From 1941 to 1945 millions of Americans served in the armed forces to fight against the Axis powers throughout the world. Many African Americans served in the still segregated United States military. They saw it as their duty as Americans to serve their country, but also as an opportunity to prove themselves to the rest of the country. In 1950, the United Nations resolved to send a force to protect South Korea from the invasion of the Communist North Korean forces. It was a monumental step for the United Nations, but the conflict was also a monumental step for African American troops in the U.S. army. Korea was the first conflict to see a desegregated military force allowing blacks and whites to serve in the same units.
Carroll Woods was one of many African Americans to serve in the armed forces from Lowndes County. Woods, one of twelve children raised on a farm in Lowndes County, flew with the famed Tuskegee Airmen, a squadron of P-51 fighter planes piloted by black officers. The Tuskegee Airmen served with distinction and proved that blacks were more than capable of performing as pilots and officers in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Woods was shot down in 1944 and spent time in an integrated German Prisoner of War Camp. By the end of the war he was released to return to segregated South Georgia.
Among the many soldiers to fight in Korea from Lowndes County was Joe Rivers. Joe Rivers went to Korea as the Sergeant of a Patrol Squad with the 15th Infantry, Third Division, K Company known as “The Can Do Boys.” Staff Sgt. Rivers was among the first black soldiers to command white troops in combat. After the war, Rivers returned to Valdosta and formed the first Black Youth Baseball League in 1958. As a community leader, Rivers made a difference in the lives of many young men including Willie Housel who would go on to become the first black man to serve on the Valdosta city council in 1985.