ALAMEDA -- As a teenager living in Oakland, Eddie Abrams attended McClymonds High School and then joined the California National Guard in 1949. Stationed on Webster Street in Alameda, he became a member of one of the last remaining all-black units, a group put together from places throughout the Bay Area under the efforts of Major Edward L. Ritchie Jr.
That unit -- the 719th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Gun Battalion -- became known as the "Can-Do Battalion" for its many achievements under the direction of Lt. Col. Warren W. Morse. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, the 719th was called to active duty. On Aug. 21 that year, this group of 462 officers and enlisted men departed from Alameda to their new assignment in Fort Lewis, Wash.
Spearheaded by the efforts of Abrams, the members of this group periodically have held reunions through the years. Another reunion will take place Monday, when 10 unit members are expected to meet with Mayor Marie Gilmore at Alameda City Hall.
Beyond having been stationed in Alameda, the 719th has even closer connections to the city.
"Al DeWitt (who later became a city councilman, vice mayor and acting mayor and died in 2003) was one of our members," Abrams said by telephone from his Austin, Texas, home, where he moved in 2007 after living in Oakland for more than six decades.
Still, Abrams' East Bay and military connections continue to run strong. This year's reunion not only honors the 719th,
"When we served in Alameda, it was kind of segregated at the time," Abrams said. "I just called some of the fellows when I learned that they had a black mayor in Alameda. When I discovered that, there were two things I needed to do: 'Call the Oakland Tribune and get in touch with the mayor.' "
Abrams already knew something about Mayor Gilmore's background.
"I remember her father-in-law (the late Oakland City Councilmember Carter Gilmore)," Abrams said.
As has been the case for the entire nation, much has changed in Alameda since the 719th's days here. In 1948, President Harry S. Truman ordered the desegregation of the armed forces through Executive Order 9981. Truman's command took time to implement, though, as the 719th still was segregated when it moved out from Alameda.
The battalion members mostly trained recruits upon arriving at Fort Lewis. Members of the 719th never saw actual combat, Abrams said, but volunteers from the unit received months of specialized training to become integrated into specialized units in Germany, Camp Stuart, Ga., and Fairbanks, Alaska.
In 1952, the federal government released the 719th from national service, and the unit returned to its home base in Alameda. Many members received their discharges. Abrams took a civilian job at the Alameda Naval Air Station, where he worked 28 years before becoming general foreman of the Oakland Naval Supply Center for another six.