Trailblazing Black WWII veteran honored at B’Heights ceremony

Katherine Horton (right) with family at a Veterans Day ceremony at Cadman Park on Nov. 11.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

Local officials honored trailblazing Brooklyn Heights World War II veteran Katherine Horton at the Brooklyn War Memorial in Cadman Plaza Park Wednesday.

Horton, who in October turned 100 years old, enlisted in the United States Navy in 1944 and was one of the first Black women to be allowed to study at the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, which paved the way for women and people of color to be part of the armed forces, according to one state official and fellow veteran.

“I want to say a personal thank you to Katherine Horton,” said Kristen Rouse, deputy director for diversity, equity, and inclusion for the New York State Division of Veterans’ Services, who served three tours in Afghanistan, “for paving the way so that I can serve, so that so many women can serve, so that so many people of color can serve, so that so many Americans can step up and serve in our nation’s uniform even if the military may not be ready for us, may not view us as the equals that we are and continue growing and evolving with this great nation.”

The centenarian enlisted in the US Navy’s women’s reserve program known at the time as Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, or WAVES, and served at a Naval Hospital in Illinois before becoming a clerk at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

A photo displayed a the ceremony shows a young Katherine Horton (center) during her service in the US Navy.Photo by Kevin Duggan

The Cadman Park Conservancy honored Horton, a resident of nearby Cadman Towers, along with the tens of thousands of borough veterans at the organization’s annual Veterans Day ceremony. There, one of the organizers and a neighbor of Horton’s said he only found out recently that the she served during World War II.

“I had no idea — Kathy and I are next-door neighbors,” said Toba Potosky, the former president of the Conservancy, who is now running for Councilman Stephen Levin’s seat. “Like a lot of veterans who came back and served, they came back and they raised families, they got jobs, they started businesses, and they had successful lives and didn’t really talk about what they did.”

Kristen Rouse, a deputy director of the state’s Division of Veterans’ Services (left), honors Horton and her family members.

Horton went on to earn an associates degree in physical therapy in 1976 and a bachelor’s degree from St. Joseph’s College in 1985.

She worked as a physical therapy assistant at the Veterans Administration and in patient rehabilitation at the Brooklyn VA Medical Center.

One local state legislator said that Horton and other women of color who served in the war have gone unrecognized for too long.

“The women who served with Kathy in World War II, the African-American women who served with Kathy during World War II have gone too long unrecognized,” said Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, “and it is so important and really such an honor to be here and to recognize a hidden figure.”