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Soldier turned educator talks life as an African-American in the military during World War II

From the Stories from Frederick County's World War II veterans series
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Not long after Warren Dorsey learned he had qualified for a scholarship with the Julius Rosenwald Foundation in 1943, he got some news that significantly altered his path — he had been drafted.

“I was interested in the Rosenwald, and I was awarded one,” the 96-year-old Army veteran, who is African-American, recalled of the post-collegiate scholarship he received to help improve the fertility of the soil where African-American farmers worked.

“The only thing was, two weeks after I received my degree from Morgan State College, now Morgan State University, two weeks after, I was ordered to report for active duty,” Dorsey continued. “So, there goes the scholarship.”

Dorsey was 22 when he entered the Army. The country was in the throes of World War II, and he was stationed at Camp Lee. He stayed stateside until he was discharged in April 1946.

Dorsey, a Sykesville native who grew up poor, earned a degree in science with an emphasis in microbiology. He said his enrollment in college helped keep him from getting drafted when he was younger, and his degree made him an anomaly of sorts in the Army.

“The Army was strictly segregated then,” Dorsey said. “African-American men who enlisted prior to then, they were usually assigned, almost always assigned, to service groups, like the labor group or cooking or something. The Army had little to no experience in utilizing African-Americans who were pretty well-trained, like college graduates, like I was. That was a big part of the African-American experience during the Second World War.”

He explained that it was out of the question for black soldiers to have real guns and march with the white soldiers, so they were given other tasks.

“It didn’t seem logical to use African-Americans — some who had Ph.D.s — to use them digging a ditch,” Dorsey said. “They had various ways of accommodating us.”

For Dorsey, that meant training troops in the Quartermaster Corps.

“It was the labor-intensive unit for the Army; truck drivers, cooks, ditch diggers, laundry men,” he said.

Dorsey said that job alone did not keep him from going into combat, but rather it was his colonel’s love for music that kept him stateside.

“The colonel of the training unit I was in liked to hear the African-American boys sing,” Dorsey said. “If you had any experience, any background at all involving singing, you would take an audition, and you could become part of what the colonel had organized, which was a very, very talented glee club. ... I ended up in the glee club.”

Dorsey’s wife of 70 years, Carolyn, was also a singer and a member of the USO and other activities that helped maintain the morale of the soldiers. Her college voice coach knew Dorsey’s colonel and that was how they met, he said.

When Dorsey got out of the Army, he said he considered applying again for the Rosenwald, but with a new wife and a new life path, he opted for a paying job instead. At the time, one of his brothers lived in Frederick, and he decided to move his family there as well. He was hired at Fort Detrick as a microbiologist, and worked there for 25 years. However, he did not retire as a microbiologist.

Instead, Dorsey went back to school and earned a graduate degree in education. From there, he began teaching locally and eventually worked his way up to an assistant principal position before ultimately becoming a principal. He retired in the 1980s and has lived in Frederick ever since.

Dorsey said he treasures everything he has done in his life, including his time in the Army.

“The Army was never something that I aspired for,” Dorsey said. “I served and served honorably just like so many other young men in that day, and I thought I was darn good at what I did.”

Follow Mallory Panuska on Twitter: @MalloryPanuska.

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