Blacks, since the time of Hannibal, have been involved in wars, generally giving a good account of themselves. Many of the exploits, when reported in historical accounts, neglect to let it be known that they were Black. Crispus Attucks, a Black, in order to get involved in the Revolutionary War, had to travel from Concord, Massachusetts to Boston to be among the first casualties of the Revolutionary War at Bunker Hill. A later story about him implied that had he not been killed there, but that he might have been hanged because he stole a horse to ride to Boston.
More than a hundred and a quarter years ago, the first Black Infantry Regiment was organized by the federal government to fight in the Civil War. They were not allowed any commissioned officers but were allowed to fill all of the non-commissioned officer ranks. They gave a good account of themselves. After the war they were honored by a statue, then promptly forgotten.
The long forgotten exploits of that regiment were resurrected a few years ago because of the release of the movie, Glory. Many of my white friends were delighted with the movie, which gave an account of a moment in Civil War history of which they were totally unaware. To broaden their knowledge of the history of that war I told them about the promises made to the Black soldiers, that if they served, when the war was over, they would receive two mules and forty acres of land. Also, that Blacks had served in the Confederate Army as well. They had been promised when the war was over they would be given their freedom. For those who were already free, they would receive money and property. In the Spanish-American War Blacks rode with Teddy Roosevelt.
The organization of the 92nd Division during World War I took place at a time of continuing racial animosity in the United States. There were many lynchings of Blacks both in 1916 and in 1917, and there were riots and mob violence in the North as well as the South. Four months before the organization of the World War I 92nd Division, Colonel Charles Young, the only Black West Point graduate on active duty, was retired on the grounds of physical disability after he, because of his rank and assignment, had been placed in command of some white officers. One month after Young's forced retirement, the Houston mutiny occurred, involving the Black Regular Army 24th Infantry.
The use of Black military personnel, especially in large units, was based on political considerations -- Southern political considerations -- instead of military considerations. The white people of the South were terrified when they considered what could happen if thousands of black veterans returned to the South after successful combat operations against a white enemy overseas. The military had become an extension of the Southern political system because of the close ties to Southern Congressmen who controlled military appropriations, and because a large number of the senior white officers in the Army were Southerners. Accordingly, they were careful to conform to the South's Prime Directive: MAINTAIN THE STATUS QUO AND KEEP THE NEGRO IN HIS PLACE.
To maintain the status quo and keep the Negro in his place, Blacks were portrayed as being unsuitable as combat soldiers and suitable only for use in units where the prerequisite was brawn instead of brains.
However, civil rights leaders believed that successful performance of Blacks in combat units in some past wars had resulted in gains for Blacks following those wars. Accordingly, they successfully pressured the national Administration to use Blacks in some combat units, including the 92nd Division. When forced to use Blacks as combat soldiers, the Army limited their use as much as possible during the then current war and did what was considered necessary to discourage their use in any future war.
To assure that there would be no repetition of the problem that had been caused by Colonel Young's rank and assignment during World War I, the ranks and assignments of Black officers in the 92nd Division were severely limited so that they would not have the opportunity to command white officers. Inequality for black officers was mandated in that all generals and field grade line officers in the division, and all captains and above in the division artillery were white.
The effects of this practice is discussed on page 37 of MacGregor's Integration of the Armed Forces, 1940-1965:
"...The Army staff practice of forbidding Negroes to outrank and command white officers serving in the same unit not only limited the employment and restricted the rank of Black officers but also created invidious distinctions between Black and white officers in the same unit. It tended to convince enlisted men that black leaders were not full-fledged officers....The Army staff further aggravated black sensibilities by showing a preference for officers of Southern birth and training, believing them to be generally more competent to exercise command over Negroes.... At best these officers appeared paternalistic...."
During World War I Black troops were grudgingly used in combat. A Regiment was detailed to the French army. They were given French uniforms and earned many decorations from the French for their valor and heroism in battle. The Blacks serving with the Army did see some combat duty with one officer in the 366th Infantry - Lt. Aaron R. Fisher - awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
After World War I all of the Black Officers who elected to stay in the service were given Warrant Officer rank, except one, Col. B.O. Davis, Sr. Lt. Fisher was promoted to the rank of Captain in the reserves. He was assigned to the Wilberforce University ROTC Unit. While there, Lt. John Fox was one of his students.
After World War I the conversations and discussions among the whites at the clubs and social gatherings was that Blacks should be relegated to servile positions in the Army. The attitude appeared to be "Maintain the Status Quo at All Costs." Lt. Col. Major Clark, who had enlisted in the 349th Field Artillery, the first Black field artillery unit allocated to the Regular Army, shares the prophetic advice given him:
"I gained a head start in my understanding the history of the 92nd Division in 1940 when I enlisted in the 349th Field Artillery, the first Black field artillery unit allocated to the Regular Army. The 349th had been a part of the 167th Field Artillery Brigade of the World War I 92nd Division and, as in the case of other National Army units, it had been inactivated a few months after the end of the World War I.
I was informed that the Sergeant Major of the 349th, who had been a member of the 249th during World War I, claimed that he had pulled the lanyard to fire the last artillery round fired by the 349th before the Armistice took effect on 11 November 1918. Since there were several other World War I veterans included in the cadre for the 349th, I was exposed to a great deal of oral history concerning World War I.
In February 1941, I was transferred to Camp Livingston, Louisiana, as part of a cadre to organize the 46th Field Artillery Brigade, which included the other two regiments, the 350th and 351st that had been a part of the World War I 167th Brigade of the 92nd Division. Since several World War I veterans were included in the cadre for the 46th Brigade, I continued to be exposed to oral history concerning World War I.
On my 24th birthday, 7 December 1941, the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, my exposure to the World War I history of the 92nd and to a forecast of the history of the World War II 92nd (almost a year before it was activated) became more specific.
My mentor was a Master Sergeant nearing retirement, a veteran of World War I. After we heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, we had a long discussion of the possible implications for us. He informed me that, since war was about to begin, a substantial number of applicants for OCS would be expected from the more than 5000 black enlisted men assigned to our brigade.
He advised me not to apply for OCS if I wanted to continue to be a highly respected member of the Army. I had already been a Technical Sergeant about eight months and, if I remained in the brigade, it was a "lead-pipe-cinch" that I would get his Master Sergeant's slot when he retired. On the other hand, based on his first-hand knowledge about the treatment of black officers during World War I, my fate would be entirely different if I became an officer, because I would most likely be assigned to a reactivated 92nd Division.
Then he provided me a detailed account of the treatment Black officers received in the World War I 92nd Division. This was later confirmed in the book, The Unknown Soldiers, by Barbeau and Henri, published by Temple University Press in 1974.
He also provided me with a forecast of the treatment I could expect if I became an officer in the World War II 92nd Division, and a remarkably accurate general outline of what would happen to the division.
This was confirmed by me directly because, despite his advice to the contrary, I did become an officer and was assigned to the 92nd Division when it was activated. I remained with the division for three years, during its training, combat operations, preparations for redeployment to the Pacific, (terminated with the end of the war in the Pacific), and preparations to return to the United States. Accordingly, as one of the division's unit historians, I either participated in, or had knowledge of contemporaneous with the events, all division operations.
I discovered, as my mentor had forecast, that the history of the World War II 92nd Division was, in many respects, a repeat of the history of the World War I 92nd Division."
Most of the younger Blacks were aware of the racial problems that existed at the time but their levels of aspiration demanded that they try things that would contribute to their social and financial advancement. With such prevailing attitudes the Black soldier was ushered into the service at the beginning of the expansion for WW II.
The activation, personnel, training, duty combat assignment and ultimate deactivation of the 366th Infantry Regiment is a classic example of the problems which beset Black soldiers in the U.S. Army during World War II. An attitude that, "if you're white, you were right", in your dealings with Blacks was fostered by the top echelon of the ruling military to the bottom of the system. This attitude was prevalent in this country among white America at that period in time, and continues. Regardless of your educational training and background, you were considered less intelligent, less trustworthy, and incapable of functioning on a level equal to that of the whites.
With the war in Europe going badly for the English and French, the United States Government felt it was necessary to increase the size of its military force should it become necessary to go to the aid of their friends. Knowing that an expansion of the military was imminent, Col. West A. Hamilton, who commanded the Black Reserve 428th Infantry Regiment, tried to get the War Department to call his regiment to active duty. Eventually his efforts were rewarded with the Army activating the 366th Infantry regiment with Col. Hamilton, the ultimate commanding officer, and drawing on the 428th for officers.
Fort Devens, Massachusetts, was selected as the Post where they would be activated. The officers, most of whom were college trained, included some officers who had served in WW I and had been in the reserve program since then: ROTC graduates who were college professors, high school teachers, lawyers, dentists, medical doctors, policemen and postal employees.
The second West Point graduate in this century, Col. James D. Fowler, was assigned. There was speculation as to when the first, Gen. Benjamin O. Davis, would report. We found out later what his new assignment was: to be with the Air Corps. All of the lawyers who were practicing attorneys, and three physicians were assigned to line of staff duties within the Regiment. Many of these officers were ordered to active duty under the provisions of the Thomlinson Act, which included a provision that you were ordered to active duty for a period of one year and if your evaluation was satisfactory, you would be integrated into the regular army.
Many of the officers who were ordered hoped to earn a good evaluation so they would be selected for the regular army. Pearl Harbor changed that. The medical doctors were eventually assigned to medical duties, however, the lawyers were never offered legal assignments. Some of the officers were transferred to other outfits where their special backgrounds were needed by other Black units.
Col. Hamilton had Lt. James Jones, who was an art teacher in the D.C. Public Schools design a regimental flag and the regimental shield. The flag is stored at New Cumberland. Jones, who continued in the reserves was retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. A regimental picture was taken, a yearbook published, and regimental Christmas cards were available through the PX.
Our cadres were unusual. The medical detachment came from West Point. The Infantry personnel came from the 24th Infantry stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia. Like most transfers we got some good and some not so good personnel. The draft personnel came from Washington, DC, Baltimore, MD, Philadelphia, PA, New York City, and the New England areas.
Our training for everyone was intensive. The officers went to every service school they could. Non-commissioned schools were established in the Regiment. Service schools outside the Regiment for enlisted personnel were used as much as possible. Screening was done to select enlisted personnel who qualified and those who wanted to were sent to the various schools with OCS programs. Cadres were sent to help establish other units. Constant training was required to keep a high level of preparedness.
First Service Command assigned military police duty to be performed in Boston, Massachusetts, on weekends. The detail worked out of Station 4 in Boston augmenting the Military Police of the First Service Command and the Boston Police Department. This unit was organized because of a riot between Black soldiers of the 372nd Infantry, a National Guard unit with a Battalion from Boston now stationed in New York City and Black soldiers from the 369th from New York City stationed at Camp Edwards on Cape Cod.
Neither the Military Police nor the Boston Police had much success in quelling this riot. Several MPs and Boston Police were injured before the riot ended. No soldiers from the 366th were involved because we had a training exercise which lasted for the weekend.
The Army was embarrassed by this episode and to prevent it from happening again, ordered the detail be assigned to the First Service Command on weekends, and whenever needed, to prevent such a riot from happening again. There were no more riots in the area while the detail worked. In addition there were details of Black and white MPs riding in pairs on the trains from Boston to New York City on weekends.
Dark-skinned Puerto Ricans were assigned to the Regiment. They were drafted in New York City. Their light-skinned brothers and other relatives who were drafted were assigned to the First Division. On the weekends, the light Puerto Ricans would visit their relatives in the regiment. Not only did they socialize, they would eat in our mess halls and go to our movies. Some of them requested transfer into the regiment but could not. Their local Draft Board had listed them as white so they could not transfer into our outfit.
When Pearl Harbor was bombed we were assigned the mission of guarding and protecting those installations throughout the northeastern U.S. that were vital. Bringing in the post payrolls from the Federal Reserve Banks became another duty. More emphasis was placed on security for everything we were responsible for.
Our training continued and we were among the first outfits to qualify for the Expert Infantryman's Badge. This was supposed to indicate that the unit was combat ready. We qualified two additional times, at A.P. Hill and at Camp Atterbury. When we were moved from Fort Devens to A.P. Hill Military Reservation in Virginia, we were given the trucks and moved ourselves. The same things happened when we moved from A.P.H. to Camp Atterbury. We were not a trucking or transportation outfit but the moves were conducted without an accident.
After a false start, two weeks later we entrained for Hampton Roads, Virginia. We sailed from there to Casablanca, then to Oran, and finally sailed across the Mediterranean to Naples, Italy. While on the Troopship Billy Mitchell, I met William Randolph Hurst and Frederick Faust who were war correspondents. Faust, whose pen name was Max Brand, said that his project was going to be to go into combat with a white officer who was going in for the first time and then go in with a Black officer who was also going in for the first time. He said he would like for me to be the Black officer. I told him I would be happy to, if it could be arranged. It never took place because he was killed shortly after that on a patrol with the white officer.
After landing in Italy we rested in a bivouac and were told what our assignments would be. The next night our company was loaded on landing barges and sent to Anzio. There was a crash strip for the Air Force, named Labance, located there. The rest of the Regiment was spread all over the country. Later we moved to an airfield on the outside of Rome. When Rome was liberated we were sent to Pamigliano outside of Naples. Then we went to some wheat fields above Leghorn to provide security for the gliders that were released over southern France.
Our next stop was Manduria in the heel of the boot of Italy, where the 450th bomb group was stationed. The regiment was scattered all over the country with Regimental Headquarters located in Bari. In the Fall we were told that we would go into combat after some retraining. The regiment rode trains to Pisa which was supposed to be the assembly area. The day after we arrived the Commanding General of the 92nd Division addressed us or should I say, "up jumped the devil!"
He informed us that he didn't ask for us nor did he want us. We were there because the Black press and our Black leaders wanted us to be there. Since we were there he was going to make us fight. Despite assurances to us that we would have time to reequip and do same training, our first company was sent to the front the next day. Each battalion was attached to a part of the 92nd Division and we were NEVER fought as a unit. Being fragmented and used piecemeal was the capstone of his grand strategy. There was no retraining and no new equipment. Use what you have.
Our two wars in one really came to the forefront with our attachment to the 92nd Division. The regimental headquarters was harassed and hounded incessantly around the clock, daily, by the Commanding General 92nd Division and all the members of his staff inquiring and checking on the regiment's training and efficiency. The division staff members tried to act like they had seen the CG act in his dealings with the regimental staff.
Finally, the Commanding Officer 366th Infantry Regiment (Col. Howard D. Queen) wrote a letter to the CG 5th Army requesting relief from command. His letter stated:
Col. Queen's letter was approved. He was evacuated for physical disability and the regiment's executive officer, Lt. Col. Alonzo Ferguson was made commander, regimental headquarters, 15 December. The division C.G. and his staff quickly learned that he was by no means rattled by their attempts to dominate him or the officers in the regiment.
General Almond, after getting replies to his questioning of Lt. Col. Fowler, our West Point graduate, ordered Col. Ferguson to file court martial charges against Fowler. Col. Ferguson replied that he didn't hear any grounds for such charges. The C.G. threatened to court martial the Colonel if he didn't obey his order. Col. Ferguson replied that that was the General's prerogative. The subject was dropped.
As previously stated, the Sixes was never committed to combat as a unit. It was always a company attached to someone, or a battalion augmenting a regiment of the division. Such utilization tended to destroy any esprit-de-corps an outfit had and drastically reduced its effectiveness. We were dispersed in such a manner that seldom did we know what was happening to any part of the outfit until after the fact. It was virtually impossible to cover the 40-50 mile frontage assigned the division to defend. As a result, reporting actions of these isolated units may give some insight as to their quality of performance.
On 1 December, in the Coastal Sector, the 366th Infantry, with no battle experience, was committed piecemeal throughout the division front. The 371st found itself covering a front of about 15,000 yards. Company B, 366th Infantry moved up filling the gap between the Second and Third Battalions of the 371st Infantry.
Captain Walter E. Dabney, commanding Company B 366th, moved his company steadily forward and occupied a small hill in the sector called Alaska. They were hit with heavy mortar, machine gun, and small arms fire from the front and right flank. During the fight they suffered casualties, but killed several of the enemy (including a German officer) and captured 12 prisoners. Dabney was injured during the fighting. When ordered to withdraw, they came out in good order.
Capt. Dabney was awarded the Silver Star , the first for the 366th. Lt. Porter (who was in B Company) was awarded a Silver Star also for this action. The term "Melting Away" which Truman Gibson (who was the Black Special Assistant to the Secretary of War) used to label all Black troops in combat didn't fit the performance of B Company in its first baptism in fire. Gibson never mentioned this action.
Cannon Company of the 366th Infantry was attached to the 598th Field Artillery Battalion. This was the unit Lt. John Fox was in. In the battles for the Serchio Valley, there were a number of individual and unit exploits covered in the Hondon B. Hargrove book, Buffalo Soldiers in Italy. It is so detailed and vividly accurate in its presentation that it should be recommended reading for anyone interested in the performance of Black soldiers in World War II.
As the battles raged in the Serchio Valley, Lt. Fox was sent out as a forward observer for the 598th Field Artillery Battalion supporting our troops. Lt. Herbert Jenkins accompanied him. Bitter, bloody fighting was going on within the village of Sommocolonia. Fox's exploits were later reported in the Field Artillery Journal of January 1946, however, it said nothing about Jenkins and his men:
"One of the forward observers showed unbeatable heroism. Lt. Fox and his party had ample time to pull out. They remained on the second floor of a house directing defensive fires until only a handful of defenders remained. As the enemy closed in, Lt. Fox called for artillery fire increasingly close to his position. One of his last requests for fire included a target only 60 yards from him. The enemy continued to press forward in large numbers.
When the house was entirely surrounded, he called for fire directly on it. He was questioned as to whether the mission was safe to fire it. He answered, 'Fire it! There's more of them than it is us.' He was recommended posthumously for the Distinguished Service Cross."
Actually when our forces returned to the area, they found Fox, Jenkins and the rest of the party. About 100 dead German soldiers were also found. No count of Germans wounded by that barrage has ever been estimated.
Lt. Jenkins was awarded the Silver Star posthumously. No recommendation for an award for Fox was ever submitted by Awards and Decorations of the 92nd Division. After an intense investigation in later years and finding the lack of a recommendation, Hondon B. Hargrove submitted one for Lt. Fox.
After 38 years John Fox's widow, Mrs. Arlene Fox, received the Distinguished Service Cross. The presentation was made in a ceremony at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, on Armed Forces Day, 15 May 1982. Maj. Gen. James F. Hamlet, U.S. Army Retired, made the presentation on behalf of the Secretary of War. Gen. Hamlet was a newly commissioned officer and was sent up to the front as the replacement for Lt. Fox the day after Fox was killed.
The second battalion 366th Infantry, which bore a major portion of the heavy fighting in the Serchio Valley, did manage to withdraw in an orderly manner when ordered to withdraw.
The comments of Gen. Fretter-Pico, commander of German Troops in the Serchio attack in a post-war interview are quite revealing:
"The weakness of your deployment in the Serchio Valley at the time of my attack on 26 December 1944, was that your troops were deployed on a front which was too long for the number of men available, and your reserves were too far in the rear areas which prevented their being deployed immediately. I stopped my attack in the vicinity of Fornaci because I did not have sufficient force to allow me to push on to Lucca."
On 30 December 1944 Company I, 3rd Battalion 366th Infantry was ordered to cross the Cinguale Canal, wade in the Tyrreniam Sea, parallel to highway I for 200 yards, come ashore, cross highway I, turn south, create as much damage as possible, take prisoners and return our lines across the Cinguale Canal. We accomplished our mission in a spectacular manner.
News of what we had done spread like wildfire throughout our Regiment. They said that we had gotten back at the Germans for what they did to Fox. Monthly whiskey rations had just started for officers. Bottles of whiskey poured into our command post to be shared with our troops.
The entire 5th Army area and the rest of the Army heard about our strong arm patrol. We lost our Company Commander, Capt. Charles Overall, our first sergeant and about twenty men. We found out later that most of the missing were actually POWs. The Germans bragged on the radio that they had repelled an amphibious landing with the loss of 30 Germans killed. The Germans never figured out how we got there. The Germans usually estimated 10 percent when talking about their losses. Since we were involved in a real "Turkey Shoot" you can estimate our success.
Lt. Melvin Walker received the Silver Star for this action. A feature article in the "Stars and Stripes" covered the raid. Our routine assignments continued to be patrols of all kinds until the 3rd Battalion 366th Infantry Task Force I as a part of plan Fourth Term began its offensive on the coast on 8 February.
Task Force I included the 3rd Battalion 366th Infantry commanded by Black Maj. Willis D. Polk. Supporting units were the 27th Armored Field Artillery Battalion (less Co. C) of the First Armored Division, Company C 760th Tank Battalion; First Platoon, Company B 984th Chemical Mortar Battalion, and the First Platoon, Company B of the 317th Engineer Combat Battalion.
The attack started out as planned but almost immediately ran into difficulty. Guns designed for coastal defense against sea attack by naval elements against the once-great Italian Naval Base of LaSpezia were used against the Black foot soldiers of the 366th Infantry, and were never silenced during the four days of battle. Effective fire support from allied Naval Forces were nullified in this attack because destroyers had to stay over 30,000 yards from these coastal defense guns which outranged them. To many of the survivors the continuous shelling by these guns was one of the most terrifying and destructive factors in the enemy's defense.
The tanks had stopped on the beach, some hit by artillery and some knocked out by mines. Heavy shells from Punta Bianco and LaSpezia were falling on us all over the area. I don't know how we did it but we kept moving up through all that shelling, mortar and machine gun fire, sustaining heavy casualties all the way. We had advanced about 400 yards beyond the canal when I was hit in both legs and my left hand by shell fragments.
L Company had captured about 50 prisoners and had them lined up by a farmhouse. Lt. Melvin Walker, I Company's C.O., and Lt. John Letts, the Battalion S-2, were seriously injured, as was Lt. Hugh Jackson.
Maj. Polk, the Battalion Commander was killed and so was Capt. George Welch.
Capt. Raymond Diggs assumed command of the Battalion. When the operation was called off, 23 of the 25 tanks had been lost and very heavy casualties were sustained. Our casualties were 33 killed, 187 wounded and 48 missing in action.
Brig. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. visited Fort Huachuca in mid-July 1943 when ordered to investigate the conditions there which were racially motivated. He discovered a "nasty situation" with feelings on both sides deeply rooted and almost hostile. He made recommendations as to the steps that could be taken to improve the situation.
Gen. Almond did not accept Gen. Davis' recommendations. As a result the point man for the Southern conspiracy continued their philosophy. Race relations continued to fester and no improvement was made because the Southern domination didn't want it. As a result the Blacks were fighting two wars in one - the prevailing Southern philosophy and the axis powers. Gen. Davis tried, but his was a voice in the wilderness. History has proved his recommendations sound.
History should also note that, in spite of being severely limited in rank and assignment while in the military, Black former members of the 92nd Infantry Division and the 366th Infantry were in the forefront of those involved, following World War II, in the transition from a segregated to an integrated military establishment.
For example, the next three Black officers (after Benjamin 0. Davis, Sr.) to become General Officers in the Regular Army (Davison, Cartwright and Hamlet), and a Black National Guard general officer (Bryant), were former members of the World War II 92nd Infantry Division and the 366th. In this connection, Cartwright was assigned to the division for 32 months without advancing beyond the grade of First Lieutenant.
After leaving the Army, many of the Black officers who had served with the 92nd and the 366th became outstanding achievers in other fields of endeavor, including two members of Congress (Senator Ed Brooke, and Congressman Parren Mitchell), a Solicitor General of the United States (the late Wade McCree), government administrators, numerous educators, judges and other civic leaders.
Last update: 2000-04-27 by <WebMaster@366th.org>