Sunday, April 10, 2005

The precursors to de-segregation of the US Military

It seems that just about everyone who has studied either WWII history, or civil rights history knows about the Tuskegee Airmen. This was just one of the units that was put together due to the urgings of Eleanor Roosevelt that was comprised almost completely of African-Americans. I go to church with a Benjamin Garrison, who was a radioman aboard the USS MASON (DE-529), which was crewed (initially) by African-American enlisted and white officers. As time went on, African-American officers were brought aboard. As with the Tuskegee Airmen, the story of the USS MASON shows professionalism and courage is not an imbedded characteristic of a skin color. The book that tells the story of the USS MASON is "Proudly We Served: The Men of the USS MASON" by Mary P. Kelly. Not only is there a book out, the book has been turned into a movie, "Proud," which has been produced by Tommy Hilfiger. The screening of the movie was held for the crew members and present Navy leadership last summer in Norfolk, Virginia. I understand they are looking for a distributing agent for the film. Add to the Army Air Corps and Navy stories of African-Americans the 761st Tank Battalion. Their story was written by Kareem Abdul Jabar in "Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII’s Forgotten Heros." Once more, heroism was a common virtue, with white units initially being upset when they arrived to support the infantry units, yet didn’t want them to leave when they were assigned to another unit. The book is a great story of men in combat, with the discussion of some of the hurdles they faced, but the book is mostly a narrative of training and combat operations, while assigned to General Patton’s 3rd Army. I also found "Patton’s Panthers" by Charles Sasser covering the 761st as well. To complete the list of African-American units in WWII I have discovered, is the 555th Parachute Battalion. I found out about this unit, because Ben Garrison is the Chaplin for the association. A short history for the Battalion’s is here. So far I haven’t found any books so far. I'm sure there are a few more units out there that helped blaze the trail for the desegregation of the US Military in the early 50's. In any case, the history of those who were part of the units mentioned above are worth a bit of reading.

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