When the war books were closed at the end of World War II, the Medal of Honor the military’s highest award was bestowed on 432 soldiers. But not one was given to any of the more than one million African-Americans who served in that war. It took an internal Army investigation, not launched until 1994, to find out why … and to eventually right the wrong. More than a half century after the end of World War II, in 1997, seven African-Americans were finally awarded the Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony. In 1994, the Army finally took notice and commissioned a research team at Shaw University in Raleigh, NC to look at the situation. Their investigations revealed seven tales of uncommon valor that deserved the award, and blew the lid off a long-standing, high-level conspiracy within the U.S. government to obscure the contributions of African-American soldiers and keep them from public record.
Lt. Vernon J Baker
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:First Lieutenant Vernon J. Baker distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 5 and 6 April 1945. At 0500 hours on 5 April 1945, Lieutenant Baker advanced at the head of his weapons platoon, along with Company C’s three rifle platoons, towards their objective; Castle Aghinolfi – a German mountain strong point on the high ground just east of the coastal highway and about two miles from the 370th infantry Regiment’s line of departure. Moving more rapidly than the rest of the company, Lieutenant Baker and about 25 men reached the south side of a draw some 250 yards from the castle within two hours. In reconnoitering for a suitable position to set up a machine gun, Lieutenant Baker observed two cylindrical objects pointing out of a slit in a mount at the edge of a hill. Crawling up and under the opening, he stuck his M-1 into the slit and emptied the clip, killing the observation post’s two occupants. Moving to another position in the same area, Lieutenant Baker stumbled upon a well-camouflaged machine gun nest, the crew of which was eating breakfast. He shot and killed both enemy soldiers. After Captain John F. Runyon, Company C’s Commander joined the group, a German soldier appeared from the draw and hurled a grenade which failed to explode. Lieutenant Baker shot the enemy soldier twice as he tried to flee. Lieutenant Baker then went down into the draw alone. There he blasted open the concealed entrance of another dugout with a hand grenade, shot one German soldier who emerged after the explosion, tossed another grenade into the dugout and entered firing his sub-machine gun, killing two more Germans. As Lieutenant Baker climbed back out of the draw, enemy machine gun and mortar fire began to inflict heavy casualties among the group of 25 soldiers, killing or wounding about two-thirds of them. When expected reinforcements did not arrive, Captain Runyon ordered a withdrawal in two groups. Lieutenant Baker volunteered to cover the withdrawal of the first group, which consisted mostly of walking wounded, and to remain to assist in the evacuation of the more seriously wounded. During the second group’s withdrawal, Lieutenant Baker, supported by covering fire from one of his platoon members, destroyed two machine gun positions (previously bypassed during the assault) with hand grenades. In all, Lieutenant Baker accounted for nine enemy dead soldiers, elimination of three machine gun positions, an observation post, and a dugout. On the following night, Lieutenant Baker voluntary led a battalion advance through enemy mine fields and heavy fire toward the division objective. Lieutenant Baker’s fighting spirit and daring leadership were an inspiration to his men and exemplify the highest traditions of the military service.
Sgt. Edward Carter:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his own life above and beyond the call of duty in action on 23 March 1945. At approximately 0830 hours, 23 March 1945, near Speyer, Germany, the tank upon which Staff Sergeant Carter was riding received bazooka and small arms fire from the vicinity of a large warehouse to its left front. Staff Sergeant Carter and his squad took cover behind an intervening road bank. Staff Sergeant Carter volunteered to lead a three-man patrol to the warehouse where other unit members noticed the original bazooka fire. From here they were to ascertain the location and strength of the opposing position and advance approximately 150 yards across an open field. Enemy small arms fire covered this field. As the patrol left this covered position, they received intense enemy small arms fire killing one member of the patrol instantly. This caused Staff Sergeant Carter to order the other two members of the patrol to return to the covered position and cover him with rifle fire while he proceeded alone to carry out the mission. The enemy fire killed one of the two soldiers while they were returning to the covered position, and seriously wounded the remaining soldier before he reached the covered position. An enemy machine gun burst wounded Staff Sergeant Carter three times in the left arm as he continued the advance. He continued and received another wound in his left leg that knocked him from his feet. As Staff Sergeant Carter took wound tablets and drank from his canteen, the enemy shot it from his left hand, with the bullet going through his hand. Disregarding these wounds, Staff Sergeant Carter continued the advance by crawling until he was within thirty yards of his objective. The enemy fire became so heavy that Staff Sergeant Carter took cover behind a bank and remained there for approximately two hours. Eight enemy riflemen approached Staff Sergeant Carter, apparently to take him prisoner. Staff Sergeant Carter killed six of the enemy soldiers and captured the remaining two. These two enemy soldiers later gave valuable information concerning the number and disposition of enemy troops. Staff Sergeant Carter refused evacuation until he had given full information about what he had observed and learned from the captured enemy soldiers. This information greatly facilitated the advance on Speyer. Staff Sergeant Carter’s extraordinary heroism was an inspiration to the officers and men of the 7th Army, Infantry Company Number 1 (Provisional) and exemplify the highest traditions of the military service.
Lt. John Fox:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: First Lieutenant John R. Fox distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism at the risk of his own life on 26 December 1944 in the Serchio River Valley Sector, in the vicinity of Sommocolonia, Italy. Lieutenant Fox was a member of Cannon Company, 366th Infantry, 92d Infantry Division, acting as a forward observer, while attached to the 598th Field Artillery Battalion. Christmas Day in the Serchio Valley was spent in positions which had been occupied for some weeks. During Christmas night, there was a gradual influx of enemy soldiers in civilian clothes and by early morning the town was largely in enemy hands. An organized attack by uniformed German formations was launched around 0400 hours, 26 December 1944. Reports were received that the area was being heavily shelled by everything the Germans had, and although most of the U.S. infantry forces withdrew from the town, Lieutenant Fox and members of his observer party remained behind on the second floor of a house, directing defensive fires. Lieutenant Fox reported at 0800 hours that the Germans were in the streets and attacking in strength. He called for artillery fire increasingly close to his own position. He told his battalion commander, “That was just where I wanted it. Bring it in 60 yards!” His commander protested that there was a heavy barrage in the area and the bombardment would be too close. Lieutenant Fox gave his adjustment, requesting that the barrage be fired. The distance was cut in half. The Germans continued to press forward in large numbers, surrounding the position. Lieutenant Fox again called for artillery fire with the commander protesting again, stating, “Fox, that will be on you!” The last communication from Lieutenant Fox was, “Fire It! There’s more of them than there are of us. Give them hell!” The bodies of Lieutenant Fox and his party were found in the vicinity of his position when his position was taken. This action, by Lieutenant Fox, at the cost of his own life, inflicted heavy casualties, causing the deaths of approximately 100 German soldiers, thereby delaying the advance of the enemy until infantry and artillery units could by reorganized to meet the attack. Lieutenant Fox’s extraordinarily valorous actions exemplify the highest traditions of the military service.
PFC Willy F. James Jr:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: Private First Class Willy F. James, Jr. Distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism at the risk og his own life on 7 April 1945 in the Weser River Valley, in the vicinity of Lippoldsberg, Germany. On 7 April 1945, Company G, 413 Infantry, fought its way across the Weser River in order to establish a crucial bridgehead. The company then launched a fierce attack against the town of Lippoldsberg, possession of which was vital to securing and expanding the important bridgehead. Private First Class James was first scout of the lead squad in the assault platoon. The mission of the unit was to seize and secure a group of houses on the edge of town, a foothold from which the unit could launch an attack on the rest of the town. Far out in front, Private First Class James was the first to draw enemy fire. His platoon leader came forward to investigate, but poor visibility made it difficult for Private First Class James to point out enemy positions with any accuracy. Private First Class James volunteered to go forward to fully reconnoiter the enemy situation. Furious crossfire from enemy snipers and machine guns finally pinned down Private First Class James after making his way forward approximately 200 yards across open terrain. Lying in an exposed position for more than an hour, Private First Class James intrepidly observed the enemy’s positions which were given away by the fire Private First Class James was daringly drawing upon himself. Then, with utter indifference to his personal safety, in a storm of enemy small arms fire, Private First Class James made his way back more than 300 yards across open terrain under enemy observation to his platoon positions, and gave a full, detailed report on the enemy disposition. The unit worked out a new plan on maneuver based on Private First Class James’ information. The gallant soldier volunteered to lead a squad in an assault on the key house in the group that formed the platoon objective. He made his way forward, leading his squad in the assault on the strongly held enemy positions in the building and designating targets accurately and continuously as he moved along. While doing so, Private First Class James saw his platoon leader shot down by enemy snipers. Hastily designating and coolly orienting a leader in his place, Private First Class James instantly went to the aid of his platoon leader, exposing himself recklessly to the incessant enemy fire. As he was making his way across open ground, Private First Class James was killed by a burst from an enemy machine gun. Private First Class James’ extraordinary heroic action in the face of withering enemy fire provided the disposition of enemy troops to his platoon. Inspired to the utmost by Private First Class James’ self-sacrifice, the platoon sustained the momentum of the assault and successfully accomplished its mission with a minimum of causalities. Private First Class James contributed very definitely to the success of his battalion in the vitally important combat operation of establishing and expanding a bridgehead over the Weser River. His fearless, self-assigned actions, far above and beyond the normal call of duty, exemplify the finest traditions of the American combat soldier and reflect with highest credit upon Private First Class James and the Armed Forces of the United States.
Sgt. Ruben Rivers:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: Staff Sergeant Rivers distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action during 16-19 November 1944, while serving with Company A, 761st Tank Battalion. On 16 November 1944, while advancing toward the town of Guebling, France, Staff Sergeant Rivers’ tank hit a mine at a railroad crossing. Although severely wounded, his leg slashed to the bone, Staff Sergeant Rivers declined an injection of morphine, refused to be evacuated, took command of another tank, and advanced with his company into Guebling the next day. Repeatedly refusing evacuation, Staff Sergeant Rivers continued to direct his tank’s fire at enemy positions beyond the town through the morning of 19 November 1944. At dawn that day, Company As’ tanks advanced toward Bourgaltoff, their next objective, but were stopped by enemy fire. Captain David J. Williams, the Company Commander, ordered his tanks to withdraw and take cover. Staff Sergeant Rivers, however, radioed that he had spotted the German antitank positions: “I see ’em. We’ll Fight’em!” Staff Sergeant Rivers, joined by another Company A tank, opened fire on enemy tanks, covering Company A as they withdrew. While doing so, Staff Sergeant Rivers’ tank was hit, killing him and wounding the rest of the crew. Staff Sergeant Rivers’ fighting spirit and daring leadership were an inspiration to his unit and exemplify the highest traditions of military service.
Lt. Charles Thomas:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: Then Lieutenant Charles L.Thomas distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 14 December 1944. One platoon of Company C, 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion, was designated as the lead element in a task force formed to storm and capture the village of Climbach, France. Lieutenant Thomas, the Commanding Officer of Company C, realized, with the obscurity of information regarding the enemy and a complete lack of reconnaissance, the mission would be an extremely dangerous one. Fully cognizant of the danger, Lieutenant Thomas volunteered to command the selected platoon of his company and ride in the column’s leading vehicle – a highly maneuverable, but equally vulnerable, M-20 scout car. Lieutenant Thomas knew that if there was a concentration of enemy armor in the village, as was believed, he would absorb the initial shock of the first enemy resistance. The task force left Preuschdorf, France, at 1023 hours, and proceeded to advance in column toward Climbach. Lieutenant Thomas in his scout car stayed well in front of the column. At 1400 hours, upon reaching the high ground southeast of the village, Lieutenant Thomas experienced initial contact with the enemy. As his scout car advanced to an exposed position on the heights, he received intense direct fire from enemy artillery, self-propelled guns, and small arms at a range of seven hundred yards. The first burst of hostile fire disabled the scout car and severely wounded Lieutenant Thomas. He immediately signaled the column to halt. Before leaving the wrecked vehicle, Lieutenant Thomas and the crew found themselves subjected to a veritable hail of enemy fire. Lieutenant Thomas received multiple gunshot wounds in his chest, legs, and left arm. In spite of the intense pain caused by his wounds, Lieutenant Thomas ordered and directed the dispersion and emplacement of his first two antitank guns. In a few minutes these guns were effectively returning the enemy fire. Realizing that it would be impossible for him to remain in command of the platoon because of his injuries, Lieutenant Thomas then signaled for the platoon commander to join him. Lieutenant Thomas then thoroughly oriented him as to the enemy gun positions, his ammunition status, and the general situation. Although fully cognizant of the probable drastic consequences of not receiving prompt medical attention, Lieutenant Thomas refused evacuation until he felt certain that his junior officer was in full control of the situation. Only then did Lieutenant Thomas allow his evacuation to the rear. Throughout the action, Lieutenant Thomas displayed magnificent personal courage and a complete disregard for his own safety. His extraordinary heroism spurred the soldiers of the platoon to a fierce determination to triumph, and resulted in a mass display of heroism by them. Lieutenant Thomas’ intrepid actions throughout the operation reflect the highest traditions of military service.
Pvt. George Watson:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: Private George Watson distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism on 8 March 1943, while serving in the Pacific Command with the 2d Battalion, 29th Quartermaster Regiment, near Porlock Harbor, New Guinea. Private Watson was onboard a troop ship, the Dutch Steamer (United States Army Transport) Jacob, when it was attacked and hit by enemy bombers. Before it sank, the ship was abandoned. Private Watson, instead of seeking to save himself, remained in deep waters long enough to assist several soldiers who could not swim to reach the safety of a life raft. This heroic action, which subsequently cost him his life, resulted in saving the lives of several of his comrades. Weakened by continuous physical exertion and overcome by muscular fatigue, Private Watson drowned when the suction of the sinking ship dragged him beneath the surface of the swirling waters. His demonstrated bravery and unselfish act set in motion a train of compelling events that finally led to American victory in the Pacific. Private Watson’s extraordinary valorous actions, his daring and inspiring leadership, and his self-sacrificing devotion to his fellow man exemplify the finest traditions of military service.