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Editor: Brigham Narins
Date: 2008
African American Almanac
From: African American Almanac(10th ed.)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Topic overview; Awards list; Biography; Statistical table
Pages: 47
Content Level: (Level 5)

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About this Person
Born: January 13, 1959 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Nationality: American
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Page 1333


Lean’tin L. Bracks
Kevin C. Kretschmer

As with other aspects of U.S. society, the role of the African American in the nation’s armed forces has been evolutionary. The infant republic was shaped by a white majority that embraced, then rejected slavery. Next came an adolescent “separate but equal” era of racial segregation. Finally, the United States matured—as an increasingly multicultural society—in its understanding of race and racism.

Sadly, a nation’s history is often shaped by its wars. Insofar as African Americans and the U.S. military are concerned, the historic linkage extends from before the Revolutionary War to the current War on Terrorism.


Based on European experiences, the early American colonists were wary of the military. As a result, much of early U.S. military history revolves around the locally recruited militias—which are today’s state or territory–controlled National Guard units.

Fearful of Indian warfare and slave insurrection, colonial governments sought to reduce the risk of a confederation between Indians and slaves. Some colonial governments promised freedom and various other inducements to African American slaves willing to help fight Indians, meanwhile paying Indians to hunt down and return escaped slaves. As early as 1703, South Carolina authorities began to enlist slaves into its colonial militia. The Massachusetts Bay government required African American men, free and slave alike, to undergo militia training. Less concerned with Indian attacks than slave uprisings, Virginia forbid the arming of slaves. Though few in number, both enslaved and free African Americans served in colonial militias and fought in the French and Indian War, 1754–1763.

As tensions mounted between Great Britain and the American colonies, confrontation led to the bloodshed in the Boston Massacre of March 5, 1770. In protest against the manner of British taxation and authority, a crowd of angry Bostonians confronted a group of British soldiers. Page 1334  |  Top of ArticleOne of the soldiers fired on the crowd and an escaped slave named Crispus Attucks was struck. Attucks fell dead at the feet of the British soldiers, followed by four white citizens who, with him, became martyrs to the cause of American independence.


In 1775, African American men joined whites in fighting the British during the battles of Lexington and Concord, the first battles of the Revolutionary War. An African American, Salem Poore, fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill and is credited with firing the shot that killed Major John Pitcairn, commander of the British force. For this, Poore received a commendation for gallantry. He would later serve with George Washington at Valley Forge.

Although a number of African Americans were serving in New England units and proving themselves both capable and brave, Southern slave holders objected to their presence. In response to these critics, General Washington and his principal officers agreed to reject all slaves and bar free African American veterans from reenlisting, a policy quickly ratified by the Continental Congress.

French and Spanish forces allied with the American colonists did not hesitate to enlist African Americans into their ranks. The English also did not object to this valuable source of military manpower. When Lord Dun-more, the royal governor of Virginia, promised freedom to slaves who joined His Majesty’s troops, he was able to organize an Ethiopian Regiment composed of approximately 300 men.

As it became increasingly difficult for the colonial militias and the Continental Army to meet recruiting needs, George Washington began to reconsider his earlier agreement to prohibit African Americans from serving. The success of the British in attracting African American volunteers seeking to earn their freedom was a matter of concern. With troop strength dangerously low following the brutal winter at Valley Forge, Washington reversed his earlier policies and welcomed both free and enslaved African Americans into the Continental Army.

By 1778, the Continental Army was racially integrated. On average, each brigade contained 42 African American soldiers. In the naval service, African American sailors were engaged in nearly every phase of shipboard operations. In addition to cooking and cleaning, African American seamen manned guns, joined boarding parties, and served as sharpshooters in Marine detachments. Ultimately, 5,000 African Americans served in the war for American independence. Some won their freedom, while others gained respect in their communities and a measure of economic security.

The Revolutionary War presented the idea that, through military service, African Americans could secure freedom and liberty. The War also established a trend, in times of military need, of government promises to African Americans, promises that were soon forgotten once a crisis ended. The only places where African Americans obtained any form of freedom were in those that had abolished slavery.

A memorial to the African Americans who served the colonial cause during the Revolutionary War will be erected on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Ironically, the long-in-the-planning Black Patriots Memorial will be dedicated after similar recognition of the nineteenth century’s “Buffalo Soldiers” at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and the twentieth century’s Tuskegee Airmen at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

THE WAR OF 1812 (1812–1815)

Following the Revolutionary War, the exclusion of African Americans from military service was reinstated. In 1792, Congress restricted military service to “free able-bodied white males.” Six years later, the Secretary of War ordered the commandant of the Marine Corps that “no Negro, mulatto or Indian is to be enlisted.” Nevertheless, when the need arose for recruits during the War of 1812, African American sailors made up approximately 20 percent of Navy crews. Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry welcomed African American sailors who served in his armada, which defeated the British on Lake Erie.

While the Army and Marine Corps continued to exclude African Americans, the Louisiana legislature authorized enlistments of free African American landowners. The combat bravery of these African American troops was a key factor in the U.S. victory at the Battle of New Orleans. As African Americans were not authorized to serve in the Army, their contributions went unrecognized by the U.S. Army.

THE CIVIL WAR (1861–1865)

Only weeks after the Confederate assault on Fort Sumter in 1861, which initiated the Civil War, African Americans from Ohio’s Wilberforce College answered Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers to help subdue the Confederacy. Similar offers quickly came from Washington, D.C., and New York, where the governor was offered three African American regiments to serve for the duration of the war, with their weapons, clothing, equipment, pay and provisions all to be provided by the

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Union military camp of the Colored Battery in Jacksonville, Tennessee. Union military camp of the “Colored Battery” in Jacksonville, Tennessee. THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.

African American population of the state. These and other such requests to serve were rejected because the war was expected to be short.

Although some Union leaders such as Major General John C. Fremont wanted to recruit African Americans as soldiers, the Lincoln administration refused permission to proceed with the effort. Fearful that such action would antagonize slave-holding border states loyal to the Union, President Lincoln made it clear that this was a war to preserve the Union, not to free the slaves. Union General Benjamin Butler, who would later command African American troops, offered Union soldiers to suppress a rumored slave uprising in Maryland. Meanwhile, the Confederacy enjoyed the fruits of slave labor in constructing fortifications and related combat service-support roles. As early as June of 1861, some Southern states recruited free African Americans for military service.

Though prohibited from enlisting African Americans for military duty as troops, some Union generals began using African American fugitives from slave territory as teamsters, cooks, and laborers. Only after important military setbacks, as well as considerable debate in the press and Congress, did the legislature authorize the employment of African American soldiers with the Militia Act of July 17, 1862. The War Department had not yet given permission to recruit African American soldiers when General Jim Lane organized and trained the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers and sent them into action against Confederate troops near Butler, Missouri, in late October of 1862. The success of African American troops in their first engagements in as part of the Union Army, helped to reduce opposition to their recruitment.


Following the Emancipation Proclamation of September 22, 1862, systematic recruitment of African Americans began throughout the country. Massachusetts organized the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiments. Raised by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the 54th led the Union attack on Fort Wagner, South Carolina on July 18, 1863. This strategically-located Confederate position on Morris Island dominated the shipping channel

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A photograph by the famous Civil War photographer Mathew Brady depicting the crew of a Union Navy vessel. A photograph by the famous Civil War photographer Mathew Brady depicting the crew of a Union Navy vessel. Some African Americans served in the Union navy and army. PHOTO BY MATHEW BRADY/GEORGE EASTMAN HOUSE/GETTY IMAGES

leading into the harbor at Charleston. Although access to Fort Wagner was restricted to a narrow road, and subject to fire from three Confederate forts and batteries nearby, Union General Truman Seymour boasted that he could take it in one night. A reporter for the New York Tribune quoted the general as saying that he would have General George C. Strong’s brigade take the lead and “… put those damned niggers from Massachusetts in the advance; we might as well get rid of them one time as another.”

Under intense fire, the 54th made their charge with Shaw urging his men over an earthwork and into the fort. The African American soldiers were met with a barrage of artillery, rifle fire, and grenades. As he crossed the fort’s parapet, Shaw was shot dead. Half of the officers and men of his regiment were killed, wounded, or captured in the battle. Although eventually driven away from the fort, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry came to symbolize the courage and determination of African American troops.

Despite repeated demonstrations of their ability and courage, skepticism regarding the usefulness of African American soldiers remained. General Benjamin Butler was determined to prove the African American troops under his command were fit to bear arms. On the dawn of September 29, 1864, Butler ordered his troops of the XVII Corps to storm a fortified Confederate position at New Market Heights, Virginia. The bayonet attack drove the Confederates from their position on the high ground at great cost. Butler recorded in his memoirs that “the capacity of the Negro race for soldiers had then and there been fully settled forever.”

By July of 1863, more than 30 African American regiments were being organized or were already on the field. These units and others previously organized, except for the 54th and 55th Massachusetts, were designated as U.S. Colored Troops (USCT). Following the establishment of USCT regiments, African Americans fought and Page 1337  |  Top of Articledied in every major Civil War action. For a period, they did so with substantially less pay than white troops. While white privates received $13 per month plus $3.50 in clothing allowance, African American troops of any rank were paid only $10 per month. In some units, African American soldiers would not accept the lesser pay. Several men from an African American Rhode Island artillery unit on duty in Texas were sentenced to hard labor for refusing their pay. When Sergeant William Walker persuaded the men of his South Carolina regiment company to refuse to perform any duty unless they received pay equal to that of white troops, he was brought up on charges of mutiny and executed by firing squad. After vigorous protests by prominent officers of African American troops, newspaper editors, and legislators, the 1864 Army Appropriation Act was enacted to provide identical pay scales for all soldiers.

The passions of the Civil War resulted in the ignoring of the then-emerging doctrines of land warfare on such issues as treatment of noncombatants and prisoners of war. The most serious documented breaches of land warfare standards were committed by the Confederacy. African American soldiers who fell into Confederate hands were either re-enslaved or summarily killed. One of the bloodiest such events was the Confederate butchery at Fort Pillow, Tennessee. Congressional Report No. 65, “Fort Pillow Massacre” (April 24, 1864), identified the Confederate leader responsible as General Nathan Bedford Forrest, who would later organize the Ku Klux Klan. According to the report:

… the rebels commenced an indiscriminate slaughter, sparing neither age nor sex, white or black, soldier or civilian. The officers and men seemed to vie with each other in the devilish work; men, women, and even children, wherever found, were deliberately shot down, beaten, and hacked with sabers; some of the children not more than ten years old were forced to stand up and face their murderers while being shot; the sick and wounded were butchered without mercy, the rebels even entering the hospital building and dragging them out to be shot or killing them as they lay there unable to offer the least resistance.

Although somewhat exaggerated in the interest of propaganda, the report clearly established that African American troops were murdered while attempting to surrender. The slaughter at Fort Pillow and the murder of captured and wounded African American troops at the Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas, would not go unanswered. African American troops assaulted their Confederate enemy with ferocious intensity as they shouted their battle cry, “Remember Fort Pillow!” and “Remember Poison Spring!”

Many African American men served in the Union cause, but very few were permitted to do so as officers.

Despite strident public opposition and War Department policy unfavorable to the appointment of African American officers, nearly 100 African American men held commissions during the course of the Civil War. Over three-fourths of these commissions were awarded in General Butler’s Louisiana regiments. Many African Americans gained their appointment as officers in state militias. A few African American surgeons and a large number of chaplains also received appointments. After Martin R. Delany, a Harvard-trained physician, had an audience with Abraham Lincoln, the president directed his secretary of war to meet this “most remarkable black man.” On February 26, 1865, Martin R. Delany was commissioned a Major of Infantry, making him the highest-ranking African American field officer during the war. Before Delany had an opportunity to organize and command an armee d’Afrique, the Civil War ended. He retained the rank of major until 1868.

One African American officer, Robert Smalls, was commissioned in the U.S. Colored Troops, but served with the Navy. Smalls earned his commission by stealing the Confederate ship he was serving on as a slave-sailor. Aided by seven fellow slave-sailors, Smalls took the helm of the 300-ton side-wheel steamer Planter in the early morning of May 13, 1862, and sailed it out of Charleston Harbor, delivering it to the U.S. Navy’s blockade offshore. Fitted with two guns and carrying four others as cargo, the Planter was a welcome addition to the Union fleet. Having demonstrated his ability and leadership, Smalls served as pilot of the Planter for a time before piloting the gunboat Keokuk. During Reconstruction, the former slave was elected to the United States Congress as a representative from the state of South Carolina and was made a major general in the state militia.

While not accepted into the Union forces, African American women also played an important role during the War. Many endured great hardships in their efforts to keep their families together as their husbands, fathers, and sons marched off to war. While some African American women served as volunteer nurses, others took a more aggressive role in support of the Union cause. Both Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman used their knowledge of Underground Railroad routes to guide federal forces operating in hostile territory. In one such instance, Tubman led 300 Union cavalrymen on a raid in South Carolina that freed 800 slaves and destroyed cotton valuable to the Confederacy.


America’s highest decoration for valor was established during the Civil War when Congress authorized issuance of a Medal of Honor on December 21, 1861. Issuance was initially limited to enlisted men of the Navy and the Marine Corps, but the award was expanded to include

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Officers of the Buffalos, the 367th Infantry, 77th Division in France in 1918. Officers of the “Buffalos,” the 367th Infantry, 77th Division in France in 1918. CORBIS

the Army on July 12, 1862. On March 3, 1863, commissioned officers also became eligible for the Medal of Honor. During the Civil War, 1,523 Medals of Honor were awarded, 23 to African American servicemen. The first African American recipient was Sergeant William H. Carney of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry for combat valor on July 18, 1863, at Fort Wagner, South Carolina. 13 of the medals were awarded to African American soldiers who fought in the battle of New Market Heights, Virginia on September 29–30, 1864.

Although the Union did not actively recruit African Americans until 1863, their numbers proved significant during the Civil War. U.S. Colored Troops constituted 13 percent of the Army, while African American sailors accounted for about 8 percent of the Union Navy. By the end of the war, more than 37,000 African American servicemen had died, constituting nearly 35 percent of all African Americans who served in combat.


Post-Civil War America acquired a new appreciation for the importance of military power. In 1866, the 39th Congress passed legislation to “increase and fix the Military Establishment of the United States.” The peacetime army would have five artillery regiments, ten cavalry regiments and 45 infantry regiments. This legislation also stipulated “That to the six regiments of cavalry now in service shall be added four regiments, two of which shall be composed of colored men. . . .” Consequently, the nation gained its first African American regular Army regiments: The 9th and 10th Cavalry, and the 24th and 25th Infantry, which would become known as the “Buffalo Soldiers.” This nickname was bestowed upon the soldiers by Plains Indians who saw a resemblance between their hair and that of the buffalo, an animal the Indians considered sacred. Although the term “Buffalo Page 1339  |  Top of ArticleSoldiers” initially denoted those four post-Civil War regiments, it was later proudly adopted by veterans of all racially segregated African American Army ground units of the 1866–1950 era.

The general perception today of the makeup of the U.S. Army during the post-Civil War westward expansion does not reflect its true composition. Approximately 20 percent of army soldiers on duty in the West were African American. The mythology of the cavalry riding to rescue of endangered settlers does not reflect that many of these armed horsemen were African American. Despite often working with rejected horses, inadequate rations, and deteriorating equipment—compounded by the hostility often shown them by many white settlers, as well as some of their own officers—the African American regiments enjoyed the lowest desertion rates of all Army units.

The heroism of African American soldiers is attested to by the 18 Medals of Honor they earned during what historians termed both “The Indian Campaigns” and “The Plains War.” Nevertheless, as 370 Medals of Honor were awarded during that era of military history, the 18 given to African American soldiers certainly does not reflect a number proportional to those received by whites, when considering their percentage of all soldiers serving. The first Medal of Honor awarded to an African American soldier during the period was presented to First Sergeant Emanuel Stance of Company F, 9th Cavalry for actions occurring on May 20, 1870, in the battle of Kickapoo Springs, Texas.

African American participation in the war against Native Americans was embedded in historical ironies, both in terms of fighting another race subjugated by Anglo-Americans, and in terms of anti-African American sentiment within the United States military itself. One of many painful episodes for the original “Buffalo Soldiers” was the case of Second Lieutenant Henry Ossian Flipper. Born in Thomasville, Georgia on March 21, 1856, Flipper was the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. He ranked 50th among the 76 members of the Class of 1887 and became the only African American commissioned officer in the regular Army. Assigned initially to Fort Sill, Oklahoma Territory, Lieutenant Flipper was eventually sent to Fort Davis, Texas. He was assigned the duties routine to a newly-commissioned officer, such as surveying and supervising construction projects. Flipper also acquired some combat experience fighting Apache Indians led by Chief Victoria.

In August of 1881, Lieutenant Flipper was arrested and charged with failing to mail $3,700 in checks to the Army Chief of Commissary. The young lieutenant was tried for embezzlement and conduct unbecoming an officer. He was acquitted of the first charge (the checks were found in his quarters), but convicted of the second.

Upon confirmation of his sentence by President Chester Arthur, Flipper was dismissed from the service on June 30, 1882. Returning to civilian life, Flipper used his West Point education as a surveyor and engineer in working for mining companies. He also published his memoirs as well as technical books dealing with both Mexican and Venezuelan laws. Additionally, Flipper served as a translator for the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and became a special assistant to the Secretary of the Interior.

Nearly a century after Flipper left West Point, a review of his record indicated that he had been framed by his fellow officers. His records were corrected, and he was granted an honorable discharge from the Army. On the 100th anniversary of his graduation, a memorial bust and alcove were dedicated in his honor in the cadet library at the U.S. Military Academy.

There were only two other nineteenth century African American graduates of West Point: John H. Alexander (1864–1894), in the Class of 1887, and Charles A. Young (1864–1922), in the Class of 1889. It would be 47 years before another African American cadet graduated from the U.S. Military Academy.


America’s “Ten Week War” with Spain marked the nation’s emergence as a global colonial power. Although the United States had just completed its own “Indian Campaigns,” the tension between the two nations arose from Spain’s treatment of Cuba’s indigenous population. In 1885, open rebellion by the Cuban people resulted in brutal suppression by the Spanish. The battleship USS Maine was sent to Cuba to protect U.S. interests there and as a reminder of America’s intention to enforce the Monroe Doctrine.

On the evening of February 15, 1898, a gigantic explosion rocked the warship. It sank rapidly in the Havana harbor, killing 266 U.S. sailors—22 of them African Americans. The cause of the Maine’s sinking was undetermined, but inflamed American passions were demonstrated by the slogan, “Remember the Maine, to hell with Spain.”

On March 29, the United States issued an ultimatum to Spain, demanding the release of Cubans from brutal detention camps, the declaration of an armistice, and preparations for peace negotiations mediated by President McKinley. The Spanish government did not comply and, on April 19, the United States Congress proclaimed Cuba free and independent. In its proclamation, Congress authorized the president to use U.S. troops to remove Spanish forces from Cuba.

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The 24th Negro Infantry distinguised itself during Spanish-American War campaigns. The 24th Negro Infantry distinguised itself during Spanish-American War campaigns. GLADSTONE COLLECTION. PRINTS AND PHOTOGRAPHS DIVISION. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS.

In the annals of U.S. military history, the Spanish-American War was of special significance for the African American officer. It was the first time that African American men served in every Army grade below general officer. This opportunity arose because of a geographically-determined national security strategy. Separated from both Europe and Asia by oceans, the United States understood that those waters also provided a mobilization time cushion. Any perceived threat from either direction had to overcome United States naval power before touching the mainland. Thus, the Navy became the “first line of defense.” The small U.S. Army was really a cadre force. Time would permit recruitment, training, and deployment of volunteers or draftees who would fight on United States soil led by experienced regulars. An additional mobilization asset was the various state militias comprising part-time citizen soldiers.

The war with Spain was an expeditionary campaign requiring maritime deployment to foreign soil. Instead of a mobilize-and-defend situation, the United States had to mobilize and transport before deploying on foreign soil. It was the nation’s first large-scale exposure to the complex logistics of overseas operations, an experience that would evolve into occupation duty and related counter-insurgency warfare.

The regular Army of only 28,000 men included the African American 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments, and the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments. On June 24, 1898, one squadron of the 10th Cavalry, two squadrons of Rough Riders, which were a regiment of U.S. cavalry volunteers recruited by Theodore Roosevelt, and a squadron from the regular Army’s 1st Cavalry, attacked and defeated twice their number of Spanish soldiers. When Rough Riders were pinned down by Spanish fire while Page 1341  |  Top of Articlecrossing open ground near Las Guasimas, 10th Cavalry troops and soldiers from the 1st Cavalry regiment arrived and relieved the pressure. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, the 10th Cavalry’s regimental quartermaster, credited his men with “relieving the Rough Riders from the volleys that were being poured into them from that portion of the Spanish line.”

The 25th Infantry also took part in the action, storming the village of El Caney on the morning of July 1. Armed with a battery of Hotchkiss automatic guns, the 10th Cavalry figured prominently in taking Kettle Hill, while the 24th Infantry, along with the 71st New York Volunteers, stormed San Juan Hill. African American soldiers also manned trenches around Santiago de Cuba, which capitulated in mid-July, ending the war in Cuba. The end of the war, however, did not end the danger to the occupying troops.

Although hostilities between the United States and Spain were officially ended, U.S. troops in Cuba faced a challenge more deadly than the Spanish forces. More than three of every four deaths among U.S. troops were attributed to disease, particularly typhoid and yellow fever. In the mistaken belief that peoples of African descent had a natural immunity to tropical disease, troops of the 24th Infantry were assigned work details at a hospital treating victims of typhoid and yellow fever. Roughly half of the African American troops assigned to the hospital contracted the illnesses. Many of the African American female volunteer nurses who cared for the sick and dying also became victims.

African Americans also served in the U.S. Volunteer Infantry (USVI), a manpower augmentation of 175,000 troops from the federalized national guard reserves. The USVI was to include the nation’s oldest African American national guard unit, which had its organizational roots in Chicago, Illinois. Formed in the wake of the 1871 Chicago fire, it was originally known as the Hannibal Guards. It became an Illinois militia unit on May 5, 1890, as the 9th Battalion, commanded by Major Benjamin G. Johnson, an African American. When the Spanish-American War erupted, other African American militia regiments were organized: the 3rd Alabama, the 23rd Kansas, the 3rd North Carolina, the 9th Ohio, and the 6th Virginia.

Until converted into artillery battalions in World War II, the 8th Illinois USVI was always commanded by an African American officer; Colonel John R. Marshall was the highest-ranking African American officer of the Spanish-American War and commanded the 8th Illinois until 1914. Marshall was born on March 15, 1859, in Alexandria, Virginia. After attending public schools in Alexandria and Washington, D.C., he became an apprentice bricklayer. After moving to Chicago, he was appointed deputy clerk of Cook County. Marshall joined the Illinois National Guard, organized a battalion, and served in it as a lieutenant and major. In June of 1892, he was commissioned a colonel and assumed command of the 8th Illinois USVI Regiment. He led the regiment to Cuba where it joined with the 23rd Kansas and 3rd North Carolina in occupation duty.

The Spanish-American War provided a small increase in the number of African American regular Army officers. Benjamin O. Davis served as a lieutenant in the 8th Illinois USVI. Upon his discharge, he enlisted in the regular Army on June 14, 1899, as a private in the 9th Cavalry. He was promoted to corporal and then to sergeant major. Davis was commissioned a U.S. Army second lieutenant of cavalry on February 2, 1901. Also commissioned as regular Army officers that year were John R. Lynch and John E. Green. As the twentieth century began, the U.S. Army had four African American commissioned officers (excluding chaplains): Captain Charles Young, and Lieutenants Davis, Green, and Lynch. In 1940, Davis would become the nation’s first African American general officer.

Although only 10 weeks long, the Spanish-American War produced 52 Medal of Honor recipients, among them six African Americans. Five were from the 10th Cavalry, which fought as infantry in Cuba, while the sixth was an African American sailor stationed aboard the USS Iowa, which saw action in the waters off Santiago, Cuba.

WORLD WAR I (1914–1918)

The nation’s entry into World War I raised the question of how to utilize African American troops. The Army’s existing African American units were kept on patrol in the Southwest or sent for duty in the Philippines. The majority of African American draftees or enlistees were assigned to stevedore units at ports or to labor units as quartermaster troops. Of the more than 400,000 African American soldiers who served during the war, only about 10 percent saw combat duty, assigned to either of two infantry divisions: the 92nd Infantry Division and the 93rd Infantry Division (Provisional). The 92nd was mainly comprising draftees, while the 93rd had three regiments made up of National Guard units from Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Tennessee and the District of Columbia, with a fourth regiment made up of draftees. Neither infantry division trained together as a unit in the United States. As many white citizens feared arming a substantial number of African Americans in a single location, the Army stationed the individual regiments of each division in widely-separated areas of the country. The regiments did not link up together as divisions until they reached France.

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A group of African American World War I sailors. A group of African American World War I sailors. U.S. WAR DEPARTMENT, NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION.

The most difficult problem for the War Department was the demand that African Americans be trained as commissioned officers. Initially, the idea was dismissed as ludicrous, as it was said to be “common knowledge” that African Americans inherently lacked leadership qualities. Only the persistence of the NAACP, the Urban League and such African American newspapers as The Chicago Defender helped change War Department policy. An African American Officer Training School was established at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. On October 14, 1917, the school graduated and commissioned the first class of 639 African American officers. By the close of the war, 1,200 African American officer candidates had earned commissions from the school. Although that number was far greater than had been commissioned in prior wars, it still represented only seven-tenths of 1 percent of the officer corps. By comparison, African American troops accounted for 13 percent of the total active duty force. In addition, the War Department had an ironclad rule that no African American officer could command white officers or enlisted men.

To comply with this rule, the War Department needed to find a way of skirting the problem posed by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Young, the Army’s highest-ranking African American officer and a West Point graduate. Young had trained African American troops for combat and led them in action, causing some white officers to fear that he would assume command of the 10th Cavalry, which was otherwise commanded by whites. Pressured by these officers, the United States senators who represented them in Congress, and President Wilson, the War Department developed a strategy to eliminate Young from consideration. Young, who had contracted Bright’s disease, but whose physical health appeared excellent otherwise, was given a medical examination in July of 1917. The medical report was forwarded to a retiring board that recommended that he be removed from active duty due to ill health; the War Department concurred.

To prove his fitness for active duty, Colonel Young rode on horseback (walking a quarter of the distance for good measure) from Xenia, Ohio to Washington, D.C. Starting on June 6, 1918, he covered the 497-mile distance in 16 days, taking just one day off to rest. While Young received support from the African American press and many powerful friends, the War Department relented Page 1343  |  Top of Articleonly five days before the end of World War I. Though he was promoted to full colonel while in retirement, he was called to active service to command a company of trainees at Camp Grant, Illinois—an assignment usually given to officers at the rank of captain. Young never was given the opportunity to command troops in Europe, which likely would have resulted in his promotion to brigadier general. Though he remained on active duty until his death on January 8, 1922, Young never received another promotion.

One solution used by the military to solve the issue of utilizing African American officers and soldiers during the war was to offer African American regiments to foreign forces. The 93rd Infantry Division was attached to the allied French Army and used French weapons, wore French helmets, and ate French rations—only their uniforms were provided by the U.S. Army. Colonel William Hayward, commander of New York’s 369th Infantry Regiment that constituted one of the four regiments of the 93rd, criticized General John J. Pershing for this decision. Colonel Hayward charged that Pershing “simply put the black orphan in a basket, set it on the doorstep of the French, pulled the bell, and went away.”

Despite this status, it was the 369th Infantry Regiment (15th New York) that established the best World War I record of any U.S. Army infantry regiment. Attached to the French 4th Army, the 369th served for 191 consecutive days in the trenches, longer than any other U.S. unit. In that time they never lost a foot of ground to the enemy, nor had a single soldier taken prisoner by the Germans. The 369th gathered many nicknames. They called themselves the “Black Rattlers,” while the French dubbed them the “Men of Bronze” and the Germans labeled them the “Harlem Hell Fighters.”

In 1919, Columbia University President Nicholas Murray Butler gave Harper’s Weekly his assessment of the 369th Infantry Regiment, “No American soldier saw harder or more constant fighting and none gave better accounts of themselves. When fighting was to be done, this regiment was there.”

Unlike the 93rd Infantry Division, which only came together as a unit in France before being broken up and parceled out to various French commands, the 92nd Infantry Division remained intact. Unfortunately, the 92nd did not fare nearly as well as did the 93rd. The commander, Major General Charles C. Ballou, shared the prejudices of many white officers and rarely stood up for his African American troops. Ballou seldom ensured that the soldiers of the 92nd were provided with proper training, equipment, and support services. Upon their arrival in France, the ill-prepared African American soldiers under his command were immediately sent into the fray. Led by white senior officers and unseasoned African American junior officers, the disorganized regiments suffered heavy casualties during several key offenses late in the war.

Ballou’s response to the failings of the 92nd was to blame his junior officers, bringing 30 up for court-martial on charges of cowardice. Several officers were convicted by an all-white court-martial board and given harsh sentences before the trials were suspended with the transfer of the 92nd to the command of Lieutenant General Robert L. Bullard. Under Bullard, the morale and training of the 92nd increased, as did its fighting effectiveness. Nevertheless, the damage was done. Bullard was unhappy with the general performance of the division and worried about its reflection on him as a leader. As soon as the war ended, he recommended the immediate transfer of the division back to the United States. The result of the 92nd Infantry’s substandard performance was to bolster the already negative opinions of critics of African American units.

Despite the “Jim Crow” atmosphere, African American soldiers still earned an impressive number of awards for combat bravery in defeating German troops. Sergeant Henry Johnson and Private Needham Roberts of New York’s 369th Infantry Regiment were the first Americans, black or white, to receive the French Croix de Guerre. France awarded its Croix de Guerre to 34 African American officers and 89 African American enlisted men during the war. In the 92nd Infantry, 14 African American officers and 43 African American enlisted men earned the U.S. Army’s Distinguished Service Cross (DSC). Some 10 officers and 34 enlisted men of the 93rd Infantry were DSC recipients.

The African American presence in the U.S. Navy during World War I was negligible. Restricted to ratings in the messmen branch (cooks, stewards, mess attendants), few African Americans enlisted in the Navy. Of a total naval strength of 435,398, only 5,328 were African American by June 30, 1918. Thus, African Americans accounted for only 1.2 percent of the Navy. Continuing its policy of preventing African Americans from earning commissions, the naval officer corps remained completely white. In addition, some naval captains refused to transport African American army troops home after the war.

Although they were not permitted to serve in the Armed Forces, African American women contributed to America’s efforts in World War I. They made bandages, worked in hospitals and troop centers, and promoted the purchase of Liberty Bonds to finance the war effort. They also served in the Red Cross, YWCA, and other relief organizations.


No Medal of Honor was awarded to an African American serviceman during World War I. In 1988, the Page 1344  |  Top of ArticleDepartment of the Army researched the National Archives to determine whether racial barriers had prevented the awarding of the nation’s highest decoration for valor to an African American. The archives search produced evidence that Corporal Freddie Stowers of Anderson County, South Carolina, had been recommended for the award. For “unknown reasons,” the recommendation had not been processed. Stowers was a squad leader in Company C, 371st Infantry Regiment, 93rd Infantry Division. On September 28, 1918, he led his squad through heavy machine-gun fire and destroyed the gun position on Hill 188 in the Champagne Marne Sector, France. Mortally wounded, Stowers led his men through a second trench line. Unable to proceed any further, Stowers continued to yell encouragement to his comrades until dying on the field of battle. On April 24, 1991, President George Bush belatedly presented Stowers’ Medal of Honor to his surviving sisters in a White House ceremony.


With the end of the war, the nation generally returned to applying the Plessy v. Ferguson doctrine. Some senior white Army officers advocated barring enlistment or re-enlistment of African Americans all together, an action that would have eventually abolished the four African American regular Army regiments by attrition.

A focal point of the Army’s discriminatory sentiment was the African American commissioned officer. Despite countless well-documented cases of superb combat leadership, most African American officers were eliminated from active duty following World War I. An effective tool against retaining African American officers was their alleged poor performance that was buttressed by criticism of the African American Officer Training School (OTS) at Des Moines, Iowa. One of the severest critics was Major General Ballou, commander of the 92nd Infantry Division during World War I. Ballou emphasized that while white candidates were required to be college graduates, “only high school educations were required for . . . the colored . . . and in many cases these high school educations would have been a disgrace to any grammar school. For the parts of a machine requiring the finest steel, pot metal was provided.”

Nevertheless, there were combat-experienced white officers who held a decidedly different view of African American officer training, such as Major Thomas A. Roberts. “As I understand the question,” Roberts wrote in April of 1920, “what the progressive Negro desires today is the removal of discrimination against him; that this can be accomplished in a military sense I believe to be largely possible, but not if men of the two races are segregated.” Noting his appreciation of the “tremendous force of the prejudice against association between Negroes and whites,” Roberts declared “my experience has made me believe that the better element among the Negroes desires the removal of the restriction rather than the association itself.”

The exclusionary campaign was also evident in the Army’s civilian components, the National Guard and Officers Reserve. New York’s 369th Infantry Regiment was maintained at full strength, though the 8th Illinois lost one battalion.

As for commissioned officers, the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) detachments at Howard and Wilberforce Universities provided the bulk of new African American second lieutenants. With no allocations for African American officers to attend service schools, the lack of opportunity to maintain proficiency caused considerable attrition in the number of African American reserve officers. To retain their commissions, other officers took advantage of correspondence and specially-organized seminar courses.

WORLD WAR II (1941–1945)

Less than two months after war began in Europe, the nation’s preeminent African American organizations, the NAACP and the National Urban League, mobilized in an effort to defeat U.S. racial segregation as well as Axis fascism. The African American community foresaw that the United States would eventually ally itself with Britain and France in war against Germany, Italy, and Japan.

Military mobilization began on August 27, 1940, with the federalizing of the National Guard and activation of the Organized Reserve. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, there were 120,000 officers and 1,523,000 enlisted men on active duty in the Army and its air corps. On September 16, 1940, the nation began its first peacetime draft. By the end of World War II, the Selective Service System had inducted 10,110,104 men, of which 1,082,539 (10.7 percent) were African American.

America’s war effort required rapid expansion of both military and industrial power. Victory depended on the constant provision of ammunition, guns, planes, tanks, naval vessels, and merchant ships. The nation would have to unite to survive. A minority number of African Americans, including Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad, openly favored a Japanese victory; Muhammad’s stance led to a four-year term in the U.S. Penitentiary at Milan, Michigan.

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An American soldier of the 12th Armored Division stands guard over a group of German soldiers captured in April 1945. An American soldier of the 12th Armored Division stands guard over a group of German soldiers captured in April 1945. AP PHOTO

Essential to the desegregation activism of both the NAACP and the Urban League was the impact of African American-owned weekly newspapers, such as Robert S. Abbott’s Chicago Defender and Robert Vann’s Pittsburgh Courier. The rallying slogan was the “Double V”—victory against fascism abroad and racial discrimination at home. The goal was equal opportunity in the armed services and within the civilian defense industries.

Soon, the NAACP and the Urban League were joined by the African American activists of the March on Washington movement, led by A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Maids. Randolph predicted that upwards of 100,000 African Americans would march on Washington demanding equal employment opportunities in defense plant employment. On June 25, 1941, a week before the scheduled march, President Franklin D. Roosevelt forestalled the event by issuing Executive Order 8802. The President’s order established a Committee on Fair Employment Practice “to provide for the full and equitable participation of all workers in defense industries, without discrimination.” Of course, the executive order did not apply to the armed services.

The necessity of winning the war opened the economy to millions of African American men and women who surged into defense plants and earned the same wages as their white counterparts. Thus, the war years brought economic upward mobility to many African American civilians. The postwar benefits of the G.I. Bill of Rights also played a major role, causing the number of African American college graduates and home owners to increase dramatically.

The U.S. Army had actually taken its first steps toward racial integration early in World War II. The obvious waste of duplicated facilities caused the Army to operate all of its 24 officer candidate schools as racially-integrated institutions, where the primary quality sought was proven leadership capacity. The “ninety-day

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wonders,” who survived the standard three-month course, were commissioned as second lieutenants from each of the 24 Army branches, ranging from the Army Air Forces Administrative School (Miami, Florida) to the Tank Destroyer School (Camp Hood, Texas). Nevertheless, upon graduation, African American officers were only assigned to African American units.


The exception in racially-integrated Army officer procurement during World War II was the Army Air Force Aviation Cadet program, which trained pilots, bombardiers, and navigators. Ironically, African American non-flying officers graduated from the integrated AAF Officer Candidate School at Miami Beach.

A total of 926 African American pilots earned their commissions and wings at the segregated Tuskegee Army Air Field (TAAF) near Chehaw, Alabama. The 673 single-engine TAAF pilot graduates would eventually form the four squadrons of the 332nd Fighter Group.

Led by Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin O. Davis Jr., a 1936 West Point graduate, the 99th Fighter Squadron was assigned to the 33rd Fighter Group commanded by Colonel William M. Momyer. The 99th’s first operational mission was a June 2, 1943, strafing attack on the Italian island of Pantelleria. On that date, Captain Charles B. Hall scored the squadron’s first air victory by shooting down an FW-190 and damaging an ME-109. The 99th then settled into normal operations.

In September, Colonel Davis was recalled to take command of the 332nd Fighter Group. It was at that point that he and the African American community discovered that the “Tuskegee Experiment” was about to be labeled a failure. To that effect, Colonel Momyer submitted an extremely negative appraisal of the 99th Fighter Squadron:

Based on the performance of the 99th Fighter Squadron to date, it is my opinion that they are not of the fighting caliber of any squadron in this group. They have failed to display the aggressiveness and daring for combat that are necessary to a first class fighting organization. It may be expected that we will get less work and less operational time out of the 99th Fighter Squadron than any squadron in this group.

On October 16, 1943, squadron commander Davis appeared before the War Department’s Committee on Special [Negro] Troop Policies to answer his group commander’s allegations. In his 1991 autobiography, written after his retirement as an Air Force lieutenant general, Davis described the problem he faced at the Pentagon as a lieutenant colonel. He wrote, “It would have been hopeless for me to stress the hostility and racism of whites as the motive behind the letter, although that was clearly the case. Instead, I had to adopt a quiet, reasoned approach, presenting the facts about the 99th in a way that would appeal to fairness and win out over ignorance and racism.”

Davis presented such a convincing factual case that Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall ordered a G-3 [operations] study of the African American squadron. The study’s title “Operations of the 99th Fighter Squadron Compared with Other P-40 Squadrons in the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations” precisely describes its contents. In his book, General Davis described the G-3 study: “It rated the 99th according to readiness, squadron missions, friendly losses versus enemy losses, and sorties dispatched.” The opening statement in the report was the clincher: “An examination of the record of the 99th Fighter Squadron reveals no significant general difference between this squadron and the balance of the P-40 squadrons in the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations.”

On October 13, 1942, the Army had activated the 100th, 301st, and 302nd Fighter Squadrons. Combined with the 99th, the four squadrons became the 332nd Fighter Group. Colonel Robert R. Selway Jr., a white pilot, was its initial commanding officer. With the 99th vindicated by the G-3 study, Davis assumed command of the Fighter Group at Selfridge Army Air Field, Michigan. The three squadrons of the 332nd previously based in the United States departed for Italy on January 3, 1944, absorbing the 99th as its fourth squadron upon arrival.

During the period that the 99th was deployed and the 332nd was organizing, the TAAF program expanded to training two-engine B-25 pilots. While the fighter pilot fought alone, the B-25 “Mitchell” medium bomber required a five to six-man crew that included two pilots, a bombardier, and a navigator. The 253 medium bomber Page 1347  |  Top of Articlepilots trained at TAAF, as well as 393 African American navigators and bombardiers from Hondo and Midland Fields in Texas, formed the nation’s second African American flying organization when the Army Air Force activated the four-squadron 477th Bombardment Group (Medium) in June of 1943.

The 477th was plagued from the start by a shortage of enlisted aircrew members, ground technicians, and even airplanes. 15 months after activation, the 477th was still short 26 pilots, 43 copilots, two bombardier-navigators, and all of its authorized 288 gunners. Moving from base to base for “operational training,” the 477th logged 17,875 flying hours in one year without a major accident. Although finally earmarked for duty in the Pacific, the war ended before the 477th was deployed overseas.

As for the 332nd Fighter Group, it became a famous flying escort for heavy bombers. It was the only AAF fighter group that never lost an escorted bomber to enemy planes. The wartime record of the 332nd Fighter Group was 103 enemy aircraft destroyed during 1,578 combat missions. In addition to more than 100 Distinguished Flying Crosses, the 332nd also earned three Distinguished Unit Citations.

The “Tuskegee Experiment” thus proved that African Americans could fly advanced aircraft and could also conduct highly successful combat operations meeting AAF standards. The fruit of the Tuskegee Airmen’s efforts would be harvested in less than three years—the 1948 racial desegregation of the U.S. Armed Forces.


During World War II, the U.S. Army fielded two major African American combat organizations: the 92nd Infantry Division in Europe and the 93rd Infantry Division in the Pacific.

Just as in World War I, the 93rd Infantry Division suffered from fragmentation. Major General Raymond G. Lehman’s headquarters sailed from San Francisco on January 11, 1944, while the artillery and infantry battalions and division headquarters assembled on Guadalcanal at the end of February. This would be the last time all of the components of the division would be in the same place. The division would spend the rest of the war island-hopping, relieving units that had defeated Japanese troops. World War II casualties sustained by the 93rd were 12 killed in action, 121 wounded in action and five who died of wounds. The usual after-action comments were made concerning the lack of initiative by junior officers, but overall, the 93rd was described as well-disciplined and with morale.

The 92nd Infantry Division, in contrast, gained a reputation as a chaotic outfit. During its preparation for deployment overseas, portions of the 92nd were sprinkled across the United States. While the division headquarters were at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, subordinate units were stationed at Fort McClellan, Alabama; Camp Robinson, Arkansas; Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky; and Camp Atterbury, Indiana. The division’s World War II casualty figures were vastly different from those of the 93rd: 548 killed in action, 2,187 wounded in action, and 68 who died of wounds. From its training in the United States through combat in Europe, the division’s main problem seemed to be its commander, Major General Edward M. Almond. Many veterans of the 92nd continue to blame General Almond for the division’s reputation and casualties.

It appears that “Ned” Almond was racist. In a 1984 interview, retired Lieutenant General William P. Ennis Jr. gave a “warts and all” description of Almond. As a World War II brigadier general, Ennis had commanded the corps artillery that supported the 92nd Infantry Division. According to Ennis, Almond and many white Southern officers in the division were selected because “in theory, they knew more about handling Negroes than anybody else, though I can’t imagine why because [Almond] just despised the ground they walked on.” One African American officer, Captain Hondon B. Hargrove, was a 1938 Wilberforce University ROTC graduate. After his wartime service in the division’s 597th Field Artillery Battalion, he commented that Almond did not believe “any black, no matter what his file showed, or how much training he had, was able in an officer’s position. . . . He firmly believed only white officers could get the best out of [Negro troops] … [and] just could not countenance black officers leading them.”

While Almond denigrated the competence of African American officers, Officer Candidate School (OCS) commandants generally held opposite views. For example, Brigadier General H. T. Mayberry, who commanded the Tank Destroyer OCS, observed in a 1945 interview that “a considerable number of young, potentially outstanding Negro officers were graduated. It was surprising—to me, at least—how high the Negroes (those who graduated) stood in the classes.” Lieutenant Colonel Robert C. Ross, a field artillery battalion commander in the 92nd Infantry Division, reported to Almond on five African American officers who completed the basic artillery course. Three were made course instructors, while two were selected “as outstanding students from the entire 48 officers, both white and colored, from the first Officers Basic School.”

General Almond established his headquarters at Viareggio, Italy on October 5, 1944. Two days later, the division’s 370th Infantry Regiment began its assault on Massa. Professor Lee described the 92nd Infantry Division’s major weakness: “It was a problem in faith and lack of it—the wavering faith of commanders in the ability and determination of subordinates and enlisted Page 1348  |  Top of Articlemen, and the continuation in the minds of enlisted men of training period convictions that they could not trust their leaders.” Thus, the Massa attack degenerated into chaos. In what was to be a major charge against the division, the men began to “melt away” from the fighting. After Massa, there were increasing cases of mutinous behavior toward both black and white officers.

In February 1945, the 92nd became the focus of serious Pentagon scrutiny. Truman K. Gibson Jr., an African American insurance company lawyer from Chicago and Civilian Aide to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimpson, examined the situation. In his assessment, Gibson refused to generalize about the capabilities of African American soldiers based on the performance of General Almond’s division. In a March 14 news conference in Rome, Gibson maintained, “If the division proves anything, it does not prove that Negroes can’t fight. There is no question in my mind about the courage of Negro officers or soldiers and any generalization on the basis of race is entirely unfounded.”

On May 14, 1945, a week after Germany surrendered, Lieutenant Colonel Marcus H. Ray wrote a letter to Gibson. A Chicagoan, as was Gibson, Colonel Ray was a National Guard officer of the 8th Illinois when it mobilized in 1940, and ended the war as commanding officer of the 600th Field Artillery Battalion of the 92nd Infantry Division. Colonel Ray closed his letter to Gibson by observing that “those who died in the proper performance of their assigned duties are our men of the decade and all honor should be paid them. They were Americans before all else. Racially, we have been the victims of an unfortunate chain of circumstances backgrounded by the unchanged American attitude as regards the proper ‘place’ of the Negro. . . . I do not believe the 92nd a complete failure as a combat unit, but when I think of what it might have been, I am heartsick. . . .”


The most highly acclaimed African American ground combat unit of World War II was the 761st Tank Battalion. As an organization, it enjoyed substantially better circumstances than the 92nd Infantry Division. Before the United States entered World War II, some white U.S. Army officers favored opening opportunities for black soldiers. They rejected the dogma of their colleagues who declared that modern weaponry was “too technical” for African Americans. One such officer, Lieutenant General Lesley James McNair, became the commanding general of Army ground forces. In that post he spent most of his time visiting the nationwide array of ground forces training camps. When he visited the 761st at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, he openly praised and encouraged the Army’s first African American tankers. When the 761st went ashore in France on October 10, 1944, the men believed, rightly, that their outfit’s existence was due mainly to McNair. (General McNair was killed by United States “friendly fire” on July 25, 1944, in France. The Joint Chiefs of Staff National Defense University is located at Fort Lesley J. McNair, named in his honor, in Washington, D.C.)

The 761st joined the 26th Division on October 31 and was welcomed by the division commander, Major General Willard S. Paul: “I am damned glad to have you with us. We have been expecting you for a long time, and I am sure you are going to give a good account of yourselves.” Two days later, Lieutenant General George S. Patton visited and welcomed the 761st. Equipped with Sherman Tanks, the 761st saw its initial combat experience on November 8, 1944 at Athaniville, France—the first of 183 continuous days of combat for the battalion. The battalion is credited with killing 6,266 enemy soldiers and capturing 15,818. Despite its outstanding combat record, the 761st did not receive a Presidential Unit Citation until January 24, 1978.

One veteran of the 761st Tank Battalion, Company A, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in January of 1997. Staff Sergeant Ruben Rivers, of Tecumseh, Oklahoma, was severely wounded on November 16, 1944, when his tank hit a German mine at a railroad crossing outside of Guebling, France. With his lower thigh sliced to the bone, Rivers declined a morphine injection and refused evacuation. Instead, he took command of another tank at the head of the column and led the advance toward their next objective, Bourgaltroff. Three days later, fierce fighting ensued when Company A was met at Bourgaltroff by enemy tanks and anti-tank weapons. Under heavy fire, his company commander ordered his tanks to pull back below the crest of a hill. Rivers had spotted the enemy positions, however, and he radioed his commander that he would press the fight. Rivers continued firing until the tank was hit in the turret by an armor-piercing round, killing him and wounding the other members of the crew.

Smaller African American combat units made significant contributions in combat operations in both Europe and the Pacific. Fire from African American artillerymen helped dislodge German troops as U.S. forces fought to cross the Rhine River. For its defense of Bastogne, a strategic city in Belgium, the 969th Field Artillery Battalion received a Distinguished Unit Citation for meritorious service performed while attached to a white organization. Company C of the 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion became the first African American ground unit to win that honor in World War II for driving off a German force that blocked the 411th Infantry in its advance on Climbach, Germany. African American anti-aircraft outfits protected outposts in the Pacific and shot down German aircraft in Europe.

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Because of a policy of racial segregation and discrimination, most of the one million African Americans in uniform during World War II were not assigned combat duty. Instead, they were assigned duty in the Service of Supply (SOS). In this capacity, they proved instrumental in the outcome of the war by operating bulldozers and cranes, setting up communications systems, and transporting essential supplies to the front. More than 70 percent of the truck companies in the Army’s Motor Transport Service were African American. Their role was critical in Europe because the railroads in France were destroyed by retreating German forces. Therefore, Allied forces had to be supplied by truck. The “Red Ball Express” was formed to meet this need in August of 1944, with an original route between Saint Lo and Paris. On a normal day, 899 vehicles on the Red Ball Express traveled 1,504,616 miles on the trip that took an average time of 54 hours.

The White Ball Route replaced the Red Ball Express in November of 1944. Four of the nine truck companies transporting supplies from Le Havre and Rouen to forward areas were African American. They also saw duty on the Antwerp-Brussels-Charleroi Route and the Green Diamond Route between Normandy and the Brest peninsula. The 3917th Gasoline Supply Company supplied the Third Army with up to 165,000 gallons of gas a day. African American truckers were also well represented among the 12 amphibian truck companies. Though assigned transport duty, African American truckers were subject to hostile fire and were called upon to fight in emergencies. A number received military honors from both the United States and France for courage and meritorious service in combat.


With the creation of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps on May 14, 1942, African American women could serve in the U.S. military in greater numbers than ever before. Many of the 4,000 black volunteers, however, were assigned duties unlike their white counterparts. While white women typically typed in offices, most African American women were assigned to cleanup details, laundry, and mess duty. Nevertheless, there were notable exceptions in the branch that would soon be renamed the Women’s Army Corps. Overseas, the 6888th Postal Battalion was commanded by African American Major Charity Adams, who arrived in England in 1945. The unit was later sent to the European mainland where it improved the mail delivery system, a system invaluable to troop morale.

A riveter at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation during World War II. A riveter at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation during World War II. CORBIS

African American women also served in the Army Nurse Corps. Initially, African American nurses were only permitted to care for African American patients, but that policy proved impractical. The resentment generated when African American women were assigned to care for German prisoners of war ultimately led to a change in policy, enabling African American nurses to care for wounded Americans, regardless of race.


Following a decade of excluding African Americans from enlistment, the U.S. Navy decided upon a separate African American branch in 1932. The branch was known as the Stewards’ Service, though it was referred to in the African American community as the “sea-going bell hops.” In 1940, the Navy consisted of 170,000 men, of whom 4,007 (or 2.3 percent) were African Americans in the Stewards’ Service. In addition to African Americans, Navy stewards were also recruited from among Filipinos and other Asian American populations.

The advent of World War II transformed the situation. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had served as assistant secretary of the Navy during World War I and considered it “his branch” of the armed services. Therefore, Page 1350  |  Top of Articlehis January 9, 1942, memo to the Navy had tremendous impact. The president noted to Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox: “I think that with all the Navy activities, Bureau of Navy might invent something that colored enlistees could do in addition to the rating of messman.” The Navy relented on April 7, 1942, by announcing it would accept 14,000 African American enlistees in all ratings and branches. The initial training of African American sailors was conducted at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, north of Chicago, Illinois.

It was at that station that the Navy finally made a breakthrough in regard to African American personnel. In January of 1944, 16 African American petty officers began a special and intensive course of instruction that was conducted without public announcement. Three months later, the Navy announced the commissioning of 12 African American ensigns and one warrant officer, the Navy’s “Golden Thirteen.”

Shortly after the “Golden Thirteen” were commissioned, the Navy opened the V-12 officer training programs to African American. Among the V-12 graduates who became Navy officers in World War II were Samuel L. Gravely Jr. and Carl T. Rowan. Gravely became the Navy’s first African American admiral while Rowan is a syndicated columnist and broadcaster.

By the end of World War II, 165,000 African Americans had served in the Navy; 17,000 in the Marine Corps; 5,000 in the Coast Guard; 12,000 in Construction Battalions (Sea Bees); and 24,000 in the Merchant Marine. These African American soldiers served with distinction. Notable among them was mess steward Doris Miller, who on December 7, 1941, manned a machine gun aboard the USS West Virginia as Japanese aircraft attacked Pearl Harbor. Miller was credited with destroying four planes before being ordered to abandon the sinking ship. After some delay, Miller was personally awarded the Navy Cross by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. He was also promoted to mess attendant first class. Miller died when the escort aircraft carrier USS Liscombe Bay was sunk on November 24, 1943. Three other African American mess attendants received the Navy Cross during World War II: Eli Benjamin (USS Intrepid); Leonard Harmon (USS San Francisco); and William Pinkney (USS Enterprise). Doris Miller is memorialized by one of three Navy warships named for African Americans: the frigates USS Miller and USS Jesse L. Brown and the missile submarine USS George Washington Carver.


Despite their many accomplishments, African American soldiers were not sufficiently honored for their heroics during World War II. Even though 1.2 million African Americans served in the U.S. Armed Forces during war, not one received the nation’s highest military award at the time, the Medal of Honor. Additionally, only nine were awarded the military’s second highest honor, the Distinguished Service Cross. This was scant recognition, considering that more than 142,000 African Americans died in the war.

In 1992, the U.S. Army contracted with Shaw University for a group of professional military historians to comb the nation’s archives and the memories of its veterans, both black and white, to discover why no African Americans had received a Medal of Honor during World War II and to determine whether some deserved the honor. After a 15-month study, the historians cited the racist climate of the Army for the lack of African American recognition and identified ten soldiers who might be deserving of that ultimate military honor. They passed the list of names onto a special Army Senior Officer Awards Board, which narrowed the list to nine, then to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who reduced it to seven. The Pentagon then sent those seven names to the U.S. Congress and to the White House. As the time limit for awarding the medal had expired in 1952, Congress included a waiver for the seven in the 1997 defense authorization bill. Congress approved a resolution to honor the nominees and sent it on to the president.

At a White House ceremony on January 13, 1997, President Bill Clinton presented Medals of Honor to the families of Staff Sergeant Edward A. Carter Jr., First Lieutenant John R. Fox, Private First Class Willy F. James Jr., Staff Sergeant Ruben Rivers, First Lieutenant Charles L. Thomas, Private George Watson, and to the lone survivor, First Lieutenant Vernon J. Baker. The 76-year-old Baker, a 28-year Army veteran, was most gracious in accepting the honor, stating that he had long ago resolved any bitterness that he had felt toward the Army for its past racial discrimination.


As the Allied victory of World War II approached, the highest levels of the United States government recognized that a new era of domestic racial relations had emerged. The war to defeat Fascism had, indeed, involved the entire U.S. population.

One impetus for a change in military policy regarding African Americans was an August 5, 1945-letter from Colonel Noel F. Parrish, commander of Tuskegee Army Air Field, to Brigadier General William E. Hall, Headquarters Army Air Forces. Colonel Parrish recommended “that future policy, instead of retreating defensibly further Page 1351  |  Top of Articleand further, with more and more group concessions, openly progress by slow and reasonable but definite steps toward the employment and treatment of Negroes as individuals which law requires and military efficiency demands.”

Although Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson often revealed racist tendencies, his assistant, John R. McCloy, was considerably more liberal. When Robert P. Patterson succeeded Stimson, he adopted McCloy’s suggestion for a study on the future use of African Americans in the military. A board of three Army generals conducted the study: Lieutenant General Alvan C. Gillem Jr., a former corps commander; Major General Lewis A. Pick, who built the Ledo Road in Burma; and Brigadier General Winslow C. Morse of the Army Air Force. During a six-week period, the “Gillem Board” took testimony from more than 50 witnesses in forming the Army’s postwar racial policy. Two key individuals who worked with the Gillem Board were the two African American Chicagoans who served sequentially as civilian aide to the secretary of war: Truman K. Gibson Jr. and the recently discharged Lieutenant Colonel Marcus H. Ray.

The Gillem Board’s findings leaned toward more efficient use of African American manpower, but did not advocate actual desegregation. That ambiguity reactivated the prewar coalition of the NAACP, the National Urban League, and the grassroots labor forces led by A. Philip Randolph.

The advent of the Cold War led to the National Security Act of 1947. The new law provided for the establishment of the Department of Defense (DOD), with the subordinate departments of Army, Navy, and Air Force. The act also created the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

In the continuing movement toward desegregation of the Armed Forces, 1947 brought two important African American personnel shifts within the Department of Defense: Lieutenant Colonel Marcus H. Ray returned to active duty as senior advisor on racial matters in Europe, and in the Pentagon, Dr. James C. Evans, a Howard University professor and Department of Army official, moved to the new post of special assistant to the secretary of defense. As the highest-ranking African American civilian in the Department of Defense, Dr. Evans served under 10 secretaries of defense until his retirement in 1970.

The demand for desegregation of the military became a key political issue in black America. As preparations for the 1948 presidential election intensified, President Harry Truman faced a campaign against Republican Thomas E. Dewey, states rights segregationist Strom Thurmond, and the Progressive Party of former Vice President Henry A. Wallace. In such a fragmented situation, the African American vote became crucial. By May of 1948, President Truman had decided to desegregate the Armed Forces by executive order. Nevertheless, the decision required two political concessions. First, no deadlines would be imposed. Second, the order would not denounce racial segregation. On July 26 President Truman issued Executive Order 9981, which signaled an end to segregation in the military.

In June of 1949, Wesley A. Brown became the first African American ever to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Brown, who had excelled as a student at Washington, D.C.’s Dunbar High School, was appointed to the academy by New York Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. in June of 1945. Since Annapolis had opened in 1850, only five African Americans had been admitted to the school. All had either resigned or been dismissed for alleged academic or disciplinary reasons. Despite harassment by classmates and hostility from instructors, Brown became the 20,699th midshipman to earn a commission from the naval academy.

THE KOREAN WAR (1950–1953)

On June 25, 1950, North Korean forces surged across the 38th parallel and invaded South Korea. They routed U.S. ground forces in Korea and drove them south. At the start of the Korean War, the Air Force was the only completely desegregated branch of the military.

The first victory by U.S. troops in the Korean War occurred July 20, 1950, at Yechon thanks to the African American soldiers of the 24th Infantry Regiment. Group commander Captain Charles M. Bussey, a World War II Tuskegee Airman, earned a Silver Star for his role in the battle. Two African American soldiers received posthumous Medals of Honor during the Korean War: Private First Class William Thompson and Sergeant Cornelius H. Charlton, both of the 24th Infantry Regiment.

Thompson distinguished himself by bravery and determination above and beyond the call of duty in action on August 6, 1950, near Haman, Korea. While his platoon was reorganizing under cover of darkness, enemy forces overwhelmed the unit with a surprise attack. Johnson set up his machine gun in the path of the onslaught and swept the enemy with fire, momentarily halting their advance and thus permitting the remainder of his platoon to withdraw to a more secure position. Although hit repeatedly by grenade fragments and small-arms fire, he resisted his comrades’ efforts to induce him to withdraw. Steadfast at his machine gun, he continued to deliver fire until he was mortally wounded by an enemy grenade.

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Charlton, a member of Company C, distinguished himself in action on June 2, 1951, near Chipo-Ri, Korea. During an attack on heavily defended positions on an enemy-held ridge line, his platoon leader was wounded and evacuated. Charlton assumed command, rallied the men, and spearheaded the assault up the hill. Personally eliminating two hostile positions and killing six of the enemy with rifle fire and grenades, he continued up the slope until the unit stalled with heavy casualties. Regrouping the men, he led them forward, only to be forced back again by a shower of grenades. Despite a severe chest wound, Charlton refused medical attention and led a third charge that advanced to the crest of the ridge. He then charged a remaining enemy position on a nearby slope alone and, though hit by a grenade, raked the position with fire that routed the defenders. He died of wounds received during his daring exploits.

The first African American naval officer to lose his life in combat during the Korean War was Ensign Jesse L. Brown, who was also the first African American to earn naval aviator’s wings. Brown, a Navy pilot, was shot down shortly after takeoff from the aircraft carrier USS Leyte on December 4, 1950. He crash-landed his plane on a snow-covered mountain near North Korea’s Chosin Reservoir, but was unable to remove himself from the wreckage. A white pilot landed his aircraft near Brown’s, but failed to pull him free. Other flyers radioed for help and, though a rescue helicopter made it to the location, the tangled metal could not be cut away quickly enough to save the life of the injured airman. Brown, who had previously flown 20 air combat missions, was posthumously awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross and a Purple Heart. On March 18, 1972, the U.S. Navy launched the destroyer escort USS Jesse L. Brown, marking the first time a Navy ship was ever named in honor of an African American naval officer.


The early defeats that U.S. forces experienced in Korea prompted President Truman to replace his close friend, Secretary of Defense Louis A. Johnson with retired General of the Army George C. Marshall, who had been Truman’s secretary of state during from 1947 to 1949. One of Marshall’s first acts as secretary of defense was the creation of a new entity: the Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserves (OASD MPR). Marshall appointed Anna M. Rosenberg, a 48-year-old New York City labor and public relations consultant, as head of the office. In 1944, she had persuaded President Franklin D. Roosevelt to have Congress enact the education provisions of the World War II G. I. Bill of Rights. Dr. James C. Evans’s Office of Special Assistant became a part of the OASD (MPR), which brought together two individuals knowledgeable in the rigors of discrimination—a Hungarian

General Douglas MacArthur pins the Distinguished Service Cross on Sgt. Curtis Pugh of Columbus, Georgia, for heroism. General Douglas MacArthur pins the Distinguished Service Cross on Sgt. Curtis Pugh of Columbus, Georgia, for heroism. Kimpo Airfield, Korea, February 13, 1951. AP PHOTO/JIM PRINGLE

Jewish immigrant and an African American college professor. Known affectionately in the Pentagon as “Aunt Anna,” Rosenberg’s OASD (MPR) was responsible for industrial and military manpower including Selective Service System policies. Secretary Rosenberg viewed military desegregation as an impetus for societal reform observing that, “In the long run, I don’t think a man can live and fight next to one of another race and share experiences where life is at stake, and not have a strong feeling of understanding when he comes home.”

The effective implementation of Executive Order 9981 turned on how well African American military personnel could use their opportunities. Many African American generals and admirals owe their stars to the wise counsel of Dr. James C. Evans, who often mentored young African American officers by suggesting advantageous career paths in the military. By the close of the Korean War, racial segregation had been totally removed from the U.S. Armed Forces. In the years preceding the Vietnam War, African Americans entered the military and opted for full careers in increasing numbers. Between 1953 and 1961, there was a slow increase in the number of African American career officers in each branch of the service.

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Douglas MacArthur inspecting African American troops at Kimpo airfield, 1951, during the Korean War. Douglas MacArthur inspecting African American troops at Kimpo airfield, 1951, during the Korean War. CORBIS

THE VIETNAM WAR (1964–1973)

During the brief cease-fire period between the end of the Korean War and the heightening of conflict in Vietnam, the Kennedy Administration—prompted by Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and others—sought to end any remaining discrimination in the U.S. Armed Forces. Through Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Kennedy stressed to military leaders the need for fostering equal opportunities for African American servicemen, both on and off base.

Extensive U.S. involvement in Vietnam began during the summer of 1964 following an attack on the USS Maddox by North Vietnamese naval vessels in the Gulf of Tonkin. Within four months, the United States had 23,000 soldiers fighting in Vietnam. Shortly thereafter, the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps were all engaged in the action in ever-increasing numbers. While the U.S. fighting force in Vietnam comprised all of the nation’s racial and ethnic groups, African Americans were disproportionately represented. Furthermore, they were more likely to be placed in combat units. Although African Americans constituted about 10.5 percent of the Army, they accounted for nearly 13 percent of those killed or wounded. By 1965, the conflict in Vietnam had escalated into a full-scale war, mounted to support the democracy of South Vietnamese and to protect U.S. interests in Southeast Asia. The Vietnam War proved deadlier than the Korean War and lasted longer than any other war in U.S. history.

The uncertain objectives of the Vietnam War, the high casualty rates, and the disproportionate number of African American soldiers in Vietnam caused tremendous controversy in the African American community. In 1965, Malcolm X claimed that the U.S. government was “causing American soldiers to be murdered every day, for no

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An African American member of the 25th Infantry Division is greeted in 1966 by the Vietnamese. An African American member of the 25th Infantry Division is greeted in 1966 by the Vietnamese. NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION.

reason at all.” Martin Luther King Jr. criticized African American involvement in Vietnam, remarking that “we are taking young black men who have been crippled by our society and sending them 8,000 miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they have not found in southwest Georgia or East Harlem.”

With the assassinations of Dr. King and Senator Robert Kennedy in 1968, some African American soldiers became increasingly demoralized and disenchanted. Their anger intensified as racial prejudice remained common in Vietnam, on stateside military bases, and aboard the aircraft carriers USS Kitty Hawk, USS Constellation, and USS Franklin D. Roosevelt. One of the most famous African American protesters of the Vietnam War was heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali. An African American Muslim, Ali declared himself a conscientious objector in 1968 on religious grounds. He was convicted of violating the Selective Service Act, stripped of his heavyweight boxing championship, and threatened with an extensive jail term. In 1970, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction.

Still, most young African American men were willing to answer the draft board’s call. Private First Class Milton Olive of Chicago was typical of African Americans who risked, and sometimes lost, their lives during the war. Olive was killed by an exploding grenade on which he had fallen in order to save the lives of his comrades; the government acknowledged his heroism by posthumously awarding him a Medal of Honor. By mid-1969, nine other African Americans had joined Olive as recipients of the Medal of Honor: Private First Class James Anderson Jr., Sergeant Rodney M. Davis, Specialist Five Lawrence Joel, Specialist Five Dwight H. Johnson, Sergeant Matthew Leonard, Sergeant Donald R. Long, Captain Riley L. Pitts, First Lieutenant Ruppert L. Sargent, Specialist Five Clarence E. Sasser. According to New York Times reporter Thomas Johnson, officers in the Military Assistance Command said that the 173rd Airborne Brigade, a crack outfit with a heavy African Page 1355  |  Top of ArticleAmerican representation, was “the best performing unit in Vietnam.” In such elite combat units, one out of every four soldiers was an African American man.

In 1973, the United States withdrew all troops from Vietnam and South Vietnam collapsed in 1975.


In 1972, a year before the final withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam, the Defense Department issued the report “The Search for Military Justice.” This report recognized that discrimination still existed in the military. In particular, it found that a disproportionate number of disciplinary incidents involved African Americans and Hispanics who were often punished more severely than whites. In the 1970s, African Americans represented about 13 percent of discharged servicemen, but received 33 percent of dishonorable discharges, 21 percent of bad conduct discharges, 16 percent of undesirable discharges and 20 percent of general discharges. Less than honorable discharges can negatively affect a person for life, threatening one’s civilian career, earning ability, and level of veterans benefits.

High-ranking government and military officials moved to eliminate racial prejudices and barriers. Unquestionably, this became easier as African Americans, despite their relatively low numbers in the officer ranks, rose to the highest levels of the military. In 1975, Daniel “Chappie” James became the first African American to be promoted to full general in the U.S. Air Force. Two years later, President Jimmy Carter appointed lawyer/politician Clifford L. Alexander Jr. to be secretary of the Army, making him the first African American to hold that post. Alexander had previously served in the administrations of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard Nixon. As Army secretary, Alexander was responsible for 1.9 million soldiers and a budget of $34 billion. He served in the post until 1980.

By the 1980s, the military was demonstrably less discriminatory than civilian life. The decade also saw increasing numbers of women joining the military, working side-by-side with men in many jobs. These advancements facilitated the breakdown of gender, as well as racial, obstacles to success in the military. By the end of the decade, African Americans represented 28 percent of the total enlisted Army force, while African American women numbered nearly 45 percent of enlisted women in the Armed Forces’ largest branch. Recruiting African American officer candidates continued to be difficult, however, due in part to competition from industry and from private sector jobs that offered talented African American men and women higher salaries than were available in the military.

In August of 1989, President George Bush appointed General Colin L. Powell, U.S. Army, to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s highest military post. Powell became the first African American in U.S. Armed Forces history to hold that title, as well as the youngest.


African Americans divided over U.S. involvement in the Gulf War, with almost 50 percent of those polled at the time opposed to it. Several African American leaders, including Representative Charles Rangel of New York, were especially concerned about the high number of African Americans fighting to liberate Kuwait from Iraq. General Colin Powell, himself, initially favored economic sanctions (embargoes) over military action, until war became the stated policy of President George Bush. From then on, Powell drafted and put into action a brilliant military campaign—beginning with a large-scale air attack—that minimized the loss of U.S. lives. U.S. military objectives were met in just a few weeks time.

About 104,000 of the 400,000 troops serving in the Persian Gulf War were African American. According to the Department of Defense, African Americans accounted for 30 percent of Army, 21 percent of Navy, 17 percent of Marine Corps, and 14 percent of Air Force personnel stationed in the Persian Gulf (in 1991, African Americans comprised 12.4 percent of the U.S. population). For Powell, the high participation of African Americans, as shown by the Gulf War numbers, was a positive, rather than a negative: “To those who question the proportion of blacks in the armed services, my answer is simple. The military of the United States is the greatest equal opportunity employer around.”


During the 1990s, African Americans continued to make strides in rising to the highest military ranks. The percentage of African American officers in the U.S. Armed Forces remained on an upward trend, rising above 7 percent by 1994. In 1993, Togo D. West Jr. became the second African American to hold the president-appointed post of secretary of the Army. West served in that position until late 1997, when President Bill Clinton tabbed him to replace Jesse Brown as secretary of Veterans Affairs. Brown, who had vacated the post in July of Page 1356  |  Top of Article1997, was the first African American to serve as the department’s secretary. A decorated Marine who served in Vietnam, Brown held the post for more than four years. The Department of Veteran’s Affairs is the presidential Cabinet’s second-largest department, with 215,000 employees and an annual budget of $41 billion. Another important African American first was the selection of Command Sergeant Major Gene C. McKinney to become the sergeant major of the Army in 1995. That singular post represents the highest-ranking noncommissioned officer in the U.S. Army. McKinney, the former command sergeant major of the U.S. Army Europe, became the tenth enlisted man to hold the title. The sergeant major of the Army’s job is to advise the Army chief of staff on issues concerning the organization’s 420,000 enlisted personnel.

Since the end of the Persian Gulf War, African American military men and women have been well-represented in peacekeeping missions in Somalia, Haiti, and the republics of the former Yugoslavia. Polls of African American service personnel indicate that the vast majority regards the U.S. Armed Forces as the U.S. institution most free of racism and discrimination, while offering the greatest opportunity for career advancement. Statistical evidence bears out these assertions.

Nevertheless, a pair of scandals chiefly involving African American enlisted men rocked the Army during the latter half of the decade, causing some to question the fairness of military justice. The first of the two scandals took place at Maryland’s Aberdeen Proving Ground and involved 11 African American enlisted men and one African American officer accused of sexual misconduct in multiple incidents with white female recruits. All of the enlisted men were drill sergeants, who allegedly took advantage of the recruits under their direct supervision during basic training. The charges included both consensual sex and rape; in the military, consensual sex between soldiers of unequal rank in cases involving direct subordinates is a crime for both parties. The first charges came out in September of 1996, though a number of the recruits were slow to point fingers and admitted willing participation in the acts. Army investigators later faced allegations that they had themselves tried to influence recruits to make the more serious charge of rape. Though some of the rape charges were dropped, several of the men were convicted and sentenced, while others had their military careers effectively ended.

The second scandal involved Sergeant Major of the Army Gene C. McKinney. The scandal became public in February of 1997 when McKinney’s former public relations aide, retired Sergeant Major Brenda Hoster, charged him with sexual harassment. Eventually, five other women—four subordinates and one officer—came forward to accuse McKinney of additional sexual abuse charges. All of the women were white. On March 13, 1998, a military jury of four Army officers (including two women) and four enlisted men acquitted McKinney of 18 of the 19 charges, including all of the sexual misconduct charges. McKinney was only found guilty of a related obstruction of justice charge. McKinney was demoted one rank, though he was not given prison time. Many in the media concluded that the Pentagon had allowed a “show trial” in an effort to declare to the country its policy of “zero tolerance” of sexual harassment. Others conjectured that McKinney had been singled out, as white defendants in other Army sexual abuse cases occurring concurrently had been quietly slapped on the wrist.

In 1997, the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) released the Armed Forces Equal Opportunity Survey (EOS), which was the first of its kind for the military. The EOS was conducted by the DMDC from September 1996 through February 1997. In general, the survey detected major differences in the perceptions of service members of different racial/ethnic groups in respect to equal opportunity. Significantly, whites, who comprise the majority population in the U.S. Armed Forces, were more positive than minority members regarding racial/ethnic issues in the military. The survey contained a wide range of items measuring members’ perceptions and actions relating to race relations. For the most part, race relations on military installations/ ships were perceived to be better than those in local civilian communities. Those perceptions, however, were not expressed in equally strong measure by whites and African Americans. Although more members said that race relations both in the military and in the nation were better at that time than five years previous, African Americans were less likely than other racial/ethnic group members to make those same claims. Despite the survey’s lesser positive response rates among African Americans, compared to those of other racial/ethnic groups, the relative levels of satisfaction among African Americans in the U.S. Armed Forces appeared to indicate an overall favorable impression of the military by the group. Still, the EOS indicated areas of concern that could be addressed by military leadership.

The U.S. Armed Forces has continued to provide a primary avenue of upward mobility for those who are ambitious and willing to apply themselves. The overall percentage of African Americans in the military indicates that many are attempting to take that road to success. As of 1995 (the most recent year for which figures are available), the combined personnel strength of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force was 1,518,000, of which 298,000 (or 19.6 percent) were African American. African American officers and enlisted personnel combined for Page 1357  |  Top of Article26.9 percent of the Army, 17.2 percent of the Navy, 16.0 percent of the Marine Corps and 14.5 percent of the Air Force; African Americans accounted for 12.6 percent of the U.S. population in 1995.


The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers in New York City and the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, caught America off-guard. President George W. Bush immediately declared a War on Terrorism, stating that the United States would use whatever force was necessary to ensure internal security and dismantle the external terrorist threat. That threat was quickly identified as being directed by Osama Bin Laden and his Afghanistan-based al Qaeda terrorist network. In spite of early success by coalition-backed U.S. forces against the so-called Islamic “Jihad,” the terrorist threat remained real as top-level al Qaeda leaders were rumored to escape to other Islamic nations. African American support for the war has been strong, even among Muslims, who feel that Bin Laden does not represent the spirit and truth of Islam.


After the September 11th attack on the U.S., the Bush Administration acted on long-standing plans regarding Iraq. Iraq’s alleged “weapons of mass destruction” became the pretext for war. To expose the level of threat posed by Iraq, the U.S. called on the UN’s Security Council to resend weapon inspectors to that country. Although the Iraq regime allowed the UN inspectors access to weapon sites, where they found nothing but evidence supporting defectors’ claims that the weapons had in fact been destroyed years ago, the U.S. charged Iraq with evasion and obstruction. Subsequent to the U.S. failure to get support for war from France, China, and Russia, the U.S. acted against the judgment of most world opinion. Backed by the U.K. and smaller countries in a “Coalition of the Willing,” the U.S. invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003. With President George W. Bush declaring “Mission Accomplished,” the war was deemed a victory on May 1, 2003. Nevertheless, the insurgency, resistance, and civil war continue as American soldiers attempt to secure a deteriorating situation. More than 2,800 American soldiers have lost their lives in the war. The number of Iraqi dead has been estimated by researchers to be as high as 100,000.


(To locate biographical profiles more readily, please consult the index at the back of the book.)

CLARA L. ADAMS-ENDER (1939– ) Brigadier General, Army Nurse Corps

Clara Mae Leach was born July 11, 1939, near Willow Springs in Wake County, North Carolina. She was the fourth child of ten born to sharecroppers Otha Leach and Caretha Bell (Sapp) Leach. Although her parents did not complete their education, they placed a high value on the education of their children. She attended Fuquay Springs Consolidated High School, which comprised primary grades through high school. From age five until entering college, Leach worked on the farm while going to school. In 1956 she graduated from high school at the age of 16 and entered the School of Nursing at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, located in Greensboro. During her college years, she joined an army program that financed her junior and senior years. As an army reservist in college, she started as a private, later gaining a commission as a second lieutenant in March 1961, three months prior to graduation. Upon graduation, she entered the active U.S. Army Nurse Corps.

Leach began her active army career as a general duty nurse at Walson Army Hospital in Fort Dix, New Jersey, where she was assigned from 1961 to 1963. She next the spent 13 months overseas when she was stationed in Ascom, Korea with the 121st Evacuation Hospital. During that assignment, she learned a great deal about nursing administration, leading nursing assistants, and managing nursing practice. She also discovered that she had an affinity for teaching. She was able to develop her teaching skills, when she was assigned to the U.S. Army Medical Training Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas as a nursing instructor from 1965 until 1967. During 1967, she became the first female in the Army to earn the Expert Field Medical Badge. She also began graduate studies at the University of Minnesota, majoring in medical surgical nursing. After graduating with a Master’s degree in nursing in 1969, she was assigned to the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing Center of the University of Maryland in Washington, D.C., where she was originally a nursing instructor, then an assistant professor.

For a year, beginning in 1974, she served as assistant chief of the department of nursing at Kimborough Army Hospital, Fort Meade, Maryland. She then entered the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and completed a Master of Military Arts and Sciences degree in 1976. Subsequently, she Page 1358  |  Top of Articlewas assigned to Headquarters, Health Services Command at Fort Sam Houston as inspector general.

She began her second overseas assignment at the Army Regional Medical Center in Frankfurt, West Germany, in 1978. She began as the assistant chief of the department of nursing, then, after a year, became chief. At just 39 years of age, she was promoted to full colonel. While in Germany, she took part in a collaborative working relationship with German nurses at a nearby trauma hospital, while learning the German language, local customs, and culture. She also met her husband, a German doctor, Heinz Ender, whom she married in 1981, three months after returning to the States.

In 1981, Adams-Ender was assigned to the U.S. Army Recruiting Command in Fort Sheridan, Illinois, as chief of the Army Nurse Corps division. Despite heavy job responsibilities, she continued to seek educational opportunities whenever possible. When she graduated from the U.S. Army War College in 1982, she became the first black Army Nurse Corps officer to do so. In 1984, she was appointed chief of the department of nursing at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where she engaged in clinical practice, teaching, nursing administration, and nursing research. Her experiences and education provided a broad base for her next assignment. In 1987, she was appointed to the Office of the Surgeon General as the 18th Chief of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, with it came a promotion to brigadier general. As the surgeon general’s director for medical personnel during the 1991 Gulf War, Adams-Ender was responsible for more than 25,000 military health care professionals who served in the region of conflict. Ordinarily, the holder of that prestigious title retires after her assignment ends, but Adam-Ender added another highlight to her distinguished military career before retiring. In 1991, she became the commanding general at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, while simultaneously serving as deputy commanding officer of the Military District of Washington. Such high-profile appointments were a rarity for both black females and nursing corps officers. She held those posts until her retirement in August 1993. For her retirement ceremony, composer Marge Wheeler wrote The General Adams-Ender March in her honor.

Following her retirement from the military, Adams-Ender founded her own management consulting agency, Caring About People with Enthusiasm (CAPE) Associates, Inc. As president and CEO of CAPE, she specializes in personnel and organizational management issues and is a frequent speaker and lecturer. Adams-Ender chronicled her life story in My Rise to the Stars: How a Sharecropper’s Daughter Became an Army General, which she wrote with Blair S. Walker. The autobiography was self-published in 2001. Adams-Ender is involved with numerous professional organizations. She is a member of the American Nurses Association, Council of Nursing Administration, American Red Cross Nurses, Chi Eta Phi Nursing Sorority, National Association for Female Executives, and National League of Nursing, to name a few. Among many charitable organizations, she is a life member of the NAACP, and a member of the National Council of Negro Women.

During her military career, Adams-Ender was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, a Legion of Merit, a Meritorious Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters, and an Army Commendation Medal. She has been honored with many civilian awards, including the Roy Wilkins Meritorious Service Award by the NAACP, the Gertrude E. Rush Award for Leadership from the National Bar Association, the Regents’ Distinguished Graduate Award from the University of Minnesota. In 1993, she was recognized for career achievement when she was selected to be in Dominion’s Strong Men and Women: Excellence in Leadership series.




ENSIGN JESSE L. BROWN (1926–1950) Naval Aviator

Jesse Leroy Brown was born on October 13, 1926, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. He graduated from Eureka High School in 1944 and studied engineering at Ohio State University from 1944 to 1947. In 1946, he joined the U.S. Naval Reserve and became an aviation cadet the following year.

Brown’s flight training occurred at Pensacola, Florida, and in 1948 he became the first African American to fly for the Navy. In 1949, Brown worked aboard the aircraft carrier USS Leyte, earning an Air Medal and a Korean Service Medal for his 20 air combat missions. On December 4, 1950, while flying air support for Marines at the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, his plane was hit by enemy fire. He crash-landed his aircraft, but was trapped inside and died before rescue efforts could cut through the wreckage to extract him. He was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and a Distinguished Flying Cross for exceptional courage, airmanship, and devotion to duty. Brown was the first African American naval officer to lose his life in combat during the Korean War.

In March of 1972, a destroyer escort, the USS Jesse L. Brown, was named in his honor and launched at the Avondale Shipyards at Westwege, Louisiana. It marked the first time that a ship was named for an African American naval officer.

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SHERIAN G. CADORIA (1940– ) Military Officer

Born to a poor rural family on January 26, 1940, in Marksville, Louisiana, Sherian Grace Cadoria credits her mother with instilling within her the qualities of discipline, honesty, and perseverance. From an early age, she helped supplement the family income by picking cotton, lugging 100-pound capacity bags through the fields. To attend school, she and her two siblings walked five miles each way, passed daily by a “whites only” school bus that traveled the same route. After high school, Cadoria attended Southern University in Baton Rouge. During her junior year she was recruited for a four-week Women’s Army Corps (WAC) training program. Though she was actually more interested in joining the navy, she attended the WAC program, which was conducted at Fort McClellan, Alabama, during the summer of 1960. After graduating with a B.S. in Business Education in 1961, she decided to make the Army her career.

It wasn’t long before Cadoria realized that, to many in the Army, she had two strikes against her: being both African American and female. At Fort McClellan in the early 1960s, she suffered numerous indignities and missed out on several advancement opportunities as a result of her race. As she progressed through the ranks, however, she faced greater resistance because of her gender, than because of her race. Cadoria was not content to take either of the typical paths open for female advancement, such as administration and nursing. Instead, she rose through the ranks of the military police.

From 1967–1969, while U.S. involvement in Vietnam was at its peak, Cadoria spent 33 months in the Southeast Asian country. The severity of the experience almost caused Cadoria to give up her military career and she seriously considered joining a convent on her return. The turning point came in December of 1969 when she was selected to attend the Command and General Staff College, becoming the first African American woman to be chosen for the school.

Even the dissolution of the WAC in 1978 and the integration of its members into the regular Army did not slow her ascent. Among her marks of distinction, Cadoria was the first woman to command a male battalion; the first African American director of manpower and personnel for the Joint Chiefs of Staff (a position that required her to fill openings in all branches of the armed services, both active and reserve); and the first woman to achieve the rank of general apart from the nursing corps. She is also a graduate of the U.S. Army War College and the National Defense University. Cadoria even managed to find enough time outside her busy career to attend the University of Oklahoma, where she earned an M.A. in social work in 1974. In 1985, Cadoria was promoted to brigadier general, becoming only the second African American female, and the first in the regular U.S. Army, to attain the rank. Cadoria retired from the military on November 30, 1990.

Following her retirement from the military, Cadoria returned to Louisiana. She is the president of her own company, Cadoria Speaker and Consultancy Service, and is a much-in-demand keynote/inspirational/motivational speaker. During the late-1990s, Cadoria put her business on hold for two years to serve as volunteer principal of Holy Ghost Catholic School in her native Marksville. Currently, she is a member of the Louisiana Gaming Control Board and is the Senior Army Representative on the Advisory Board of Vietnam Women Veterans, Inc. Cadoria was named Woman of the Year by the national organization of Business and Professional Women in 1995, was a National Athena Award winner in 1998, and was among the honorees of Dominion’s Strong Men and Women: Excellence in Leadership series in 1999.

During nearly three decades of military service, Cadoria was awarded an Air Medal, an Army Commendation Medal with three oak leaf clusters, a Bronze Star with two oak leaf clusters, a Defense Superior Service Medal, a Distinguished Service Medal, a Meritorious Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, and a Joint Chiefs of Staff Identification Badge.

SERGEANT WILLIAM H. CARNEY (1840–1908) First African American Medal of Honor Recipient

William H. Carney was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1840. At 14, he attended a secret school run by a local minister. In 1856, his father moved the family to New Bedford, Massachusetts. Carney, a man of growing religious conviction, considered becoming a minister, but the Civil War disrupted his plans. Instead, he enlisted in the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment on February 17, 1863.

As a member of Company C of the 54th, Sergeant Carney was part of the force assigned to lead the advance on Fort Wagner, South Carolina, on July 18, 1863. Fort Wagner, a vital Confederate position in the defense of Charleston, was heavily fortified. Led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, a white commander, the African American troops attempted a valiant, but ultimately disastrous, assault in the late afternoon. During the attack, the flag bearer was wounded, but before the stars and stripes fell to the ground, Carney grabbed the staff and continued onward. With most of his comrades falling around him, Carney led the charge. He wound up at the fort’s entrance—alone. Hiding in the shadows of the fort, Carney avoided rounds and shells falling around him, while clutching the flag. Eventually, a Confederate squad stumbled upon his position and he was forced to flee. Shot twice, he still managed to escape, later joining up with a white soldier who bandaged his wounds. Together,

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William H. Carney, Medal of Honor recipient for his role in the Civil War. William H. Carney, Medal of Honor recipient for his role in the Civil War. FISK UNIVERSITY LIBRARY. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.

they retreated to the safety of the Union lines, but not before another shot grazed Carney’s head. After further medical treatment, Carney returned to his regiment, where his fellow troops cheered his return, flag in hand. “Boys, the old flag never touched the ground,” he proclaimed proudly. Unfortunately, approximately half of Carney’s comrades, as well as Colonel Shaw, met their end in the unsuccessful undertaking. For his actions, Carney was awarded the Medal of Honor. Among African American soldiers or sailors who were awarded a Medal of Honor for actions during the Civil War, Carney’s occurred earliest, though he was not issued his medal until May 23, 1900.

On June 30, 1864, Sergeant Carney was discharged from the infantry at Black Island, South Carolina. He was granted disability for lingering medical problems resulting from the wounds he received in the famed battle. After a short sojourn to California, Carney returned to New Bedford, where he served as a mail carrier for 32 years. After retirement, he moved to Boston to accept a job as a messenger in the State House. He was injured in an elevator accident on November 23, 1908 and died on December 9. Carney was buried in New Bedford.

GENERAL BENJAMIN O. DAVIS JR. (1912–2002) First African American Brigadier General in the U.S. Air Force

Born in Washington, D.C., on December 18, 1912, Benjamin Oliver Davis Jr., the son of a career U.S. Army officer, moved often in his early years. Stops included Alabama (where his father taught military science at Tuskegee Institute) and Cleveland, where he graduated as president of his high school class. Davis attended both Western Reserve University and the University of Chicago before accepting an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy in 1932, having been nominated by longtime Chicago Congressman Oscar DePriest.

When Davis entered West Point, no African American had graduated from the academy in 43 years. In an attempt to get Davis to resign, his fellow cadets forced him to endure four years of “silencing.” That behavior, encouraged by superiors who also wanted Davis to fail, consisted of no one speaking to him (except to issue an order), room with him (though he lived in a two-man room), or eat with him for his entire stay at the academy. Nevertheless, Davis excelled, graduating 35th in a class of 276 in 1936. Although the Army generally allowed West Point graduates with high class rank to choose their branch of preference, Davis was denied his choice, the U.S. Army Air Corps. Instead, he was assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia as an infantry officer, where he experienced further institutional and de facto racism.

After five years in the infantry, and following a stint at Fort Riley, Kansas, Davis finally got his wish when just months before the United States entered World War II in 1941, he was allowed to transfer to the Army Air Corps. The transfer was part of a daring military experiment championed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt: the creation of an African American flying unit. The 66th Air Force Training Detachment was based at the Tuskegee, Alabama Army Air Field, and Davis was in the first training class. On September 2, 1941, he became the first African American to officially fly solo as an Army Air Corps officer. Shortly after graduation in 1942, Davis—as the only previously commissioned officer—became commander of the African American 99th Pursuit Squadron (later renamed the 99th Fighter Squadron). Davis quickly earned promotions, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel by the time the 99th arrived in French Morocco for combat duty on April 24, 1943.

In late August of 1943, Davis returned to the U.S. to command the African American 332nd Fighter Group, made up of three squadrons and later the 99th. In April of 1944, the 332nd arrived in Italy, where it flew missions deep into France and Germany. The sterling record of the 332nd contributed to Davis’ promotion to full colonel just a few months later. In 200 escort missions, the unit never lost a bomber to Nazi aircraft fire. During Page 1361  |  Top of ArticleWorld War II, Davis flew 60 missions and logged 224 combat hours. For individual heroism, he was honored with several decorations including a Silver Star (pinned to his uniform by his father, Brigadier General Benjamin O. Davis Sr.) and a Distinguished Flying Cross, the Corps’ highest award.

Davis’ post-World War II career may not have been as glamorous, but it was no less significant. He played a leading role in the integration of the military in 1949. During the Korean War, he commanded the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, later serving as director of operations and training for the Far East Air Forces. His promotion to brigadier general in 1954 made him the first African American general in U.S. Air Force history, as well as the highest-ranking African American in the U.S. military at the time. Other notable assignments included being named deputy chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force in Europe in 1957; director of manpower and organization for the U.S. Air Force headquarters in 1961; and chief of staff of the United Nations Command and U.S. Forces in Korea in 1965. Davis became a major general in 1957 and a lieutenant general in 1965, becoming the first African American to hold either rank in the U.S. Armed Forces. Named to command the Philippines-based 13th Air Force in August of 1967, Davis was responsible for all Air Force units in Southeast Asia, which included those serving in the Vietnam War. Davis retired from active duty in 1970.

After retiring from the military, Davis served under President Richard M. Nixon as Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Environment, Safety and Consumer Affairs. In 1991, Smithsonian Institution Press published his memoirs as Benjamin O. Davis Jr., American: An Autobiography. On December 9, 1998, in order to right a perceived wrong, President Bill Clinton bestowed upon Davis a fourth star, bringing his rank to full general.

Among Davis’ many military decorations are a Distinguished Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, an Army and an Air Force Silver Star, a Distinguished Flying Cross, a Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, and an Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters.

Davis resided in Arlington, Virginia, during his retirement. On July 4, 2002, General Benjamin O. Davis Jr. died at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He had Alzheimer’s disease. He was preceded in death by his wife Agatha S. Davis.

BRIGADIER GENERAL BENJAMIN O. DAVIS SR. (1877–1970) First African American Brigadier General in the U.S. Armed Forces

Born in Washington, D.C., on June 1, 1877, Benjamin Oliver Davis Sr. came from a middle-class family largely

Benjamin O. Davis Sr., the first African American brigadier general in the U.S. armed forces. Benjamin O. Davis Sr., the first African American brigadier general in the U.S. armed forces. U.S. ARMY PHOTOGRAPH.

employed in the civil service. Davis, however, was not interested in pursuing a career in the federal bureaucracy. Instead, he wanted to become a soldier. In high school, he was a member of the Cadet Corps, an extracurricular organization that introduced him to military training and procedure. Following high school, Davis attended classes at Howard University, but despite his parents’ objections, he left college in 1898 for an opportunity to fight in the Spanish-American War.

Hoping to see action in Cuba, Davis bounced from the District of Columbia National Guard, in which he was elected a second lieutenant of Company D, to the 8th U.S. Volunteer Infantry, where he accepted a temporary commission as a First Lieutenant in Company G. Neither unit, however, made it out of the states. After the conclusion of the war, Davis sought an Army commission through other avenues. Despite his failure to accomplish his goal at the time, he did not give up his dream of becoming an Army officer.

On June 14, 1899, he enlisted as a private in the Troop I, 9th U.S. Cavalry, an African American regular Army unit. Though openly discouraged by most whites and African Americans, in August of the following year he submitted an application to take the competitive officer candidate examination. A few months later he Page 1362  |  Top of Articletook the battery of tests and finished among the top candidates. On February 2, 1901, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the regular Army. His first assignment was with Troop F, 10th U.S. Cavalry, then stationed in the Philippines.

Over the next three decades, Davis received a number of assignments designed to keep him from being in a position to command white soldiers. He served as a military attache to Liberia from 1909 to 1911, commanding officer of a supply troop in the Philippines from 1917 to 1920, and instructor of the 372nd Infantry of the Ohio National Guard from 1924 to 1929. Between such service assignments, he taught military science and tactics at Wilberforce and Tuskegee Universities. Promotions for African American officers were rare in those years, but Davis rose through the ranks until he became a full colonel on February 18, 1930. In 1938, Davis took command of the African American 369th Cavalry, New York National Guard.

Davis’ promotion to brigadier general on October 25, 1940, marked the first time an African American had been promoted to general in the history of the U.S. Armed Forces. The promotion was seen by many detractors as a political ploy by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to garner African American votes in an election year. Davis had spent a 40-year military career, however, in assignments that offered him few opportunities to shine. The promotion was a capping to a difficult career marred by perpetual discrimination. Davis retired just a few months later, having reached the official retirement age of 64.

The ink was not yet dry on Davis’ retirement paperwork when he was called back to active service in early 1941 to supervise the introduction of 100,000 African American soldiers into the Army, an institution rampant with unofficial but effective policies of segregation. During World War II, Davis inspected African American units, heard racial complaints, and handled public relations duties throughout the European military theater as a member of the Washington-based inspector general’s staff. Davis’ strenuous efforts on behalf of African American servicemen made the normally publicity-shy officer a very visible figure in the African American press.

After the war, Davis served as assistant to the inspector general of the Army from 1945 to 1947, then as special assistant to the secretary of the Army from 1947 to 1948. His focus throughout that period was the orderly integration of units in the military’s largest branch (President Harry Truman’s Executive Order 9981, the historic order that led to the integration of the entire military, was issued six days after Davis’ retirement). On July 20, 1948, Davis retired from the Army a second and final time at a special White House ceremony during which his career was lauded by President Truman himself.


Among his later activities, Davis was a member of the American Battle Monuments Commission. Deteriorating eyesight and health problems brought his public life to an end in 1960. Davis died of leukemia on November 26, 1970, in North Chicago, Illinois, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Davis’ military honors included a Bronze Star and a Distinguished Service Medal, as well as such foreign decorations as the Croix de Guerre with Palm (from France) and the Grade of Commander of the Order of the Star of Africa (from Liberia).

LIEUTENANT COLONEL CHARITY ADAMS EARLEY (1918–2002) First African American Woman Commissioned in the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps

Charity Edna Adams was born in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1918. She was the valedictorian of her high school class and continued her studies at Ohio’s Wilberforce University, where she was awarded a B.A. in 1938. Back in Columbia, she taught high school math while studying for a master’s degree in psychology.

In the fall of 1941, the War Department began considering ways in which women could be used in support roles so that soldiers in non-combat specialties Page 1363  |  Top of Articlecould be freed up for combat. The result of their brainstorming was the creation of an organization they named the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC). By early 1942, recruitment for the new branch was underway. One method used to recruit officer candidates was to ask colleges to compile lists of names for consideration. Wilberforce University submitted a list on which the name Charity E. Adams appeared. At the time, Adams was enrolled at Ohio State University, working on a Master’s degree in vocational psychology. In June of that year, Adams filled out and mailed back the application sent her.

Within a month, Adams was at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, as a member of the first WAAC officer candidate school class. Though Adams and the 38 other African American officer candidates trained alongside white officer candidates, they were surprised to find all non-training facilities rigidly segregated, such as housing assignments and mess hall seating. Adams graduated from basic training on August 30, 1942, and became the first African American woman to be commissioned in the WAAC. She was then appointed commander of the basic training company for enlisted females, where her administrative abilities quickly impressed the post’s commanding officer.

Adams was soon promoted to captain and was assigned to Fort Des Moines’ Plans and Training Section. Her new responsibilities included supervising and training recruits in such skills as office administration, photography, and radio operation. As part of her job, she made frequent trips to duty stations in other states including Massachusetts, New Jersey, and North Carolina. She even had occasion to visit the newly completed Pentagon, located just outside Washington, D.C. By mid-1943, the WAAC was renamed the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), and Adams had received a promotion to major.

Despite Adams’s stellar record, neither she nor any other African American WACs were being posted overseas. Finally, in December of 1944, Adams became the first African American WAC to be selected for overseas duty. She flew to Birmingham, England, to command the newly-formed 6888th Central Postal Battalion. The all black 850-woman unit was responsible for directing all incoming and outgoing mail for the seven million U.S. Armed Forces personnel, Seabees, and American Red Cross workers serving in the European Theater of Operations. Several months of backed-up mail awaited the new arrivals. Adams quickly organized her command into five companies, then set the women into eight-hour, round-the-clock shifts. She also created lists to track units, sought means to differentiate between persons with similar names, and traced persons whose whereabouts were unknown. In May of 1945, as the war in Europe ended, the 6888th was moved to Rouen, France, later relocating to Paris, where it continued its duties with reduced personnel. Adams was relieved of command in December and sent back to the U.S. for discharge. At the separation center, Adams was promoted to lieutenant colonel just days before leaving the service. Such promotions were a courtesy to service personnel who were deemed deserving of elevated rank, but had not been promoted on active duty. At separation, Adams was the highest-ranking African American officer in the WAC.

Within weeks of her discharge, Adams was back at Ohio State University, where she completed her Master’s program in 1946. She married Dr. Stanley A. Earley, M.D. in 1949, at which point she took the name Charity Adams Earley. Among her postwar positions were registration officer at the Cleveland office of the Veterans Administration, personnel officer at both Tennessee A&I University, in Nashville, and Georgia State College, in Savannah, and employment and personnel counselor, YWCA, New York City. Earley recalled her wartime experiences in the 1989 book One Woman’s Army: A Black Officer Remembers the WAC. In 1991, she received honorary doctorates from Wilberforce University and the University of Dayton. Earley died January 13, 2002 in Dayton, Ohio, her longtime home. She was 83.

LIEUTENANT HENRY O. FLIPPER (1856–1940) First African American Graduate of the U.S. Military Academy

Henry Ossian Flipper was born a slave in Thomasville, Georgia, on March 21, 1856. After the Civil War, his father moved the family to Atlanta. Flipper’s father was a skilled shoemaker who created a successful business that allowed him to educate his two sons. In 1866, Flipper began attending schools established by the American Missionary Association and, in 1869, he started taking classes at Atlanta University. In 1873, he received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. Though Flipper was the fifth African American to enter the academy, he was the first to withstand the intense discriminatory practices of the institution, graduating 50th in a class of 76 in June of 1877. He also has the distinction of being the first African American graduate of an engineering school in the United States. A year after graduation his surprisingly restrained memoir of the experience was published as The Colored Cadet at West Point.

Upon graduation, Flipper was commissioned a second lieutenant and received his assignment of choice: the African American 10th U.S. Cavalry. The regiment was one of two units that Native Americans had nicknamed “Buffalo Soldiers.” Flipper served at various frontier installations in the Southwest during the next few years including Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and Fort Concho, Texas. An incident that occurred at the latter duty station may have played a role in ending Flipper’s military career a

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Henry Ossian Flipper was the first African American to graduate from West Point (1877). Henry Ossian Flipper was the first African American to graduate from West Point (1877). NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION.

short time later: he was seen riding with an attractive white woman. Racist white officers, incensed that Flipper might have been focusing his attentions on a white female, sought ways to remove him from the Army. In 1882, while serving as Commissary Officer at Fort Davis, Texas, Flipper was brought up on charges by his commander, who accused him of embezzling funds and of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. At the court-martial trial, Flipper was acquitted of the former charge, but was found guilty of the latter and dismissed from the Army, as was required by the conviction.

To his death, Flipper protested his innocence, and he constantly attempted to clear his name. His battle went all the way to the halls of Congress, where he hoped a bill introduced by Wisconsin Congressman Michael Griffen in 1898 would restore him to the duty, grade, rank, pay, and station in the Army he would have attained had he not been unjustifiably turned out. This and numerous other trips to Washington to vindicate himself met with failure.

Flipper’s dismissal from the Army, however, did not cause him to fail in civilian life. He went on to become a notable figure in the American Southwest and in Mexico, working as a civil and military engineer. He became much sought after by both private and governmental bodies as a surveyor, engineer, and consultant. He later became a translator of Spanish land grants. His work Spanish and Mexican Land Laws: New Spain and Mexico was published by the Department of Justice in 1895. As his reputation spread, job opportunities increased. He served as consulting engineer to the builders of one of the earliest railroads to be constructed in the Alaska Territory, worked for an oil company pioneering the industry in Venezuela, and was an aide to the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. In the course of his career, he befriended such prominent Washington officials as Senator A.B. Fall of New Mexico. When Fall became secretary of the interior, Flipper became his assistant until the infamous Teapot Dome scandal severed their relationship in the mid-1920s. Flipper returned to Atlanta at the close of his career, living with his brother, until his death on May 3, 1940.

In 1978, Flipper’s body was disinterred and moved from Atlanta to Thomasville, where he was given a full military funeral attended by nearly 500 people. In 1997, the Texas Christian University Press published Black Frontiersman: The Memoirs of Henry O. Flipper, First Black Graduate of West Point, which was compiled and edited from Flipper’s papers by Theodore D. Harris.

Though Flipper died before he could be absolved, others took up his fight. In 1976, descendants and supporters approached the Army Board for the Correction of Military Records on his behalf. Although the board stated that it did not have the authority to overturn Flipper’s conviction, it found the penalty imposed “unduly harsh and unjust” and recommended that Flip-per’s dismissal be commuted to a good conduct discharge. Subsequently, with other appropriate approvals, the Department of the Army issued an honorable discharge in Flipper’s name, dated June 30, 1882, the date he had been dismissed from the Army. On October 21, 1997, a private law firm filed an application of pardon in Flipper’s name with the secretary of the Army. After several months of review by U.S. Army and Department of Justice personnel, President Bill Clinton pardoned Flipper on February 19, 1999.

VICE ADMIRAL SAMUEL L. GRAVELY JR. (1922–2004) First African American Admiral

Samuel Lee Gravely Jr. was born in Richmond, Virginia, on June 4, 1922. Enrolled at Virginia Union University when the U.S. entered World War II, Gravely quit school to enlist in the U.S. Naval Reserve on September 15, 1942. He received recruit training at Great Lakes (Illinois) Naval Training Center and skill training at the Service School, Hampton (Virginia) Institute. To become an officer, he attended the Officer Training Camp at the University Page 1365  |  Top of Articleof California, Los Angeles, the Pre-Midshipmen School in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and the Midshipmen School at Columbia University in New York City, where he trained from August to December of 1944. The first African American graduate of a midshipman school, Gravely was commissioned an ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve, on December 14, 1944.

Gravely’s initial assignment was as the assistant battalion commander at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. Later, he became the first African American officer to be assigned shipboard duty when he held such titles as communications officer, electronics officer, executive officer, and personnel officer aboard the submarine chaser USS PC-1264. After a brief stint as communications watch officer with the Fleet Training Group, in Norfolk, Virginia, Gravely was released from active duty on April 16, 1946. He then returned to college and received a B.A. in history from Virginia Union University in 1948. Though he had plans of becoming a teacher and coach, he took a job in Richmond as a railway postal clerk following graduation.

In 1948, Harry Truman’s historic Executive Order 9981 forced the U.S. Armed Forces to integrate and the military began increasing the recruitment of African Americans. On August 30, 1949, Gravely returned to duty as assistant to the officer in charge of recruiting at the Naval Recruiting Station, Washington, D.C. After attending the Communications Officers Short Course, Gravely saw active duty aboard a pair of ships that engaged the enemy during the Korean War: first as radio operator on the battleship USS Iowa and later as communications officer on the cruiser USS Toledo. His reputation as a communications expert played a vital role in subsequent assignments. After more than a decade in the military, Gravely finally decided to make the navy his career and he formally transferred from the Naval Reserve to the regular Navy on August 16, 1955. From that point on, Gravely frequently shifted between land-based administrative positions and shipboard assignments, occasionally punctuated by training course instruction.

Steadily promoted through the ranks, Gravely was the touchstone for African American achievement in the Navy. He became the first African American officer to command a U.S. Navy ship on January 15, 1961, when he assumed temporary command of the destroyer USS Theodore E. Chandler. When he accepted command of the destroyer escort USS Falgout on January 31, 1962, he became the first African American to command a fighting ship. From August of 1963 to June 1964, Gravely attended the senior course in naval warfare at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. He was then tabbed program manager for the National Command Center and the National Emergency Airborne Command Post at the Defense Communications Agency in Arlington, Virginia. In 1966, when Gravely guided the USS Taussig into direct offensive action during the Vietnam War, he became the first African American naval officer to command a U.S. warship under combat conditions since the Civil War.

On June 2, 1971, the day he was relieved of command of the guided missile frigate USS Jouett, Gravely became the first African American to be promoted to the rank of rear admiral. In mid-July of that year, he was made commander of the Naval Communications Command and director of the Naval Communications Divisions under the chief of naval operations, dual posts he held for two years. In August 1975, Admiral Gravely assumed duties as commander of the Eleventh Naval District. On August 28, 1976, he was promoted to vice admiral, another first as an African American naval officer. The next month, he was placed in command of the U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet, making him the first African American to command a U.S. Navy fleet. As commander of the Third Fleet, Gravely was in charge of 100 ships and 60,000 officers overseeing 50 million miles of ocean (approximately a quarter of the earth’s surface). His final naval assignment was as director of the Defense Communications Agency, a post he held from September 15, 1978, until his retirement on August 1, 1980.

After retiring from the U.S. Navy, Gravely worked for several private sector companies. He was senior corporate advisor for Potomac Systems Engineering, director of the Command Support Division for Automated Business Systems and Services, Inc., and vice president for Navy programs at CTEC. He was also a member of the board of directors for Draper Laboratory, where he continues as member emeritus. In 1991, he was named an aide-de-camp to then-Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder, and served as chairman of the Tredegar National Civil War Center Foundation Board. In 2002, he was among those honored for Dominion’s Strong Men and Women: Excellence in Leadership series. Gravely lives on a rural, two-acre estate in Haymarket, Virginia.

While in the Navy, Gravely received numerous decorations, including a Legion of Merit with gold star, a Bronze Star, a Meritorious Service Medal, a Joint Service Commendation Medal, a Navy Commendation Medal, a World War II Victory Medal, a Naval Reserve Medal, and an American Campaign Medal. Additional decorations included a Korean Presidential Unit Citation, a National Defense Medal with one bronze star, a China Service Medal, a Korean Service Medal with two bronze stars, a United Nations Service Medal, an Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, a Vietnam Service Medal with six bronze stars, and an Antarctic Service Medal. Gravely also received many civilian awards, including Savannah

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State College’s Major Richard R. Wright Award of Excellence (1974), the Prince Hall Founding Fathers Military Commanders Award (1975), and the Virginia Press Association’s Virginian of the Year (1979). He received an honorary doctor of laws degree from his alma mater, Virginia Union University, in 1979.

Shortly after suffering a massive stroke, Samuel Lee Gravely Jr. died on October 22, 2004, at Bethesda Naval Hospital.

MAJOR GENERAL MARCELITE HARRIS (1943– ) Two-Star General, U.S. Air Force

Marcelite Jordan was born on January 16, 1943, in Houston, Texas. She attended Houston public schools, graduating from Kashmere Gardens Junior-Senior High School in 1960. At Spelman College in Atlanta, Jordan studied speech and drama in hopes of becoming an actress. During college she took part in a USO tour of Germany and France. The experience gave her an opportunity to find out about the military, but it did not spark any career interest within her at the time. After earning a B.A. in 1964, she struggled to find stage work. She took a job with a Headstart program at a Houston YMCA, while taking law classes at night. Finding it difficult to maintain that pace, Jordan decided to look into other career options and chose the U.S. Air Force.

Jordan began at the Officer Training School at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas in September of 1965 and was commissioned a second lieutenant on December 21 of that year. Her first assignment was as assistant director for administration with the 60th Airlift Wing at California’s Travis Air Force Base. In January of 1967, she received her first promotion and transferred to Bitburg Air Base in West Germany. At Bitburg, Jordan served as administrative officer of the 71st Tactical Missile Squadron for two years. Then, in May 1969, at the suggestion of a superior, she changed career tracks to maintenance. She was reassigned as maintenance analysis officer of the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing, also based at Bitburg. As the first female Air Force officer in a “man’s field,” Jordan faced hostility from many of the men under her command. In order to gain credibility with the maintenance crews that she supervised, Jordan decided to learn more about aircraft engineering. She applied for the Aircraft Maintenance Officer Course, but was turned down at first. Jordan persisted and was later accepted to the eight-month course, graduating in May 1971.

Jordan’ next assignment took her to Thailand’s Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, where she was maintenance supervisor of the 49th Tactical Fighter Squadron from August of 1971 to May of 1972. Despite initial resistance from the maintenance crews under her command, Jordan forged a cooperative relationship with her personnel. The result was a superb performance record for the aircraft piloted by a tactical fighter squadron flying sorties over Vietnam.

Jordan returned to Travis Air Force Base for a three-year stint before accepting a very visible assignment in Washington, D.C., in September 1975. For more than two and a half years, Jordan served as personnel staff officer and White House social aide during the Ford and Carter administrations. A late-1970s stop at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado was followed by a transfer to McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas. On November 29, 1980, in the midst of three consecutive assignments at McConnell, she married Maurice Anthony Harris, taking his surname. Harris’ last assignment on foreign soil was a three and a half year stretch as director of maintenance at the Pacific Air Forces Logistic Support Center at Kadena Air Base in Japan starting in November of 1982. While in Japan, Harris earned a B.S. in business management from the University of Maryland University College’s Asian Division in 1986.

Returning to the United States in March of 1986, Harris became deputy commander of maintenance at Page 1367  |  Top of ArticleKeesler Air Force Base in Mississippi. Meanwhile, she continued her climb up the career ladder, reaching full colonel on September 1, 1986. In December of 1988 she was named commander of the 3300th Technical Training Wing at Keesler, becoming the third female to attain that level in the history of the U.S. Air Force. On May 1, 1991, while stationed at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, Harris became the first African American woman to attain the rank of brigadier general in the Air Force. Following a short stint at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas, she became director of maintenance at U.S. Air Force Headquarters, Washington, D.C., in September of 1994. On May 25, 1995, Harris became the first African American female to be promoted to the rank of major general. Her promotion not only made her the highest-ranking African American woman in the Air Force, but in the Department of Defense as a whole. In her role as director of maintenance and deputy chief of staff, logistics, she was accountable for the maintenance operations of every Air Force installation, commanding a workforce of more than 125,000 and maintaining an aerospace weapons system inventory worth more than $260 billion. Harris retired from the U.S. Air Force on February 22, 1997.

Upon retirement from the Air Force, Harris settled in Merritt Island, Florida, and joined aerospace industry firm United Space Alliance as Florida site director. Currently, she also serves on the Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, a special 14-member panel that advises the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Among the decorations awarded to Harris during her 31-year career are a Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster, a Bronze Star, a Meritorious Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters, an Air Force Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster, a Presidential Unit Citation, an Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with “V” device with eight oak leaf clusters, a National Defense Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, and a Vietnam Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters. Among her many civilian honors are Dollars and Sense magazine’s Most Prestigious Individual (1991), Journal Recording Publishing Co.’s Woman of Enterprise (1992), the National Federation of Black Women Business Owners’ Black Woman of Courage (1995), the Ellis Island Medal of Honor (1996), the Women’s International Center’s Living Legacy Patriot Award (1998) and the University of Maryland University College’s Distinguished Alumna Award (2000).

GENERAL DANIEL JAMES JR. (1920–1978) First African American Four-Star General, U.S. Air Force

Daniel James Jr. was born on February 11, 1920, in Pensacola, Florida. The youngest boy in a large family, he grew up in a home with strict parents who stressed education, hard work, and honesty as means to success. At an early age, James borrowed the nickname “Chappie” from an older brother, a star athlete whom he idolized. James was educated in the private school run by his mother until secondary school age, when he attended Washington High. At Tuskegee (Alabama) Institute, James worked for the college in exchange for credit hours. A physical education major, he was expelled for fighting just two months before he would have graduated in 1941.

During his senior year of college, James enrolled in the Civilian Pilot Training Program. Indirectly sponsored by the War Department, the program operated at six African American colleges to train African American pilots under segregated conditions. James quickly earned his pilot’s license and proved himself among the more capable flyers. Upon expulsion from college, he was hired to train the first class of cadets selected for the “Tuskegee Experiment”; among that first class of flyers was Benjamin O. Davis Jr., who would become the first African American Air Force general. Captivated by flying, James turned his attention away from academics to focus on becoming an Air Force officer. He applied for the Aviation Cadet Program and was accepted in January of 1943. Graduating in July of that year, James was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force. He was then assigned to the 617th Bombardment Squadron, 477th Bombardment Group at Selfridge Field, Michigan, for combat training on B-25 bombers. During World War II, however, racially-motivated bureaucratic waffling kept most African American pilots from being assigned overseas, and James never left the United States.

In the fall of 1949, James received his first overseas assignment. He became flight leader of the 12th Fighter Bomber Squadron, 18th Fighter Wing at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. During the Korean War, the 12th was based in Japan and Korea. Usually in F-51 Mustangs, James flew 101 combat missions during the war, most during the early days of the conflict. One such mission, in support of United Nations ground forces, resulted in James being awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross. Leading four bombers through heavy enemy fire and low visibility on October 15, 1950, James was credited with personally killing more than 100 enemy troops.

Following Korea, James was assigned to a base near Rome, New York, where a racist commanding officer boasted he would rid the unit of the African American flyer. Despite the forced integration of the military, which had begun several years earlier, racism still played a major role in duty assignments at the time. Subsequently, James was reassigned to Otis Air Force Base on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Among his assignments at Otis, James was given command of the all-white 437th Page 1368  |  Top of ArticleFighter Interceptor Squadron in the Air Defense Command in April of 1953. His loyal and supportive leadership style, as well as his insistence on excellence, earned his mens’ allegiance and his superiors’ respect. In 1957, he graduated from the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. His next assignment was at the Pentagon in the Air Defense Division, a job he admitted not particularly enjoying though he understood the importance of it.

James spent the early 1960s at the Royal Air Force Base at Bentwaters, England, where he held three assignments with the 81st Fighter Wing. He returned to the U.S. in the fall of 1964 and held several command positions at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, during which time he was promoted to colonel. In 1966, during the early stages of the Vietnam War, James was assigned to the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Thailand’s Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base. He flew 78 missions over Vietnam in F-4C Phantom jets as deputy commander for operations, then vice commander, of the unit, popularly known as the “Wolf Pack.” His next assignment brought him just 50 miles from his hometown to Florida’s Eglin Air Force Base. After Eglin, he was sent out of the country once again, assuming command of the 7272nd Fighter Training Wing at Wheelus Air Base in Libya. His stay there was shortened, however, when Colonel Moammar Khadafy deposed King Idris and pushed for the closing of the base. Despite James’ objections, the U.S. Embassy in Libya decided to shut Wheelus down. James then distinguished himself by overseeing an orderly removal of U.S. personnel and equipment from the base.

Upon his return to the U.S., James was quickly promoted through the upper echelons of the U.S. Air Force. On March 31, 1970, he was sworn in as a deputy assistant of defense for public affairs by Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird. James quickly became a much-in-demand speaker and the Pentagon eagerly used his talents by sending him around the country to make speeches in support of military policies. James was rewarded for his willingness to appear before the public, especially since some of that public used his appearances as a venue to demonstrate against the Vietnam War. He was promoted to brigadier general that summer and his rise through the general ranks proved exceedingly swift. He was made a major general on August 1, 1972, and less than a year later, on June 1, 1973, he was elevated to lieutenant general.

James left the Pentagon in August of 1974 and became vice commander of Military Airlift Command the next month. James earned his final promotion on August 29, 1975, when he became the first African American to become a four-star general. The next day he took command of the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), the bi-national defense force of 65,000 servicemen assigned the task of protecting the United States and Canada from surprise nuclear attack, and NORAD’s American subunit, the U.S. Air Force Aerospace Defense Command, both of which are headquartered at Colorado Springs, Colorado. In September of 1977, James suffered a heart attack. After 35 years of service, he retired from the U.S. Air Force on January 26, 1978. One month later, on February 25, 1978, he suffered a second, fatal heart attack. James was buried with highest military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Virginia.

One of the most highly-decorated servicemen in Air Force history, among the awards James received were a Distinguished Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, a Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster, a Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters, a Meritorious Service Medal, an Air Medal with 13 oak leaf clusters, an American Defense Service Medal, an American Campaign Medal, a World War II Victory Medal, a Korean Service Medal with four service stars, and a Vietnam Service Medal with four service stars. James received awards from an astounding number of civilian organizations including the Arnold Air Society, the Phoenix Urban League, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Capital Press Club, and the United Negro College Fund, to name a few. He also received honorary degrees from the University of West Florida, the University of Akron, Virginia State College, Delaware State College, and St. Louis University.

GENERAL HAZEL W. JOHNSON-BROWN (1927– ) First Female African American Brigadier General, U.S. Army

Hazel Winifred Johnson was born on October 10, 1927, in West Chester, Pennsylvania. She grew up on a farm near Malvern in Chester County and attended high school in nearby Berwyn. She received her registered nurse diploma in New York City at Harlem Hospital’s School of Nursing in 1950 and enlisted in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps in 1955. Johnson used civilian educational opportunities to rapidly advance through the ranks of the nurse corps. She earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Villanova University in 1959, and was commissioned a second lieutenant by direct appointment on May 11, 1960. Three years later she earned a master’s degree in nursing education from Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City.

Johnson was a staff member of the U.S. Medical Research and Development Command in Washington, D.C., from 1967 to 1973, and dean of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing at the famed Walter Reed Army Medical Center also in Washington, D.C., from

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1976 to 1978. She earned a Ph.D. in educational administration from Catholic University of America in 1978 before a brief assignment as chief nurse with the U.S. Army Medical Command in Korea. On September 1, 1979, Johnson became the first African American female in U.S. military history to advance to the rank of brigadier general. At that time, she was also made chief of the Army Nurse Corps, Office of the Surgeon General in Washington, D.C. She held that post until August 31, 1983, when she retired from the U.S. Army.

Johnson-Brown served as director of the government affairs division of the American Nursing Association from 1983 until 1986, when she joined the faculty of Virginia’s George Mason University as a professor of nursing. She is now Professor Emerita of Nursing at that institution, where she chairs the college’s Board of Advisors and advises doctoral candidates. Currently, she is serving as a member of the Villanova University Board of Trustees. Among her military decorations are a Distinguished Service Medal, a Legion of Merit, a Meritorious Service Medal, and an Army Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster. In 1997, Johnson-Brown received an honorary degree from Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus.

SERGEANT HENRY JOHNSON (1897?–1929) 369th Infantry Regiment, 93rd Division, U.S. Army

Henry Johnson was born around 1897 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and grew up in Albany, New York. Upon America’s entrance into World War I, Johnson enlisted in the Army on June 5, 1917. He was mustered into Company C, 15th National Guard of New York (later renamed the 369th Infantry Regiment) as a private on July 25. The unit received its training at Camp Wadsworth in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

The 369th landed in Brest, France on January 1, 1918. In March, the 369th was attached to the 16th Division of the French Army, making it the first African American unit to reach the war zone. According to his muster roll, Johnson was promoted to the rank of sergeant on May 1. Several days later, U.S. troops captured a German-held bridge near the Aisne River, and Johnson’s unit was assigned to guard it. In the early morning hours of May 14, a force of about 32 Germans tried to retake the bridge. Johnson and fellow soldier Needham Roberts were on sentry duty at the time, armed with pistols and a few hand grenades. The two groups exchanged fire, and Johnson was wounded three times, while Roberts was injured twice. After the pair ran out of ammunition, the Germans rushed them, capturing Roberts. Johnson pulled a bolo knife and, along with the butt of his pistol, fought hand-to-hand, rescuing his badly wounded compatriot. The startled Germans retreated, preventing them from launching a surprise attack that would likely have inflicted heavy casualties on the regiment. When the skirmish was over, Johnson was credited with killing at least four Germans and wounding ten or more others.

Johnson was hospitalized for several weeks with serious wounds to his back, left arm, face and feet, most of which were inflicted by knives or bayonets. For his heroics, the government of France awarded him a Croix de Guerre with gold leaf, while Roberts also received a Croix de Guerre. In the process, they became the first two Americans to receive the French medal for individual heroism in combat. Johnson was cited by the French as a

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Dorie Miller. Dorie Miller. CORBIS

“magnificent example of courage and energy.” The U.S. Army did not award Johnson any decoration for his part in the incident—not even a purple heart.

Despite his injuries, Johnson received no disability allowance when he was discharged from the Army on February 14, 1919. On his return to Albany he received a hero’s welcome. New York Governor Alfred E. Smith and other state officials greeted Johnson’s arrival at the Albany train station with a homecoming reception. For a while after the war, Johnson’s celebrity allowed him to tour the country promoting the sale of Liberty Bonds. Afterwards, his injuries proved too disabling, however, for him to return to regular work. Johnson died in poverty at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C., on July 2, 1929. He was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

DORIS (DORIE) MILLER (1919–1943) Mess Attendant, First Class, U.S. Navy

The son of sharecroppers, Doris Miller was born on a farm near Waco, Texas, on October 12, 1919. Working in the fields with his parents, Miller grew into a solidly-built young man. He went on to become a star fullback on the football team at Waco’s Moore High School. At 19 years of age, Miller enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a messman, the only job open to African American naval recruits at the time.

Assigned to the battleship USS West Virginia, Mess Attendant Second-Class Miller was nearing the end of his first hitch when, on December 7, 1941, he was thrust into one of the most important events in U.S. history: Japan’s surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor on Oahu Island, Hawaii. At 7:55 a.m. on that typically quiet Sunday morning, Miller was below deck collecting laundry. Suddenly, the crew heard a midship explosion. The blast knocked Miller down. Sirens soon called the crew to their battle stations. Miller arrived on deck to witness Japanese planes in full attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Bombing runs were supplemented by machine-gun fire as Japanese aircraft swooped down on virtually undefended ships. In the confusion, sailors ran in all directions, many of them jumping overboard to avoid strafing runs by the enemy flyers. Amid walls of smoke and flame, Miller made his way to his assigned post on the signal bridge. When he arrived, Miller found the ship’s commander lying on deck, bleeding from his stomach and chest. He dragged the mortally-wounded officer out of direct fire to a place where a medic and other sailors attempted to treat him. Miller then fought his way back to the bridge, where he spotted an unmanned machine gun. Without any prior weaponry training, Miller started firing the anti-aircraft gun. He brought down four Japanese planes before exhausting the gun’s ammunition and being ordered to abandon the sinking ship. For his heroism, Miller was awarded the Navy Cross, which was conferred on him by the commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. Miller was commended for “distinguished devotion to duty, extreme courage, and disregard of his personal safety during attack.” He also received a Purple Heart and was subsequently promoted to mess attendant first class.

Miller became the first African American hero of the war and traveled around the nation to promote the sale of war bonds. After that tour of duty ended, he was sent to Bremerton, Washington, to qualify as a cook. Though he had shown enormous ability as a gunner, navy policy still restricted African Americans to the Stewards Branch. Miller later served as a mess attendant on the light aircraft carrier USS Liscombe Bay. A Japanese submarine torpedoed the vessel on November 24, 1943. The resulting explosion killed most of the crew including Miller before the vessel sank in the South Pacific.

After the war, legislation was introduced on two occasions to posthumously award Miller the Congressional Medal of Honor for his Pearl Harbor heroics, but it was defeated both times. Nevertheless, the Navy Page 1371  |  Top of Articlehonored Miller in succeeding years by naming several things after him, most notably, the destroyer escort USS Miller, which was christened in 1973. In so doing, the Navy made Miller the first African American enlisted man to have a ship named after him.

GENERAL FRANK E. PETERSEN (1932– ) First African American General in the U.S. Marine Corps

Frank Emmanuel Petersen Jr. was born March 2, 1932, in Topeka, Kansas, where he attended public schools and graduated from Topeka High School in 1949. He attended Topeka’s Washburn University for a year before dropping out to enlist in the U.S. Navy Reserve in June of 1950 as an apprentice seaman, serving as an electronics technician. While attending the Navy’s electronics school, he applied for admission to the Naval Aviation Cadet Program. He was accepted and, while in flight training at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, applied for a commission in the U.S. Marine Corps. Petersen earned his wings and accepted a second lieutenant’s commission in the Corps on October 22, 1952, becoming the branch’s first African American aviator.

Petersen received further training at the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in Santa Ana, California, before being sent to Korea in 1953. Petersen flew a total of 64 combat missions during the latter stages of the Korean War, building a reputation as a superb fighter pilot. In July of 1954, he returned to the Marine Corps’ Santa Ana, California facility, where he remained until January of 1960. In February of 1955, Petersen formally transferred from the U.S. Navy Reserve to the U.S. Marine Corps. During the 1960s and 1970s, Petersen took advantage of many civilian and military educational opportunities. He twice attended George Washington University, where he earned a B.S. in 1967 and an M.S. in 1973. He also attended several service schools including the Marine Corps Amphibious Assault School, the Aviation Safety Officers’ Course, and the National War College. Petersen has the distinction of being the first African American corpsman to attend the latter school.

At the height of the Vietnam War, Petersen became the first African American officer to command a squadron in the U.S. Navy or Marine Corps. In June of 1968, he took command of VMF-314, Marine Aircraft Group 13, Republic of Vietnam. The unit, popularly known as the “Black Knights,” excelled with Petersen as commander, being named the most outstanding fighter squadron in the entire Marine Corps during the year he was in charge. Petersen also was a fighter pilot and flew more than 200 missions in F-4 Phantom jets.

Earlier in the 1960s, during a short stay at the Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuri, Japan, Petersen took on the role of “race counselor” to calm the racial tensions existing not only between black and white Marines, but between white Americans and the native Japanese. After Vietnam, he performed a similar function, only on a much larger scale, as special assistant for minority affairs to the Marine commandant. In this role Petersen traveled to Germany and Japan to investigate racial conditions among corps members. His straightforward report nearly destroyed his career when senior officers would not accept its damning contents. Events occurring in the U.S. at large, however, lent credence to his findings, and the Corps soon adopted changes.

Petersen became the first African American to reach the rank of brigadier general in the U.S. Marine Corps in February of 1979. While assigned to Marine Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C., during the early to mid-1980s, promotions to major general and lieutenant general followed. Starting in 1985, Petersen served as senior ranking pilot in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps, and was the senior pilot of the entire U.S. Armed Forces from 1986 until his retirement on August 1, 1988. In all, he flew more than 350 combat missions covering 4,000 hours in the air.

In 1989, Petersen became vice president, Corporate Aviation at DuPont Denemours, Inc., where he remained for a decade before becoming an independent corporate consultant. Petersen’s affiliations with boards and organizations are numerous. Among them are the Tuskegee Airmen, the National Marrow Donor Foundation (for which he served as board chair from 1998-2000), the National Aviation Research and Education Foundation, the Higher Education Assistance Foundation, Opportunity Skyway, the Institute for the Study of American Wars, the Montford Point Marines, the Educational Credit Management Corporation, and Business Executives for National Security. Petersen is also a frequent public speaker and lecturer. In 1998, Into the Tiger’s Jaw: America’s First Black Marine Aviator, Petersen’s autobiography (written with assistance from J. Alfred Phelps) was published. The father of five children, he is divorced from their mother, Eleanor Petersen. He currently lives in Stevenville, Maryland.

Petersen is a recipient of more than 20 individual medals for combat valor, including a Distinguished Flying Cross, an Air Medal with silver star, a Meritorious Service Medal, a Legion of Merit with Combat V, a Navy Commendation Medal with Combat V, a National Defense Service Medal with bronze star, an Air Force Commendation Medal, and a Purple Heart.

GENERAL COLIN L. POWELL (1937– ) First African American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Colin Luther Powell was born in New York City on April 5, 1937, and graduated from Morris High School Page 1372  |  Top of Articlein the South Bronx in 1954. In 1958, he received a B.S. in geology from City College of New York, where he was very active in the ROTC program, from which he graduated first in his class. He also attained the highest ROTC rank of cadet colonel.

On June 9, 1958, Powell was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He attended Infantry Officers Basic Training, as well as the Airborne and Ranger schools at Fort Benning, Georgia, before receiving his first regular duty assignment. In 1959, he went to West Germany, where he was a platoon leader, executive officer, and a rifle company commander during his three-year stay. In 1962, he was assigned as a military advisor to a South Vietnamese infantry battalion. In the second year of that tour he was wounded by a Vietcong booby trap and was awarded a Purple Heart. Powell returned to Vietnam in 1968 as an infantry officer, serving in such capacities as battalion executive officer and division operations officer. That tour ended prematurely when he was injured in a helicopter crash, in which he rescued two fellow soldiers from the burning wreckage.

Returning to the United States, Powell enrolled in the M.B.A. program at George Washington University and graduated in 1971. In 1972, he was named a White House fellow and served as assistant to the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. From 1973 to 1975, he commanded the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry in South Korea. Powell was already receiving relatively high-profile assignments before graduating from the National War College in June of 1976, but from that point on his career accelerated. He next commanded the 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell, Kentucky from 1976 to 1977. Several appointments in Washington, D.C., followed. He was executive to the special assistant to the secretary and deputy secretary of defense starting in 1977, executive assistant to the secretary of energy for several months in 1979 and senior military assistant to the deputy secretary of defense later that year. Powell he was promoted to brigadier general on June 1 of that same year.

Powell served as assistant commander of the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado, from 1981 to 1983. He then returned to the nation’s capital as senior military adviser to the secretary of defense from 1983 to 1985. Powell went back to West Germany in 1986 to become commanding general of the U.S. V Corps. In 1987, he returned to Washington, D.C., first as deputy to the national security adviser, then as national security adviser himself. In April of 1989, he was promoted to four-star general. In August of that year, Powell was named chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest military post in the United States. Powell not only became the first African American in U.S. Armed Forces history to hold that title, but also the youngest.

From that position, Powell received international recognition as one of the chief architects of the successful 1989 assault on Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and the 1991 Persian Gulf War against Iraq. Both military actions achieved swift and thorough victories with minimal U.S. casualties, while arousing little opposition domestically. Powell retired from the U.S. Army on September 30, 1993.

The public acclaim Powell received for those onesided military victories opened to him the possibility of a future in nationally-elected political office. Powell wrote his memoir My American Journey and embarked on a nationwide tour to promote the book in 1995. During the tour, there was widespread speculation that he would seek the nomination for president the next year. On November 9, 1995, however, Powell held a press conference to announce that he would not enter the presidential race. The decision not to seek the office surprised many who considered Powell a strong potential candidate.

Shying away from the political arena, Powell turned his attention to public-service activities. In 1996, he was named to the board of trustees at Howard University. Then, in April 1997, in a move that stunned many, Powell helped found America’s Promise—The Alliance for Youth, becoming its very hands-on chairman. The Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit organization works to improve the lives of at-risk youths by increasing their employability. After some initial difficulties, Powell was able to get the organization running smoothly and able to fulfill its own promise.

Powell stepped back into the national spotlight on July 31, 2000, when he delivered a keynote address at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. In what was considered a highlight of the convention, Powell endorsed Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, saying that he believed the candidate “can help bridge our racial divides.” Later that year, on December 16, 2000, President-elect George W. Bush nominated Powell to become the 65th Secretary of State. Following a unanimous confirmation by the U.S. Senate, Powell was sworn in on January 20, 2001. He is the first African American to hold that post. As secretary of state, he was constantly visible, especially in relation to the United States’ continuing War on Terrorism, which began in September 2001.

Powell was successful in rallying other nations to the war on terrorism and enforcing the United Nations’ resolutions for the disarming of Iraq. With the re-election of President George W. Bush, Powell announced his resignation on November 15, 2004. Even though his tenure was marked by disagreements with administrators over policy, Powell was considered an effective and eloquent spokesman. He was well respected and admired all Page 1373  |  Top of Articleover the world, which made many encourage him to run for office. To date, he has not pursued this path.

Once leaving his post Powell returned to the private sector. In July 2005 he became a limited partner with Kleiner Perkins Culfield & Byers, a venture capital firm, and in May 2006 he succeeded Henry Kissinger and become the 8th Chairman of the Eisenhower Fellowship Program. He has also been active with the The Colin Powell Center for Policy Studies, established in his honor in 1997 at his alma mater, the City College of New York. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the United Negro College Fund, the Board of Trustees of Howard University, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and the Advisory Board of the Children’s Health fund, among others.

Powell is married to the former Alma Vivian Johnson of Birmingham, Alabama. Their family includes son Michael, daughters Linda and Annemarie, daughter-in-law Jane, and grandsons Jeffrey and Bryan.

During his tenure in the military, Powell was the recipient of numerous decorations, including a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, a Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster, a Soldier’s Medal, an Air Medal, a Distinguished Service Medal, a Defense Superior Service Medal, a Joint Service Commendation Medal, and an Army Commendation Medal. He has received many civilian honors as well, including two Presidential Medals of Freedom, the President’s Citizens Medal, the Congressional Gold Medal, the Secretary of State Distinguished Service Medal, the Secretary of Energy Distinguished Service Medal, and the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award. Powell has also been the recipient of honorary degrees from universities and colleges from across the nation and several schools and other institutions have been named in his honor.

ADMIRAL J. PAUL REASON (1943– ) First African American Four-Star Admiral, U.S. Navy

Joseph Paul Reason was born on March 22, 1943, in Washington, D.C., where he attended primary and secondary school. After high school, he attended Howard University for three years before receiving a nomination to the U.S. Naval Academy from Michigan Congressman Charles Diggs.

While at the Naval Academy, Reason applied to the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program, run by Vice Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, “father” of the nuclear submarine. Rickover interviewed Reason and accepted him into the program. Rickover, the first Jewish admiral, took a special interest in Reason as an officer, monitoring Reason’s progress from behind the scenes and ensuring that he received fair treatment during his career. Reason’s initial assignment was on the destroyer escort USS J.D. Black-

J. Paul Reason, the Navys first African American four-star admiral. J. Paul Reason, the Navy’s first African American four-star admiral. AP PHOTO/U.S. NAVY

wood, but after completing the nuclear propulsion program in 1968, he transferred to the nuclear-powered missile cruiser USS Truxtun. In 1970, he earned a master’s degree in computer systems management.

In 1971, Reason began a four-year stint on the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, during which he was twice deployed to the Southeast Asia/ Indian Ocean region during the Vietnam War. He rejoined the USS Truxtun in 1975 as the combat systems officer. From there, he became an assignment officer at the Bureau of Naval Personnel. In late 1976, Reason was named naval aide to the White House for the Gerald Ford administration, a position he kept after Jimmy Carter assumed the presidency in January of 1977. In 1979, he was assigned to the USS Mississippi as the ship’s executive officer. After a six-year stay aboard that ship, Reason was given command of his own ship, the USS Coontz, in 1985. Shortly afterward, he became commander of a nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser, the USS Bainbridge.

From 1986 to 1988, Reason was commander of Naval Base Seattle, where he was responsible for all naval activities in Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. His next assignment put him in command of Cruiser-Destroyer Group One, which he led from 1988 to 1994. During Page 1374  |  Top of Articlethat time, he also commanded Battle Group Romeo through operations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, as well as in the Persian Gulf. Reason was promoted to vice admiral in early 1994 and put in charge of the Naval Surface Force of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet. In August of that year, he was made deputy chief of naval operations for plans, policy, and operations, a post he held for two years.

In May 1996, President Bill Clinton nominated Reason for a promotion and assignment as commander in chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, based in Norfolk, Virginia. His promotion in December of 1996 made him the U.S. Navy’s first African American four-star admiral. As chief of the Atlantic fleet, Reason commanded roughly half of the U.S. Navy, or more than 124,000 service personnel. He oversaw an annual budget of $19.5 billion and the operations of 195 warships and 1,357 aircraft based at 18 major shore facilities. Reason retired from active duty in November 1999.

Following his retirement from the military, Reason became President and Chief Operating Officer of Metro Machine Corporation of Norfolk, Virginia. In January 2000, he joined the NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel as a consultant. Currently, Reason is on the board of directors of Norfolk Southern, Amgen Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. He is married to Dianne F. Reason.

Among Reason’s many military decorations are a Distinguished Service Medal, a Legion of Merit, a Navy Commendation Medal, a Venezuelan LaMedalla Naval Almirante Luis Brion Medal a National Defense Service Medal, an Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, a Republic of Vietnam Honor Medal, an Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, a Vietnam Service Medal, a Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, and a Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal. In 1998, Reason was among those honored for Dominion’s Strong Men and Women: Excellence in Leadership series.

GENERAL ROSCOE ROBINSON JR. (1928–1993) First African American Four Star General, U.S. Army

Roscoe Robinson Jr. was born on October 28, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, where he graduated from Charles Sumner High School. He received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York and graduated with a B.S. in military engineering in 1951.

On June 1, 1951, Robinson was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He attended the Associate Infantry Officer Course and the Basic Airborne Course at Fort Benning, Georgia, before joining the 11th Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. In October of 1952, he was assigned to the 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division in Korea. During the Korean War, his unit saw combat action and Robinson received a bronze star for bravery as commander of a rifle company.

Roscoe Robinson Jr. was the first African American 4-star general in the U.S. Army. Roscoe Robinson Jr. was the first African American 4-star general in the U.S. Army. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.

Among his assignments in the late 1950s was a tour with the U.S. military mission to Liberia.

From 1965 to 1967, Robinson was the personnel management officer of the Infantry Branch, Officer Personnel Directorate, Office of Personnel Operations, U.S. Army, in Washington, D.C. Starting in 1968, Robinson commanded the Second Battalion, Seventh Cavalry, the historic African American unit that was part of the regular Army in 1866 as Company B, Seventh Cavalry. The unit, part of the First Cavalry Division (Airmobile), U.S. Army Pacific, Vietnam, engaged in fighting during the war with Robinson being awarded a silver star for valor. In the early 1970s, Robinson served with the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii, including executive to the chief of staff.

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In addition to battlefield heroics, Robinson helped his career by expanding his education. He earned a master’s degree in international affairs from the University of Pittsburgh and received further military training at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and at the National War College in Washington, D.C.

In 1972, Robinson became commanding officer of the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He was promoted to the rank of brigadier general on July 1, 1973, and was made deputy commander of the U.S. Army Garrison, Okinawa Base Command. Robinson became a two-star general on July 1, 1976, and, in November of that year, returned to Fort Bragg to become commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division. In 1978, he was made deputy chief of staff for operations, U.S. Army Europe and the Seventh Army. On June 1, 1980, he was promoted to lieutenant general and became commanding general of the U.S. Army, Japan IX Corps. Robinson became the first African American four-star general in the history of the U.S. Army and the second in the U.S. Armed Forces on August 30, 1982. From 1982 to 1985, he served as the United States representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, becoming the nation’s first African American to serve in that capacity. Robinson retired from active military service in 1985.

After his retirement from the Army, Robinson served on the boards of several companies including Comsat, Giant Food, Metropolitan Life, and the parent company of Northwest Airlines. In 1987, he was named to oversee the work of a panel designated with the task of reviewing the Korean War performance records of certain African American Army units that had been criticized at the time. On July 22, 1993, Robinson died of leukemia at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

During his 34-year career, Robinson was the recipient of numerous military awards including a Silver Star with oak leaf cluster, a Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, a Distinguished Flying Cross, a Bronze Star, ten Air Medals, a Defense Distinguished Service Medal, and an Army Commendation Medal.

RODERICK K. VON LIPSEY (1959– ) Fighter Pilot, U.S. Marine Corps

Roderick K. von Lipsey was born on January 13, 1959, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Beginning in third grade, he was educated in private schools, first at Norwood Academy, then at La Salle College High School, where he graduated in 1976. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, majoring in English literature. Upon graduation, von Lipsey joined the U.S.

Marine Corps and was commissioned a second lieutenant in May of 1980.

In January of 1981, after completing basic Marine Corps training, von Lipsey went to Pensacola, Florida, and Kingsville, Texas, to master aircraft that would earn him the “naval aviator” designation. Then, starting in September of 1982, he spent an additional six months at the Marine Corps base at Yuma, Arizona, to become combat ready on the F-4 Phantom fighter jet.

In 1983, von Lipsey was assigned to Fort Beaufort, South Carolina, to gain experience in aircraft maintenance and maintenance quality assurance. The following year, he became the officer in charge of aircraft maintenance for F-4 Phantoms at the base. Von Lipsey began training on the F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet in 1985. In 1986, he was deployed to NATO exercises in Europe and the Mediterranean, for which he was awarded a Navy Commendation medal for his performance of logistics responsibilities. In January of 1987, von Lipsey was sent to the prestigious Navy Fighter Weapons School at Naval Station Miramar in California. Informally known as TOPGUN, the grueling six-week training program hones the technique of experienced fighter pilots and teaches them how to use newly-developed skills to instruct others. In 1989, von Lipsey was stationed at the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. Also in 1989, he completed work on a master of arts degree in international affairs from Catholic University.

On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Von Lipsey was quickly sent to Saudi Arabia to take part in Operation Desert Shield, a measure designed to prevent further Iraqi aggression. While in the Middle East, von Lipsey joined Marine Fighter/Attack Squadron 235. On January 20, 1991, at the start of Operation Desert Storm against Iraqi forces in Kuwait, von Lipsey led an attack of 35 aircraft from the Third Marine Aircraft Wing. The daring 600-mile journey to a secret air base in eastern Iraq resulted in the demolition of the base’s maintenance and repair hangars, as well as the network of railroad tracks that were its supply lines. All of the planes under von Lipsey’s command returned safely. For his meritorious service in the execution of this highly successful mission, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. That attack was just one of more than 40 sorties flown by von Lipsey during the Gulf War.

Following his return from the Middle East in 1991, von Lipsey was chosen as one of two aides-de-camp to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin L. Powell. Initially the junior aide, and later the senior, von Lipsey helped orchestrate the general’s busy travel schedule, which included trips to such countries as Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Jamaica, Poland, and Somalia. He remained in that assignment until 1993, when he was awarded a White House fellowship, serving as a special assistant in the areas of foreign and security policy to Page 1376  |  Top of ArticleWhite House Chief of Staff Thomas F. McLarty III. Often traveling on Air Force One as a member of President Clinton’s entourage, von Lipsey provided national security updates and background information for McLarty at high-level meetings with foreign political leaders. Von Lipsey was awarded a second fellowship in 1994 with the Council on Foreign Relations. In December of that year, von Lipsey was honored by Time magazine as one of America’s most promising leaders under 40 years of age in a special report titled “Fifty for the Future.”

When the fellowship ended in mid-1995, von Lipsey was assigned to Marine Corps Air Squadron El Toro, based in Santa Ana, California. He received a promotion to lieutenant colonel shortly afterward. In 1997, he edited and contributed to the book Breaking the Cycle: A Framework for Conflict Resolution, which presented new ways of dealing with countries plagued by violent, intergroup disputes. That same year, von Lipsey was selected by the Rockefeller Foundation for its first cohort (1997–1999) of Next Generation Leadership Fellows. Also in 1997, he became Planning Officer at Marine Corps Headquarters, then in 1998 he was assigned to the National Security Council as Director for Defense Policy and Arms Control. He remained in that post through 1999, when he retired from the U.S. Marine Corps after 20 years of service.

In 2000, von Lipsey was named Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Investment Management Services at Goldman, Sachs Private Wealth Management, Washington, D.C. He is on the board of directors of the Atlantic Council of the United States, Aspen Institute Berlin, Public Allies, and New York City Outward Bound Center. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the Distinguished Flying Cross Society. Von Lipsey resides in both Northern Virginia and New York with his wife, Professor Kori N. Schake of the National Defense University, Institute for National Security Studies.

In addition to the Distinguished Flying Cross with Combat V, von Lipsey has received a Defense Meritorious Service Medal, a Single Mission Air Medal with Combat V, a Strike/ Flight Air Medal with Numeral 4, a Joint Service Commendation Medal, and two Navy Commendation Medals.




William H. Barnes, Private, Company C, 38th U.S. Colored Troops

Christian A. Fleetwood received the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Civil War. Christian A. Fleetwood received the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Civil War. MANUSCRIPT DIVISION. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS.

Powhatan Beaty, First Sergeant, Company G, 5th U.S. Colored Troops

James H. Bronson, First Sergeant, Company D, 5th U.S. Colored Troops

William H. Carney, Sergeant, Company C, 54th Massachusetts Infantry, U.S. Colored Troops

Decatur Dorsey, Sergeant, Company B, 39th U.S. Colored Troops

Christian A. Fleetwood, Sergeant Major, 4th U.S. Colored Troops

James Gardiner, Private, Company 1, 36th U.S. Colored Troops

James H. Harris, Sergeant, Company B, 38th U.S. Colored Troops

Thomas R. Hawkins, Sergeant Major, 6th U.S. Colored Troops

Page 1377  |  Top of Article

Alfred B. Hilton, Sergeant, Company H, 4th U.S. Colored Troops

Milton M. Holland, Sergeant, 5th U.S. Colored Troops

Alexander Kelly, First Sergeant, Company F, 6th U.S. Colored Troops

Robert Pinn, First Sergeant, Company I, 5th U.S. Colored Troops

Edward Radcliff, First Sergeant, Company C, 38th U.S. Colored Troops

Charles Veal, Private, Company D, 4th U.S. Colored Troops


Aaron Anderson, Landsman, USS Wyandank

Robert Blake, Powder Boy, USS Marblehead

William H. Brown, Landsman, USS Brooklyn

Wilson Brown, USS Hartford

John Lawson, Landsman, USS Hartford

James Mifflin, Engineer’s Cook, USS Brooklyn

Joachim Pease, Seaman, USS Kearsarge



Daniel Atkins, Ship’s Cook, First Class, USS Cushing

John Davis, Seaman, USS Trenton

Alphonse Girandy, Seaman, USS Tetrel

John Johnson, Seaman, USS Kansas

William Johnson, Cooper, USS Adams

Joseph B. Noil, Seaman, USS Powhatan

John Smith, Seaman, USS Shenandoah

Robert Sweeney, Seaman, USS Kearsage, USS Jamestown



Thomas Boyne, Sergeant, Troop C, 9th U.S. Cavalry

Benjamin Brown, Sergeant, Company C, 24th U.S. Infantry

John Denny, Sergeant, Troop C, 9th U.S. Cavalry

Pompey Factor, Seminole Negro Indian Scouts

Clinton Greaves, Corporal, Troop C, 9th U.S. Cavalry

Henry Johnson, Sergeant, Troop D, 9th U.S. Cavalry

George Jordan, Sergeant, Troop K, 9th U.S. Cavalry

William McBreyar, Sergeant, Troop K, 10th U.S. Cavalry

Isaiah Mays, Corporal, Company B, 24th U.S. Infantry

Issac Payne, Private (Trumpeteer) Seminole Negro Indian Scouts

Thomas Shaw, Sergeant, Troop K, 9th U.S. Cavalry

Emanuel Stance, Sergeant, Troop F, 9th U.S. Cavalry

Augustus Walley, Private, Troop 1, 9th U.S. Cavalry

John Ward, Sergeant, Seminole Negro Indian Scouts

Moses Williams, First Sergeant, Troop 1, 9th U.S.

Cavalry William O. Wilson, Corporal, Troop 1, 9th U.S. Cavalry

Brent Woods, Sergeant, Troop B, 9th U.S. Cavalry



Edward L. Baker Jr., Sergeant Major, 10th U.S. Cavalry

Dennis Bell, Private, Troop H, 10th U.S. Cavalry

Fitz Lee, Private, Troop M, 10th U.S. Cavalry

William H. Thompkins, Private, Troop G, 10th U.S. Cavalry

George H. Wanton, Sergeant, Troop M, 10th U.S. Cavalry


Joseph B. Noil, Non-combatant Service, USS Powhatan

Robert Penn, Fireman, First Class, USS Iowa



Freddie Stowers, Corporal, Company C, 371st Infantry Regiment, 93rd Infantry Division



Vernon Baker, First Lieutenant

Edward A. Carter Jr., Staff Sergeant

John R. Fox, First Lieutenant

Willy F. James Jr., Private First Class

Ruben Rivers, Staff Sergeant

Charles L. Thomas, First Lieutenant

George Watson, Private



Cornelius H. Charlton, Sergeant, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Division

William Thompson, Private, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Division

Page 1378  |  Top of Article
Department of Defense Manpower: 1980 to 1997
[In thousands (1,459 represents 1,459,000). As of end of fiscal year. Includes National Guard, Reserve, and retired regular personnel on extended or continuous active duty. Excludes Coast Guard. Other officer candidates are included under enlisted personnel]
  ArmyNavy3Marine corpsAir Force
NA Not available.
1Beginning 1980, excludes Navy Reserve personnel on active duty for Training and Administration of Reserves (TARS). From 1969, the full-time Guard and Reserve.
2Includes Cadets and other not shown separately.
3Prior to 1980, includes Navy Reserve personnel on active duty for Training and Administration of Reserves (TARS).
SOURCE: U.S. Dept. of Defense, Selected Manpower Statistics, annual.



Webster Anderson, Sergeant, Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 320th Artillery, 101st Airborne Division

Eugene Ashley Jr., Sergeant, Company C, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces

William M. Bryant, Sergeant First Class, Company A, 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces

Lawrence Joel, Specialist Sixth Class, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 173d Airborne Brigade

Dwight H. Johnson, Specialist Fifth Class, Company B, 1st Battalion, 69th Armor, 4th Infantry Division

Garfield M. Langhorn, Private First Class, Troop C, 7th Squadron, 17th Cavalry, 1st Aviation Brigade

Matthew Leonard, Platoon Sergeant, Company B, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division

Donald R. Long, Sergeant, Troop C, 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, 1st Infantry Division

Milton L. Olive III, Private First Class, Company B, 2nd Battalion 503d Infantry, 173d Airborne Brigade

Riley L. Pitts, Captain, Company C, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division

Charles C. Rogers, Lieutenant Colonel, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division

Rupert L. Sargent, First Lieutenant, Company B, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division

Clarence E. Sasser, Specialist 5th Class, Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry, 90th Infantry Division

Clifford C. Sims, Staff Sergeant, Company D, 2nd Battalion, 501st Infantry, 101st Airborne Division

John E. Warren Jr., First Lieutenant, Company C, 2nd Battalion, 22d Infantry, 25th Infantry Division


James A. Anderson Jr., Private First Class, 2nd Platoon, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Division

Oscar P. Austin, Private First Class, Company E, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division

Rodney M. Davis, Company B, First Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division

Robert H. Jenkins Jr., Private First Class, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 3rd Marine Division

Ralph H. Johnson, Private First Class, Company A, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division

Page 1379  |  Top of Article
Ready Reserve Personnel Profile by Race and Sex: 1990 to 1999
[As of end of fiscal year. Excludes U.S. Coast Guard Reserve. The ready reserve includes selected reservists who are intended to assist active forces in a war and the individual ready reserve who, in a major war, would be used to fill out active and reserve units and later would be a source of combat replacements; a portion of the ready reserve serves in an active status. The standby reserve cannot be called to active duty unless the Congress gives its explicit approval. The retired reserve represents a low potential for mobilization]
 RacePercent distribution
ItemTotalWhiteBlackAsianAmerican IndianWhiteBlackAsianAmerican Indian
1Includes unknown sex.
SOURCE: U.S. Dept. of Defense, Official Guard and Reserve Manpower Strengths and Statistics, annual.
1999, total11,276,190969,248201,96922,2937,34975.915.81.70.6

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX2690000037