Hosea Roberson may be South Minneapolis’ oldest living resident and hero. “You gotta be faithful. You got to tell the truth, and you have to stick to your word,” is the mantra he lives by and his advice to those who seek to live a good life.
At 98, Roberson has done a lot of living. The decorated former Marine has lived on Minneapolis’ South Side since 1948. During that time, he worked for 32 years at Firestone Tire where he was a mechanic, and later service manager in downtown Minneapolis.
He has been a faithful member of Bethesda Baptist Church while serving as one of its trustees for as long as he can remember.
He married his high school sweetheart Delores Catherine (Majors) Roberson just before coming to Minneapolis. She was his girlfriend at the time he went off to war but she patiently waited for him to be discharged from his military service. “She better had waited,” joked Roberson. Delores Catherine passed in 2012.
Roberson raised three kids who are all successful in their own right—a daughter, Dr. Joyce Roberson who is a general practitioner; two sons Marcus Roberson, who worked in the property division of the MPD and is now retired, and Timothy Roberson, who worked as a machinist for Eaton Corporation, who passed. The widower has one grandchild, Louisa Roberson, the daughter of his son Marcus.
Not only is he one of the oldest people living on Minneapolis’ South Side, but he is a hero of a long-forgotten war. Roberson was called up in the U.S. draft in 1943 during World War II while living in the small town of Atchison, Kansas, located outside of Kansas City. He didn’t realize at the time that he would have to muster the courage to fight the enemy and Jim Crow segregation.
While the federal government had opened the doors for Blacks to enter the defense industry and the armed forces, it kept in place racial segregation and so the military was a segregated one.
Roberson grew up in an integrated community. “When we left New York to go to Camp Lejeune, it was the first time that I had seen signs that said ‘Colored’ and ‘White,’ and that was in Washington D.C. I was thinking about going back home, but the MPs had us surrounded,” he said.
He eventually landed at Montford Point, which was next to Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, where he spent six weeks in boot camp. Montford Point was built in 1941 to accommodate the Black soldiers in the segregated Jim Crow Marine Corp., about 20,000 African American Marine recruits trained there until racial segregation was outlawed in the military in 1948.
“[They] treated you like you were crap,” Roberson said explaining the tough training he received. “It was a Black camp and commanding officers and drill instructors were White,” he recalled. Later the camp enlisted Black soldiers as drill instructors who worked the soldiers even harder because they wanted to make sure Black soldiers could show they were as good, if not better than other soldiers.
Incidentally, Black folks organized during WWII what they called the V-2 campaign that was embraced by Black newspaper publishers at the time, which advocated for victory in the war abroad and victory in the war at home against racism.
“Things were segregated; we just did what we had to do at the time,” said Roberson.
“I always let them know that I didn’t like what was going on. Remember, I came from where everything, [including] the schools, were integrated and so I wasn’t afraid to talk to White folks. I was never shy of White people,” Roberson.
“I had to walk guard duty at night. Walking out there in the dark and you could see a guy moving out there, rednecks—in other words, KKK—and we were near their headquarters. Nighttime was scary,” he recalled.
His unit was shipped to Hawaii where they helped set up an ammunition depot. Black troops were not allowed to fight on the frontlines in the war against Japan and were relegated to supply units that provided the rest of the Marines on the frontlines with ammunition.
However, Roberson and his ammunition unit did experience combat firsthand as they delivered ammunition by truck in the U.S. invasions of Japanese strongholds the Marshall Islands, Saipan, and Okinawa.
The veteran described how they arrived on the Pacific front in time for the monsoon season and how so much water fell that the tents they were living in provided little shelter as water ran like a creek keeping them soaked most of the time they were in the war zone. He said they also had to avoid Japanese mortar shells that rained down on them constantly as well.
Roberson eventually was made a sergeant and was assigned to the First Ammunition company.
While in Hawaii they loaded ammunition onto navy supply vessels. According to Roberson, handling ammunition was always dangerous. “We were in danger all the time,” he recalled.
“We had to get ammunition to the frontlines, for the 50 caliber, the BAR gun, 30 caliber machine guns, and everything that was needed for combat. We drove artillery shells to the front as well,” he said.
While Black marines were not assigned combat duty, they saw combat while trying to deliver the ammunition. “We were the only ones delivering ammunition,” he said. Roberson rode shotgun in trucks delivering the ammunition to the frontlines. “One time the truck behind [me]was blown up that was the scariest time,” he said.
Roberson was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama for being a Montford Point Marine. In 2011, Obama signed a law to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Montford Point Marines. The award “recognizes Montford Point Marines’ contributions to the Marine Corps and the United States of America from 1942 to 1949, during a time of hardship and segregation.”
“The Montford Point Marines were warriors; they fought not only home but abroad during hard times, and it is worthy of this medal,” said U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. Brian W. Cavanaugh after the decision was made to honor the Black marine veterans.
The medal is engraved with three Black Marines’ faces. On the back, it reads: “For outstanding perseverance and courage that inspired social change in the Marine Corps.”
After he was discharged in 1946, Roberson went to technical school while driving a truck for his father. He was recruited by Firestone Tire Company not long after because he said there was a shortage of men following the war.
Roberson said he has a brother and a sister in their 90s and said living long lives is part of his family legacy. He also attributes his long life to always believing the truth shall set you free and “being on the right side.”