In late December 1944, when he learned one of his brothers was missing in action, Sgt. Arthur Barksdale put aside his clerk’s typewriter to become part of his unit’s combat team.

Back then, Barksdale was a file clerk in the 598th Field Artillery of 92nd Infantry Division — the famed Buffalo Soldiers Division, an all-African American unit.

One of his older brothers, Staff Sgt. Joseph Barksdale, was listed as missing in action in Italy in late December 1944 — about one week after Arthur had met him in Italy by chance.

“It was heartbreaking,” Barksdale, now 82, said of hearing about his brother. “It was so devastating to me. It changed my way of thinking.”

Arthur said he had always looked up to his brother growing up. Learning of Joseph’s fate, he asked his superiors for — and got — a transfer to active combat.

“He was just an ideal to live up to,” Barksdale said. “I thought, ‘What else is there to live for?’ I wasn’t thinking about the rest of the family in Meadville.”

Though Crawford County minority population has always been small —about 3 percent of the total population and about 1.5 percent African-American — it has seen its share of military service.

“These are sacrifices all families make,” said Barksdale.

The family was touched by the tragedy of war in both World War II and Korea.

Barksdale and his three brothers served in the military during WWII, but only three returned.

Less than nine years later, misfortune struck the Barksdale family again. His nephew, Richard Walker, was killed during the Korean War in July 1953.

Three of the four brothers served in the U.S. Army in all African-American units because the armed forces were segregated at the time. The fourth was in the U.S. Navy, Arthur said. By the time his nephew was killed, the Army had been integrated.

Serving in a segregated unit wasn’t a big deal because society as a whole was segregated at the time, Arthur said.

“We were so used to it,” he noted.

While Meadville wasn’t as segregated as the South, “everybody knew their place,” he said. “Meadville was not to that extreme (as the South), but there were certain restaurants you would not go into or stores.”

Both the Academy and former Park theaters were segregated for movies, too, he said.

“It was just normal way of life,” he said matter-of-factly. “It didn’t bother me.”

While Arthur was served in an artillery unit in World War II, Sylvester Barksdale was a private in a quartermaster division serving stateside while Joseph was a staff sergeant the 366th Infantry Division. The fourth brother, Marion Barksdale, was a coxswain with the Navy.

“The only one I saw (during the war) was Joe,” Arthur said. “It was the day before Christmas (in 1944). He gave me a tin of candy and I gave him my boots because he wanted them. They were better than the ones he had.”

The following week, Arthur was informed that Joe was missing in action.

Joe’s unit had been guarding an airfield in Italy when it got new orders to go into action.

Arthur was told the unit had gone through an enemy minefield resulting in a number of deaths, injuries and missing soldiers — including Joseph.

Giving his boots to Joseph was like a sign from God,.

“I had told him I didn’t expect to return home,” Arthur said. “It was like, ‘I’ll walk in his shoes and he’d walk in mine.’ ”

Years later, when Arthur learned of his nephew’s death in Korea it was the same day as a family funeral. Richard Walker was an infantryman in the U.S. Army’s 223rd Infantry Regiment.

“It was July 17, 1953,” Arthur said. “It was the same day we were at Mother’s funeral. After the ceremony, we got a phone call he died.”

With today marking Veterans Day, Barksdale said he just wants the community to realize there are sacrifices all families are willing to make for their country.

Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com.

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