother, but neither could give me much information about this warrior's service. His son, Toby did remember his father mentioning that the father had been a truck driver in the Army. Toby also believed his father served in Europe. I went to and found Mr. Jack's enlistment information. In 1942, Mr. Jack received his draft notice; he enlisted in the Army on April 30, 1942. As a truck driver he was probably assigned to a quartermaster unit. He may have been a part of the Red Ball Express: one of World War II's most massive logisitics operations, namely a fleet of over 6,000 trucks and trailers that delivered over 412,000 tons of ammunition, food, and fuel (and then some!) to the Allied armies in the ETO between August 25 and November 16, 1944, Or he may have been a truck driver in Italy where my uncle drove trucks.

I do not know how Mr. Jack felt about serving his country. I imagine he faced the same racism other warriors faced. I have no way of knowing how Mr. Jack handled serving in a segregated army. He grew up in North Carolina and probably had personal knowledge of bigotry. Still he fulfilled his commitment to his country, came home to his wife and child and went to work on my family's farm. My parents and the Wiggins quickly became close friends.

I remember Mr. Jack as a very handsome, gentle, and understanding man. His wife, Betty Blanche, who died in 1975, had been one my mother's closest friends. In my mother's later life Mama and Mr. Jack, the widow and widower spoke by telephone twice a day. My siblings and I were indebted to him for his friendship with our mother in her later years.

Now this warrior is at peace. I never got the chance to thank him for his service or his friendship with my mother. As an Army soldier folded the flag from Mr. Jack's coffin, and a bugler blew taps I stood at attention and rendered a salute. Then I silently mouthed, 'Thank you Mr. Jack for paving the way for me to serve my country.'

The men and women of the greatest generation have passed the baton to my generation and they a taking their well deserved rest.
Copyright © Sharon D. Powell, 2010 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Saturday, April 10, 2010


In 1925 future German dictator, Adolph Hitler called blacks "half-ape" in his propaganda rag, Mein Kamph. He wrote, "From time to time the illustrated papers show how a Negro has become a lawyer, teacher of perhaps even a minister. It never dawned on the degenerate middle class America that this is truly a sin against all reason. It is criminal madness to train a half-ape until one believes one had made a lawyer of him."

Hitler underestimated the capabilities of men and women of African descent, who willingly helped the Allied Powers defeat Germany. One such individual was Ghana Africa native, Akasease Kofi Boakye Yiadom, who was only 14 when Hitler wrote Mein Kamph – 16 years later he would help the allies defeat the country lead by the man who believed blacks, such as Yiadom were "half-apes." Recently, this 99-year-old World War II veteran, earned his college degree again dispelling Hitler's myth.
99-Year-Old Ghanaian Man Graduates College

The man who sought to conquer the world had a distorted view of anyone who was not like him – always a dangerous view. He underestimated the depth of the capabilities of the men and women he called "half-apes." Hitler is long gone and individuals such as Yiadom are still inspiring generations to excel. I am grateful to men like Mr. Yiadom for proving Hitler wrong.

Friday, March 5, 2010


What did it take to earn the right to fight – the right to defend your country?

For black Americans during World War II it took tremendous political pressure from black labor leaders such as A. Philip Randolph. Using the slogan "We loyal Negro-American citizens demand the right-to-work and fight for our country," Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) threatened to lead a march on Washington to demand these rights. President Franklin Roosevelt
issued Executive Order 8802, which opened government jobs and defense contract work to black citizens writes Larry Tye
in his 2004 book, Rising from the Rails: Pullman Porters and the                           
Making of the Black Middle Class.                                                          

     First Lasy Eleanor Roosevelt and A. Philip Randolph                                                                     Fair Employment Rally, 1946 (Photograph located in                                                                                       collection at FDR Library, Hyde Park, Ny)

Black leaders like Randolph saw the hypocrisy of fighting fascism in
Europe while condoning Jim Crow laws and racism at home. First Lady
Eleanor Roosevelt joined the fray, when she said, "The nation cannot expect the colored people to feel the U.S. is worth defending if they continue to be treated as they are treated now."

By September 1944, there were 702,000 blacks in the Army, 165,000 in the Navy, 17,000 in the Marine Corps, and 5,000 in the Coast Guard. The irony was that "Soldiers were fighting the world's worst racist, Adolph Hitler, in the world's most segregated army," says historian and National Geographic explorer in residence Stephen Ambrose. This irony did not go unnoticed according to Ambrose. Lisa Krause interviewed Ambrose for a February 15, 2001 National Geographic News article.

Why would anyone who experienced the kind of racism black Americans endured prior to World War II want to risk their lives in a war that could be perceived as "White man's business?" In a PBS documentary titled The African-American Experience, Eleanor Roosevelt, when Vernon Jarrett, a black journalist and civil rights activist was asked if the war made racism in the United States "even more glaring for blacks" Jarrett, replied, "World War II exposed a great contradiction in American life. They were fighting Hitler; the world's premier ideologue of racism, yet a black soldier in a uniform had to be very cautious about protecting his life. They were still lynching African-Americans, hanging them up, and setting them on fire, shooting them as if they were garbage and dogs," Jarrett said. He also says they could not even get an anti-lynching bill passed during the war.

Nevertheless, many blacks did the right thing, in spite of the climate at home. A posting on the Naval Historical Center website reads, "When the United States entered World War II in December 1941 the Navy's African-American sailors had been limited to serving as Mess Attendants for nearly two decades. However, the pressures of wartime on manpower, the good examples of heroes like Doris Miller, the willingness of thousands of patriotic men to take part in the war effort plus well-focused political activities gradually forced changes." Recently the US Postal Service issued a first class postage stamp honoring Miller, USPS News Release: 2010 Stamp Program Unveiled

Mess Attendant Third Class Doris (Dorie) Miller
(Courtesy of the National Archives)

Why did they serve? According to my brother, Chief Petty Officer Samuel Powell (USN) RET, " He is modest about his war experiences, insisting that what he did was no more than anyone else who was going through the same experiences was not doing. When the Japanese attacked his ship he said, "They (the Japanese) were firing at our ship (USS Helena) and we had to defend her."

In the early 1980s, I interviewed a black World War II veteran who explained to me that his generation had earned the right to demand equality. In his opinion, their participation in the war helped change many black service members' viewpoints as well as change the climate in the United States.
The American Legion - Dorie Miller Post #915 - Chicago, IL

Monday, February 15, 2010


On a visit to any Veterans Administration Hospital today, you can see many aging warriors slowly navigating the hospital corridors. Crutches, scooters, wheelchairs, or walkers often aid their mobility, and many wear ball caps with the words, "World War II Vet." Hard of hearing, balding, stooped with age – it is hard to imagine these once were strapping youths now trapped inside the aging bodies of the men and women of the "greatest generation."

That is how former news anchor Tom Brokaw describes the men and women who lived through World War II in his 1998 book The Greatest Generation. This is especially true of men like my brother, Chief Steward Samuel Powell, and other African American invisible warriors who served during that war. However, military and government officials often had low expectations of African Americans, but these men and women performed well above expectations.

Case in point: one black infantry division that saw combat in Europe—the Buffalo Soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division. With more than 12,000 men, the Buffalo Division was activated in October 1942 and went to Europe in 1944, where they entered combat in Italy. The Italian campaign was difficult but the men of the 92nd distinguished themselves in battle, fighting their way up the coast and eventually capturing about one million men. It also suffered horrendous casualties.

Some of the men traversing VA Hospital corridors today served with the 92nd. Numerous writers' have told their story – some positive, some negative accounts of the 92nd's exploits. Several 92nd Division soldiers share their experience on YouTube at

Another 92nd soldier, James (Pat) Daugherty, 85, shares his memories with Smithsonian writer Abby Callard in Memoirs of a World War II Buffalo Soldier, Daugherty self-published his story, The Buffalo Saga. Callard writes that Daugherty's book is a "raw, unvarnished, often angry account of a decorated young soldier’s encounter with institutionalized racial prejudice." Read more about Daugherty at:

Before too long, the valiant soldiers of the 92nd – as well as those of so many other units, ships, and air wings that have incredible stories to tell – will all disappear. It is important to listen to their stories, read their stories, share their stories and say "THANK YOU" while there is still time to do so.
Copyright © 2009 by Sharon Dense Powell ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Sunday, January 31, 2010


Ami Spencer in her most recent post {Creativity Corner} In the Mood, January 29th talks about describing emotions in our writing. When I read her post, I yelled 'Eureka, that's what is missing from my writing.' Invisible Warriors is the story of men and women who lived through incredibly difficult experiences. For many, including my dear brother these were life-changing experiences. Those of us who did not experience World War II need to understand that more than 60-years later those experiences are still as real as they were back then.

Thus, my goal is to make Invisible Warriors a collective memoir. I have been stuck because I have not been sure how to make the individuals I am including in my book real -- human. I now understand I need to include emotion. I have seen some of the men and women I have interviewed pause, take a deep breath, or take a long draft from a cigarette, and I have heard their voices crack. I have seen the tears well in their eyes -- sixty years after they lived through the war. Now I just need to convey that to my audience so that my readers understand the impact of e.g. disembarking from a landing craft with enemy shells exploding inches away from the craft.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Guide to Literary Agents

There is more to writing a book than just sitting in front of a keyboard and pumping out a best seller. I have been working on my book for several years. During this journey I have taken online classes, joined numerous writing groups, read blog after blog and nearly gone broke in my quest to tell what I believe is a valuable story.

Now I am taking a chance and submitting the first 200 words of my manuscript (which is still a rough draft) to another contest. One of the rules for this competition is that I mention this contest on my blog. Actually, the contest sounds like a wonderful opportunity for aspiring writers like me to get needed professional feedback. I suggest other aspiring writers check this out, Guide to Literary Agents

Saturday, January 23, 2010


In her blog post January 22 Ami Spencer, a freelance writer posed an intriguing question: What would you do if you were fearless? She also asked her readers to imagine what fearlessness might produce in their lives. Spencer also suggested the reader, in this case me, write about what my fearless dreams look like.
MY FEARLESS DREAM – Two years ago I started working on a book about blacks who served during World War II. In the last four months I’ve found it hard to get motivated to finish my research and to interview the few remaining veterans I want to highlight in this book.
I find excuses not to write. Each day I spend hours checking my email, surfing the net, then I have to walk the dog, load and unload the dishwasher, do the laundry, fold clothes, watch my favorite soap operas and clean my house. Nowhere in that schedule does there seem to be any time to write. If I were fearless I would carve out time within my 24-hour day to write – I’m writing right now. If I were fearless I would focus on what I need to do to finish the book proposal and finish the book. If I were fearless I would stop making excuses and follow my dream to write, write, and write.
The irony is that the people I am writing about were sometimes fearless and at other times immobilized by their fears – still they did what they had to do. The least I can do for them is to tell their story. MORE TO COME.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Erana Leiken gives a compelling reason for sharing memories on her blog, The Healing Power of The Healing Power of Memoir
Her memories of her father are compelling. She admits that writing about a painful experience and sharing it with others can be difficult. I agree. Writing about painful experiences can be difficult – just talking about painful memories can be even harder. I have found that it is often difficult for the veterans I talk to share their experiences with me.

Some veterans refuse to talk about the war. I try very hard to be sensitive to their feelings while still stressing how important I believe it is to tell their stories – this doesn't always work. Last year I tried to convince my brother to give an interview to a PBS producer for a documentary the producer was working on – one that airs in a few weeks – my brother said no. The producer wanted me to give him my brother's telephone number but though I am a writer my first loyalty was to my big brother. As much as I wanted my brother’s experience featured in this documentary I could not give the producer Samuel's telephone number – I will tell Samuel's story.


I believe that when we share stories about the human condition we keep humanity alive – we ensure that future generations will have a clear picture of their shared past. There is also healing in talking about painful experiences. Erana had that experience.

My focus right now is on the story of the black World War II service member, but there are other stories that need to be told. I'd like to hear from other writers about human stories that should be told. Eventually I will start writing my story also. In the meantime I plan to follow Erana's lead and participate in a public reading. I belong to a local writer's group that has a monthly open-mike and I am going to attend the event.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


I am very passionate about many subjects. The military is one of my favorite subjects but not my only subject of interest. I was moved by the efforts of a New Jersey father to regain custody of his young son so I wrote an op-ed about this father. Another father who strikes me as being courageous is the Nigerian father who reported his son’s actions to the CIA.