| By: Charles Blatcher, III |
Chairman, National Coalition of Black Veteran Organizations
Release July 2019
| The recent news that members of Congress are calling for a review of the Service Record of another Black Servicemen is Deja’ vu. The review is being called on the record of Corporal Waverly Woodson, an Army Medic who landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day with the All Black 320th Anti-Aircraft Barrage Balloon Battalion. Wounded under fire he continued to treat others in need of medical attention. The story was quite touching to me for personal reasons. I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Woodson in 1997. He was interviewed in the documentary “African Americans in World War II: A Legacy of Patriotism and Valor.” In his modesty, he never mentioned his personal heroics. Instead, he spoke of the collective effort in the recorded interview and in our personal conversation. He served with my Uncle, First Lieutenant David Reed. The report reminded me of a similar request sent forward regarding the Legendary Buffalo Soldier Colonel Charles Young and Seaman Dorie Miller. We were requesting a posthumous promotion for the Colonel and the Medal of Honor for Seaman Miller. With exception to Corporal Woodson, we have been advocating for Young and Miller for over four decades. We have not gotten either of what we sought however; we are making progress. Ever heard it said, “ we will give you anything other than what you want.” |
The following is in-part what we have indirectly affected in four plus decades of activities. Under former President Jimmy Carter, we got our first Black Secretary of the Army, Clifford Alexander. Secretary Alexander formally recognized the 761st Black Panther Tank Battalion with the Presidential Unit Citation for serving a record 180 days in combat. The battalion led General George Pattern’s Third Army drive through Europe in World War II. Under President George Bush, Senior, Corporal Freddie Stower was awarded the Medal of Honor for action in 1918. The award made Corporal Stower the highest decorated Black Soldier of World War I. Under former President William Jefferson Clinton, seven Black Soldiers were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for action in World War II. Benjamin O. Davis, Junior also received his fourth star while in retirement. Lieutenant Henry O. Flipper was posthumously pardoned by Clinton for a past conviction of embezzlement. Past President Barack Obama gave us the Charles Young National Monument and posthumously bestowed the Medal of Honor on Sergeant Henry Johnson. Johnson was a Black Soldier who distinguished himself in World War I. We wonder why Johnson’s counterpart Private Needham Roberts was not awarded the Medal of Honor. Both members of the 369th “Hell Fighters” Infantry Regiment fought off a German Patrol of twenty-four men. Both men were wounded in the encounter. The French Government awarded both the Croix de Guerre Medal for Gallantry. They were the first two American Soldiers to receive that decoration. Looking back over the decades, the blanks are being fill-in. We credit our advocacy in keeping the subject alive. The attention contributed greatly in raising the level of public awareness necessary to encourage the corrections of the numerous oversights. Again, “ we will give you anything other than what you want.” However, we claim victory! Content and context have still been added to the subject in both the educational and public arenas.
By virtue of the belated Medals awarded, the Department of the Army acknowledges that Race was a factor in how recognition was metered out in the segregated Service. Our efforts to seek redress on their meritorious entitlements is complicated by the fact the service records for most have been destroyed. The National Personnel Military Records Center in Saint Louis reportedly lost the files in a fire in 1973. However, they seem to have found the files on Freddie Stowers in 1988 and Henry Johnson in 2015, both served in War World I. Seems the fire only destroyed the files we were most interested in seeing; Colonel Charles Young, Private Needham Roberts and Corporal Waverly Woodson. The Army’s acknowledgement of its oversight in recognizing Black Soldiers is appreciated however, still problematic. We are calling on the Congressional Black Caucus to request a joint review of the remaining files. There were four hundred thousand Black Soldiers who served in World War I. It defies believe that only two would be found deserving of Medal of Honor consideration. The French Government decorated the entire 369th Infantry Regiment by the war’s end. We believe another set of eyes needs to review the records. We would like to have our own representatives participate in a review of whatever files still exist. As for those whose files have been destroyed, let’s take congressional testimony and use public records to explore the claim. The Soldiers and families should not be robbed of earned recognition and a place in American History because of the failure of the Government to properly record and secure their service records.
The Department of the Navy does not get a pass. There is no justifiable reason why Seaman Dorie Miller has not been given the Congressional Medal of Honor for his action at Pearl Harbor. The correction of the records are appropriate and necessary public gestures indicating a lesson learned from past errors of segregation and discrimination. It is a gesture of conciliation for past exclusion. A broadening of public awareness about the sacrifices, achievements and contributions are positive steps in improving race relations. In the four decades of our advocacy, we have certainly added some color to American Military History. The Coalition is hosting a Conference call on Saturday, July 20, 2019 to discuss planning a National Conference/Reunion for Black Veterans for 2020 in Washington. If your organization is interested in participating for detail, please contact the Coalition at the following email address:
Photo Legend: 320th Anti-Aircraft Barrage Balloon Battalion