Harvey Zeigler, a former quartermaster in the U.S. Army, was at Fort Lee, Va., waiting for orders to ship overseas on D-Day.
During World War II and for the rest of his life in the civilian world, the 99 year-old World War II veteran fought for civil rights.
Zeigler was born in Damascus in 1920. He grew up in Montgomery County, and went to Lincoln High, an all-black school in Rockville. Right after high school, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and went overseas during World War II.
“We would guard the ammunition, equipment, food and gas,” Zeigler explained.
He has many memories from the time that he served. He was a private first class in a segregated unit, and protected supplies that soldiers needed on the front lines of Europe.
Just getting to the war was a hair-raising experience for Zeigler. He said it took his convoy 30 days to get from New York to England, a delay caused by German U-boats in the Atlantic Ocean.
Zeigler served in the 329th segregated unit of the U.S. Army. While serving in France, he said he noticed how blacks and whites lived and worked together, something he hadn’t seen at home in the U.S. When he made it back to Maryland at the age of 25, he decided to become an advocate for African Americans in Montgomery County, while trying to join the American Legion in Damascus.
“They said they are not accepting any more black applicants, so I asked them how many black applicants you got? They really break you down.”
Zeigler joined the NAACP in Montgomery County, where he worked as a youth director to help young African Americans. He ended up suing a government agency, the place he worked at the time, for discrimination and received threats.
But through it all, nothing stopped him.
“They said, ‘you’re a troublemaker,’ but that’s what you get when you fight for what you believe in,” Zeigler said.
Although the struggles seemed to continue, Zeigler persevered, and his hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed. It has earned him several awards, and through it all, he said he’s just happy he made it.
“A lot of troops got killed in that camp, so I’m lucky that I got back to the States,” Zeigler said. “If I didn’t have faith in the good Lord, I don’t know if I’d still be around…can’t give up.”
It has taken 74 years, but Zeigler will be admitted to American Legion Post 171 in Damascus and receive his coveted Legionnaire’s cap.