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Posts Tagged ‘world war II

African American World War II veterans share stories of war amidst segregation

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By Pamela McLoughlin, Journal Register Staff

Among the shrinking pool of World War II veterans still alive is a group with two war stories to tell.

One is about patriotism, dedication and becoming war heroes. The other is of doing the same thing, but in a segregated military where black troops fought in different units than white troops, with whites at the highest ranks, even though their blood spilled the same.

The Greater New Haven branch of the NAACP will honor black World War II veterans from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday at a Veterans Day program at Criterion Cinemas, 86 Temple St. For tickets, call the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People office at 203-389-7275 or e-mail Tickets are $25

In addition, the NAACP will showcase an oral history project, featuring the veterans, created by Hillhouse High School.

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Tuskegee museum gets rare World War II plane

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By Micki Steele, Chicago Tribune

Fighter planes flown by the nation’s first African-American military aviators are hard to find.

That’s why officials at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum jumped at the chance to buy one.

The museum spent a year raising the funds to pay for a World War II T-6 training plane — known as the “pilot maker” — once used by the celebrated all-black aviation unit.

The $200,000 deal was finalized in late September.

One other such plane exists that was flown by the Tuskegee Airmen, Brian Smith, the museum’s president, told the Detroit News for a story published Friday. “It’s a national treasure.”
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October 19, 2010 at 6:45 am

New exhibit opens at African-American military museum

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A new exhibit is focusing on the everyday lives of African-American soldiers who trained at Camp Shelby during the Second World War. The exhibit is called Archaeology of the World War Two African-American Barracks and it’s on display at Hattiesburg’s African-American Military History Museum.

The exhibit features about 100 artifacts excavated in the last 5 years from former barracks areas at Camp Shelby that were occupied by black soldiers in the 1940s. It also features photos of life at the post during the same period.

The exhibit runs through the month of October.

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October 2, 2010 at 10:11 am

Pioneering African-American paratrooper fought WWII Japanese bombs on home soil

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By Jeff Wilkinson, The State

It was Aug. 6, 1945, and as fire raged below him, Lonnie Walker, a soft-spoken 23-year-old U.S. Army paratrooper from rural Louisiana, plunged into the high canopy of trees and jerked mightily as his parachute snagged on a limb.

Suspended, he tied one end of a 150-foot-long rope to his harness and dropped the rest of the length to the ground. Slipping out of his harness, he slid down the rope and began fighting the fire.

One of Walker’s comrades, a medic named Malvin L. Brown, was not so fortunate.

“He didn’t have enough rope to get down from his parachute,” said Walker, now 85, of Blythewood. “He fell and lost his life.”

Walker was a member of the first African-American paratrooper battalion, the Triple Nickles, 555th Parachute Infantry.

And on today’s 65th anniversary of V-J Day — Victory over Japan Day, Aug. 14, 1945 — the story of Walker and the Triple Nickles represents one of the least-known and most-bizarre campaigns of World War II. Read the rest of this entry »

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August 16, 2010 at 6:49 pm

On Hilton Head, Oscar winner Gossett promotes new documentary on African-American soldiers

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By Rob Wile, Island Packet

In 1952, Universal Pictures released a film called “The Red Ball Express” that told the story of a corps of military truck drivers who supplied Allied armies in Europe during World War II. The film carried the tagline, “From beachhead to battlefront, they carry the ammo for Patton’s tanks!”

In reality, the unit was almost entirely African-American.

In the film, however, most of the drivers were white.

For Oscar winner Louis Gossett Jr., the unit’s story is illustrative of the dedication and ingenuity of African-American soldiers fighting during World War II.

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August 11, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Vernon Baker, 90, Dies; Medal of Honor Recipient

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By Richard Goldstein, New York Times

Vernon Baker, who was the only living black veteran awarded the Medal of Honor for valor in World War II, receiving it 52 years after he wiped out four German machine gun nests on a hilltop in northern Italy, died on Tuesday at his home near St. Maries, Idaho. He was 90.

The cause was complications of brain cancer, said Ron Hodge, owner of the Hodge Funeral Home in St. Maries.

“I was a soldier and I had a job to do,” Mr. Baker said after receiving the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for bravery, from President Bill Clinton in a White House ceremony on Jan. 13, 1997.

But in the segregated armed forces of World War II, black soldiers were usually confined to jobs in manual labor or supply units. Even when the Army allowed blacks to go into combat, it rarely accorded them the recognition they deserved. Of the 433 Medals of Honor awarded by all branches of the military during the war, not a single one went to any of the 1.2 million blacks in the service.

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July 14, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Tuskegee airman wants black kids to be aware of the past

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by Sonya Bernard-Hollis

World War II was over, and there was a rush to resume normalcy.

But for Alexander Jefferson, a black man from Detroit, “normal” was not what he wanted. When World War II ended in 1945, Jefferson, a fighter pilot in a segregated U.S. Army Air Corps, returned to the Motor City bursting with pride about his years of service.

He said he quickly found not much had changed regarding race relations while he was gone. No one would hire him as a chemist, although he held a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and biology from Clark Atlanta University. He believes his skin color was his liability.

“Before the war, I wanted to become a chemist, work in a lab,” said Jefferson, now 86. “But when I came home to Detroit, I was told I was ‘over qualified.’ That’s what (whites) said when you were a black man with an education.”

Jefferson never received the job he long studied for. He would become an elementary-school science teacher and retire after more than 30 years.

Today however, retired Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson knows his country does remember and care that he and nearly 1,000 other black men made history during WWII as the Tuskegee Airmen.

Jefferson will be keynote speaker during the Metropolitan Kalamazoo Branch of the NAACP’s 28th Freedom Fund Banquet on Saturday at Western Michigan University’s Bernhard Center.

“This man is a part of our history, and we have an opportunity to hear him, firsthand, share what it was like to be a Tuskegee Airman,” said Romeo Phillips, of the local NAACP chapter, who will introduce his longtime friend at the banquet. “Not many of these men are alive to share their stories, and what he has to share needs to be heard.”

The beginning

Jefferson’s parents moved to Detroit about 1915, during the Great Migration era when blacks left the South for better lives in the North. He remembers having a love for planes since age 2, and was a World War I buff, devouring any magazines he could get his hands on that chronicled the stories of bravery and protecting their country.

He attended Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta majoring in chemistry and biology, and minoring in math and physics. While attending the historically black college, he remembered what his parents told him about the South and heeded their words of how to conduct himself as a black man.

He’d dutifully buy his movie tickets at the front booth, like the white customers, then take his ticket around to the side of the theater, through an alley, to enter the balcony where blacks sat. He also rode in the back of streetcars, and he did not eat in restaurants.

“When we talk in schools today and black kids say, ‘Man, I wouldn’t put up with that. I’d sit where I want.’ But, they are ‘Monday-morning quarterbacking.’ Yeah, it hurt when a policeman said, ‘Nigger, get off the sidewalk.’ But we tucked in our gut. It hurt like hell, but we survived in order to fight a better fight later on,” Jefferson said.

The war

When the draft was instituted, Jefferson feared he would face the same fate he had heard other black service personnel had — relegated to cooking and cleaning duties, to the tune of $21 a month. Jefferson’s hopes were raised when military recruiters came to black colleges to recruit pilots.

“If we passed the test, after nine months we would become 2nd lieutenants, and earn $150 a month. We would be officers and pilots in the military,” Jefferson said he was told. “It was a dream come true.”

He graduated from college in June 1942, went home to Detroit to take the exam to become a pilot and passed. He was working toward a master’s degree at Howard University when he received the call in April 1943 that would later make him one of the first 32 black men to complete the Army Air Corps training at Tuskegee Army Airfield in Alabama. He would be a member of the 332nd Fighter Group, under Col. Benjamin O. Davis, America’s first black general.

Their assignment was bittersweet, as it is common knowledge they weren’t expected to succeed. The military then believed that black servicemen were mentally incapable of combat aviation. The outstanding performances of the Tuskegee Airmen proved blacks could handle the same roles as whites. So, finally, in 1946, the Tuskegee base was closed.

“We were glad,” Jefferson said of Morton Field, which will become a historic site in October. “We proved we could fly, and could now serve and train in an integrated military.”

Getting their just due

It would be more than 15 years after the war when Jefferson and other black pilots who had trained in Tuskegee and now lived in Detroit would unite to honor their past. Soon others who lived across the country would follow and, in 1972, they would be incorporated nationally and become forever known as the Tuskegee Airmen. It would be the pilots who named themselves the Tuskegee Airmen. Before that, they were simply known as “black pilots,” according to Jefferson.

What they started calling themselves has led them to worldwide fame. Movies starring Laurence Fishburnecq and statues erected in their honor now help hold their place in history. They talk to kids across the country about their experiences and lead weekend flying opportunities and summer aviation programs.

In 2007, President Bush presented them with the Congressional Gold Medal for their part in World War II. The medal was made possible through legislation by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, and Rep. Charles Rangel, D-New York.

“The Tuskegee Airmen, true American heroes, were pioneers who transformed our nation,” said U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R- St. Joseph, who said he plans to attend the NAACP banquet.

Jefferson could talk for hours about his experiences in the military and as a POW in a German prison camp. He has captured many of his memories in “Red Tail Captured, Red Tail Free: The Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman and POW,” released in 2004. Lewis H. Carlson, a WMU professor emeritus of history, helped him write it. The book will be available at the banquet.

He said what he, and others went through as a Tuskegee Airmen, helped catapult other civil rights-era changes.

“In 1948, President Harry S. Truman integrated the military. And six years later, Brown vs. the Board of Education led to the schools being integrated,” Jefferson said. “And this is what the kids today are benefiting from, and they don’t even know their history. We did this for them, and it’s up to us to make sure they know how they have what they have today.”