The second global war, also known as Second World War (WW2), occurred in 1939 and did not end till 1945. It is considered the world’s deadliest conflict in human history that claimed lives of millions of people upon political and military disagreements. The two opposing military alliances called Axis and Allies consisted of different nations. The main leaders involved in these alliances were Britain, United States, Soviet Union and Republic of China which represented Allies. Axis included Japan, Nazi Germany and Kingdom of Italy. Besides these numerous nations were involved one way or another investing their economic, industrial, military resources to the war at the global scale. The result was genocide of millions, remembered as the ugliest episodes of inhumanity in the history of mankind. The Holocaust of Jews in Nazi Germany and atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ordered by United States claimed lives of millions of innocent civilians.
To stage a war at such a large scale requires equally huge manpower to sustain it. America always managed to stay at the center of conflicts throughout the centuries. Thus, World War II was no different occurrence for America as it ordered troops to join Allies against the Axis. African Americans’ involvement in the world wars also plays an instrumental role because they were drafted in the military at a huge scale. In spite of that hypocrisy of U.S military was quite evident as they segregated black soldiers. Moreover, they were not treated equally, giving way to racial conflicts. The African American soldiers were kept at a far distance from whites at church services, canteens, in transportation and parades.
Over twelve-hundred thousand African Americans in WW2 were sent overseas. It was observed that most black soldiers were appointed the task of serving as truck drivers and as stevedores during the war. As mentioned earlier the military maintained a racially segregated force, declaring black soldiers unfit for the combat. Therefore, they were kept from fighting in the front lines along with the white soldiers and given the support duties mostly.
In 1941, the civil right activists and leaders demanded their right to be treated as equal and given the same opportunities at battle fields as their white counterparts. This protest included demand to set up all-black combat unit. As an experiment, such a unit was established to gauge the efficiency of black soldiers as compared to whites. The Air Force trained the first group of black pilots’ unit, Tuskegee Airman. Woodrow Crockett was part of that experimental unit, who flew 149 missions in a span of a year. Their mission was to protect American bombers and harbors in Italy from German air attacks. In fact the all-black air force unit made a record of never losing bomber plane to an air attack during their 200 missions.
As the experiment succeeded, the white requested the all-black 332nd Fighter Group to escort them. It is noted in the history recorded by African American retired U.S. Army Colonel Bill De Shields, that every victory of black soldiers was denoted by double V gesture. It symbolized two victories against the enemy aboard and the enemy back home that was the racial prejudice and segregated society and its human personification Jim Crow.
Despite the relentless input of African American soldiers to prove their worth fighting side by side with the white, they were discriminated as many times. The disaster of 1944 at Port Chicago was the evidence of it. Upon the command of white officers to quickly load 2,000 tons of ammunition on a ship, an explosion occurred. The accident claimed lives of 320 military and civilian workers who were mostly black. This episode led to Chicago Mutiny which then turned into a full-fledge military trial for mutiny. Fifty African Americans sailors were tried for refusing to load the ammunition under the same dangerous conditions. The end result was the conviction of all defendants which engendered criticism and became an important topic in the discussion of desegregation.
In 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, General Eisenhower was considerably short on replacement troops which were solely based on white soldiers. Short of any feasible alternative, African American soldiers were allowed to be a part of combat unit which was previously consisted of all-whites. Surprisingly, over two thousand soldiers were sent to fight at the front lines on voluntary basis. This decision is regarded as a crucial step toward the desegregation of American military. The brave African American soldier fought with great valor and courage during the World War II sacrificing 708 of their soldiers in the combat.
In 1940, Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. became the first African American Brigadier General in the Army. His son Davis, Jr. served in Tuskegee Airmen as the commander and eventually came to receive the United States Air Force’s first African American General’s title. The first African American to earn the Navy Cross was a Navy mess attendant, Dorris Miller, for demonstrating bravery during the Pearl Harbor Attack. Despite having no prior training in use of arms, Miller managed to target Japanese aircraft with an anti-aircraft gun. In addition to the long list of courageous black arm forces, Golden Thirteen unit became first colored officers in the U.S Navy. In 1944, an African American soldier, Samuel L. Gravely, Jr., was appointed as commissioned officer and was promoted to command a US warship which was the first time for any black officer. Also the first African-American to be appointed United States Marine Corps officer was Frederick C. Branch, in 1945.
These soldiers served with distinction in the war with their units. Some of the well-known units include 452nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, 92nd Infantry Division and 761st Tank Battalion. Other units lauded for their heroic achievements included 5th Cavalry Brigade and the Tuskegee Airmen. Their valuable input was appreciated by President Harry S. Truman who declared desegregation of all U.S. Armed Forces, issuing an Executive Order 9981, in 1948. Then in 1997, the contribution of black soldiers was recognized by the former U.S President Bill Clinton. He awarded Medal of Honor for the act of valor to the seven African American soldiers who served in the Second World War.