JOE: A REAL STORY
by Steffan Tubbs
In his foxhole on Iwo Jima, he was considered just another worthless black man in a lily-white Navy.
Joseph LaNier, II wore a United States Navy uniform, but as he was in his native rural Columbus, Mississippi, he was segregated. Even in war.
In 1945, Joe became a Navy Seabee in one of the first black Seabee units in U.S. history. He joined the service to help his family out of poverty.
His grandfather was a slave. Joe’s niece was a member of the Little Rock Nine. He watched the injustice in front of him; his friends were beaten because of their color.
Joe was told in boot camp: “There are two kinds of niggers. A good nigger, and a dead nigger. We don't want no dead ones.”
Yet today, he does not hate.
He didn’t know the earth was round; had never seen the ocean; didn’t swim and had never heard of Hawaii or this place called Iwo Jima. Joe lived two months in a foxhole; he saw death and smelled it; he contributed to the Pacific Theatre war effort despite segregation. After Iwo, he was shipped to Okinawa where he remained through the end of 1945.
He returned to the states in late December of that year and came through Colorado for the first time in January, 1946. A Denver ice cream cone altered the course of his life and he vowed to return someday.
Back in Mississippi and on the G.I. Bill, Joe finished high school (he returned to find himself in the ninth grade and 20 years old.) He went on to enroll at Xavier University in New Orleans, where he later secured his degree in pharmacy.
In Colorado, he became the first-ever black director of pharmacy at National Jewish Hospital, where he met the love of his life, Eula - a white woman from Oklahoma. Defying the odds and social scrutiny, their mixed-race marriage is still strong today, five-plus decades later.
I met Joe, now 86, as he was getting ready to make his return to Iwo Jima for the first time since 1945. He made it to Guam, but the trip was canceled due to the Japanese quake and tsunami the same day he arrived.
He shared his amazing story with me on my morning show, Colorado’s Morning News on 850 KOA in Denver and became the most talked about and requested interviews in my news career.
Joe and I made it back to Iwo Jima in March, 2012 and he has become one of my best friends.
In conjunction with the book, Joe and I have traveled to eight states and two countries compiling a stellar video documentary on his incredible life.
Joe: A Real Story takes a look at an amazing life of a black man in a white world – a world at war on more than one level.
On behalf of Joe and myself, thank you so much for your interest and support of this project.
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