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Hairston was born on May 8th, 1922 in a log cabin just outside of Martinsville, Virginia. The cabin had a dirt floor. He stayed in Virginia for the first two years of his life. His parents got divorced and he moved to Connellsville, Pennsylvania. A product of public schooling, Hairston graduated high school in 1940. He does not remember a lot of discrimination directed at him. The town was small and Hairston and his family actually lived on the white side of town. He did what he could to make money, but in the end he was not getting ahead so he decided to join the Army. The recruiter kept telling him that he was "working on it." He did not realize that the armed forces were segregated and that he would have to wait for the recruiter to find an all black unit for him to join. Hairston wrote to every black unit in the country and every last unit replied in unison with, "no vacancy." The one unit that responded was a cavalry unit stationed at West Point. They were full as well but they knew of an opening in a medical unit. Hairston had expressed a desire to become a doctor before he joined the Army so this seemed like a good opportunity. He was warned that it was a difficult job but he did not care, he packed his bags and headed to West Point for an interview. They gave him a twenty question intelligence test. Hairston got nineteen of the twenty questions correct. From October of 1940 until February of 1941 Hairston stayed with the medical detachment. When the draft was instituted his unit was broken up and dispersed around the country. He ended up in Alexandria, Louisiana. His train ride was interesting. From New York to St. Louis the accommodations were wonderful and they could sit wherever they wanted on the train. In St. Louis they had to switch to a segregated train where the accommodations were not as homely. In Louisiana, Hairston got an education in segregation. As he got off of the train he overheard some white people say, "Well those look like a bunch of goddamn northern niggers, we need to teach them how to act down here." That was Hairston’s introduction to the South. He ended up applying for Officer Candidate School. He only applied for non combat positions.Â
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