FORT LEE, Va. — A 101-year-old Army retiree and war veteran will be among those feted during a Quartermaster Honors event, taking place Nov. 4 on Fort Lee.
Anthony Grant, a resident of Hampton, Virginia, will be one of 24 former Soldiers inducted into the Quartermaster Hall of Fame. He is due to take his place as a historical inductee, as will two others.
Brig. Gen. Michelle K. Donahue, 56th Quartermaster General, will host the ceremony. It is set for 10 a.m. in Guest Auditorium on the Petroleum and Water Department campus.
Grant has lived through 18 presidents, the Great Depression, the Civil Rights Movement and five major wars, two of which he took part in as a combatant. The former quartermaster who underwent training at Fort Lee eight decades ago said he is overjoyed with his selection to the hall.
“I feel very proud about it,” said the centenarian, “because being an African-American quartermaster wasn’t easy.”
In 1942, Grant was drafted by an Army that saw him as inferior. Those of his skin color were subject to low morale, poor living conditions and discrimination on and off military installations.
Additionally, they were largely relegated to support roles in the fields of supply and transportation. Many simply served as “laborers.” Combat jobs were reserved for whites, despite the fact African-Americans had honorably distinguished themselves in battle during multiple conflicts preceding World War II.
Grant accepted the lot of being black in the Army and did not allow racial inequities to consume him. Rather, he espoused a positive outlook about life in general. That moved him to think segregation would ultimately fail; that it stood on a rickety concept subject to collapse.
“I knew things would eventually change,” he said.
In the meantime, Grant would pursue his ambitions as though there were no boundaries. He could not control how the Army treated black Soldiers, but he could control how he carried out his duties. That started with the image he wanted to project.
“No. 1, I made sure my uniform [was sharp], making sure nobody could stop me and say, ‘Your buttons aren’t aligned’ or anything like that,” he recalled.
Grant also said he endeavored to be prompt and prepared, aiming to always “follow the orders” of his superiors.
As a noncommissioned officer — Grant was promoted to sergeant within a year — he stayed engaged with Soldiers and was always mission-cognizant. He knew the troops, the skills they possessed and the skill levels required to complete jobs. He also understood the importance of oversight.
“I had enough of that to keep me busy,” he said, implying he was always able to work through distractions.
Grant’s upbringing was different than many African-Americans. Although born in Harlem to immigrants of St. Lucia, he spent his formative years in the Western Caribbean nation beginning at the age of three. Some of his family members were civil servants there.
“It had great affect and influence,” said Grant of the majority-black country with a deep connection to the British Commonwealth of Nations. “I was there from 1923 to 1938. By the time you’re 18, your character, beliefs and ideas are formed.”
When Grant returned to New York in 1938, he had mostly missed the Harlem Renaissance — a period of heightened African-American cultural awareness sweeping New York during the 1920s and '30s. He was not oblivious to the movement, but much of his consciousness was carved out of an island society where people were accepting of their circumstances but not doomed to them.
“You accept your life as is,” he said. “You take advantage of opportunities available to you and when things happens — errors, problems, accidents — accept them as they happen, but analyze them and make plans [to improve outcomes] and follow through on those plans.”
Working as a printer’s apprentice upon returning to New York, Grant was drafted six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He completed basic training at Fort Dix, N.J., and his initial military schooling at Fort Lee — then a much larger base with the state’s third-largest population.
Grant received his first doses of Jim Crow here, where buses going into nearby Petersburg were loaded with white troops first and where commanders cautioned blacks to mute their behaviors while moving about the city.
“My commanders forewarned the black troops, especially those from the North, to be very careful when you visit the town(s),” he noted in a local news station interview in 2020.
Grant said he also was aware of practices in the early 1940s designed to keep black Soldiers in line. One was assigning white Reserve commissioned officers from the South as their commanders.
“Supposedly, they knew how to handle them,” he scoffed. “It’s the worst thing they could’ve done because those guys despised being commanders of black units. They only did what they had to do.”
Although Fort Lee was segregated, Grant said some things were equally afforded to all Soldiers.
“We never got inferior equipment,” he recalled. “The same equipment the white troops got, we got.”
That gave Grant cause for hope. He entertained the prospect of someday receiving full and equal treatment as a black fighting man, which aligned with his outlook of believing progress was right around the corner.
“From the time I first came in, and there again because of my background and thinking, I believed things would get better,” he said. “There will come a time, I thought to myself, when there are no black troops or white troops.”
In 1943, Grant was sent to the European theater for WWII. He arrived in Normandy, France, 10 days after the D-Day invasion and later saw combat. Near the war’s end, due to increased casualties and personnel shortages, black combat elements were allowed to engage the enemy, some in tandem with white units. As a result, many began to rethink the policies keeping afloat segregation in the Armed Forces.
Among them was President Harry S. Truman. The self-proclaimed “son of Confederates” was moved, in part, by the violence directed against black Soldiers returning from war. In response, he signed Executive Order 9981 in 1948, setting the stage for full integration in the military. At least on paper, there were no longer “black troops or white troops” but those united in cause, said Grant. Integration was now the law of the land and a new horizon.
“I thought opportunities would be better for anyone who was a Soldier,” he said.
Integration opened up new possibilities for assignments and training for African-Americans, according to Grant. He went on to serve in the Korean War, the first in which troops fought as an integrated Army. Later, he became a warrant officer and then transitioned to commissioned officer.
Grant retired in 1963 at the rank of major. He managed several commissaries in Europe and the U.S. following retirement and later performed administrative work at Langley Air Force Base. Grant retired from civil service in 1998.
When he is inducted into the Quartermaster Hall of Fame at Fort Lee, Grant will be in the midst of an Army quite different from the one he joined, but nonetheless, one he knew it would become and one he knows is ideal.
“I’m pleased to see the changes in the Army in that each person who wants to wear the uniform … is given the opportunity to progress individually and give support to their units,” he said. “I’m proud of the present military and the integration of gender, race, ethnicity, etc. For me, all of that forms a part of being what we call a U.S. citizen.”
Nowadays, Grant stays connected to his family of four adult children, several grandchildren, and two great, great grandkids. He lost his wife Bernadette in 2015, after 67 years of marriage.
When not engaged with family, Grant takes walks and reads the New York Times. He is also a would-be globetrotter, having visited countries all over the world before the pandemic essentially shut down the tourism industry and made travel difficult.
Grant attributes his century-old youthfulness to his positive outlook and way of thinking, cultivated in a small island country and refined by experiences in the Army and beyond.
“I’m a very optimistic person,” he said of his mindset. “I always think things will be better tomorrow.
That sense of hope and aspiration served as the foundation for a journey that saw Grant through life on a tiny Caribbean island, the hustle and bustle of the nation’s largest city, both sides of integration, the chaos of war and through life in the 21st century.
Grant implied every setback, challenge or problem was matched with patience, understanding and personal reflection. He made his way forward with pressing inspiration.
“No matter what has occurred to me, it’s gone; it’s past,” he insisted. “You can’t dwell on the past too much. You have to remember the past, but you have to live life as it is presently. Every day, you should be asking yourself, ‘What can I do to make my life (and that of those around me) better?’”
It is well-shared wisdom from someone who has been around the block of life a few times.