Hometown Veterans: Silverine Vineyard

Published: Jul. 1, 2021 at 4:44 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - If being a female in the military isn’t tough enough, imagine joining the service as a Black woman when segregation was still in place.

Now picture having to be one of the first Black females to enter an all white military unit.

This is the story for one local woman I like to call… an overcomer.

“I was three months and three weeks old, honestly! I was a pretty baby. Depression and all!”

Silverine Vineyard James. Born in 1929 in Vinton, Virginia during the Great Depression.

“Segregation. I was born on Raleigh Avenue in Vinton; we were the only Black family on the street. We were bused from Vinton to Salem for a high school education.”

Silverine graduated high school and in December 1949, she decided to join the United States Army. Segregation would follow.

“I didn’t know about the service being segregated. We had only one Black company for females (Camp Lee, now Fort Lee).”

Shortly after Silverine enlisted, President Harry Truman signed an executive order mandating racial integration in the armed forces. In an effort to desegregate the military, Silverine was sent to work at Idlewild Airport, now known as JFK.

“When I got there, a personnel officer asked me if I knew why I was sent there. I said no! He said they sent you here to see what would happen if they put more Blacks in the company.”

The experiment to desegregate wasn’t easy. Silverine still remembers the growing pains.

“The women did their cooking and left their dishes and pots and pans and I caught the detail on Monday morning. They didn’t send me there to be a maid; they sent me there to integrate this company. What do you suppose happened to those pots and pans? I put them in the trash!”

Silverine received orders to Japan, where she was again the only Black female. Her duty was to dispose of vaults full of World War II records. In just two and a half years, she flew up the ranks from a specialist to a staff sergeant. After a stint in Germany, she was promoted to an E8 Master Sergeant.

“I told the fellas on the post I was the only woman wearing a diamond on her sleeve and not her finger.”

There were many tours, multiple trials, but more triumphs. Silverine served 22 years in the service and is proud of every single moment.

“I made the best of it. I didn’t throw things around. I’m the only Black woman here and I’m gonna show you what’s what. No, no.”

Just like the military, family is important to Silverine. Her father died when she was 15 years old, but she remembers her mother well.

“Miss Parker, there was only one Miss Parker. She would let you have it. My sister says I’m like my mother; she tells people be careful, that’s Miss Parker’s daughter (laughs).”

Yes, Miss Parker’s daughter is strong, determined, and feisty if pushed. And even at 92 years old…

“Don’t walk like an old soldier, do I? (giggles)”

Her march might have changed, but her personality doesn’t miss a beat, she takes care of herself, and she still holds her own like a true soldier.

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