INDIANAPOLIS – A Navy veteran was given an honorary degree as a thank you for his time in the military. William Henry Harvey was honored by Ivy Tech Community College Wednesday morning.
Harvey, 95, joined the military in 1940 while attending Crispus Attucks High School. Before graduation, he was already beginning training at the nearby Heslar Naval Armory.
Harvey was assigned to the U.S.S. Sacramento, a PG-19 ship at the time. However, due to segregation, Harvey never saw combat and was assigned to the ship as a cook. The ship was at Pearl Harbor during the 1941 attack.
“You learned how to kill and how to use the ammunition properly,” said Harvey. “You learned everything as a cook to do the job that is necessary to destroy the enemy.”
Segregation was still present during the war. In fact, the National WWII Museum reported that it didn’t officially end until 1948.
“Nobody wanted the black man in the Navy,” Harvey said.
However, the veteran said it changed during the war.
The museum reported there were 4,000 African Americans in uniform in 1941. By 1945, the number grew to 1.2 million who were serving at home, in Europe and the Pacific.
Harvey’s story reached the college thanks to a history professor who visited the Alpha Home, the healthcare house where Harvey lives, last year on Veterans Day. Leaders at the college decided to honor the veteran during Black History Month.
“Originally, we just planned to present him with a small plaque to recognize our appreciation for his service to the country,” said Anthony Conley, an adjunct history professor at Ivy Tech and the school’s coordinator for male empowerment initiatives. “Our chancellor, Dr. Kathy Lee suggested we make it a full blown honorary degree.”
Harvey was also given a Navy challenge coin for his service. He said he was looking forward to talking to his son about his new degree.