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AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — A World War II combat veteran celebrated his 100th birthday with family and friends while reflecting on serving in an all-Black battalion in a segregated army.

In May 1943, Hughes Van Ellis was officially introduced to the war when he was drafted into the United States Army.

“You have to do what you have to do. You got to go serve your country,” Ellis said.

Trained in the infantry, his specialty became anti-aircraft artillery and was attached to the 234th AAA Gun Battalion.

“When I hear the sound of the plane, I would tell the gunners how close that plane would come in,” Ellis said.

Ellis was shipped out to the China Burma India Theater of Operations, and he fought the Japanese Imperial Forces. 

“A lot of folks get nervous, you know,” Ellis said. “You feel you got a duty to do and you just have to go and do it.”

The 234th was an all-Black unit with a white captain.

“It ain’t like today. You just have to go on and do what you have to do. You just go by orders. You’re ordered to do something and you just do it,” Ellis said.

Ellis fought an enemy who believed in racial purity, while the army in which he served was, in fact, segregated. 

“You speak up today, speak your opinion, but back then, you never thought about that,” he said.

Ellis and his fellow soldiers played an important role in the ultimate victory over the axis powers.

Now, at 100 years and one week old, Ellis is in excellent health and says he feels “great.” He is surrounded by his family and has a positive but grounded attitude on life.

“We’re not there yet, but it’s going to get better,” he said.