"Of course I wanted to join. I was a kid and most of my friends were joining," he said. "They had cool uniforms and they did exciting things — camping, parades, playing drums."
Germany was at war by the time he was a teenager and he describes in the book the near-destruction of Hamburg during the Operation Gomorrah bombing attack in the summer of 1943.
He wrote about becoming a "swingboy" who took great risks by playing and dancing to versions of American swing music, which was condemned by the Nazi regime. After the collapse of Germany at the end of the war, he said he was able to save his mother and himself from starvation by playing saxophone in clubs that catered to the American Merchant Marine.
Eventually he left Germany, first joining his father's family in Liberia, before going to Chicago to study aviation mechanics. He was drafted into the U.S. Army while on a student visa in 1951. Afterward, he became a U.S. citizen and eventually became a journalist.
He worked first for Jet Magazine before moving to Chicago-based Ebony, where he rose to managing editor before retiring in the late 1990s.