Originally created 07/18/02

Featured obituary: Mr. Percy Ricks Jr.



Augusta has lost a piece of its history.

Services are planned Saturday for Percy Ricks Jr., an Augusta resident who in 1946 became the first black noncommissioned officer of an integrated Army unit.

The funeral will begin at 11 a.m. at Paine College's Gilbert Lambuth Memorial Chapel. Burial will be in Bellevue Memorial Gardens in Grovetown.

Mr. Ricks, 82, died Sunday at the Augusta Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers.

He once told The Augusta Chronicle of his fight to join the armed forces in 1941, a time when the Army was still segregated.

"They said they had enough (blacks)," he said. "So we packed our bags and came back home."

A short time later, in August 1942, he was drafted.

In less than a year, he became one of the Army's youngest first sergeants and was appointed as commander of a black unit, the 8th Army Air Corps in Africa.

After the war, Mr. Ricks was put in charge of the first integrated unit at the Army Pictorial Center in Long Island, N.Y.

He took the job seriously. Despite some minor setbacks and the initial uneasiness, Mr. Ricks always spoke fondly of his days at the head of the unit.

"It was a good experience. I couldn't have had it better," he once told The Chronicle.

His daughter Millie Kyle knows he was telling the truth.

"It was a very beautiful and enriching experience for us. He always got along with everyone," she said. "Color did not matter to him. He always showered people with love. If you knew him, when he'd see you his eyes would just light up."

In January, when a room at Fort Gordon's Signal Corps Museum was named in honor of the retired master sergeant, Spc. Frank Minnie echoed that sentiment.

"(He) brought to light what is now the foundation of our values-based organization - that it is a person's capabilities and inner qualities which are most important, not that person's race, skin color, gender or religion."

Mr. Ricks is survived by his wife, Mildred Ricks; six children; two sisters; and a brother.

A FULL CAREER

AUGUST 1942: Percy Ricks Jr. is drafted into the Army

1943: Mr. Ricks becomes one of the youngest first sergeants in the Army and is appointed commander of the 8th Army Air Corps in Africa

1946: Special Order 118 puts him in charge of the first integrated unit at the Army Pictorial Center in Long Island, N.Y. He is said to be the first black noncommissioned officer in charge of an integrated unit

JANUARY 2000: A room at Fort Gordon's Signal Corps Museum is dedicated in the retired master sergeant's honor.

Reach Jennifer Hilliard at (706) 823-3220 or jennifer.hilliard@augustachronicle.com.



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