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Tell Your Kids About This Man

  • Jim Daly Jim Daly is president and chief executive officer of Focus on the Family, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping families thrive.
  • 2012 Apr 25

Posted by Jim_Daly Apr 24, 2012




Steffan Tubbs is a morning radio host on Denver’s leading talk station, KOA-AM. I enjoy listening to him along with his co-host, April Zesbaugh. They’re good at what they do.

Steffan has a tremendous appreciation for veterans, especially those who served in World War II. In fact, he’s the spokesman for The Greatest Generation Foundation, an organization dedicated to celebrating military personnel from that era. Steffan has accompanied many aging soldiers to former battlefields, including Pearl Harbor and Iwo Jima. He’s grown close to many of these heroes, especially Denver native Joseph LaNier II.

“Joe” is 86 years of age and the subject of Steffan’s forthcoming book, Joe: A Real Story. Mr. LaNier endured tremendous prejudice and discrimination. But as a man of strong Christian faith, he isn’t bitter about the past. He’s long ago forgiven those who mistreated him.

It’s my privilege to share Steffan’s reflection of the developing project:

Joe: A Real Story 

In his foxhole on Iwo Jima, he was considered just another worthless black man in a lily-white Navy.

Joseph LaNier, II wore a United States Navy uniform, but as he was in his native rural Columbus, Mississippi, he was segregated.  Even in war.

In 1945, Joe became a Navy Seabee in one of the first black Seabee units in U.S. history. He joined the service to help his family out of poverty.

His grandfather was a slave. Joe’s niece was a member of the Little Rock Nine. He watched the injustice in front of him; his friends were beaten because of their color.

Yet today, he does not hate.

He didn’t know the earth was round; had never seen the ocean; didn’t swim and had never heard of Hawaii or this place called Iwo Jima.  Joe lived two months in a foxhole; he saw death and smelled it; he contributed to the Pacific Theatre war effort despite segregation.  After Iwo, he was shipped to Okinawa where he remained through the end of 1945.

He returned to the states in late December of that year and came through Colorado for the first time in January, 1946.  A Denver ice cream cone altered the course of his life.

Back in Mississippi and on the G.I. Bill, Joe finished high school (he returned to find himself in the ninth grade and 20 years old.)  He went on to enroll at Xavier University in New Orleans, where he later secured his degree in pharmacy.

In Colorado, he became the first-ever black director of pharmacy at National Jewish Hospital, where he met the love of his life, Eula - a white woman from Oklahoma. Defying the odds and social scrutiny, their mixed-race marriage is still strong today, five-plus decades later.

I met Joe, now 86, as he was getting ready to make his return to Iwo Jima for the first time since 1945. He made it to Guam, but the trip was canceled due to the Japanese quake and tsunami thesameday he arrived.

He shared his amazing story with me on my morning show, Colorado’s Morning News on 850 KOA in Denver and became the most talked about and requested interviews in my news career.

Joe and I made it back to Iwo Jima in March, 2012 and he has become one of my best friends.


Incidentally, you might be wondering about the significance of the Denver ice cream cone. On his way back from the war, Joe stopped into a store and after ordering an ice cream was offered a seat inside the shop. This simple invitation from the white clerk so moved him (he was not accustomed to desegregated restaurants) that he vowed to someday return to friendly Denver and make it his home, which he eventually did.

Racial prejudice is ugly. And while it’s difficult to read of it, we can hope that by remembering past cases of injustice, it will help prevent anything like it from ever happening again.

Thank you, Joe, for your service to this country, for your heart for the Lord and for your willingness to share your story with us. And thanks, Steffan, for shining a light on the story of this American hero.

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