Booker Townsell rarely spoke about his time in the Army or his wrongful conviction in one of the largest courts-martial of World War II.
But his past takes center stage on Saturday, when the late Townsell receives military honors at his grave site. He’ll get a salute and a bronze military headstone. His family finally will receive the U.S. flag that was denied at his burial almost 25 years ago.
The ceremony and reception that follows are expected to attract hundreds of people, including local and state dignitaries, a representative from the U.S. Army and a lawmaker who helped restore Townsell’s name.
Townsell was one of 43 black soldiers court-martialed after an Italian prisoner was found lynched following a night of rioting at Fort Lawton in Seattle in 1944. The military court found 28 soldiers guilty of rioting over alleged resentment of Italian prisoners’ living conditions on the post.
“It was just an incident that happened to him and he desperately wanted to move on with his life,” said Lashell Drake, Townsell’s granddaughter.
The family searched for Townsell’s name online and found a reference to him in a 2005 book about the incident, “On American Soil: How Justice Became a Casualty of World War II.” The family then contacted the author, Jack Hamann, a former television news reporter.
With the help of Hamann and two congressmen, the Townsells petitioned military investigators to reopen the case. Two other families and a surviving soldier, Samuel Snow of Florida, joined the petition.
In October, the Army’s Board of Corrections of Military Records ruled that the soldiers were unfairly denied access to their attorneys and investigative records. The panel set aside their convictions.