The untold stories of black soldiers at war

The untold stories of black soldiers at war

If you’ve watched World War II documentaries or learned about it in school while growing up, you’ve probably never heard of any of the black soldiers who went to war, or even seen many black soldiers in the films. Your teacher probably didn’t mention that there were actually black soldiers who went to war, some as free men and others as slaves. Why is this?

Black soldiers of the 372nd Infantry preparing to board ship in France for their return home and discharge in March 1919. Photo by: National Archives and Records Administration

White and black soldiers were segregated, even at war. Black soldiers were said to be weak and not helpful at war, according to white soldiers and officers. They were rarely permitted to be officers or to fight in combat. Many black soldiers viewed WWII as a two-front battle. These men were fighting for a double victory. Stephen Ambrose, a historian and professor, once said, “The world’s greatest democracy fought the world’s greatest racist with a segregated army.”

Edward Allen Carter Jr. was recognized and honored for his ineffable actions in World War II, 52 years later. World War II ended in 1945, yet Carter had not been acknowledged for his achievements and contributions to ending the war until 1997.

There were 433 Medals of Honor awarded and of the 1.2 million blacks who served in WWII, none of the men received one.

Black pilots of a U.S. Army Air Forces talking over the day’s exploits at a U.S. base in the Mediterranean theater. Photo by John Parker.

Carter was a man of many languages, speaking English, Hindi, German, and Chinese. He captured German soldiers during WWII by harassing them in German. He was born to missionary parents, whom he would eventually run away from, to enlist in the Chinese army at the age of 15.

Carter impressed white soldiers with his combat skills and ability to speak in multiple languages. He eventually earned the rank of staff sergeant. Despite his impressive skills and ranking, Carter was denied combat multiple times. Hitler would soon change this.

On January 13, 1997, former President Bill Clinton awarded Carter as well as many other black soldiers, who met the expectations of the Medal of Honor, but didn’t receive it because of the color of their skin. Clinton also issued a formal apology to Carter’s family, since he had passed away before being able to receive his well-deserved honor.

Clinton’s citation stated that Carter was being recognized, “For extraordinary heroism in action on 23 March 1945, near Speyer, Germany. When the tank on which he was riding received heavy bazooka and small arms fire, Sergeant Carter voluntarily attempted to lead a three-man group across an open field. Within a short time, two of his men were killed and the third seriously wounded. Continuing alone, he was wounded five times and finally forced to take cover. As eight enemy riflemen attempted to capture him, Sergeant Carter killed six of them and captured the remaining two. He then crossed the field using as a shield his two prisoners from which he obtained valuable information concerning the disposition of enemy troops, in their native tongue. Staff Sergeant Carter’s extraordinary heroism was an inspiration to the officers and men of the Seventh Army Infantry Company Number 1 (Provisional) and exemplify the highest traditions of the Armed Forces.”

Edward Allen Carter Jr. Photo by: National Archives and Records Administration

Although Carter wasn’t able to accept his Medal of Honor, it’s nice to know that his family was able to do so for him. His children and wife were so proud of their father and husband’s actions. Carter’s children went on to follow in his footsteps, fighting for the respect for black lives. His sons were present next to Martin Luther King Jr., during his many marches in putting an end to segregation.

Carter’s story is just one of many untold stories, where blacks contributed to ending WWII. When will this country stop hiding the truth about black’s contributions and success?