Veterans Day: Monument to African American WWII Soldiers Will Be Dedicated

A monument honoring Polk County’s World War II African American soldiers will be dedicated in Veterans Memorial Park on Saturday during a pre-Veterans Day ceremony.

The monument’s dedication, jointly sponsored by the Polk County Veterans Council and the Lakeland Chapter of the NAACP, will recognize those who served in combat or support services during WWII, both overseas and in the U.S., Veterans Council Chairman Gary Clark said.

Dedication is at 10 a.m. at the WWII Plaza, 150 Lake Beulah Drive, west of the RP Funding Center

Army veteran J.J. Corbett of Bartow is among those named on the monument. Corbett, who enlisted in 1943, served with the “Triple Nickle” 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion helping to extinguish enemy balloon fires in the northwestern U.S. He later became an educator and was a member of the Polk County School Board for 14 years.

Clark said the program features several speakers and local retired military members, including Vietnam Navy veteran Greg Robinson and retired Air Force Lt. Col. Terry Coney, who is current president of the NAACP Lakeland branch.

After the dedication ceremony, participants will join ROTC organizations and local groups taking part in the annual Veterans Day Parade that steps off at 11 a.m. The parade route from the RP Funding Center ends at Munn Park. Parking is located on the west side of the RP Funding Center.

Although Veterans Day is officially Nov. 11, the city of Lakeland assists the Polk Veterans Council in hosting annual events on the Saturday prior to the federal holiday.

Monument text

The text on the monument reads:

THE GREAT AFRICAN AMERICAN GENERATION

This monument pays tribute to all of those Polk County African Americans who served in WWII. Their service to the the country would continue long after the battlefields of World War II grew silent.

More than one and a half million African Americans served in the United States Armed Forces during World War II. As members of the U.S. military, this great African American generation frequently encountered unequal treatment and limited opportunities for promotion and transfer. Despite these challenges, Polk County African Americans joined the war effort serving in combat and combat support units both overseas and in the United States. Jordan “J.J.” Corbett was one of them. Enlisting in 1943 and serving in the “Triple Nickle” 555th parachute infantry battalion nicknamed “The Smoke Jumpers, these soldiers conducted dangerous missions parachuting out of planes to extinguish forest fires.

Another WW II veteran was Lemuel Geathers who, after graduating as valedictorian of all-black Jewett High School in 1943, joined the U.S. Navy at age 19. He became one of the first African Americans to be trained by the Navy as an electrician. Following the war, “J.J.” Corbett joined millions of fellow Americans from the greatest generation achieving success in multiple careers and became a leader in his community. Lemuel Geathers earned a degree from Florida A&M University under the GI Bill and became an educator and businessman in Polk County, later becoming Winter Haven’s first African American mayor

This monument made possible through the support of the veterans and friends of veterans, November 6, 2021.

Lakeland Rotary Clubs, City of Lakeland, Polk County Veterans Council, NAACP Lakeland Branch, American Legion Post 4, Central Florida Business Diversity Council, the Corbett family, the Geathers family, individual donors, Sweetdreams Memorials