Oldest member of VFW Post 8300 turns 100


Dolphus Knowles is the oldest member of VFW Post 8300 in East Patchogue and celebrated his long life with his family and fellow veterans last Saturday. Officially, he turned 100 on Wednesday.

Knowles was born on Feb. 28, 1924, in Lake Worth Beach, Fla., but has lived on Long Island since 1947, and more recently lives at the Bellhaven Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing Care.

Knowles served in an all-Black smokescreen unit during World War II, a time where troops were still segregated and faced open combat in both Germany in Italy. The unit was responsible for creating a smokescreen to hide the approach of U.S. troops.

He also bravely led a unit of men who blew up full-size Army tanks and constructed cardboard soldiers as decoys to distract the opposing side.

In 2017, he was honored by the Town of Brookhaven, along with several other local veterans such as Jason A. Neal and Conrad Queen, at the 27th annual Black History Month Celebration, where the theme was “African Americans in Times of War.”

Before Knowles went into the Army at the age of 18, he enjoyed the tropical upbringing of his home state. “Oh man, it was pretty good because I was in school and eating a lot of fresh fruit you know—coconuts, mangoes, whatever there was—and I was in the Boy Scouts, too,” Knowles said about his childhood in Lake Worth.

He also spent some time apprenticing as a barber in a local shop within his hometown area, but it was cut short when he left for the Army.

Once he was in the army, Knowles trained for combat and then was deployed overseas, where he was given the responsibility of keeping the German and Italian enemy troops oblivious to incoming attacks from the U.S. troops, putting his life on the line with his fellow soldiers.

“I mostly remember just trying to stay alive,” he said of his time in combat. “We had to start up the machines and make the smoke… I remember the ships we had to go in and lay down the smoke. The first unit had to go in and lay down the screen and then the other units came in behind and wiped up the hill, either fighting or running, whichever one you had to do,” he said.

“Most of the countries paid respect to American troops, but the African American soldiers were more welcome in some places overseas rather than in their own country because of discrimination. Other than that, things went pretty smooth… and when the Black soldiers came back, they had more respect than they previously had,” he added.

After he returned from serving in the war, Knowles moved to Bellport from Florida with just $200 in his pocket that his father gave him. He cut hair for a while in Hempstead before getting a job at UPS, where he would work for 33 years lifting and transporting packages that were sometimes more than 90 pounds.

Back in Hempstead, Knowles met his wife of 50-plus years, Adele Knowles—originally from Atlanta—one Sunday in church. Adele worked as a nurse/health care worker in Long Island for many years.

“We met when I was 24,” Adele Knowles said. “Dolphus has always been a good father, husband, and provider over the years… together we raised our two sons here in Long Island and always taught them to work hard and to strive for great things.”

“He taught me a lot of good things over the years—what to look out for, what to expect from people, what to give, and how to have good ethics and work hard and stuff like that,” his son, Richard Knowles, said. “He was a good educator, and he knows a lot of stuff about the world.”

Knowles is also leading a family legacy, as his brother also served in WWII as a fighter pilot, and one of his sons also went on to serve in the U.S. military.

“Kids should make sure to get an education; that’s the first step in having a life… and be honest with yourself, don’t let anybody or any strangers tell you what you can and can’t do… and keep in touch with your family,” the elder Knowles said.

Dolphus Knowles remains the oldest member of VFW Post 8300 in East Patchogue and a moving example of strength and life.

Lorraine Hallett is a reporter with The SBU Media Group, part of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism’s Working Newsroom program for students and local media.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here