Willie Graves

By Mike Peters

Willie Graves and
Mary Myrtle Huffman Coleman
Willie migrated from the South in the '30s looking for work in depression era Jackson County, WV. My great grandparents, Rudy S. Coleman and Mary Myrtle Huffman Coleman, said he could stay with them. There's always work on a farm. Couldn't pay him much--just room and board. He accepted. Said he'd sleep in the barn. My great grandmother would have none of that. He would sleep with the boys. He came to share a bed with my grandfather Obert "Obe" Coleman and they became like brothers. They worked together and "raised hell" together.
Willie Graves joined the service with E. A. "Lash" Coleman, Everett Shaffer and Jerrell Clendenin, a younger brother and cousins of my grandfather "Obe"Coleman.
My mother remembered seeing Willie Graves when he came home on a furlough just prior to his shipping out for the Pacific Theater. She was a mere child. According to her, Willie was one of the kindest, gentlest men she has ever met. His smile, she continued, was "infectious." He even rocked her to sleep when she was an infant. Some 60 years later she still utters his name in reverence. Such was the impact of this stranger Willie Graves.
Willie Graves died fighting the Japanese on the island of Guam in 1944. When my great grandmother, Mary Myrtle Huffman Coleman, heard the news, she cried as hard as any other "Gold Star Mother" would. For Willie was her son. He was not blood and he was not adopted, but in her eyes, it did not make him any less of a son.
Hearing that story as a youth in the Civil unrest of the 1960s taught me something. For you see, Willie Graves was an African American and my great grandmother was color blind.
Mike Peters

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