BY CRAIG COLEY
Gene Shipp, who turned 100 in March, is an Army veteran of three major wars: World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. He grew up driving horse-drawn buggies and later became an automotive mechanic. Drafted into a segregated Army, he retired from an integrated one. “I’m for change,” Shipp says. “As time changes, you’re supposed to change with it. If you don’t, you’re left behind.”
Shipp was born in 1919 in Buena Vista, Georgia, and grew up raising cotton, peanuts, and livestock on his family’s farm. He left home at 21 to join the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). “It was just like being in the Army, but you were planting trees, building parks and highways,” Shipp says of the CCC. “When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, they just transferred all the young men from the CCC right into the Army.”
Basic training was about 80 miles away, and it was the farthest Shipp had ever been from home. Within months, he was seasick on a troop ship with thousands of men bound for Casablanca, Morocco.
Shipp was a quartermaster, sending rifles, boots, and other supplies to the North African and Italian fronts. His company, exclusively African American except for the officers, was segregated from other companies. “They had it all arranged to keep us apart,” Shipp says. “We were all fighting for the same cause, but the blacks had to stay in their place, and the whites had to stay in their place. It’s a crazy world we live in.”
Shipp re-enlisted in 1945, married in 1946, and had two children with his wife, Doris. While the family was stationed in Germany in the mid-1960s, the Indiana University Singing Hoosiers performed at the base. “They went out in the audience and passed out sheets saying, ‘When you come to the states for college, please come to IU,’” Shipp says. His children, Melvin and Patricia, accepted the offer. They were IU students when Shipp retired as a master sergeant in 1971; Shipp moved to Bloomington to be with them and hasn’t left. “The Singing Hoosiers brought me here,” he says.
Shipp had a second career with Public Service Company of Indiana, the electric company, retiring again in 1981. He served as deacon at Second Baptist Church from 1977 to 2004. Doris died in 1983, and Shipp remarried in 1987. His second wife, Marilyn, died in 2002.
Today he lives at Bell Trace Senior Living, attends church Sundays, and wears his uniform every Veterans Day and Memorial Day. In one respect, Shipp hasn’t changed: The uniform still fits perfectly. “I can’t gain a pound, I can’t lose a pound,” he says.