Honoring Sergeant Carterby Allene Carter, Robert L. Allen
Allene Carter's father-in-law was a decorated veteran. Yet it was not until the Carter family received a call from the White House that she discovered he was a heroic force in the Rhineland campaign. President Clinton awarded the Medal of Honor to several black soldiers who served in World War II. Sergeant Edward A. Carter Jr. was among the recipients. Shocked to… See more details below
Allene Carter's father-in-law was a decorated veteran. Yet it was not until the Carter family received a call from the White House that she discovered he was a heroic force in the Rhineland campaign. President Clinton awarded the Medal of Honor to several black soldiers who served in World War II. Sergeant Edward A. Carter Jr. was among the recipients. Shocked to learn the extent of Carter's service, Allene was determined to uncover both the truth about her father-in-law's wartime record and why his official recognition was so long in coming.
Here is the story not only of Sergeant Carter but also of his family's fight to restore his honor. Theirs is a journey that takes them from local veterans organizations to the office of the president and front pages of the national media. An important piece of American history, Honoring Sergeant Carter is an enduring story of determination and family love.
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Honoring Sergeant Carter
A Family's Journey to Uncover the Truth About an American Hero
Rediscovering a Hero
That my husband's father was a war hero who played a pivotal role in the Rhineland campaign during World War II was never fully known to us until we got a call on May 2, 1996, a call that would change our lives. The caller, Gloria Long, asked to speak to Mildred Carter, Sergeant Carter's widow. For several years Mildred had lived with her son, my husband, and our family. She suffered from Alzheimer's disease. I explained to the caller that Mildred was not well, that I was her daughterin-law, and that perhaps I could help her. Ms. Long said that she was a public relations liaison person with the Department of Veterans Affairs. She was calling to tell us that the White House was planning to award the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for valor in combat, to several African-American soldiers who served in World War II. One of the recipients was to be Sergeant Edward A. Carter Jr.
I was flabbergasted, and somewhat disbelieving. My mind was racing. I knew that my father-in-law, who died in 1963, was a soldier in the war. I had heard a little about his wartime service from my husband, Edward (whom we all knew as "Buddha," a nickname given to him by his father because he was so chubby as a baby), and other family members, but this award was completely unexpected. Ms. Long said that plans were being made to present the awards at a ceremony at the White House, although the date hadn't yet been set. Unfortunately, in 1973, a fire had destroyed the building in St. Louis that housed certain military records, including SergeantCarter's. Could the family help in reconstructing his tour of duty in the Army? The White House was going to prepare press releases, there would be articles in the press, and they needed information and pictures. I was stunned. Yes, I managed to say, we would help.
Mildred couldn't follow the details, but she understood enough to know that Eddie was going to be honored. "Finally. He deserves it," she kept saying. "He deserves it. He deserves it." William, Buddha's brother who lived in Washington state, was also excited, but his reaction was affected by a stroke from which he was recovering. Buddha, on the other hand, had always been withdrawn with regard to his father. Initially, I didn't get a big response from him.
I later learned through Gloria Long that, in 1992, the Army had decided to commission a study to determine why no black soldiers were given the Medal of Honor during World War II. Black soldiers had won the medal in every other major American conflict, including the Civil War. Some 1.2 million black Americans served in the U.S. military during World War II, more than in any other war. A number of soldiers, including my father-in-law, won the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest award, but of the 294 Medals of Honor awarded, not one went to a black soldier. Some black veterans speculated that this was no accident. Pressured by the black press, civil rights groups, and veterans and their families, and facing the possibility of congressional action, the Army decided to look into the matter.
The study was undertaken by a team of scholars, including Daniel K. Gibran, then a professor, at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. After fifteen months of investigation the team produced a 272-page report concluding that the racial climate and practice within the Army during World War II accounted for the lack of black Medal of Honor recipients. Specifically, the Army's policies of segregation and exclusion of blacks from combat limited the opportunities for black soldiers to earn the Medal of Honor. In addition, the report said, racism in the Army undermined the effectiveness of black units in combat and may have prevented black soldiers from being nominated for the highest award. The report recommended that ten black soldiers, nine of whom had received the Distinguished Service Cross, be considered for the Medal of Honor. After reading the report, Secretary of the Army Togo West and the Army's senior uniformed leadership agreed with its recommendation and initiated corrective action. It was decided that six of the Distinguished Service Cross recipients and a winner of a Silver Star, the third-highest award for valor, would be awarded the Medal of Honor. There was only one snag: Congress would need to waive the 1952 statutory time limit on granting the award to World War II veterans. Congress was expected to vote on the issue in September and the ceremony would be held sometime after that.
The spring of 1996 had been a deeply somber time for us. In March, Buddha's brother William suffered a stroke and was hospitalized, unable to speak. In the same week, Iris, Mildred's daughter by her first marriage, also had a stroke. It was a terrible double blow. Iris was on life support for a period of time, but her condition didn't improve, so we finally had to make the decision to discontinue life support. Understandably, Mildred was very upset by the death of her daughter and her son's illness. We were also worried about how William might take the news, so we made the arrangements for Iris's funeral and buried her without telling him.
Given the sense of sadness and worry in our household, it was difficult to focus on Gloria Long's request for information about Eddie. When I asked Buddha what he could tell me about his father, he was very vague. He didn't seem to remember much, other than that he knew his father had won a medal during the war. Mildred was also vague about Eddie's war experiences. Both of them seemed to feel that Eddie had been given a "bad time" by the Army, but I couldn't get details. I couldn't tell if they simply didn't remember or didn't want to say.Honoring Sergeant Carter
A Family's Journey to Uncover the Truth About an American Hero. Copyright © by Allene Carter. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
Allene G. Carter is a self-taught researcher and union activist who has been featured in a number of media outlets, including U.S. News & World Report, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. She lives in Los Angeles, California.
Robert L. Allen is the author of The Port Chicago Mutiny (Amistad 1993) and co-editor of Brotherman (35,000 hc net), which won the American Book Award. Allen is a professor of African American and Ethnic Studies at the University of California at Berkeley and is an editor of The Black Scholar. He lives in San Francisco, CA.
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