African Americans of World War II
African Americans in World War II: Legacy of Patriotism and Valor
African Americans in World War II: Legacy of Patriotism and Valor AVA20001VNB1, 1997.
The Military history of African Americans spans from the arrival of the first black slaves during the colonial history of the United States to the present day. There has been no war fought by or within the United States in which African Americans did not participate, including the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, the Spanish American War, the World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as other minor conflicts.
Despite a high enlistment rate in the U.S. Army, African Americans were not treated equally. Racial tensions existed. At parades, church services, in transportation and canteens the races were kept separate. Many soldiers of color served their country with distinction during World War II. There were 125,000 African Americans who were overseas in World War II.
Famous segregated units, such as the Tuskegee Airmen and 761st Tank Battalion and the lesser-known but equally distinguished 452nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion proved their value in combat, leading to desegregation of all U.S. Armed Forces by order of President Harry S. Truman in July 1948 via Executive Order 9981. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. served as commander of the famed Tuskegee Airmen during the War. He later went on to become the first African American general in the United States Air Force. His father, Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., had been the first African American Brigadier General in the Army (1940).
Doris Miller, a Navy mess attendant, was the first African American recipient of the Navy Cross, awarded for his actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Miller had voluntarily manned an anti-aircraft gun and fired at the Japanese aircraft, despite having no prior training in the weapon’s use. In 1944, the Golden Thirteen became the Navy’s first African American commissioned officers. Samuel L. Gravely, Jr. became a commissioned officer the same year; he would later be the first African American to command a US warship, and the first to be an admiral. The Port Chicago disaster on July 17, 1944, was an explosion of about 2,000 tons of ammunition as it was being loaded onto ships by black Navy soldiers under pressure from their white officers to hurry. The explosion in Northern California killed 320 military and civilian workers, most of them black.
It led a month later to the Port Chicago Mutiny, the only case of a full military trial for mutiny in the history of the U.S. Navy against 50 African-American sailors who refused to continue loading ammunition under the same dangerous conditions. The trial was observed by the then young lawyer Thurgood Marshall and ended in conviction of all of the defendants. The trial was immediately and later criticized for not abiding by the applicable laws on mutiny, and it became influential in the discussion of desegregation. During World War II, most African American soldiers still served only as truck drivers and as stevedores (except for some separate tank battalions and Army Air Forces escort fighters). In the midst of the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, General Eisenhower was severely short of replacement troops for existing military units which were totally white in composition. Consequently, he made the decision to allow African American soldiers to pick up a weapon and join the white military units to fight in combat for the first time.
More than 2,000 black soldiers had volunteered to go to the front. This was an important step toward a desegregated United States military. A total of 708 African Americans were killed in combat during World War II. In 1945, Frederick C. Branch became the first African-American United States Marine Corps officer.
Units The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American pilots in United States military history; they flew with distinction during World War II. Portrait of Tuskegee airman Edward M. Thomas by photographer Toni Frissell, March 1945.
African American soldiers in Burma stop work briefly to read President Truman’s Proclamation of Victory in Europe, May 9, 1945.
The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American pilots in United States military history; they flew with distinction during World War II. Portrait of Tuskegee airman Edward M. Thomas by photographer Toni Frissell, March 1945.
African American soldiers in Burma stop work briefly to read President Truman’s Proclamation of Victory in Europe, May 9, 1945
Some of the most notable African American Army units which served in World War II were:
92nd Infantry Division
366th Infantry Regiment
93rd Infantry Division
369th Infantry Regiment
370th Infantry Regiment
371st Infantry Regiment
2nd Cavalry Division
4th Cavalry Brigade
10th Cavalry Regiment
27th Cavalry Regiment
5th Cavalry Brigade
9th Cavalry Regiment
28th Cavalry Regiment
Air Corps Units
332d Fighter Group (Tuskegee Airmen)
Non Divisional Units
Anti-Aircraft Artillery Unit
452nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion
555th Parachute Infantry Battalion
US Military Academy Cavalry Squadron
5th Reconnaissance Squadron
758th Tank Battalion
761st Tank Battalion
784th Tank Battalion
Field Artillery Units
46th Field Artillery Brigade.
184th Field Artillery Regiment, Illinois National Guard.
333rd Field Artillery Regiment.
349th Field Artillery Regiment
350th Field Artillery Regiment
351st Field Artillery Regiment
353rd Field Artillery Regiment
578th Field Artillery Regiment
333rd Field Artillery Battalion
349th Field Artillery Battalion
350th Field Artillery Battalion
351st Field Artillery Battalion
353rd Field Artillery Battalion
578th Field Artillery Battalion
593rd Field Artillery Battalion
594th Field Artillery Battalion
595th Field Artillery Battalion
596th Field Artillery Battalion
597th Field Artillery Battalion
598th Field Artillery Battalion
599th Field Artillery Battalion
600th Field Artillery Battalion
686th Field Artillery Battalion
777th Field Artillery Battalion
795th Field Artillery Battalion
930th Field Artillery Battalion, Illinois National Guard
931st Field Artillery Battalion, Illinois National Guard
969th Field Artillery Battalion
971st Field Artillery Battalion
973rd Field Artillery Battalion
993rd Field Artillery Battalion
999th Field Artillery Battlaion