A CHRONOLOGY OF
AFRICAN AMERICAN MILITARY SERVICE
From WWI through WWII

Part II

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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U.S. Navy messman Doris (Dorie) Miller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Joe Louis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Charity Adams (Earley)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hugh Mulzac

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gordon A. Parks, Sr.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sergeant Gilbert "Hashmark" Johnson

 

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Lieutenant Charles B. Hall

 

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USS Harmon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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"Golden 13"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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USS Mason Commander and crew

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John Roosevelt Robinson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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USS Mason

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Elizabeth B. Murphy Moss

September 1941  The U.S. Military Iranian Mission, which eventually evolved into the Persian Gulf Command by December 1943, began helping the British by building supply facilities in the Persian Gulf area as well as helping them supply Russia through Iran. African-American troops with the 352nd Engineering General Service Regiment arrived in March 1943. Unit members helped build the roads used to transport needed supplies to the Soviet Union.

2 September 1941  Captain Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., was the first African American to officially complete a solo flight as an officer of the U.S. Army Air Corps.

October 1941  Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox reiterated the Navy’s official policy of enlisting African Americans primarily for service in the nonwhite Steward’s Branch.

1 December 1941  Fiorello LaGuardia, director of the U.S. Office of Civilian Defense, formally ordered the formation of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP). In 1942, Willa B. Brown became the first African-American woman to be commissioned as a CAP lieutenant.

7 December 1941  Japan attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor. During the assault, U.S. Navy messman Doris (Dorie) Miller helped move his mortally wounded commander to shelter, then manned a machine gun on the USS Arizona and shot down about six of the Japanese aircraft. This was a particularly notable accomplishment, since combat positions were not open to black sailors and Miller had no formal training on this kind of weapon. After a lengthy press campaign, the Navy awarded Miller the Navy Cross, which Admiral Chester W. Nimitz presented in a ceremony held on 27 May 1942. Miller was one of the more than 600 crewmen killed in November 1943 when the Japanese torpedoed the USS Liscombe Bay. In recognition of Miller’s valor, the Navy commissioned the destroyer escort USS Miller on 30 June 1973.

1941-45 Many black leaders used a dual response to WW2. Known as the "Double V" campaign, they urged African Americans to support the war effort as a way to fight racism abroad, while still criticizing and trying to eliminate segregation and discrimination in the United States. Once again, black Americans hoped their military contributions and patriotism would help break down racial barriers and restrictions. With their increased importance as voters, however, African-American demands for equal treatment had more impact than ever before. Many African Americans refused to totally back the war unless they received better treatment. Consequently the slow move away from segregation in the armed forces began before the war ended.

1941-45 Over 2.5 million African Americans registered for military service during WWII, but only 1 million actually served. Black servicemen were stationed in such diverse spots as Casablanca, Italy, the Aleutians, Northern Ireland, Liberia, New Guinea, the China-Burma-India (CBI) theater, Guam, Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Saipan, Okinawa, Peleliu, Australia, France, and England.

1942  The U.S. Army activated the 730th, the first black military police battalion.

1942  The U.S. Army activated the 93rd Infantry at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, the first black division formed during World War II. Also this year, the Army combined the 9th and 10th Calvary Regiments (two of the all-black units formed after the Civil War) into the new 2nd Cavalry Division.

1942  Black newspapers that ran articles strongly criticizing segregation and discrimination in the armed forces had trouble obtaining newsprint until they softened their stance. The U.S. Justice Department also threatened to charge 20 editors with sedition.

1942  By this time, at least 1800 blacks sat on draft boards in the United States. In addition, African Americans served throughout the Selective Service itself. Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) Campbell C. Johnson was the executive assistant to the Selective Service Administrator, while black civil servants held administrative and clerical positions in various Selective Service offices.

1942  The Army Nurses Corps selected Lieutenant (later Captain) Della H. Raney to be its first black Chief Nurse, while she was serving at Tuskegee Air Field, Alabama. There were about 500 African- American Army nurses in WWII who served in segregated units in the United States and overseas.

9 January 1942  President Roosevelt ordered the U.S. Navy and USMC to enlist African Americans into their regular military units.

February 1942  President Roosevelt approved plans for the construction of a military road through Canada to Alaska. Although a pioneer road, the Alaska (or ALCAN) Highway contributed to the nation’s mobilization and defense by linking the continental United States to its northernmost territory, an area threatened by Japan’s expansion throughout the Pacific region. Three black regiments—the 93rd, 95th, and 97th Engineer General Service Regiments—helped to build this highway, which was officially opened to U.S. Army truck traffic on 20 November 1942.

March 1942  The Army drafted John Roosevelt Robinson, an outstanding athlete who had lettered in four sports while attending UCLA. After completing basic training at Fort Riley, Kansas, Robinson and several other black soldiers applied for admission to Officers Candidate School (OCS), but they were initially rejected. Robinson was eventually admitted to OCS through the intervention of heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Louis.

March 1942  The U.S. Coast Guard recruited its first 150 black volunteers, who underwent basic training at Manhattan Beach, New York. Over 5000 African Americans served as coast guardsmen in WWII, about 965 of whom were petty or warrant officers. One of the more unique duties to which black coast guardsmen were assigned was the horse patrol unit which kept watch on the beaches in New Jersey.

7 March 1942  Captain Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., and four second lieutenants became the first five graduates of the Tuskegee Flying School. They also were the first members of the 99th Pursuit Squadron, which had been activated with a planned total of 33 pilots and 27 planes. Later known as the 99th Fighter Squadron, the unit grew to 43 men by the end of 1942. These black pilots flew over 500 missions and 3700 sorties during 1 year of combat in Italy before the squadron was combined with the 332nd Fighter Group.

April 1942  Black troops with two separate battalions—the 91st and 96th—arrived in Australia to help with the construction of badly needed airfields. The U.S. Army Engineering Corps’ separate battalions were used mainly to support other engineer units.

1 April 1942  One of the black tank units deployed to Europe in WWII—the 761st Tank Battalion—was activated at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, with 6 white officers, 30 black officers, and 676 enlisted men. Also known as the "Black Panther" Tank Battalion, the unit landed at Omaha Beach on 10 October 1944 and was attached to the 26th Infantry Division, XII Corps, which was part of General George S. Patton’s Third Army. One of the more notable members of this well-known unit was Staff Sergeant Ruben Rivers, who was one of seven African Americans to be belatedly awarded the Medal of Honor. By the end of the war, unit members had won 11 Silver Stars, 69 Bronze Stars, and numerous other awards.

2 April 1942  The 24th Infantry Regiment, which had become part of the 93rd Infantry Division, left Fort Benning for San Francisco, where the unit trained briefly before embarking for the Pacific theater. After arriving in-theater on 4 May, the unit was assigned to garrison duty for a logistical base at Efate in the New Hebrides. The Army moved the 24th to Guadalcanal after the fighting ended, where once again unit members were relegated to a support role. Only the 3rd Battalion received credit for participating in the northern Solomons campaign, because it was located far enough forward to come under Japanese bombardment.

7 April 1942  Although the Navy opened its general service branch to blacks, this policy change was not really that progressive because African- American sailors were still restricted to shore installations and harbor craft. They were not yet allowed to serve on seagoing combat ships except as stewards or laborers.

May 1942  The Coast Guard began accepting African Americans to serve in other capacities besides messman.

15 May 1942 President Roosevelt signed the act which created the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC), later reorganized as the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). Over 150,000 WACs served in WWII. The voluntary organization enlisted both black and white female recruits. Charity Adams (Earley) was the first black woman to be commissioned. She and other young African-American women like her had backgrounds similar to the corps’ white recruits: 80 percent were college educated with experience in office work or teaching, and most had family members in the military.

June 1942  The U.S. Navy began accepting black inductees from the Selective Service Board for the first time. About 167,000 blacks served in the Navy in WWII; 123,000 of these men served overseas. Almost 12,500 African Americans served in the Seabees, as the Navy’s construction battalions were known. The Seabees also received assault training supplemental to their primary duty.

June 1942  African Americans began training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, where the all-black Camp Robert Smalls compound was named for a black Civil War naval hero. Doreston Carman, Jr., was the first black to report for training in a general rating.

1 June 1942  The U.S. Marine Corps began admitting African-American recruits for the first time in 167 years. Howard P. Perry was the first black recruit to report to Montford Point on 26 August. The USMC trained almost 20,000 African Americans during WWII at this segregated facility near Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. Of the 19,168 blacks who served in the Marine Corps during the war, 12,738 served overseas, primarily in defense battalions and combat support companies or as stewards.

18 June 1942 As part of its efforts to increase the number of doctors in service, the Navy offered commissions to medical students, who began their tours of duty once they graduated. Bernard W. Robinson, an African-American medical student at Harvard University, was the first black to be awarded a reserve commission as an ensign through this program. Although the Bureau of Naval Personnel subsequently noted that the award had been a "slip," Robinson eventually served as a doctor in the U.S. Naval Reserve. He did not actually report for duty until after the "Golden Thirteen" were commissioned in March 1944.

20 July 1942 The first 40 black women recruits began attending the first WAAC officer candidate training at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. Of these, 36 graduated in October 1942. During the 6 weeks of training, the African- American WAAC officer candidates served in a separate unit that ate and trained with the other 400 white women in the class, but whose living and recreational facilities were segregated.

30 July 1942 President Roosevelt signed the legislation creating the Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES), the women’s auxiliary of the U.S. Navy. The Secretary of the Navy initially excluded black women from the organization because so few black men went to sea that there was no need for African- American women to replace them ashore. After it was opened to African-American recruits on 19 October 1944, less than 100 black women served with the WAVES during WWII.

26 August 1942 The Marine Corps established only two black combat units during WWII—the 51st and 52nd Defense Battalions. The first unit began training on this date at Montford Point. Initially designated the 51st Composite Defense Battalion, the unit was under the command of Colonel Samuel A. Woods, Jr. The 19,168 African Americans who served in the Marine Corps during WWII represented only 2 percent of the USMC’s entire manpower. About 75 percent of these men were sent overseas, but very few of them saw combat. However, almost 8,000 black USMC stevedores and ammunition handlers served in the Pacific theater, where they usually performed their assigned duties under enemy fire on the beachheads of the South Pacific.

15 October 1942 The U.S. Army reactivated the all-black 92nd Infantry Division at Fort McClellan, Alabama for duty during WWII. About 12,000 enlisted men and officers (200 white and 600 black) served in this division in the war.

20 October 1942 At least four blacks captained Merchant Marine "liberty ships" during WW2. The best known was Hugh Mulzac, who was the first black captain of an American Merchant Marine ship. Although he was the first black sailor to earn a shipmaster’s license (1920), this was his first position of command because racism had denied him earlier opportunities to serve as captain. While in charge of the mixed-crew liberty ship SS Booker T. Washington, Mulzac and his men saw action several times while on convoy duty in the Atlantic. The ship made 22 round-trip voyages in the 5 years (1942-47) it was in operation, and carried 18,000 troops to the European and Pacific theaters. Unlike the armed forces, the Merchant Marine was integrated from the start of WWII. Of the government-built "liberty ships," 14 were christened for outstanding African Americans, 4 for deceased black sailors, and 4 for Negro colleges. The Booker T. Washington was turned back over to the Maritime Commission in 1947.

23 November 1942 Congress established the Women’s Reserve of the U.S. Coast Guard, commonly referred to as the SPARS (an acronym for the Coast Guard motto: Semper Paratus, Always Ready). Black women were initially excluded from serving in the SPARs.

December 1942  The Advisory Committee on Negro Troop Policies, chaired by Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy, recommended that a black parachute battalion be established. Consequently, on 25 February 1943, Chief of Staff George C. Marshall had the Army constitute the 555th Parachute Infantry Company.

1942-43 Because of the relatively high number of African-American soldiers assigned to it, the U.S. Army Chemical Warfare Service activated 75 black units during this period. These included 12 chemical maintenance companies (aviation), 7 chemical depot companies (aviation), 1 chemical company (air operations), 20 chemical decontamination companies, 3 chemical processing companies, 2 chemical service companies, and 30 chemical smoke generator companies. Of these 75 units, 41 were eventually assigned to overseas duty. Most of them were service units, except for the smoke generator companies, whose members saw frontline action for which they had not been trained. As they attained more experience on the battlefield, however, these all-black units compiled very good combat records.

1943  The U.S. Navy began admitting blacks according to their numbers (10 percent) in the total population. The first African-American recruit for the Navy’s general service was William Baldwin.

1943  The 1st Marine Depot was the first black USMC unit to be sent overseas in World War II.

1943  The U.S. Coast Guard commissioned former warrant officer Clarence Samuels as its first African-American officer. Samuels was also the first black to command a lightship and a Coast Guard cutter (the Sweetgum).

1943  The first black medical group sent overseas to Liberia included 9 doctors and 30 nurses.

1943  Gordon A. Parks, Sr., was the first African American to work for the U.S. Office of War Information as a photojournalist and war correspondent. He later worked for Life magazine. Best known for his photography and as the director of the movie Shaft (and five other films), Parks is a prolific author, poet, screenwriter and ballet composer.

1943  John Roosevelt Robinson graduated from OCS and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

1943  The Army’s Services of Supply (SOS) units were renamed the Army Service Forces (ASF).

5 January 1943  Judge William H. Hastie resigned his position as Civilian Aide to the Secretary of War because of continuing discrimination and segregation in the armed forces. He was later appointed in 1946 to serve as the first African-American governor of the Virgin Islands.

13 February 1943 The Women’s Marine Corps was created. It was the only WWII-era women’s auxiliary that did not admit any African Americans.

22 February 1943 African-American stewards assigned to the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Campbell manned a battle station when the ship rammed and sank a German submarine. Medals awarded to the entire crew included a Bronze Star for the captain of the black gun crew.

8 March 1943 African-American Private George Watson helped to save several soldiers when their troop ship had to be abandoned after being hit on this date by enemy bombers near New Guinea. Weakened by his efforts to assist those who could not swim, Watson drowned when he was dragged down by the suction of the sinking ship. Although no African-American servicemen were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in WWII, this error was corrected on 13 January 1997 when seven black veterans (only one was still living) received their long overdue awards. One of those men so honored was Private Watson.

1 April 1943  The final battalion making up the 5th Tank Group—the 784th Tank Battalion—was activated.

24 April 1943 The 99th Pursuit Squadron arrived in French Morocco for training under experienced combat pilots, but they received little help from the white aviators. The squadron had also been sent overseas without much of the required navigational training given to white pilots, because installations without segregated facilities refused to allow black pilots to land. Despite such obstacles, this first group of "Tuskegee Airmen" trained themselves, and were prepared to fly their first combat mission in the Mediterranean by 2 June 1943.

May 1943  Captain Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., was promoted to major then to lieutenant colonel in the course of one day. Davis commanded both the 99th Pursuit Squadron and the 332nd Fighter Group.

May 1943  The USMC’s last white drill instructor at Montford Point—First Sergeant Robert W. Colwell—was replaced by Sergeant Gilbert "Hashmark" Johnson (who had earned his nickname for his many years of service in the Army’s all-black 25th Infantry Regiment). Earlier this year, the Marine Corps had started appointing its first black noncommissioned officers. By the end of April 1943, most of the white drill instructors had been transferred elsewhere.

27 May 1943 The federal government barred all war contractors from discriminating on the basis of race.

June 1943  The all-black 477th Bombardment Group was activated. Included in the group were the 616th, 617th, 618th, and 619th Bombardment Squadrons. The war ended before the group made it overseas.

June 1943  Ohio Congresswoman Frances Payne Bolton successfully introduced an amendment to bar racial discrimination from the Nurses Training bill then under debate. Consequently, more than 2000 African-American women enrolled in the Cadet Nurses Corps.

June 1943  Lieutenant Commander Carlton Skinner’s proposal that the U.S. Coast Guard establish an entirely integrated force eventually led to the commissioning of the first integrated ship in the armed forces, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Seacloud. Skinner commanded a 200-man crew that included 4 African-American officers and 100 black enlisted men. Decommissioned in November 1944, this ship’s crew helped break down military segregation at sea.

20 June 1943 Despite the existence of Executive Order 8802 and the efforts of the Fair Employment Practices Commission, African Americans still encountered a lot of white hostility to their presence in war plants. On this date, a serious race riot erupted in Detroit, Michigan. Sparked by a fistfight between a white man and a black man, the violence was actually caused by increasing white resentment about the growing numbers of southern blacks migrating into the city to fill war industry jobs. A total of 25 African Americans and 9 whites were killed. The violence was not quelled until President Roosevelt dispatched federal troops to the area.

2 July 1943  Lieutenant Charles B. Hall shot down the first German plane officially credited to the 99th Pursuit Squadron. This outstanding Army Air Corps unit participated in campaigns in North Africa, the Mediterranean, Italy, and Germany. One of the squadron’s most notable feats was its destruction of five enemy aircraft in less than 4 minutes. For this and numerous other accomplishments, the unit earned three Distinguished Unit Citations during WWII.

25 July 1943  Launched in Quincy, Massachusetts, on this date, the USS Harmon was the U.S. Navy’s first fighting ship named for an African American. Leonard Roy Harmon was killed in action while trying to protect a shipmate. The Navy posthumously awarded Harmon the Navy Cross for his heroism during fighting with the Japanese.

21 August 1943 Harriet M. West became the first black woman major in the WACs. She served as the chief of planning for WAC Headquarters’ Bureau Control Division in Washington, D.C.

September 1943  The U.S. Army formally rejected the creation of a volunteer integrated division which several black newspaper editors had proposed shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

15 September 1943 The 761st "Black Panther" Tank Battalion moved to Fort Hood, Texas, for advanced armored training. At that time the unit switched from light to medium tanks. It was here that one of the unit’s black officers—Lieutenant John Roosevelt Robinson—ran afoul of the Army’s lingering local "Jim Crow" policies.

19 December 1943 Army Ground Forces Headquarters authorized the activation of the 555th Parachute Infantry Company as an all-black, volunteer unit with African-American officers and enlisted men. Walter Morris was the first black enlisted paratrooper. Officially activated on 30 December 1943 at Fort Benning, Georgia, the unit moved after several weeks of training to Camp Machall, North Carolina, on 25 November 1944. At that time, the unit was reorganized as Company A, 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion. The newly activated battalion was more commonly known as the "Triple Nickels."

1943-1945  Black airmen with the 1345th Air Transport Command in Dacca, India, helped move supplies and fuel the planes that flew "The Hump," the famous air route from India to China that kept Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek’s Kumintang forces supplied during WWII. Thousands of African Americans in the service units helped Allied forces overcome incredible obstacles in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theater. One of their more notable accomplishments was their work on the construction of the "Stilwell Road." This route ran from Ledo, India, through Burma and connected at Kunming with the Burma Road in China. When it was completed, the Stilwell Road reopened the overland supply line between India and China. It was in use for 9 months after the first convoy left Ledo on 12 January 1945.

1944  By this time, the percentage of African Americans employed in war production had increased from less than 3 percent in March 1942 to over 8 percent by 1944.

1944  Charles F. Anderson was the first black Marine to be promoted to Sergeant Major. That same year, James E. Johnson became the USMC’s first black warrant officer.

1944  Problems with racial tension and violent outbreaks due to rigid segregation were so serious by this time that the War Department had to prohibit racial discrimination in recreational and transportation facilities on all U.S. Army posts to help ease the situation. Although conditions for African-American servicemen improved somewhat, the lack of uniform local enforcement and continuing black resentment about the Army’s other discriminatory policies remained a problem throughout the war.

1944  American film director Frank Capra produced The Negro Soldier, the first U.S. Army training film to favorably depict African-American servicemen. Assisting with the film were Brigadier General Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., who served as a consultant, black screenwriter and filmmaker Carlton Moss, director Stuart Heisler, and a large group of black soldiers. The film was designed to improve race relations by introducing white and black servicemen to the history of black Americans’ considerable and often heroic military contributions. The film had a powerful impact not only on the soldiers who saw it, but also on civilian audiences when it was released to the public after the war. Many contemporary observers and later scholars have argued that the film helped to accelerate the desegregation of the armed forces and other areas of American society. The United Auto Workers used the film to prepare union members for an integrated work force.

1944  The proportion of black soldiers in the U.S. Army reached a high point of 8.74 percent. Despite some changes in the Army’s racial policy, the continuation of segregated units exacted a high price in terms of African-American morale and efficiency.

1944  By this time, the War Department’s critical need for troops overseas helped to ease opposition to the dispatch of black servicemen to the European or Pacific theaters. The number of African Americans serving in-theater jumped from 97,725 in 1941 to 504,000 in 1943. However, 425,000 black troops remained in the United States. The military claimed that allied foreign nations objected to the presence of black troops, but it was usually American commanders overseas who opposed their assignment.

1944  The U.S. Army’s racial policies became an important issue during this year’s presidential campaign. Black leaders continued to criticize the Army’s restricted use of black troops in combat, while Roosevelt’s Republican political opponents used the issue to challenge the president’s reelection.

February 1944  The USMC’s first all-black combat unit—the 51st Defense Battalion—was sent to the Pacific theater, where it was assigned to guard duty in the Ellice and Marshall Islands. The battalion was never used in combat.

23 February 1944 The U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Naval Personnel established a Special Unit in August 1943 that unexpectedly helped this branch of the U.S. armed forces to begin moving toward full integration. By this date, the Special Unit had persuaded the Navy to man two sea-going vessels with all-black enlisted personnel. Both ships still had only white officers, though.

March 1944  The U.S. Navy commissioned 13 African Americans (12 ensigns and 1 warrant officer) as its first black officers. These men later dubbed themselves the "Golden 13" (a designation subsequently adopted by the Navy), because of their pioneering efforts to integrate the Navy. The Navy commissioned about 60 African Americans during WWII.

11 March 1944 Bowing to increasing pressure that African-American troops be allowed to fight, the War Department instructed the Army to transfer control of the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment to the operational control of the 148th Infantry Regiment. Company B came under attack the same day that it moved forward to reinforce other Army units in contact with Japanese forces on Bougainville, making it the first black American infantry unit to engage in combat during the war. Two of the company’s men—Private First Class Leonard Brooks and Private Annias Jolly—were the first members of the 24th Infantry Regiment (as well as the first black infantrymen) killed by enemy fire in WWII.

17 March 1944  The U.S. Army Air Corps’ all-black 332nd Fighter Group (which included the 100th, 301st and 302nd Fighter Squadrons) first saw combat. Activated at Tuskegee Air Field on 26 May 1942, Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., assumed command of the group at Selfridge Field, Michigan, in October 1943. The 99th Fighter Squadron joined the 332nd in July 1944. The famed "Tuskegee Airmen" flew 1,578 missions and 15,533 sorties, during which they destroyed 261 enemy aircraft and damaged another 148 planes. The Germans called the group the Black Birdmen (or Schwartze Vogelmann), while many white U.S. bomber crews referred to their escorts as the "Redtail Angels." The group lost 66 men who were killed in action between 1941 and 1945. The 332nd received a Presidential Unit Citation on 24 March 1945 for "outstanding courage, aggressiveness, and combat technique" while escorting heavy bombers over Germany.

20 March 1944 Commissioned at Boston Navy Yard, the USS Mason, a destroyer escort, was the first naval warship with a predominantly black crew and at least one black officer. Referred to by some as "Eleanor’s Folly" (a reference to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who pushed for the desegregation of the armed forces), many white leaders expected this "experiment" to fail. However, the Mason turned out to be a remarkable WWII success story. This was due to the superior leadership of Lieutenant Commander William M. Blackford, who skippered the Mason, as well as to the determination, ability, and commitment of the destroyer’s black crew. Although the ship was sold for scrap in 1947, the Mason’s proud history has been preserved at the Boston National Historical Park.

28 March 1944  The 25th Combat Team, which was part of the 93rd Division, also fought against the Japanese on Bougainville. The team was composed of the 25th Infantry Regiment; the 593rd and 596th Field Artillery Battalions; Company A, 318th Combat Engineers Battalion; Company A and one platoon of Company D, 318th Medical Battalion; and detachments from the 93rd Signal Company, the 793rd Ordnance Company, and the 93rd Military Police Platoon. The 93rd Division’s first four men were killed on 4 April 1944 as they returned from a supply mission. Enemy forces also ambushed the untried soldiers of the unit’s Company K in an early engagement, killing 1 officer and 9 enlisted men. Another 20 enlisted men were wounded, primarily by friendly fire, as the remainder of the company withdrew in disarray. Unfortunately, although Company K and the rest of the 25th helped to defeat the Japanese as the campaign progressed, an unfounded rumor spread that the 93rd Division had broken under fire. Despite the fact that white troops experienced the same problems, the false report endured. Even efforts by General Douglas MacArthur to squelch this misinformation were unsuccessful.

May 1944  The 366th Infantry Regiment first arrived in Italy and was used to guard airbases. It became the 92nd Infantry Division’s fourth regiment on 30 November 1944, although it was not deployed as a regiment. Instead, battalion and company elements were attached to other divisional units.

10 May 1944 The 2nd Cavalry Division, to which the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments had been reassigned, was inactivated immediately after it arrived in the Mediterranean. The official reason for this action was "to hold together an Army of 89 divisions," and to avoid the WWI problem of activating divisions that "became hardly more than paper organizations." The division’s combat-trained African-American troops were reassigned to support units in North Africa. In contrast, white soldiers affected by such reorganizations usually went to other combat units.

6 June 1944  The D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy, France, began. The 320th Negro Anti-Aircraft Barrage Balloon Battalion assisted with this assault against the Germans, the only African-American combat troops to take part in D-Day. Classified as an anti-aircraft unit, it was the only U.S. unit of its type in the European theater. In addition, black Private Warren Capers contributed to the D-Day landing by helping to establish a dressing station where he treated more than 330 soldiers. His devotion to duty won him a Silver Star.

June-July 1944  The first African-American Marines to be decorated by the 2nd Marine Division—Staff Sergeant Timerlate Kirven and Corporal Samuel J. Love, Sr.—won purple hearts for wounds received in the assault on Saipan. Ironically, these men were part of the Marine Corps’ black service units and were not specifically trained for combat. Unlike the Marines in the two black combat battalions, men in the USMC’s depot and ammunition companies frequently came under fire during WWII; 9 were killed in action, while another 78 were wounded.

July 1944 The PC 1264 was the first submarine chaser with an all-black crew. About 6 months after PC 1264 was initially commissioned with white officers and petty officers, the latter were replaced by African Americans. The U.S. Navy’s first black officer was assigned to the submarine chaser in 1945. In addition, Ensign Samuel L. Gravely, Jr., who also served aboard PC 1264, eventually became the Navy’s first African-American flag officer.

6 July 1944  Army Lieutenant John Roosevelt Robinson, one of the 761st "Black Panther" Tank Battalion’s few black officers, refused orders to sit in the back of a military bus at Fort Hood, Texas. He was subsequently court martialed, but acquitted because the order was a violation of War Department policy prohibiting racial discrimination in recreational and transportation facilities on all U.S. Army posts. After the war, Jackie Robinson went on to break the "color line" in baseball by being the first black to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

15 July 1944 The first unit of the 92nd Infantry Division—the 370th Regimental Combat Team—sailed for Europe. There it joined the Fifth U.S. Army in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations on 30 July 1944. The combat team included the 370th Infantry Regiment, the 598th Field Artillery Battalion, and a detachment from each support unit. After it became part of the Fifth Army’s IV Corps, the team saw its first combat action when it repulsed two enemy patrols near the Arno River on 27 August 1944. The 92nd’s other units—the 371st and 365th Infantry Regiments—arrived in-theater in October and November 1944, respectively.

17 July 1944 The worst home front disaster of WWII occurred when two ships, the E.A. Bryan and the Quinalt Victory, docked at Port Chicago, California, exploded one night while African-American sailors were loading ammunition for use in the Pacific theater. Both ships and the loading pier were destroyed, while many of the nearby town’s buildings also suffered severe damage. Of the 320 men killed, 202 of them were black enlisted men; the blast also injured 390 men. The worst military loss of life in the continental United States during WWII, this one incident involved 15 percent of all African Americans wounded or killed in this conflict. Despite the extensive casualties, however, sailors were ordered to resume loading on 9 August 1944, with no training or procedural changes to help safeguard against another such catastrophe. Because they were afraid of another explosion, 258 African-American sailors refused to comply with orders. The U.S. Navy court martialed 50 men for mutiny and tried the other 208 on lesser charges. Those convicted of mutiny were sentenced to 15 years in prison, but after the war they were granted amnesty. However, their original convictions were not overturned. Ultimately, though, this incident did result in changes affecting racial relations in the Navy, because ammunition loading ceased to be a "blacks only" assignment. The Navy also adopted safer procedures for loading ammunition.

August 1944  Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal approved the Special Unit’s recommendation that up to 10 percent of the crews assigned to 25 auxiliary ships be African Americans who were integrated with whites. This experiment ultimately led to the integration of black sailors on all fleet auxiliary ships.

25 August 1944 The Red Ball Express began operations. Crucial to the defeat of Nazi Germany, this massive supply effort ran until 16 November 1944 and involved over 6000 trucks and trailers. Red Ball drivers transported 412,193 tons of materiel to American troops as they advanced through France from Normandy to the German border. About 75 percent of all drivers on the segregated Red Ball Express were African Americans.

October 1944  During fighting along the Gothic line in Italy, the 92nd Infantry Division lost momentum and was forced into a disorderly retreat by the experienced German troops defending this series of fortifications across the peninsula. The division commander, Major General Edward M. Almond, and his staff resorted to racist remarks to explain the division’s initial combat failure. Actually, though, problems such as lack of communication, a poorly organized plan of attack, missing white officers, conflicting orders, untested troops, and the confusion of battle were actually to blame. The basic problem, however, was a serious lack of unit cohesion and trust between white officers and black soldiers. In fact, most of the latter blamed Almond’s racism, claiming that the division commander was so prejudiced that he hoped the episode would discredit the entire race. Truman Gibson, who had replaced Judge Hastie, issued a report in 1945 that attributed most of the 92nd Division’s problems to the U.S. Army’s policy of racial segregation. Unfortunately, the white press focused on certain phrases in the report that seemed to imply that black soldiers did not perform well in combat. Despite their subsequent combat successes, the division’s reputation (like that of the 93rd in the Pacific) remained unfairly sullied by this incident.

October 1944  The USMC’s second all-black combat unit—the 52nd Defense Battalion—arrived in the Pacific. The battalion served in the Marshall Islands and on Guam, Eniwetok, and Kwajalein, but it never saw combat since these areas had already been secured.

13 October 1944 Lieutenant General George S. Patton presented a Silver Star to Private Ernest A. Jenkins for his "conspicuous gallantry" during the fierce fighting that liberated Chateaudun, France.

18 October 1944 The USS Mason and her crew proved their mettle during the "ordeal of Convoy NY-119." Plagued by bad weather for its entire crossing, the convoy was caught by an even worse storm within sight of the English coast. The fierce weather had already claimed three tugboats, eight car floats, and five cargo barges during 30 days of incessant wind and waves. As the convoy neared Falmouth Bay, England, the wind increased to 40 knots, with gusts up to 50-60 knots. The Mason was ordered to escort 20 of the smaller vessels to safety, which it did successfully. Despite suffering serious structural damage when its deck split, the Mason’s crew not only repaired the deck, pumped out the engine room, and replaced the lost antennae but returned to aid the remainder of the convoy still floundering at sea. The destroyer escort spent 3 more days assisting another 12 ships to reach port, then continued on to France, where the Mason’s crew salvaged barges off the continental coast. Despite the efforts of the Mason’s white captain and the convoy commander, these black crewmen never received any commendations for their heroic actions.

19 October 1944 After intense pressure was placed on the voluntary organization, the WAVES accepted its first 72 black women, 2 of whom became officers. Bessie Garret was the first African-American woman admitted into the WAVES, while the first black women commissioned by the WAVES were Lieutenant Harriet Ida Pickens and Ensign Frances Willis, who completed their training on 13 December 1944.

20 October 1944  The SPARS, the Coast Guard’s women auxiliary, began enlisting qualified African-American women. Yeoman Second Class Olivia J. Hooker was the first black woman to enlist. Although the officer training program was closed to civilians by this time, six previously enlisted black nurses did attend officers candidate school and received their commissions as ensigns before WWII ended. There are no records available of the total number of black SPARs who enlisted before recruiting began shutting down in December 1944.

November 1944  The 92nd Infantry Division’s mortar company wiped out numerous enemy machine gun emplacements during the U.S. Army’s Italian campaign. Although elements within the military establishment tried to keep them in a labor support role, African-American combat troops made notable contributions in both the European and Pacific theaters.

November 1944  Elizabeth B. Murphy Moss (Phillips) was the first black woman certified as a war correspondent during WWII, but she never filed any reports before she became ill and had to return to the United States.

Part III

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