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American Forces Press Service News Article

Army Finally Recognizes WWII Black Heroes

 
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
  
	WASHINGTON -- More than a million African Americans 
served in the military during World War II. Not one received 
a Medal of Honor for valor during that conflict.
	More than 50 years later, the military is making 
amends. President Clinton presented Medals of Honor to seven 
Americans soldiers denied the award because of their race. 
Only one -- 1st Lt. Vernon J. Baker -- was alive to see his 
country finally honor his heroism in Italy on April 5, 1945. 
	The road to the award was long and hard, and the Army 
didn't address the anomaly until 1992, when John Shannon, 
then the acting Army secretary, ordered a research study. 
The Army awarded a contract to Shaw University of Raleigh, 
N.C. Five historians -- Elliot V. Converse, Robert K. 
Griffith, Daniel K. Gibran, Richard H. Kohn and John A. Cash 
-- produced a report entitled "The Medal of Honor and 
African Americans in the United States Army During World War 
II." 
	The report, delivered in January 1995, concluded there 
was no official proof African Americans had even been 
considered for the award. Anecdotal evidence suggested that 
four of the men who received the honor had been recommended 
for the award soon after their deeds.
	The study found no official documents that proved 
racial bias in the award policies. However, the report makes 
it clear that African-American soldiers put up with a wave 
of racism. 
	"The Army entered World War II with racial assumptions 
about the inferiority of black soldiers as combat troops ... 
; these assumptions dominated Army thinking, supported the 
policy of segregating African Americans in separate units 
and underlay the policy which relegated blacks 
overwhelmingly to service in noncombatant units," the report 
states. 
	The Army, under pressure from African Americans, formed 
two black divisions in 1943. The 92nd Division went to Italy 
and the 93rd to the Pacific theater. The 93rd was used most 
to mop up islands after other units captured them. The 92nd 
saw much combat, serving in the front lines from August 1944 
through May 1945. The report characterized the leadership of 
the 92nd Division as racist, and the leaders listened to its 
prejudice when making awards. 
	"It must be understood that a pattern of racial 
prejudice on the part of the white leadership of the 92nd 
Division pervaded the experience, contributed to the very 
low morale of that unit and poisoned the relationships 
between the senior officer leadership and African-American 
junior officers and enlisted men," the report states.
	The report recommended the Army examine whether the men 
should receive the award. The Army agreed the men deserved 
the medal, but Congress had to waive the 1952 time limit for 
awarding the medals. Congress included a time limit waiver 
in the Fiscal 1997 Authorization Act passed in October 1996. 
Clinton awarded the medals Jan. 13.
	Those who received the medals were:
	o Baker, 77, of St. Maries, Idaho, was a platoon leader 
with C Company, 370th Infantry, 92nd Division, when he led 
his 25-man platoon against a German stronghold at Castle 
Aghinolfi, Italy. He personally wiped out a bunker and a 
machine gun nest and killed two Germans with a submachine 
gun he had picked up. His company commander ordered him to 
withdraw. Only seven men returned unhurt from the mission, 
but the platoon killed 26 Germans and destroyed six machine 
gun nests and four dugouts.
	o Staff Sgt. Edward A. Carter Jr., Los Angeles, Company 
No. 1 (Provisional), 56th Armored Inf., 12th Armored 
Division. Carter received a Distinguished Service Cross for 
his actions on March 23, 1945, near Speyer, Germany. Carter 
volunteered to lead a three-man patrol across an open field 
to check out a warehouse after the tank he was riding on 
started taking fire. Small arms fire killed one of his 
companions. He ordered the others back as he provided cover. 
One was killed and the other wounded. Carter pressed on, 
taking wounds in his leg and arm and a bullet through his 
hand before taking cover. Two hours later, eight German 
soldiers approached him. He killed six, took the remaining 
two prisoner and used them as shields to get back across the 
field. Carter died in 1962.
	o 1st Lt. John R. Fox, Boston, was a forward observer 
with Cannon Company, 366th Inf., 92nd Div. The battalion he 
was supporting had 1,000 men to man 30 miles of front near 
Sommocolonia, Italy. On Dec. 26, 1944, Germans overran the 
battalion. Fox called for artillery fire. As the Germans 
closed in, Fox called for fire directly on his position. The 
fire direction control officer balked, and so did the 
colonel who had never heard such a suicidal request. Fox 
replied, "There are hundreds of them coming. Put everything 
you've got on my OP [observation post]!" The colonel still 
balked and called to division headquarters for approval. He 
got it, and high explosive shells then rained on Fox's 
position. The unit later retrieved his body from the 
shattered wreckage, surrounded by about 100 dead German 
soldiers.
	o PFC Willy F. James Jr., Kansas City, Kan., G Co., 
413th Inf., 104th Div. As his regiment crossed the Weser 
River near Lippoldsberg, Germany, on April 7, 1945, James 
drew fire and volunteered to scout the German positions. He 
reported and took the point in the attack. When his platoon 
leader was killed, James went to help him and was killed 
himself.
	o Staff Sgt. Ruben Rivers, Tecumseh, Okla., A Co., 
761st Tank Battalion, 3rd Army. Although wounded when his 
Sherman tank hit a mine near Geubling, France, Nov. 16, 
1944, Rivers refused first aid and evacuation. He took 
command of the tank leading the column and fought on. Three 
days later, his battalion was attacking the village of 
Bourgaltroff when German anti-tank fire hit the lead tank. 
Although ordered to pull back, Rivers advanced, radioed he 
spotted the enemy positions and attacked. The duel with the 
Germans continued until an 88mm shell hit his turret and 
killed him.
	o 1st Lt. Charles L. Thomas, Detroit, commander, C Co. 
614th Tank Destroyer Battalion, 103rd Div. On Dec. 14, 1944, 
Thomas volunteered to serve as a decoy for an armored task 
force attacking Climbach, France. Thomas led the way in an 
M-20 armored car. The Germans opened up mortar and artillery 
fire on the platoon. Glass and lethal shards wounded Thomas, 
and his vehicle was hit and immobilized. Although wounded, 
Thomas crawled under the vehicle and deployed his men and 
anti-tank guns. Thomas died in 1980.
	o Pvt. George Watson, Birmingham, Ala., 29th 
Quartermaster Regiment. Watson drowned while rescuing others 
after Japanese bombers sank his ship near Porloch Harbor, 
New Guinea, March 8, 1943. The ship was so badly damaged 
that the commander ordered it abandoned. Watson remained in 
the water and helped other soldiers who could not swim reach 
the life rafts. He was caught in the turbulence when the 
ship sank. His body was not recovered.




image 1st Lt. Vernon J. Baker

image Staff Sgt. Ruben Rivers

image Staff Sgt. Edward A. Carter Jr.

image 1st Lt. John R. Fox

image 1st Lt. Charles L. Thomas



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