African American WWII Veteran Marks History

Stephen Sherman, an 88-year-old World War II veteran, salutes during the National Anthem.
Stephen Sherman, an 88-year-old World War II veteran, salutes during the National Anthem. (Dan Morse - The Washington Post)
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By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 18, 2009; 11:37 PM

Standing among music fans one-fourth his age on the Mall on Sunday, Stephen Sherman stood out -- all 5-feet, 8-inches of him.

"I never met a stranger before in my life," said the 88-year-old African American World War II veteran, posing for pictures and proudly telling of the events in his life that brought him to the mall today. Under his leather jacket: A uniform top Sherman said was from World War II, adorned with five metals from the war.

"I can still button it, but it's like a corset," he said.

Sherman grew up as one of 12 children in the only African American family in a small Colorado town. He served in a segregated unit in the war. More recently, volunteering for the Obama campaign, Sherman said he made more than 1,000 calls from California to voters in Colorado.

Late last year, he had a strict message for the 100 friends and family coming to his 88th birthday party: No gifts. Just cash. He needed to get to the inauguration.

"The main thing is I want to get to the presidential ball and do the jitterbug with Michelle Obama," he remembered writing in his invites.

The pitch worked.

Traveling by himself, Sherman landed at Dulles Saturday, stayed with a nephew, and boarded the Metro Sunday. "It was fine. I just followed the crowd," he said.

Posted later on the mall, about 300 feet from the stage as performers were belting out Lean On Me, he started dancing. As he'd told those birthday party guests in his plea for travel funds: "I still got a mean dance."

When Obama spoke, Sherman stood at attention, watching him on a huge video-screen. "You proved once more that people who love this country can change it," Obama said.

"Yes we did, president, yes we did," Sherman said.

On the way back to the Foggy Bottom metro, he needed a few breaks. After he took a seat an on a ledge in front of a federal building along Constitution Avenue, he caught the attention of Nichole Brown, 37, who saw his American Legion hat.

"Thank you for your service," she told him, asking where he was from.

California, he said: "This is history, honey."

He eventually boarded the train, got a seat and made it to his nephew's to catch the AFC playoff game. Reflecting on the day, he called it beautiful:

"It touched my heart to see so many races out there. No one was fussing with each other. That's the way I always wanted to see America ... I got to live long enough to see it. I know Martin Luther King is flying around saying, 'Look what I started.'"


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