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WWII vet, grandson of slave: 'I'm speechless'

  • Story Highlights
  • Alfred Bouey, 84, attended the inauguration of the nation's first black president
  • Bouey, who grew up in Arkansas, saw his mother being mistreated by whites
  • "It's good to see the white Americans appreciate and show love to the new president"
  • Bouey says, "I am ... full of joy"
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From Taresh Moore
Special to CNN
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Editor's note: Taresh Moore is a student at Winston Salem State University in North Carolina. The 21-year-old senior traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend the inauguration.

Taresh Moore is a senior at Winston Salem State Univeristy in North Carolina.

Alfred Bouey is a World War II veteran and a grandson of slaves.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Alfred Bouey, an 84-year-old African-American, still remembers the stories from his grandfather about the scars on his body from the beatings he took as a slave in the South.

Bouey, of Oak Park, Illinois, attended Tuesday's inauguration of President Obama. Words can't express his excitement and happiness about witnessing history.

A World War II veteran, he never thought he would live to see a black president in America.

Bouey grew up in Arkansas and saw racism firsthand. He witnessed his mother being mistreated by whites in the South, but he never saw her give up. He eventually left Arkansas for Chicago.

Bouey attended the inauguration after winning Brookdale Senior Living's Experiences of a Lifetime contest. Residents at various Brookdale Senior Living communities nationwide shared their experiences and submitted their wishes as part of the contest.

Bouey shared his story and said he'd like to be there when Obama was sworn in. "My grandfather and grandmother were whipped and beaten, and had the scars to prove it," he said.

With CNN.com's help, Taresh Moore spoke with Bouey about the inauguration ceremony. Below is a transcript of their interview.

Moore: How are you today?

Bouey: I'm great. I couldn't feel any better right now.

Moore: How did it feel to take part in this historic inauguration?

Bouey: It felt very great. I can't find any words to express my happiness. I am speechless and full of joy.

Moore: What will you remember most about the inauguration?

Bouey: I will remember that I was actually there. I lived to see this historic event. I'm 84, and I had the chance to witness this. Not too many people had that opportunity, and I am honored.

Moore: How did you feel when you found out that you and your family were going to Washington, D.C., to take part in the inauguration?

Bouey: I was happy. At first when I was asked to take part in the survey, I didn't mind sharing my story because I had many stories to share. When I found out I had the opportunity to go, I was very grateful. I couldn't wait to get here.

Moore: Did you ever believe you would live to see an African-American president in your lifetime?

Bouey: No. I never thought I would live to see one. Growing up, my mother wanted me and my brother and sister to get an education. And we all did. An education will take you far, and we see that it did for our new president and for me. But I'm glad I lived to see this. It's a wonderful experience, and I am very proud of it!

Moore: How was it growing up in the South?

Bouey: I was born in Philadelphia and moved to Arkansas at the age of 1. Growing up, everything was segregated -- in the schools, restaurants and just everywhere. Blacks couldn't do this and we couldn't do that. I came to the point where I got tired of it all in the South and just moved away. I moved to Chicago on June 2, 1946.

Moore: Was it better in Chicago?

Bouey: Yes, a lot better. Better opportunities for blacks.

Moore: You have lived a life that has seen the scars on the body of a former slave, who was your grandfather, to seeing America's first African-American president all in one lifetime. How does that make you feel?

Bouey: I feel that America has come a long way. And I mean a very long way. My grandfather had scars from slavery. My mother wasn't a slave, but she still was beaten in the cotton fields. Beatings didn't stop for some years after slavery. But there are no slaves now. It shows the great progress this country has made.

Moore: How do you think your grandparents and mother would feel to see the first African-American president?

Bouey: I believe it would mean more to them than it means to me because of how they were treated and the hard work they put in. This would be like their reward for all of the work and suffering they endured. Others, like Martin Luther King, who I marched with, would be very happy as well.

Moore: How did you feel when President Obama was first elected?

Bouey: Well, I had tears of joy on Election Night. I cried. They almost had to mop up the floor due to all of the tears that came out of my eyes. It was just a great feeling.

Moore: How do you feel about President Obama and the future of America?

Bouey: I feel that America is headed in the right direction. The youth are our future, and the youth in the African-American community has a great example of a role model to look up to. Any youth from any race can look to President Obama. They don't have to sell drugs or other bad things. Be like Obama, get an education and succeed in life.

Moore: Millions of people of all races filled Washington this weekend to witness history. Of those people, many white Americans filled the city to see a black man being sworn in as president. How does that make you feel?

Bouey: I feel happy. It shows change. It's good to see the white Americans appreciate and show love to the new president. And it's good to see everyone come together for a special occasion. We're all equal, no matter what color your skin is.

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Moore: If you could say anything to President Obama, what would it be?

Bouey: I would say job well done. Our prayers are with you. Keep your faith in God, and he'll keep you.

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