A one-night lecture featuring two African-American veterans from World War II and Vietnam was held Wednesday at the Veterans Museum at Balboa Park.
The lecture, held in honor of Black History Month, was called "Remembering and Honoring African Americans Veterans for Their Service," and Martin Simms was a key speaker.
Many would not guess that Simms is 95 years old. He seems to know everyone in his retirement center and he loves singing.
He never used to sing out loud.
"I sang the blues just to myself," he said.
Confidence is hard to come by when you are kept away from other kids because of the color of your skin.
"When I went to a movie, I had to sit in the back row," he said. "I've been called black [expletive], whatever."
Then, in 1943, he was called on to serve the very country that denied him of basic rights.
"When I applied for the Army, I applied to go to Tuskegee," he said of the only black air unit.
"After I took all the tests and this and that, they told me I was too tall," he added.
Simms served on the ground with an unloaded weapon.
"I was in a foxhole, and I was listening to the 88 shells go over my head; as long as I heard the explosion, I knew it wasn't me," Simms said.
He finally got a little ammo, but he said, "They only gave me ten shells."
Simms built barracks, hospitals and prisons while burdened by invisible shackles.
"I was fighting for my own freedom," Simms explained.
He learned to hold his head high because this is his country.
Simms rose up in the ranks, but he got injured.
He was honorable discharged and succeeded in the civilian world. He got two degrees and became the New York Postmaster with 9,000 employees.
These days, he holds his head high and sings freely.