HOUSTON – A decorated World War II veteran celebrated a milestone with friends and family. Corporal James Roberts turned 100 years old.
At St. James Missionary Baptist Church in northwest Houston, Roberts is a celebrated saint. They call him "Deek," short for deacon, his role at the church for 40 years.
"He baptized (me and a friend) with three other people through Sunday school," said Calvin Curry, now the church's associate pastor.
"The things that he's done, the great things that he's done just made me overwhelmed," said Sherron Fowler, Roberts' daughter.
But on his birthday, "Deek" retired his class bell. Then, he rolled towards a milestone. He celebrated 100 years doing exactly what his mom taught him.
"You got two ears and two eyes," Roberts said. "You keep them open. But, you keep your mouth shut."
So, he doesn't brag about war medals. He has two. Roberts' service record said he earned two bronze stars during World War II. Though, "Deek" won't say where to find them or share the whole story on how he earned them.
"That's one thing you had to do, even in that time, you had to keep your mouth shut," Roberts said.
During World War II, Roberts served one year, three months and seven days in Burma. He was part of Company "E" in the Army's 1327th Engineer General Service Regiment. He was a construction foreman in charge of 13 men. However, in 1944, his all African-American unit dug ditches more than others, he said. At some point, frontline casualties mounted. Roberts volunteered to go.
"I asked him, 'So, why would you volunteer to go to the front line,'" said Marcus Stewart, Roberts' son. "He was like, hey, it's a bunch of money up there and a bunch of women. So, he was really excited about maybe the women mostly. So, he was willing to face death to go in the front lines."
Roberts said he survived a Japanese attack, obeying orders learned in training. He crawled into a ditch and fought to the end.
"I was very lucky," Roberts said. "I was probably the only black boy to survive."
He has gone on to see his share of good and bad.
"I've seen almost too much," Roberts said.
But if you ask "Deek" what keeps him going, he quotes scripture.
"(The bible) says honor thy father and thy mother that (your) days may lengthen upon the land and I obeyed my mother," Roberts said.
His obedience is a virtue friends and family celebrated.