By W.J. Hennigan | Photographs by Benjamin Rasmussen for TIME
What happened to Hoover Jones? The question loomed over Ida Dickens’ life for nearly seven decades. When she last saw her younger brother, he was waving from the back of a taxicab, a lanky 18-year-old farm boy headed to Korea, a country he knew nothing about.
Hoover had enlisted as an infantryman in one of America’s last segregated units, even though he had never handled a weapon, let alone fired a shot in anger. In his mind, joining the military was a chance for a better life, an escape from the bitter racism of central North Carolina, Ida says. But he soon found himself in a poorly trained unit struggling with equipment that would fall to pieces in numbing subzero temperatures. In a Nov. 17, 1950, letter that Hoover wrote his mother from inside his foxhole, he described “very cold days” and the hope that he would be on his way home by Christmas.
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