Trailblazing veteran honors Obama - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Trailblazing veteran honors Obama

Rear Admiral Douglas McAneny Rear Admiral Douglas McAneny
Ken Joyner Ken Joyner

By Leland Kim - bio | email

PEARL HARBOR (KHNL) -   America honors more than 23 million military veterans on this Veterans Day. For many, it's a time to reflect on the sacrifices of those who have fought for our nation's freedom.

Ken Joyner broke many barriers when he joined the U.S. Navy in the late 1940s.  As the country elects the first African American president and the first African American commander-in-chief, Joyner reflects on how far we've come.

This Veterans Day ceremony at Pearl Harbor honors Navy sailors who made the ultimate sacrifice.  Each bell signifies a vessel attacked by enemy forces.

"And we pause to reflect upon and pay tribute to all those brave men and women who fought in service to our nation so that we can be free," said Rear Admiral Douglas McAneny, the U.S. Pacific Fleet submarine force commander.  "This particular ceremony at the submarine memorial pays homage to those who fought in an unforgiving and often deadly environment beneath the sea."

The ceremony also honors veterans like Joyner, who served 20 years and fought in two major wars.

The world was a different place when he joined the Navy.

"You were in the steward branch," said the 77-year-old veteran. "You were a servant. You served food, you cooked food and served the officers.  Shined their shoes, did their laundry. Very subservient."

The Navy chose Joyner for an experimental integration program.

"Then I went to radio school in Norfolk, Virginia," said Joyner. "I was the only black in every environment I was in."

He finished first in his class.  He and others paved the way for future generations.

"When you're the first of anything, you catch hell," he said.

As Joyner enjoyed opportunities in the Navy, much of the country was still segregated, with separate drinking fountains and restaurant entrances for "white" and "colored."

"It's a harsh feeling," he said. "It makes you feel like nothing. It makes you feel like a dog."

America has changed quite a bit, just a week ago electing the first person of color to the highest office in the country.

Joyner knows President-elect Barack Obama, who grew up with Joyner's son here in Hawaii.

"He's not just an African American, he's an African American I know," said Joyner. "And he's almost like a son."

Joyner and Obama: one veteran, one politician, two trailblazers in different eras.

"I still haven't come to complete comprehension. It's like a surreal moment in history," said Joyner.  "Everyone had to come together and they did."

The Joyners don't have plans to go to Obama's inauguration, but hopes to see him when he comes to visit Hawaii in December.

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