North Chicago vet leaves legacy of service
By Judy Masterson firstname.lastname@example.org September 13, 2013 12:34PM
Frank Wortham Sr., who died Sept. 4 at 87 years old, was one of more than 100,000 African-American sailors who between June 1942 and August 1945 trained at three segregated boot camps at Great Lakes: Camp Robert Smalls, Camp Lawrence and Camp Moffett. | Judy Masterson/Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 17, 2013 6:08AM
When Frank Wortham Sr. arrived at Great Lakes Naval Training Station for boot camp in the winter of 1944, there were two navies: one for whites and one for blacks.
The North Chicago veteran, who died Sept. 4 at 87 years old, was one of more than 100,000 African-American sailors who, between June 1942 and August 1945, trained at three segregated boot camps at Great Lakes: Camp Robert Smalls, Camp Lawrence and Camp Moffett.
Wortham also was an integral part of a much smaller group — aging black sailors in Lake County who didn’t want their experience, or the memory of it, to die with them.
A member of the Black Navy Veterans of World War II, Wortham and the group worked for more than six years to raise funds to erect Veterans Memorial Park on Sheridan Road in North Chicago, the only monument of its kind in the U.S. that honors those who served their country despite discrimination in the military.
In 2006, the year the memorial was dedicated, Wortham recalled how racism was a fact of life for black sailors, who mingled freely with white seamen during liberty at ports from Bermuda to Brazil, but were segregated by Jim Crow at home.
“That’s the way the country was at the time,” Wortham told the News-Sun. “We knew it wasn’t right, but that was the system.”
After serving aboard a minesweeper that kept vital shipping lanes open and safe during the war, Wortham returned to Lake County. Married to wife Genevieve in 1947 and the father of four children, he worked for 30 years in civil service at Great Lakes, retiring in 1982. In 2012, he traveled with five other aging Lake County veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the World War II monument.
The trip was planned and executed with help from the Exchange Club of North Chicago, which recently founded the county’s first Honor Flight chapter.
“He’s the reason we took the trip,” exchange club president Paula Carballido said. “He didn’t want anybody to forget the struggles they went through. He wanted to share that with generations to come.”
Funeral services were scheduled to begin with visitation at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, at First Baptist Church, 2219 14th St., North Chicago. Interment follows at 2 p.m. at North Shore Garden of Memories, military section, 1801 Green Bay Road, North Chicago.