The History Place - African-Americans in WW II

1st Lt. Lee Rayford, 99th Fighter Squadron

Selected Photos

Over 2.5 million African-American men registered for the draft, and black women also volunteered in large numbers. While serving in the Army, Army Air Forces, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, they experienced discrimination and segregation but met the challenge and persevered. They served their country with distinction, made valuable contributions to the war effort, and earned high praises and commendations for their struggles and sacrifices.

Breaking Barriers

Left - Howard P. Perry, the first African-American to enlist in the U.S. Marines. Breaking a 167-year-old barrier, the U.S. Marine Corps started enlisting African-Americans on June 1, 1942. The first class of 1,200 volunteers began their training three months later as members of the 51st Composite Defense Battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Mid - Swearing-in of William Baldwin, the first African-American Navy recruit for General Service. June 2, 1942. Right - Reginald Brandon, the first African-American graduate of the Radio Training School of the Maritime Commission. Upon assignment he had the rank of ensign.

Left - A trio of recruits run the rugged obstacle course at Camp Lejeune while training to become fighting Leathernecks in the U.S. Marine Corps. Their excellence resulted in an expanded Navy recruitment program. April 1943. Mid - An officer returns the salute as he passes cadet fighter pilots lined up during review at Tuskegee Field, Alabama. Tuskegee Airmen flew 1,500 missions over Europe and never lost any of the bomber pilots they were assigned to protect. Right - Two Marine recruits in a light tank during training in mechanized warfare at Camp Lejeune. April 1943.

The War in Europe

Left - Brig. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., the first African-American general in the U.S. Army, watches a Signal Corps crew erecting poles, somewhere in France. August 8, 1944. His son, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., graduated from West Point and commanded the Tuskegee Airmen. Mid - A bazooka-man cuts loose at a German machine-gun nest some 300 yards distant. This African-American combat patrol advanced three miles north of Lucca, Italy (furthermost point occupied by American troops) to make the attack. September 7, 1944. Right - Members of an African-American mortar company of the 92nd Division pass the ammunition and fire non-stop at the Germans near Massa, Italy. This company was credited with knocking out several machine-gun nests. November 1944.

Left - The 'target for today' in Germany is revealed to an African-American P-51 Mustang fighter-bomber group during a pre-flight briefing at an air base in Italy. The men are members of the 15th U.S. Army Air Force whose planes fly as part of the Mediterranean Allied Air Force. September 1944. Mid - The P-51 pilots listen intently during their briefing. Right - Staff Sgt. Alfred D. Norris, crew chief of the fighter group, closes the canopy of a P-51 Mustang for his pilot, Capt. William T. Mattison, operations officer of the squadron.

Left - On Easter morning, William E. Thomas and Joseph Jackson will roll specially prepared 'eggs' on Hitler's lawn. March 10, 1945. Mid - Crews of U.S. light tanks stand-by awaiting the call to clean out scattered Nazi machine-gun nests in Coburg, Germany. April 25, 1945. Right - A captured Nazi, wearing civilian clothes, sits in a jeep at south gate of the walled city of Lucca, Italy, awaiting removal to a rear area. September 1944.

The Pacific War

Left - Aboard a Coast Guard-manned transport somewhere in the Pacific, these African-American Marines prepare to face the fire of Japanese gunners. February 1944. Mid - On Bougainville, African-American troops of the 24th Infantry Division wait to advance behind a tank assault on the Japanese along Empress Augusta Bay. 1944. Right - A patrol cautiously advances through the jungle in Japanese-held territory off the Numa-Numa Trail on Bougainville. These members of the 93rd Infantry Division were among the first African-American foot soldiers to go into combat in the South Pacific. May 1, 1944.

Left - 1st Sergeant Rance Richardson, a veteran of two World Wars, takes a break along the Numa-Numa Trail. April 4, 1944. Mid - On call to general quarters, five steward's mates stand at their battle stations, manning a 20mm anti-aircraft gun aboard a Coast Guard frigate in the southwest Pacific. Right - U.S. Army trucks wind along the side of the mountain over the Ledo supply road from India into Burma.

Honors and Awards

Left - Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, U.S. Third Army commander, pins the Silver Star on Private Ernest A. Jenkins of New York City for his conspicuous gallantry in the liberation of Chateaudun, France. October 13, 1944. Mid - Brig. Gen. Robert N. Young, Commanding General of the Military District of Washington, assists Melba Rose, aged 2, daughter of Mrs. Rosie L. Madison, in viewing the Silver Star posthumously awarded to her father, 1st Lt. John W. Madison, of the 92nd Infantry Division, who was killed in action in Italy. Right - Admiral Chester W. Nimitz pins the Navy Cross on Doris Miller at a ceremony on board a warship in Pearl Harbor. May 27, 1942.

Left - Staff Sgt. Timerlate Kirven (on left) and Cpl. Samuel J. Love, Sr., the first African-American Marines decorated by the famed Second Marine Division. They received Purple Hearts for wounds received in the Battle of Saipan. Mid - A gun crew of six African-Americans who were given the Navy Cross for standing by their gun when their ship was damaged during an enemy attack off the Philippines. Right - Pfc. Luther Woodward, a member of the Fourth Ammunition Company, admires the Bronze Star awarded to him for "his bravery, initiative and battle-cunning." April 17, 1945. The award was later upgraded to the Silver Star.

Women's Contribution

Left - The oath is administered to five new Navy nurses commissioned in New York. Phyllis Mae Dailey, the Navy's first African-American nurse, is second from the right. March 8, 1945. Mid - Lt.(jg.) Harriet Ida Pickens and Ens. Frances Wills, the first African-American Waves to be commissioned. December 21, 1944. Right - Lt. Florie E. Gant tends a young patient at a prisoner-of-war hospital somewhere in England. October 7, 1944.

Left - Juanita E. Gray, a former domestic worker, learns to operate a lathe at the War Production and Training Center in Washington, D.C. She was one of hundreds of African-American women trained at the center. Mid - Welders Alivia Scott, Hattie Carpenter, and Flossie Burtos are about to weld their first piece of steel on the ship SS George Washington Carver at Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond, California. 1943. Right - Auxiliaries Ruth Wade (on left) and Lucille Mayo demonstrate their ability to service trucks at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. December 8, 1942.

Postnote - On July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981 ending segregation in the United States Armed Forces.
Read more at the Truman Library Web site

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