Documentary honors local African-American veterans

They say everyone has a story to tell. That’s especially true for veterans. We could learn a lot if we take the time to listen. You’ll have a chance to do that soon in Harrisburg.

“We had a special bond together for sure. In the military, you’re a team,” Betty Curtis said. “It’s not like civilian life. You work as a team, you’re responsible for each other.”

Curtis comes from a military family. She joined the Women’s Army Corps in 1951.

“We would see them as children, and I would admire the women because they seemed to be in control of their lives, which is different than most of us that came up through the Depression and World War I. It was very unhappy times,” she said. “They left a big impression on me, so I told my folks I was going to join the military. Of course. they didn’t pay any attention.”

But Curtis didn’t let that stop her. She says being a black woman in the 1950’s, it was definitely the best choice for her.

“It was more challenging in civilian life,” she said, “There was more opportunity for almost all of us in the military. Civilian life was the problem.”

In those days, the only job most black women could get was being a maid.

“We always felt we had a purpose, which is something we didn’t have back here at home,” Curtis said. “We were invisible as black women. We were invisible.”

Curtis’s story is one of many you can hear in the documentary series “Keystones.” Executive producer Bryan Wade came up with the idea while watching the Vietnam War movie “We Were Soldiers.”

“They mentioned as they were rolling the credits he died in this battle,” Wade said, “and he was from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.”

That man was Samuel L. McDonald, who was killed in action in 1965. Bryan decided to research him.

“One thing led to another and I thought why not just chronicle the whole African-American experience in the capital region,” he said.

Bryan spent an entire year getting interviews for his project, including former Harrisburg police chief Pierre Ritter. He spent 30 years in the military. He says it’s important to highlight those who may have otherwise been forgotten.

“If African-Americans did not play a vital role in World War II, the tide may have changed,” Ritter said, “Things would have been different maybe here in the U.S., and African-Americans and no Americans would have been able to enjoy the freedoms they have today.”

Betty Curtis agrees.

“It is absolutely 100 percent important that we document our history and not depend on other people to do it,” she said.

You can see that history come to life at the premiere of “Keystones.” It debuts Saturday, Nov. 18 at 2 p.m. at The Forum in Harrisburg.

Tickets are free, but you need to get them in advance. For more information, contact Bryan Wade at 717-601-9314 or email therightword360@gmail.com.

Bryan has plans for local schools to incorporate his documentary into their curriculums, and he’s already working on more topics to continue his series.

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