World War II Medals of Honor
Fifty Years Late
During the Civil War, 24 blacks were presented the Medal of Honor, America's highest award for heroism. During the Spanish-American War, six blacks were honored. However, only three were honored during World War I, II and the Korean War combined. No blacks received the award for World War II.
On January 13, 1997, the Army finally righted these wrongs. Seven black heroes received the award—six posthumously.
Sergeant Ruben Rivers: When his tank hit a mine, he refused an order to withdraw; he took command of another tank and kept on fighting until the second tank was hit and he was killed.
Sergeant Edward Carter was wounded five times while crossing a field in Germany; when eight enemy soldiers tried to capture him, he killed six, and took two prisoner.
Private First Class Willy James was pinned down for an hour; made his way back to his platoon, planned a counterattack and was then killed going to aid his wounded platoon leader.
Lieutenant Charles Thomas suffered multiple wounds while helping others to find cover; he refused to evacuate until his forces could return fire effectively.
Private George Watson: When his ship was struck by enemy bombers, he helped others make it to life rafts until he was so exhausted that he was pulled down by the tow of the sinking ship.
Lieutenant John Fox volunteered to remain behind in an observation force post as the enemy drove U.S. forces out of a small town in Italy; directed defensive artillery fire. Eventually outnumbered, he directed that artillery fire at his own position; his riddled body was found among 100 German soldiers.
Lieutenant Vernon Baker, 76, is the only living black World War II veteran to receive The Medal of Honor. He led an assault on German-held Castle Aghinolfi, walking his troops unscathed through a mine field. Then he single-handedly wiped out an observation post, three machine gun nests and two bunkers.
The African-American Soldier: From Crispus Attucks to Colin Powell, Michael Lee Lanning. Birch Lane Press, 1997.
The Afro-American and the Second World War, Neil A. Wynn. Holmes & Meier Publishing, 1993.
The Exclusion of Black Soldiers from the Medal of Honor in World War II: The Study Commissioned by the United States Army to Investigate Racial Bias, Elliott Vanveltner Converse (Editor), Daniel K. Gibran, John A. Cash, and Julius W. Becton. McFarland & Company, 1997.
He, Too, Spoke for Democracy: Judge Hastie, World War II, and the Black Soldiers, Phillip McGuire. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1988.
Strength for the Fight: A History of Black Americans in the Military, Bernard C. Nalty. Free Press, 1989.
Taps for a Jim Crow Army: Letters from Black Soldiers in World War II, Phillip McGuire (Editor). and Bernard C. Nalty. University Press of Kentucky, 1993.
Videos & DVDs
African-American Heroes of World War II: Tuskegee Fighter Pilots & Black War Time Radio (1995). VHS.
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