Honoring Sergeant Carter: Redeeming a Black World War II Hero's Legacy

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In the early months of 1945, the long and bitter struggle against Nazi Germany reached a decisive stage. Allied forces launched a massive assault on the Rhineland as they prepared to push into the heart of the Third Reich. With the heavy casualties suffered by white soldiers at the Battle of the Bulge, black soldiers, for the first time, played a major combat role. And Sergeant Eddie Carter was right in the thick of the battle, serving in the 12th Armored Division under Patton, as he fought to secure the Rhine ...

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Overview

In the early months of 1945, the long and bitter struggle against Nazi Germany reached a decisive stage. Allied forces launched a massive assault on the Rhineland as they prepared to push into the heart of the Third Reich. With the heavy casualties suffered by white soldiers at the Battle of the Bulge, black soldiers, for the first time, played a major combat role. And Sergeant Eddie Carter was right in the thick of the battle, serving in the 12th Armored Division under Patton, as he fought to secure the Rhine and stop the Nazis in their tracks. With a zealous fearlessness, Carter single-handedly captured several Germans and secured reconnaissance that would be critical in capturing Speyer. His efforts would win him. a Distinguished Service Cross. But it wasn't until fifty-two years later that Carter was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Here is the untold story of why the American government not only withheld Carter's much due recognition but why they also denied him — one of the most decorated black American soldiers in WWII — the opportunity to reenlist. And here, too, is the inspiring story of the valiant Carter family — from the moving courtship of Eddie and his wife, Mildred, to the family's unrelenting efforts to get the American government to apologize and own up to the racism and McCarthyism that fueled years of deceit and bigotry.

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Editorial Reviews

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In the waning months of World War II, General George Patton's army waded into the enemy's den. With casualties piling up on both sides, American armored divisions struggled hard for a decisive foothold. In the tumult, one soldier, a young African-American staff sergeant named Eddie Carter, seemed especially fearless. Crossing a battle-torn field, he was wounded five times. When eight German soldiers attempted to capture him, he killed six and captured the other two. Fifty-two years later, Sergeant Eddie Carter was finally awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. This book introduces you to this brave soldier and explains why recognition was so long in coming.
Booklist
“Extraordinary. Packed with jewels of America’s diverse racial and cultural history too often hidden from view.”
Howard Zinn
“The story of Sergeant Eddie Carter reveals the racism during a war presumed to be for freedom and equality.”
Gail Buckley
“An extraordinary story...that every American should know.”
Robert Kerrey
“Important and inspiring....It should be required reading for all Americans who value truth.”
Joseph Galloway
“Fascinating....What the Army and Government did in secret to a black American war hero...is chilling.”
Publishers Weekly
In 1936, Eddie Carter joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain, fighting in defense of the Republic. Following Franco's victory, Carter returned to America, married then volunteered when Pearl Harbor was bombed. His transportation unit finally went to Europe in 1944. When the front line ran short of white soldiers, the army asked black soldiers to volunteer for combat duty. Already a sergeant, Eddie volunteered, but was reduced in rank so he would be unable to command white troops. Attached to the 12th Armored Division, Carter entered combat at the German town of Speyer. When German resistance stiffened and endangered a race to secure a Rhine crossing, Carter singlehandedly wiped out enemy machine gun and mortar positions and took two prisoners, at the expense of being wounded many times. After the war, Carter was denied reenlistment privileges in the army, then dropped from the California National Guard. Why? His daughter-in-law Allene, using expert sleuthing skills, circumvented army stonewalling and eventually found that Carter had once innocently attended a postwar victory dinner that had been hosted by a Communist-affiliated society. He was spied on and secret files compiled. No black soldiers received Medals of Honor for their heroism in WWII, and in 1997 Pres. Bill Clinton awarded a Medal of Honor to Eddie's son Edward III (Eddie had died in 1963). The army later apologized, and Eddie's National Guard file was corrected. Sergeant Carter himself was saddened over his shoddy treatment when he had been wounded fighting for ideals that were denied to a significant segment of America's people. Allene's dogged determination to uncover the truth and correct the record is a proud testament to her background as a union activist. (Jan.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A well-grounded expose of the official racism that for more than half a century denied due honor to a combat hero, as told by his daughter-in-law and historian Allen (The Port Chicago Mutiny, 1989).

Until the final months of WWII, African-American soldiers served in segregated units and, with a few exceptions such as the Tuskegee Airmen, were kept unarmed and away from the fighting. When, after the Battle of the Bulge, the army finally allowed black soldiers to volunteer for front-line duty, a young, mixed-race noncommissioned officer named Eddie Carter transferred into George Patton’s command and, in one of the first battles to take place on German soil, exhibited great heroism under fire, saving the lives of his men while silencing a Wehrmacht line and suffering substantial injuries. Carter received a Distinguished Service Medal and by any consideration deserved the Medal of Honor. But none of the 294 medals of that exalted class awarded in WWII went to any of the 1.2 million African-Americans who served. In 1992, following pressure by veterans’ groups, the Army investigated this inequity, and seven years later, Bill Clinton awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor to Carter, who died in 1963. The authors attribute the Army’s failure to recognize Carter earlier to several causes, not least of them the undisguised racism of General Mark Clark, who considered Carter politically suspect because he had served as a volunteer in antifascist forces during the Spanish Civil War and had openly complained about the treatment of black servicemen after the war, commenting, "We liberated Europe, but here at home we are not free." Clark’s opposition not only kept Carter from earning due recognition,but also prevented him from reenlisting in the Army despite his evident skill as a soldier.

The authors do a commendable job of showing just how righteous Carter’s cause was, bringing deserved honor to their subject.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780066212364
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/1/2003
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.86 (d)

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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Table of Contents

Prologue: A Black Warrior in Nazi Germany 3
1 Rediscovering a Hero 11
2 Honoring Heroes 39
3 Life in India and China 51
4 A Warrior Comes of Age 79
5 Love and War: A Hero's Story 97
6 Under Surveillance 117
7 Stonewalled 139
8 A Hero Vindicated 171
Epilogue: Other Sergeant Carters? 201
Archives 209
Bibliography 211
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First Chapter

Honoring Sergeant Carter
Redeeming a Black World War II Hero's Legacy

Chapter One

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 Sergeant Carter'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
Redeeming a Black World War II Hero's Legacy
. Copyright © by Allene Carter. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2003

    Gives Balance To The Greatest Generation!

    Honoring Sergeant Carter uncovers an important yet esoteric chapter in American WWII history and gives balance to The Greatest Generation. You may only come across a book as fine as this once or twice in a lifetime. If your budget allows only one book ¿ this is the one. It is ¿intellectually honest,¿ informative, passionate, and if you don¿t have ice water running through your veins, you will feel it! While reading I reminisced of my late father who served in very close proximity with Sergeant Carter during and after WWII. They never knew each other. My father saw Sergeant Carter after the war ¿ how could he miss him ¿ the sharp and deadly soldier that Carter was described to be and one of the very few African Americans holding the Distinguished Service Cross. My father understood all too well what happened to many good men during this era. I look back on living in Germany as a youngster during the Cold War with my avid interest in WWII. I explored bunkers and shopped flea markets searching for relics. Most had the dreaded swastika on it. My father observed my hobby and explained to me in great detail how it was dangerous and in bad taste, but I could keep the collection. He then told me in no uncertain terms: ¿If you come across anything with a Communist marking on it ¿¿etc, etc¿ DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME SON!!!¿ I shook my head yes ¿ I was speechless. Honoring Sergeant Carter provided clearer understanding of why I couldn¿t speak that day. Sergeant First Class Edward A. Carter, Jr., affectionately known as Eddie, was one of the seven African American soldiers honored at the White House with the Medal of Honor. This long overdue tribute (over 50 years) took place on January 13, 1997. When you read Eddie¿s story - that is backed with strong research and solid documentation - you will see how fact (in this situation) is stranger than fiction. A must read for WWII historians and buffs who are sincerely interested in balancing their understanding of WWII. Honoring Sergeant Carter is a great companion book that will complement Tom Brokaw¿s The Greatest Generation.

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