Shorewood - Although he tries not to think about his time in Korea, Maxwell Shavers felt a renewed sense of pride about his military service last weekend, when Stars and Stripes Honor Flight flew him and dozens of other veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit their war memorial.
Unbeknownst to him, family members from New York, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington, D.C., gathered to surprise him at the airport. One of those family members is his brother Victor, a retired brigadier general from the Vietnam War. The two brothers rarely get to see each other, but they spent the entire day together visiting all of the war memorials. He said it was one of the best experiences of his life.
"It gave me a feeling I somehow yearned for, but could never express to anyone," he said. "It was an awakening of all those feelings I had back then."
Despite everything he's been through, the 85-year-old Shorewood resident still talks fondly about "the good old days." He enlisted in the Air Force before he turned 18, shortly after the Selective Service Act of 1948 banned segregation in the military. While integration may have been legislated, it was not necessarily accepted at Lackland Air Force Base in 1948. The cold racial relations on the Air Force base didn't compare to the racism occurring in the outside world. Shavers remembers seeing black men hanging from trees during Air Force training in Mississippi.
"If that won't scare you, nothing will," he said. "Being black, I was more grateful about everything that was happening that was not bad. If it wasn't bad, it was good."
Shavers served the entire duration of the Korean War, from June 1950 to September 1953. He didn't want to talk much about the details of his intelligence work with the Air Force, but his service earned him the Silver Star, the third-highest military decoration for valor bestowed by the Air Force.
Shavers returned from Korea with an extreme case of post-traumatic stress disorder, which he said has caused him troubles ever since he returned to the states.
After some time in Florida, he moved his family to Milwaukee, where a close friend lived at the time. He moved his family to Shorewood in 1972, when he heard about the top-ranked school system. He said he was the second black person to move to Shorewood, and even at that time, racism remained a problem.
"It was horrible," he said. "Nobody wanted to rent to me."
Shavers continued to work with electronics and computers after the war. He built a computer in the 1990s, and he still tinkers around with them at home.
"I'm retired, but I don't feel retired," he said.
At 85 years old, he also has an active social life, and he's still able to knock out 10 push-ups on a dare. When the Honor Flight arrived in Milwaukee on Saturday, he said he felt like a rock star as he was greeted by thousands of people, including his friends and family members from Milwaukee. He was particularly touched by a salute from the Honor Guard, in which groups of servicemen from each branch of the military took turns saluting the veterans.
"When the Honor Guard saluted me, that was an extreme moment," he said. "I felt an emotion I didn't know I could experience. I'm glad I lived to be 85 to have this moment."