Posts tagged ‘Blacks in the military’

SHAKO: Long Wait For A Hero Is Over


President Joe Biden congratulates Medal of Honor recipient, retired U.S. Army Colonel Paris D. Davis on March 3, 2023, in the East Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

Almost fifty-eight years after a young Army Special Forces captain braved exploding mortar rounds and hand grenades as well as rifle and machine gun fire to rescue three other wounded Green Berets, the world now knows what the soldiers who survived that deadly ambush and two-day battle in Vietnam know — Paris Davis deserves the United States’ highest award for military valor — for his staggering bravery and incredible selflessness under fire.

At a White House ceremony on March 3, 2022, President Joe Biden presented the now 83-year-old retired Army colonel with the Medal of Honor for his actions in the vicinity of Bong Son, Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) on June17-18, 1965. “This … may be the most consequential day since I’ve been President. This is an incredible man,” Biden said at the opening of the ceremony.

Then-Captain Davis led a Special Forces team and some 80 inexperienced South Vietnamese soldiers in a nigh time attack on a Viet Cong camp. At first the element of surprise worked but then the V.C. counterattacked. Davis’ unit was vastly outnumbered, but he captain rallied the troops, took the fight to the enemy and rescued his men who were cut off and wounded. Once support arrived, he was ordered to leave, but despite his wounds, he opted to stay to ensure that no man was left behind.

Capt. Paris Davis, Vietnam, 1965. (Photo by Ron Deis)

Over the course of two days, Davis selflessly led a charge to neutralize enemy emplacements, called for precision artillery fire, engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the enemy, and prevented the capture of three American soldiers (Robert Brown, John Reinberg, and Billy Waugh) while saving their lives with a medical extraction. Davis sustained multiple gunshot and grenade fragment wounds during the 19-hour battle and refused to leave the battlefield until his men were safely removed.

Davis, who was among the first African American officers in the Green Berets, was awarded the Silver Star medal (the nation’s third highest decoration for bravery in combat) but those who were there that day. Those whom he saved, said Davis should get the Medal of Honor and they put it in writing.

“I wish I could say that this story of Paris’s sacrifice on that day in 1965 was fully recognized and rewarded immediately. But sadly, we know they weren’t,” Biden told the audience at the White House ceremony.

“At the time Captain Davis returned from war, the country still battling segregation. He returned from Vietnam to experience some of his fellow soldiers crossing to the other side of the street when they saw him in America. And although the men who were with him on that June day immediately nominated Captain Davis to receive the Medal of Honor, somehow the paper- — the paperwork was never processed not just once, but twice,” Biden said.

“But you know what Colonel Davis said after learning he would finally receive the Medal of Honor?  Quote, ‘America was behind me. America was behind me.’  He never lost faith, which I find astounding,” Biden added.

For more on this remarkable soldier, commando, officer and leader, click here and here  (reading of the Medal of Honor citation) and here.

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SHAKOSHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

March 21, 2023 at 11:57 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: Black History Month, Fighting to Serve – Part II

The Protest Ride of Colonel Charles Young.

Brigadier General Charles Young was one of the earliest African-American graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  The third graduate, in fact, class of 1889. And like his predecessors, Young suffered the same racial insults and social isolation from instructors and other cadets on a daily basis.

Col. Charles Young autographed photo: “Yours for Race and Country, Charles Young. 22 Feby., 1919.” (Photo courtesy of Library of Congress)

Despite the rampant racism in the military and the United States as a whole at that time, Young managed a successful career, serving in nearly all of America’s military conflicts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries including the closing days of the Indian Wars and the Spanish-American War.  He commanded units of the all black 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments — the Buffalo Soldiers — in the Philippine Insurrection (now known as the Philippine-American War 1899-1902) and the 1916 Punitive Expedition against Pancho Villa in Mexico.

During his distinguished career, Young also served as a diplomat and educator. He was posted as military attaché to Haiti and the Dominican Republic and later, military advisor to the President of Liberia. He also served as a professor at Wilberforce University and supervisor of a National Park. In the summer of 1917, a few months after the United States entered the First World War, Charles Young became the first African American to reach the rank of Colonel.

Captain Charles Young (seated, 5th from left, front row) with his 9th Cavalry troopers while in the Philippines, circa 1902. (Photo courtesy of the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center, Wilberforce, Ohio)

Despite an impressive leadership record, the Army refused Young’s request to command American troops in Europe. Military leaders told Young, then 53, he was not healthy enough to serve  overseas. An examining board, convened on July 7, 1917 to consider Young’s fate, still found him medically unfit for duty, citing hypertension and other pulmonary issues. However they recommended “in view of the present war conditions the physical condition of this officer be waived and that he be promoted to the next higher grade.” The board forwarded their recommendation onto Adjutant General of the Army for a final decision.

In the Summer of 1918, Young tried one more time to prove to the Army that he was fit for duty. On June 6, 1918, Young saddled his black mare named Blacksmith and headed east to Washington D.C. on what became known as his ‘Protest Ride.’ At the time, Army officers were required to demonstrate their fitness to serve in the cavalry by riding 90 miles in three days on horseback. To prove his fitness, Young, then 54, rode from his home in Wilberforce, Ohio to the nation’s capital, a total of 497 miles — nearly six times the distance of the cavalry fitness ride — in 17 days.

“I rode on horseback from Wilberforce to Washington, walking on foot fifteen minutes in each hour, the distance of 497 miles to show, if possible, my physical fitness for command of troops. I there offered my services gladly at the risk of life, which has no value to me if I cannot give it for the great ends for which the United States is striving,” Young wrote later.

Major Charles Young during the Mexican Punitive Expedition. (Photo courtesy of the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center, Wilberforce, Ohio)

His gallant effort failed to persuade Secretary of War Newton Baker, however, and Colonel Young did not get to lead American soldiers in Europe.

The War Department sent him back to Ohio to help muster and train African-American recruits. Days before the November 11th armistice ended the war, Young was assigned to Camp Grant, Illinois to train black servicemen. Shortly thereafter, at the request of the State Department, Colonel Young was sent once more to serve as military attaché to Liberia, arriving at Monrovia, the capital, in February 1920. While on a visit to Nigeria in late 1921 he became gravely ill and died at the British hospital in Lagos on January 8, 1922. He was 57. Due to British law, Young’s body was buried in Lagos, Nigeria for one year before it could be repatriated to the United States for final interment.

Young’s body was exhumed and transported back to the United States, arriving in New York City in late May 1923 to a hero’s welcome. Thousands turned out as Young’s coffin proceeded to Washington. On June 1, 1923, Colonel Charles Young became the fourth soldier honored with a funeral service at Arlington Memorial Amphitheater before burial in Arlington National Cemetery.

Nearly 100 years later, November 1, 2021, Young was posthumously promoted to Brigadier General.

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One more thing before the end of Black History Month.

Two years ago we posted a two-part series on the portrayal of African-Americans in the U.S. military by Hollywood in the 1940s, 50s and early 60s.

If you missed it last time or want to see it again …

You can revisit Part One here.

And Part Two here.

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SHAKOSHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

February 28, 2023 at 11:55 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: Black History Month, Fighting to Serve – Part I


Andrea Motley Crabtree: The Army’s First Female Deep-Sea Diver

Andrea Motley Crabtree was the only Black person — and the only woman — among eight Soldiers and more than 20 others on Day One of her 1982 class at the U.S. Navy Deep Sea Diving and Salvage School at Panama Beach, Florida. Yes, the Army has divers , too.

The three-month program of instruction awarded the Corps of Engineers’ military occupational specialty  (MOS) 00B (short video), to soldiers, who go on to use their training to support underwater maintenance and construction projects among other missions.

To graduate, students were required to pass a health and fitness assessment that disqualified many. Other requirements included being able to rise from a seated position wearing the 198-pound Mark V deep sea dive suit, walking to a ladder, descending into the water and climbing back up. In the end, Crabtree was one of only two Soldiers and nine Sailors to earn the coveted diver badge, according to the Army.

Then-Specialist 5 Andrea Motley Crabtree in the Mark V deep sea dive suit at Fort Rucker, Alabama in 1985. (photo courtesy of retired Master Sgt. Andrea Motley Crabtree/via U.S. Army).

However, the all male Army diver contingent were far from welcoming at her first assignment at Fort Belvoir., Virginia. She was subjected to pranks such as a dead snake in the unit’s freezer, male divers walking around naked in front of her after PT sessions and more dangerous hazing like turning off Crabtree’s air supply underwater.

“For the most part, I could put up with it because I was a diver, I was diving, I was doing what I loved and I was learning,” said Crabtree, the guest speaker at the Martin Luther King Jr. observance on January 19, 2023 at Fort Lee in Virginia.

But Crabtree was shipped off to South Korea after only eight months at Fort Belvoir. There she encountered Sergeant 1st Class James P. “Frenchy” Leveille, a renowned master diver. While he could have brought pressure on Crabtree to force her out of diving, Leveille treated her like everyone else, she said.

“As far as I was concerned, she was going to get the same treatment and same opportunity as everybody else,” said Leveille, now a retired sergeant major, “and she did very well for herself. She was a good diver, and she was a good Soldier. That’s the way I rated her.”

However, Crabtree said, higher authorities blocked her rise to attaining the Master Diver Badge. Her orders for advanced schooling in California following the Korea assignment were cancelled; her 300-point Army Physical Fitness Tests were rescored as a male’s; and she later received notice her MOS would be closed to women due to changes in policy.

When she questioned why she was accommodated prior to training and less so afterward, one officer said, “We didn’t think you’d make it.”

Retired Master Sergeant Andrea Motley Crabtree reflects on her struggles as the Army’s first female deep sea diver a soldier at Fort Lee, Virginia onJanuary19, 2023. (Photo by T. Anthony Bell)

Crabtree filed discrimination complaints with her chain of command, the post inspector general, the specialized training branch sergeant major and the Department of the Army inspector general. “They all said there was nothing they could do. I told my command they had won and requested to be relieved from dive duty. I’ve been angry every day since then,” she said.

Crabtree transferred to the Signal Corps and finished out her career as a master sergeant. Click here to see her whole story.

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Cathay Williams: The First and Only Female Buffalo Soldier

In October 1868, Private William Cathay reported for sick call for the second time in three months at Fort Bayard near Silver City, New Mexico. Cathay was nearly two years into his service with the 38th Infantry Regiment, an all black unit formed largely with emancipated slaves in 1866.

However, this time the post surgeon made an astounding discovery. Private Cathay was a woman.The official Army paperwork made no mention of Cathay’s real gender. He was given a disability discharge, citing his “feeble habit. He is continually on sick report…”

Artist’s rendering of Cathay Williams by William Jennings

Cathay’s real name was Cathy Williams. Born into slavery in Missouri, she served as a laundress with the Union Army during the Civil War, according to National Park Service historians. Following the war, she returned to the Saint Louis area and enlisted in the United States Army as a man at Jefferson Barracks on November 15, 1866. Under the pseudonym William Cathay, she served for nearly two years in the 38th Infantry, Company A. Her duty stations included Fort Riley and Fort Hacker, Kansas., Fort Union, New Mexico Territory and Fort Cummings, Colorado Territory. During that time she marched hundreds of miles across prairies and deserts, suffered severe skin rashes, caught smallpox and endured a cholera epidemic.

It is uncertain why she masqueraded as a man to join the Army. She left no diaries or letters. Nor are there any known photographs of her. In an 1876 interview with a St. Louis newspaper, she said, “I wanted to make my own living and not be dependent on relations or friends.”

In 1869, the year after Cathay’s discharge, the 38th Infantry Regiment stationed in Kansas and New Mexico, transferred to Fort McKavett, Texas to merge with another all African-American regiment, the 41st Infantry. Together they formed the new 24th Infantry Regiment. The all-black (only the officers were white) 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments and the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments served for decades on the Western frontier, from the Dakotas the Mexican border. They were called Buffalo Soldiers by Native American tribes. The term eventually became synonymous with all of the African-American regiments formed in 1866. Her service in a legacy 24th Infantry unit is why she is considered the only woman Buffalo Soldier.

After her discharge from the Army, Cathay Williams continued to have numerous medical issues. She married and worked as a cook and laundress. Her last known location was in Trinidad, Colorado, in 1892, when she would have been about 48. Her exact date of death and burial location are unknown, according to the Park Service.

February 14, 2023 at 11:19 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: Celebrating Two Ground Breakers — USAF Gen. Charles McGee and USN Cmdr. Billie Farrell

A Red Tail Remembered.

Retired Air Force General Charles McGee, who flew combat missions in three wars, has died at the age of 102. McGee was one of the last surviving members of the fabled Tuskegee Airmen, black fighter pilots who battled Nazis in the air over Europe and racism on the ground back in America during World War Two.

Former Tuskegee Airman, retired then-Colonel Charles McGee, high-fives Airmen during his visit December 6, 2019, at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. He served a total of 30 years in the U.S. Air Force, beginning with the U.S. Army Air Corps, and flew a total of 409 combat missions in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Quail)

McGee, who died at home on January 16, was a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, an all-black training unit of fighter pilots in the segregated Army Air Forces. In February 1944, McGee was stationed in Italy with the 332nd Fighter Group. He flew the Bell P-39Q Airacobra, then the Republic P-47D Thunderbolt and finally the North American P-51 Mustang, escorting B-24 Liberator and B-17 Flying Fortress bombers over Germany, Austria and the Balkans. He also engaged in low level attacks over enemy airfields and railyards.

After the war, McGee stayed in what became the U.S. Air Force in 1947, flying a total of 405 combat missions in World War II, Korea and Vietnam — an Air Force record. He retired as a colonel in 1973 and was honorarily promoted to brigadier general in a 2020 White House ceremony.

The son of a preacher, McGee was born in Cleveland on December 7, 1919. A lifelong leader, he distinguished himself as an Eagle Scout in his youth and remained an inspirational leader throughout his three-decade military career and beyond, the Air Force magazine website reported.

Then Captain Charles McGee and his crew chief Nathaniel Wilson in 1944, stand beside McGee’s P-51C Mustang, named “Kitten” for McGee’s wife, Frances, but also because Wilson kept the plane purring like one.

McGee enlisted in the Army on Oct. 26, 1942—one day after his wedding—and earned his pilot’s wings June 30, 1943. McGee flew his first combat mission on Valentine’s Day, 1944, with the 301st Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group, in Italy. When the pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group painted the tails of their P-47s red, they were nicknamed “Red Tails.” Unlike other fighter pilots who abandoned their bomber escort duties to engage in one-on-one dogfights with Luftwaffe fighters, the Red Tails earned the respect of the bomber crews by staying with their charges and losing very few bombers on their watch.

McGee was promoted to major in the Air Force during the Korean War, flying 100 more combat missions in P-51 Mustangs from the 67th Fighter Bomber Squadron. In Vietnam, as a lieutenant colonel, McGee flew another 172 combat missions in the McDonnell RF-4 reconnaissance aircraft. He retired January 31, 1973 as a full colonel and accumulated more than 6,300 flight hours.

In 2007, as a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, McGee received the Congressional Gold Medal. In 2011, he was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

For more information and photos of General McGee, see this Defense Department posting.

Artist’s illustration of McGhee’s P-51 Mustang, “Kitten,” (U.S. Air Force art via Wikipedia)

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New Commander for ‘Old Ironsides’

For the first time in its 224-year history, the USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides”, will have a woman skipper.

Commander Billie J. Farrell will take charge the oldest ship in the U.S. Navy during a change-of-command ceremony in Boston, scheduled for Friday, January 21, at noon.

USS Constitution is underway during Chief Petty Officer Heritage Weeks in Boston Harbor on October 29, 2021. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Alec Kramer) Click on photo to enlarge the image.

As the 77th commanding officer of USS Constitution, Farrell will become the first woman to serve as captain since 1797.

“I am honored to have the privilege to soon command this iconic warship that dates back to the roots of both our nation and our Navy,” Farrell said, according to a Navy press release. “I hope to strengthen the legacy of USS Constitution through preservation, promotion and protection by telling her story and connecting it to the rich heritage of the United States Navy and the warships serving in the fleet today,” she added.

Constitution, is the world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat, and played a crucial role in the Barbary Wars and the War of 1812, actively defending sea lanes from 1797 to 1855.

During normal operations, the active-duty Sailors stationed aboard Constitution provide free tours and offer public visitation to more than 600,000 people a year as they support the ship’s mission of promoting the Navy’s history and maritime heritage and raising awareness of the importance of a sustained naval presence. Constitution was undefeated in battle and destroyed or captured 33 opponents.

The ship earned the nickname of Old Ironsides during the war of 1812 when British cannonballs were seen bouncing off the ship’s wooden hull.

Commander Billie J. Farrell, new skipper and first woman to command USS Constitution. (U.S. Navy photo)

Commander Farrell previously served as the executive officer aboard the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Vicksburg (CG 69).

She is a native of Paducah, Kentucky, and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the University of Arkansas.

As USS Constitution’s crew welcomes Farrell, they will say farewell to the ship’s current commanding officer, Commander John Benda

“I know the crew is in great hands with Commander Farrell,” said Benda. “This historic barrier is long overdue to be broken. I cannot think of a better candidate to serve as USS Constitution’s first female commanding officer. I look forward to watching what she and the crew accomplish in the next few years.”

While Farrell is Constitution’s first female skipper, she won’t be the first woman to serve aboard the old frigate.

The first female commissioned officer aboard Constitution was Lieutenant Commander Claire V. Bloom, who served as executive officer and led the historic 1997 sail, the first time Old Ironsides sailed under her own power since 1881.

The first female crew member was Rosemarie Lanam, an enlisted Sailor, who joined Constitution’s crew in 1986.

Today women comprise more than one third of the frigate’s 80-person crew.

Seaman Jaida Williams, assigned to the USS Constitution, climbs the mizzenmast shroud during weekly sail training in 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Casey Scoular) Click on photo to enlarge image.

January 20, 2022 at 11:12 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: Righting Old Wrongs — Honoring the Harlem Hellfighters

All-Black WW I Regiment Honored.

President Joe Biden signed legislation August 25, to award a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal to the 369th Infantry Regiment, commonly known as the “Harlem Hellfighters,” in recognition of their bravery and outstanding service during World War I.

‘Hell Fighters’ from Harlem By H. Charles McBarron (Click photo to enlarge image)

During World War I, the 369th spent 191 days in frontline trenches, more than any other American unit. They also suffered the most losses of any American regiment, with 1,500 casualties.

On August 10, the U.S. Senate passed legislation to award the medal to the Hellfighters. It was the third Gold Medal to go to an African American unit, after the Tuskegee Airmen in 2007 and the Montford Point, North Carolina, Marines in 2011.

“The Harlem Hellfighters are an example of courage under fire,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York), the Senate Majority Leader. “It has taken too long for this country to recognize their bravery.” Other supporters of the legislation were New York’s other senator, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as Representatives Tom Suozzi and Adriano Espaillat, both of New York and Representative Joyce Beatty of Ohio.

Originally formed before the war as the 15th Regiment of the New York National Guard, it was an almost entirely African-American unit. They were the first black U.S. troops sent to France, arriving in late 1917, as part of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF).

A U.S. Model 1917 Bolo knife.

The unit was relegated to labor service duties instead of combat training. As part of the 185th Infantry Brigade the 369th was assigned on January 5, 1918 to the all black 93rd Infantry Division.

Although he had commanded black troops (the famed 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers) in the Spanish-American War, AEF commander General John J. Pershing and others refused to integrate the armed services. Many white American soldiers refused to serve in combat with blacks. The Army decided on April 8, 1918 to assign the 369th to the French Army, which had been requesting American units as replacements. The men were issued French weapons, helmets, belts and pouches, although they continued to wear their U.S. uniforms.

“The American Negro soldier in France was treated with the same contempt and undemocratic spirit as the American Negro citizen is treated in the U.S.,” said civil rights activist, historian and author W.E.B DuBois.

The regiment, wearing French helmets while serving with the French army in 1918. (National Archives via wikipedia)

The original caption of the photo above read: “Negro troops in France,” Noting the unit had been under fire, it added: “Two of the men, Privates Johnson and Roberts, displayed exceptional courage while under fire and routed a German raiding party, for which the Negroes were decorated with the French Croix de Guerre.”

Henry Johnson wearing his French Croix de Guerre, the only decoration he received during his lifetime, for his heroism in France during World War I.

Private Henry Johnson was  cited for his heroism on the night of  May 15, 1918 on the Western Front in France. While on sentry duty with another soldier of the 369th, Johnson fended off a night raid by as many as a dozen German soldiers. Johnson and the other soldier fired on the Germans until they ran out of ammunition. They then used hand grenades and rifle butts to fight the Germans. When the other soldier was knocked unconscious, the Germans tried to carry him off as a prisoner, but Johnson battled back using his rifle as a club and then slashing at the Germans with his bolo knife. He may have killed four Germans single-handed in the dark while rescuing his comrade. 

Despite 21 wounds, Johnson did not receive the Purple Heart medal or any other citation from his country, even though former President Theodore Roosevelt described him as “one of the five bravest American soldiers in the war.” He received the Purple Heart posthumously in 1996 and the Distinguished Service Cross in 2002. The DSC was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award for bravery in combat, and posthumously presented by President Barrack Obama in 2015.

“America can’t change what happened to Henry Johnson,” Obama said at the award ceremony. “We can’t change what happened to too many soldiers like him, who went uncelebrated because our nation judged them by the color of their skin and not the content of their character. But we can do our best to make it right,” he added.

As part of the French Army’s 161st Division, the 369th took part in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. On September 29, after a brutal struggle, during which heavy casualties were sustained, Sechault was taken and the 369th soldiers dug in to consolidate their advanced position. That action is depicted in the painting at the top earned the Croix de Guerre for the entire regiment. But the Meuse-Argonne claimed nearly one-third of the 369th as battle casualties.

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SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress, or parade, uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York in the photo.

August 26, 2021 at 1:27 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO on SUNDAY (August 15, 2021)

Meeting the Challenge.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Tia Dufour)

U.S. Marine Corps officer candidates with Alpha and Delta Companies conduct the  at Officer Candidates School, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia on August 9, 2021.

A 2013 article on the Quantico website describes some of the challenges along the 2.91-mile obstacle course. They include commando crawl, high crawl under barbed wire and balancing while running on elevated logs. Then picking up 40mm ammo cans and carrying them up and down hills and through knee-deep swamp water. After putting down the ammo cans, candidates pick up stretchers — each weighted down with three sandbags — and carry the load up and down trails with  more obstacles. After taking a quick break to hydrate, teams had to pick up a log and run back down the trails to face more obstacles, ending with a rope climb.

The Montford Point Challenge was created in 2011 to honor and celebrate the sacrifice and heroism of the Montford Point Marines They were the first African American Marines — who, from 1942 to 1949 — were segregated from white recruits.   They received basic training —  initially from all white officers and drill instructors — at Montford Point, a facility at the Marines’ Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

Despite the hardships and indignities endured at a segregated basic training facility in the Jim Crow South, Montford Point Marines went on to serve at Peleliu and Iwo Jima in the Pacific during World War II and the Chosen Reservoir in Korea and paved the way for an integrated Marine Corps, according to the website.

For more information about how and why the Montford Point facility came to be — despite the misgivings of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the opposition of the Marine Corps Commandant — click here.

Here is a video (almost 9 minutes long) showing part of what officer candidates go through today in the Montford Point Challenge.

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Uprooted tree and the utility pole it destroyed. (4GWAR photo by John M. Doyle. Copyright 2021 Sonoma Road Strategies).

This FRIDAY FOTO is appearing two days late because of a storm-related interruption of 4GWAR Blog’s wifi and internet service. We regret the delay.

On the plus side, it has shown us the weak points in our technology set-up and left us resolved to become more resilient.

August 15, 2021 at 7:42 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO/SHAKO (June 18, 2021)


It’s June 19, or Juneteenth, – the holiday marking the last gasp of legal slavery in the United States. What started out as a holiday in Texas has been gaining recognition and popularity — especially in this very troubled time of police shootings, protest marches and the still evolving reckoning about the place of race in American history.

At 4GWAR, we thought we’d take a look at the events that led to the Juneteenth tradition in the waning days of the Civil War — harking back to a posting we created in 2015 to mark the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth

EDITOR’s NOTE: That’s how we started our blog posting a year ago. Little did we know those words would foreshadow recent events in Washington and around the country. You can see that 2020 blog posting in it’s entirety here.

But tomorrow marks the first time June 19th will be celebrated as a federal holiday since Congress passed legislation and President Biden signed it into law on Thursday (June 17) . Some people are already worried whether the U.S. Mail will be delivered or the banks will be open on the 19th. Here at 4GWAR we’ll let other folks worry about all that.

We do have one concern that arose when we read a news story about the 14 Republicans in the House of Representatives who voted against making June 19th a federal holiday. That news didn’t surprise us, not nearly as much as the news that the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to make this date a federal holiday.

The 14 House members gave various reasons for their “No” vote — some of them pretty lame, like the added cost to taxpayers of another day off for federal workers. But a few voiced concern that the official name of the new holiday, Juneteenth National Independence Day, would confuse people about the July 4 holiday — or worse, “push Americans to pick one of those two days as their independence day based on their racial identity,”as Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky said.

That did concern us at 4GWAR. The last thing the United States needs right now is something to divide us even more. And at 4GWAR, where we’ve been writing about Juneteenth (off and on) since 2011, we feel any holiday that celebrates the fight for freedom from oppression — even if it commemorates somebody else’s history, like Bastille Day, Cinco de Mayo or Hanukkah — is still worth appreciation.

We’ve been wracking our brain to find a military image in U.S. history, emblematic of the fight for freedom in the American Civil War for today’s FRIDAY FOTO. We thought about the opening battle scene in Lincoln or the final one in Glory, but on their simplest level they show white guys (the oppressors) and black guys (the oppressed) in brutal hand-to-hand combat. Neither looked like material to bring people together in today’s hair-trigger atmosphere.

Finally, we thought of Gettysburg, the epic 1993 film about the epic 1863 battle. It, too, can be problematic. Its even-handed portrayal of the soldiers and leaders of the Confederacy has been criticized as Southern propaganda. And there are next-to-no people of color in it, except for one scene with a runaway slave. However, there is a scene that captures the one difference between the soldiers in blue and those in gray (or butternut brown) — slavery. Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of the 20th Maine’s speech to a group of hard-headed soldiers from another Maine regiment who refuse to fight because their enlistment has run out. Here’s a shortened version, with very clear imagery.

In a statement quoted by the New York Times, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat of Texas (she represents the Houston area) and a lead sponsor of the bill, said “Juneteenth is as significant to African Americans as July 4 is to all Americans.” We hope that Juneteenth will grow to be appreciated by all Americans, and that whites will see it as something more than a black holiday marking beginning — just the very beginning — of the United States of America doing the right thing about racial inequality. To paraphrase Henry Fonda’s character in The Ox-Bow Incident, a cowboy trying to stop a lynching who’s been told its none of his business. Slavery “is any man’s business that’s around.”

And we hope people of color will realize than in addition to the 180,000 black soldiers who fought for freedom, thousands — if not hundreds of thousands — of white men and boys died, not just to preserve the union, but to set other people free.

We all have a stake in the meaning of Juneteenth.

ANOTHER EDITOR’s NOTE: For regular 4GWAR visitors who expect to see a beautiful photo, or at least an interesting one with a story behind it on Fridays. We will post one on Saturday as a FRIDAY FOTO EXTRA.

June 18, 2021 at 8:59 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: Black History Month – African Americans in War Movies Part I

Eight War Movies Worth Seeing

As Black History month draws to a close, here at 4GWAR we thought we’d leave you with some films to help explore how Hollywood treated black actors and black history in films about war and life in the military during wartime.

This is a far from an all encompassing list of films made during — and right after — World War II and the Korean War, when the Jim Crow era (at least in Hollywood) began to give way to the burgeoning Civil Rights movement, desegregation of the military and (slowly) growing media coverage of racial issues from the non-white point of view.

Black U.S. Army Force pilots of the 15th Air Force confer by one of their P-51 Mustangs in Italy. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives)

Because the military was segregated until 1948, and little attention was paid to the contributions of all-black units, even less attention was paid to people of color in the movies — except as servants, savages, token players in crowd scenes or comic relief.

There were few or no black actors in “The Longest Day,” “Sands of Iwo Jima,” or “Twelve O’Clock High,” because there were few or no black Sailors, Solders, Airmen and Marines in World War II — or so we were told.

The movies on this list started to change that, not always sensitively, but changes were beginning.


With a timeworn plot — a small, rag-tag band of soldiers thrown together against overwhelming odds — (at least two other films on this list have similar story lines),  “Bataan” might seem like nothing special. However, Bataan was one of the first war movies to cast an African-American actor, Kenneth Spencer (bare-chested in the photo above), as “a soldier of equal standing with the rest of his multi-cultural unit,” according Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz.

The Story: During the retreat to the Bataan peninsula during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in early 1942, 12 soldiers from different units and one sailor are tasked with destroying a key bridge to slow the invading Japanese. They’re also told to stay at their posts as long as possible to keep the enemy from rebuilding the bridge.

Spencer, a trained opera singer as well as actor, portrayed Private Wesley Epps, 3rd Engineer Battalion, who was studying for the ministry before the Army and sings or hums hymns in a rich voice while he works. Except for some surprised or skeptical looks at the first roll call,  the men generally accept Epps as a soldier and demolition expert.  Producer Dore Schary deliberately did not tell his writers he was planning to cast an African-American as one of the soldiers, in order to avoid any racial equality speeches in the script. The NAACP gave MGM two awards for presenting an African-American in an intelligent and sympathetic manner, according to Internet Movie Data base (IMDb). However, some theater organizations in the Jim Crow South refused to show it.

By the way, it’s Spencer’s voice singing the title ballad of “A Walk in the Sun,” (1945) another acclaimed war movie, in which there are no actors of color.

CRASH DIVE (20th Century Fox, 1944)

While most World War II movies, particularly those made during the war, feature few, if any, African-American characters,  “Crash Dive” is another notable exception. It’s primarily a combination war and romance film with submarine commander Dana Andrews and his brash Exec, Tyrone Power, vying for the same girl when they’re not battling Nazi  U-boats and anti-submarine decoy ships  in the North Atlantic.

One significant role is played by veteran African-American actor Ben Carter (in photo above), as Oliver Cromwell Jones, a messman (kitchen steward) the only job open to blacks on U.S. Navy ships, While it’s a stereotypical role, Carter’s character is more developed than most available to black character actors in the 1940s. “Crash Dive” doesn’t forget about Jones for long periods of the story as so many other war movies did with their black characters. A subplot is the camaraderie he develops with a crusty senior chief when Jones discovers the chief’s heart medicine, noting “A man don’t take nitroglycerine for dandruff.” Jones agrees not to tell anyone so the chief can go on one last mission. When the ship’s crew launches a commando raid late in the film, nobody stops Jones from gearing up and joining the raid. But remember, this film was made in a less racially sensitive time. As the white sailors blacken their faces in preparation for the nighttime raid, Jones bursts out laughing: “I’m the only born commando here!”

HOME OF THE BRAVE (United Artists, 1949)

Because all of the U.S. armed services were segregated in World War II and little was known about the heroics of black units like the Tuskegee airmen until years later, the previous two films were remarkable for simply including any black characters in the story. In “Home of the Brave,” the black soldier and his treatment by others is the story.

Stage and film actor James Edwards plays the only black soldier, Private Moss, among a five-man reconnaissance team sent to map out a Japanese-held island before an amphibious landing. Racial tensions between Moss and the others, builds along with the overarching terror of stealthily gathering topographic data in the steaming jungles of an island occupied by 15,000 Japanese troops.

The story unfolds largely in flashbacks as an Army psychiatrist tries to determine why a bedridden Moss can’t walk, even though he was not wounded when Japanese gunfire forced the team to run for their lives.

It’s a low budget film with a small cast, based on a stage play about racism — although in the play the outsider is Jewish, not black. The film’s producer and screenwriter decided to change the central character’s race because they believed antisemitism “had been done” already with 1947’s Oscar winning “Gentlemen’s Agreement.”

The film was well received by many black newspapers like the Pittsburgh Courier, where columnist Billy Rowe called it “without a doubt one of the most important milestones of the generation. One that no good American , and surely no Negro, can afford to miss.”  Bill Chase, writing in New York Age, said the film “reveals intimately the reactions of one who feels himself universally defamed and unwanted.”  Al Andersen of the Baltimore Afro-American, while praising the film said it was “not without shortcomings, however. The most glaring fault was the fact that It shoved some of the blame for our country’s diseased race relations on colored people themselves.”

THE STEEL HELMET (Lippert Pictures, 1951)

Even if you’ve never heard of it, “The Steel Helmet” is famous for a lot of reasons. It was the first Korean War movie made during the Korean War.

It was a small, low budget film by iconic and iconoclastic director and screenwriter Samuel Fuller, who went on to make films like “Shock Corridor,” “Fixed Bayonets,”  “House of Bamboo,” “Hell and High Water,” “Underworld U.S.A” and “The Big Red One.”

Fuller, a World War II infantry combat veteran, shot the film in 10 days, and released it just six months after the war began, according to TCM host Dave Karger.

James Edwards is in the cast (as a medic) and like “Bataan,” the plot follows another thrown-together team of survivors with an impossible mission to carry out.  It’s also famous for tackling issues like the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the mistreatment of blacks in and out of the Army, when a captured North Korean major tries to radicalize the black medic and a Japanese-American sergeant guarding him.

Four More Films tomorrow in PART II.

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SHAKOSHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

February 26, 2021 at 11:57 pm 1 comment


June 2023


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