FORT HUACHCUA, Ariz. - Retired Army Capt. Joseph Hairston, one of the first black officers commissioned to serve with the 92nd Infantry Division after its reactivation in 1942, made a surprise visit to the Fort Huachuca Museum on July 11. He was accompanied by his daughter.
Hairston was en route to a Buffalo Soldier event in Las Vegas when he decided he wanted to revisit his old stomping grounds in southeast Arizona. "I just wanted to come back and see the old fort," he said.
Hairston was stationed here in 1943 until the summer of 1944.
Hairston was born in Axton, Va. However, his family moved to Connellsville, Pa., southeast of Pittsburgh when he was 2. He describes Connellsville as a first-generation American town where he did not experience racial segregation and very little racism.
He says although he was a good student in high school, there were very few opportunities for black students after graduation. "There were no scholarships in 1940, if there were I was not aware. So, I didn't know about going to college," he explained.
Prior to entering the Army in fall 1940, Hairston worked at a local dairy in Connellsville. While at work one day he saw a Soldier walking down the street in uniform and thought, "hey, that might not be a bad thing (joining the Army)."
After several failed attempts at the recruiter's office, Hairston took matters into his own hands. "I wrote to all the black units, and they sent letters back saying, 'no vacancies.' The last unit I wrote to was a cavalry detachment at West Point, and they wrote back saying there was a vacancy in the medical detachment." Following a successful interview, Hairston entered the Army as a private assigned to the 24th Infantry Medical Detachment at West Point.
After serving at West Point and later Camp Livingston, La., Hairston secured a slot at the officer candidate school at Fort Sill and was commissioned a field artillery officer. This happened soon after the reactivation of the 92nd Infantry division, and Hairston was assigned to the 599th Field Artillery Battalion.
As a second lieutenant Hairston arrived at Fort Huachuca in April 1943, accompanied by his wife and daughter. Because there was not housing for black officers, he was forced to live in less-than-ideal quarters.
"We lived in a [brothel] in town because there were no black officer quarters on the post. The building was split, and the black officers and their families lived in one half of the building, and the [hookers] lived in the other," Hairston said, laughing.
The young officer left Fort Huachuca for Italy in the summer of 1944, where he served in combat until the 92nd was redeployed.
Although, Hairston experienced many hardships and challenges, he held the Army in high regard. "I joined a segregated Army, and I think the Army did a good job at desegregating. While a lot of people complained, I really enjoyed being in the Army," Hairston stated..
Hairston would go on to retire from the Army as a captain in 1960.
During his visit to Fort Huachuca, Hairston spent nearly two hours with several of the museum staff members. He was offered a sneak peek at one of the museum's newest acquisitions -- an original World War II-era Army uniform. It came from a veteran who served in the 92nd Infantry Division.
Hairston also stopped by to take a look at the Mountain View Colored Officers' Club.
"I didn't come to the club often. I didn't have much money as a second lieutenant with wife and child. But I came over a few times. I won a big jackpot playing cards once," he said with a laugh.
Upon retirement from the Army, Hairston and his family settled in the Washington D.C. area where he continued to serve with the Internal Revenue Service as an attorney.