Interview by James Holland
I wondered how you got my name and how you got my telephone number?
I don’t know, but I’ve been working on this book, on and off, for quite a while, and I always meant to speak to someone in the 92nd. And, you know, first time I tried to get hold of someone I struggled. I think I found your number on the internet somewhere.
That’s very possible. I was President… Or I think I’ve got something in my pocket, maybe, one of my cards.
Yeah, I want to give you one of mine as well.
I was President of the 92nd Division Association for about 5 or 6 years, and so I had cards made up after I was President. Thank you. I had cards made up for after I was President also, because people still tried to get in touch with me and I like to have a card to give ‘em. They come in handy. I don’t have to tell ‘em what my address is or telephone number. It’s right there on the card.
So you’re obviously still in touch with quite a few of your old comrades from the Division?
Oh, yes. I have a file that I keep on most of the fellas, a lot of them in this area. From even as far back as California. I have some names and, you know, from the guys back in California. There’s one lady, Italian lady… Well, she’s not Italian, she’s American, Italian descent, and she has a place in Italy that we took during the War, and she got interested in our story because we had so many casualties in that particular area. We had one man there who received a Medal of Honour in that particular area. They built a park in honour of our Division and this particular man who received the Medal of Honour, and they invited me and some of the (Buffalo) soldiers to come to the dedication. We went back to the dedication and we spent a week there. A week there and a week… 2 weeks in Italy, and we spent a week there in that particular area. (San Colonia) was the name of the area, and this particular man had… The 1st Lieutenant, he was the advance man there, and this was a very peculiar area that I can recall, that I can tell you about. I was the fact that we had the 365th Infantry there, a platoon there had taken that area, and it was the day before Christmas, I think it was, and they asked – they didn’t ask, they ordered the 365th back and put the 366th up there, which was attached to us, who had very little combat experience. And, of course, the Germans, somehow they found this out I guess. They must have, and they came back and we lost all our men up there. And this Lieutenant (was a part of Johnnie’s), saw these men coming, and they indicated that they was coming to pick up their injured and their dead where they’d been in combat before in that same general area. And he noticed that they had rifles under their shirts, under their clothes, coats, wintertime, December the 26th, I believe it was. Day after Christmas, yeah. And he told the guy, “Look,” he said, “These guys aren’t Red Cross.” He said, “They’re soldiers,” he said, “They’re coming down here to take this place back!” (His partner John) said that. And after he indicated that the Lieutenant, who was in this tower which was up on top of this mountain, he was calling back and told ’em to fire cannon fire. So they started firing cannon fire. “Bring it in!” He said, “Bring it in! They’re getting closer and closer!” And the closer they got the more closer he told them to come in. And finally he told them to bring it in on where I am. And that’s how he got the Medal of Honour, actually, because he was saying to his guys…
Was he killed?
Yes, he was. He died right there. And this park, it’s a beautiful little park thing built there in that area, and they made a… They knocked this building down that he was in, of course, with the cannon fire, so they left it the way it was and made that part of the statue that they was putting up in his honour.
How amazing. So when was this that you went back?
Oh, this was… I went back in… The last time I went back I think it was 2 or 3 years ago. This was 2 or 3 years ago. It was very interesting. The people there were lovely.
Was it as you remember or had it changed a lot?
No, it wasn’t like I remembered, no. For a start we had to walk up there. This time we could… There was a road to go up. It was partly… It wasn’t paved, it was more like a… It wasn’t like an asphalt road. They were putting some parts of asphalt in there, and there was some stone that was in there. But there wasn’t no road before. You couldn’t get heavy weapons up there. You had to carry everything, and if you had any heavy weapons you took ‘em up by donkey.
I think that’s one of the things about Italy, just how mountainous it is. It’s a crazy place to fight a war.
In the area, we were it was all mountainous.
Yeah, because you were right on the Ligurian Coast, weren’t you, north of (Bordighera?)?
That’s right. Bordighera was where the Headquarters was for a long time.
Right. Am I right in thinking that you were in 3-70?
No, I was not in 3-70. I was assigned at one time to 3-71, however I left there and was assigned to Division Headquarters. I was actually assigned to Division Headquarters initially, and I was detailed so many times… They didn’t like too many too many of us around that knew something was going on.
Do you mind me going right back to the beginning and asking where you were born and brought up.
Okay, I was born in a little place called Marietta, Ohio. M – A – R – I – E – T – T – A, Ohio. It was named after one of the Queens of England and it was the Capital of the North-West Territory way back when people first started coming here. We have a place there that’s a fort that was an Indian fort, because of the Indians. And it’s still there. They have built a brick building over the top of it to conserve it, yes.
So what was your family background? When did your father move up there?
My father, I understand now that he was from Virginia initially, and my mother was born and raised in Ohio. So they had lived there for years, I guess, long before I knew anything about it, what was going on.
And what did he do for a living?
My father was a bricklayer and my mother was a housekeeper. Actually she worked in a place called Betsey Mills Club, which was a girls club, and she did all the washing and ironing of the clothes. They had equipment there for, you know, ironing machines. In fact I’ve got one downstairs. I’ve got one, we bought one for our house here. Not as big or not as good as the ones they bought, of course, naturally. But that’s what she did for a living. My mother also was a caterer. She was a very, very good cook. She could cook anything. And people liked her very much, she was well-liked and well-known. She lived to be 99 years old. My father died before he was 55. I don’t remember now what he died from. My mother told us what he died from but I just don’t remember what he died from. I was just about 12 years old when he died.
So did you have lots of brothers and sisters?
I had 7 brothers and sisters. 3 boys, all of us was in the Service. My other 2 brothers were in the Air Force. My sisters, one of my sisters was with the USO. Her husband was in the USO and that’s why she got involved in the USO. And another one of my sisters became a secretary in one of the USO’s out in Indiana someplace when she first started, when she actually graduated from high school. She graduated from high school during the War and went to work with the USO.
So where did you come in the pecking order?
I was the oldest boy. I had 3 sisters older than me and all of them are deceased now. And I have one brother and one sister left now. One brother still lives in Marietta.
Really? So you go back there occasionally?
Oh, yes. I go back every year. We had a family reunion. That’s right, that was our 63rd family reunion also, because the family reunions started during World War 2. In fact I have pictures of the first reunion and I have pictures of the reunion about 2 or 3 years ago. There was about, I’d say, anywhere from about 300 to 500 people in my family that were there. That’s a lot of people, that’s right. Now, of course, a lot of the older ones are gone and the younger ones, they don’t have the same values we had.
Times have changed, haven’t they?
Yes, times have really changed.
Is Marietta quite a small town?
Marietta has a population of about 20,000, so it’s a nice, small town. It’s a nice place to grow up, beautiful place to grow up. In fact I considered myself a little naive when I went into the Service, because I didn’t know about segregation, for instance.
That didn’t exist?
No, that didn’t exist in my old place, so I didn’t know that.
I suppose the northern states were a little bit more liberal that the southern states?
Yes. When I was drafted and I was sent south, of course, to Fort McClellan, Alabama. So that’s where the Headquarters was formed for the 92nd Division.
But just to go back to your childhood; you had a happy childhood?
Lots of friends, good education?
Good education, everything.
What age were you when you left school?
When I came out of school I went to… When I graduated from high school…
You would have been 17, 18, were you?
I went to college at a place called Wilberforce, which is a black college.
In Ohio. I had to go to a school in Ohio because I got a scholarship, a state scholarship so I had to go to a state-supported school. So I chose Wilberforce because I had never been to a school that was all one colour before. So I said, “Let me go to Wilberforce.”
And you got a scholarship for being clever, did you?
I got a scholarship because, uh, politics I guess had something to do with it too, I think.
But also because of your brains, presumably?
Uh, yeah, that’s right, that’s right.
So it was an academic scholarship rather than a sporting scholarship?
But as a boy did you play football and baseball and all that kind of stuff?
I played track and tennis. I tried to play football and I quit football because I was too small, actually. I think I got hurt in the very first game. A guy named… I don’t remember his name now, but a guy from Newark, New Jersey – uh, Newark, Ohio – I knew where he was from, and I did know, I used to know his name, but I can’t think of it now. I think he ran over me on purpose. He was about 180 pounds, that was big in those days, and he was over 6 feet. Course, I was only a little guy. I weighed about 127, 128, 130, round in there somewhere. And I was a defensive back and I think he said, “I think I’ll just run over this guy, sure. We’re gonna beat the hell out of this school!” And that’s what he did! And they took me out the game after he run over me, knocked me down, hit me pretty hard, I guess, from what I remember.
So you stuck to the track and tennis after that?
Yeah, yeah. Coach asked me did I want to go back in there, I said, “No, no. I don’t want to go back in there. I not even going to play any more!” I said, “I quit!” So when I got back to the school and changed my clothes and everything I never did go back out for football anymore. But track and tennis, yes, I was the assistant manager for the tennis team and I was on the track team. I was a half mile and mile specialist in track.
So what year did you go to Wilberforce then?
In the year I went to Wilberforce, I went to Wilberforce in 1938, 1939. Yeah, ’38 and ’39.
So you would have been 18?
I graduated, I would have been 18 when I first went. Yeah, 18 when I first went.
So you were born 1920?
Born in 1920, January 22nd 1920.
Right. Would you mind terribly if I turned down the tele a little bit?
Oh, I’ll turn it off! Wait a minute, let me turn it off. We don’t need that. You notice I have 2 televisions there. I have 2 televisions there because I like to watch the football games. Of course, I’m a strict Redskin’s fan, our team, you know.
Even though you didn’t play it?
Oh, yeah. And if there’s something on other than the football game that I want to see, I turn the game down because I can watch that, I don’t need to hear what they’re saying, I can see what’s going on and I listen to the other one.
Yep, works perfectly.
So you went to Wilberforce; so that would have been 1938.
What was it like going to an all-black college when you hadn’t had that kind of..?
It was very interesting. I found it very… Very nice, you know.
Made good friends?
Made good friends and everything, and I enjoyed being around people of my colour.
And did you have white friends?
I had a lot of white friends. I fact I had a white girlfriend in school for a long time.
Really? And no one batted an eyelid about that?
No, no. In fact my wife is from Virginia and she was surprised when I took her home. I have about 5 or 6 nephews that are married to all white girls. There’s no coloured girls there.
There’s nothing surprising about that today, but you’d have thought that before the War then was unusual. But maybe up in the north they were just kind of more liberal and didn’t worry about those things. And quite right too, obviously. So Wilberforce was good. What did you study?
I was taking commercial courses. That’s what I was interested in. Accounting was my major. And then I left there, after the first year I left there and I went over to Ohio University.
The State University?
Yeah, another State University, that’s right. Not Ohio State, Ohio ‘U’. There’s 2 different schools in Ohio. Ohio State is in Columbus, Ohio ‘U’ is in Athens, Ohio. So that’s where I went, Athens. That’s about 50 miles from my home town. So I went there and I was only there about a half a semester and I didn’t have enough money to continue. You’ve still got to have money even though you have a scholarship. So I had to quit and go to work. So I went to work. I went to work for a place called, for a people called at that time ‘Yeller’s Drug Company’, and they had stores all over the state of Ohio, West Virginia, and they had some I think in Pennsylvania, Indiana, all around in that area. So I went to work for them.
Were you based in Marietta? Were you based at home?
I was based in Marietta, that’s right, working as a stock clerk, inventory clerk also. Then I was drafted in ’42 into the Service, 1942.
Can you remember when Pearl Harbour happened?
Yes. Yeah, I remember Pearl Harbour. I remember coming home from work and I remember, it seems like to me, it was morning and at that time there was news boys going around and selling newspapers, “Extra, extra, extra!” And I remember hearing this sound, you know, “Extra, extra!” you know. We had radios but we didn’t have the… Course, at that time there was no television at all. But we didn’t have the radio on.
Before you were called up had you ever thought about having to fight in the War?
Just hadn’t really occurred to you?
Living and working in Ohio it must have seemed like a very distant, far off thing, I suppose.
That’s absolutely true. That’s exactly what it felt like, that it was too far away for me to be involved in any war at all. I never gave a thought about me in it. In fact when I was drafted I was frightened, because I was frightened from the fact that I was drafted and had to go to war, and I was afraid I would be denied because I didn’t want to be what at that time they called a ‘4F’, which meant that you failed your physical examination and they wouldn’t take you in the Service. And I didn’t want to be one of those people that was sent back home because I failed the physical examination.
Why were you worried that you would fail?
I just didn’t want to be a 4F. I didn’t want to be classified as somebody that couldn’t go to war.
Was it built into you to feel a sense of patriotism to your country?
Nothing like that?
No. I didn’t have that feeling at all.
It was more the sense of humiliation you might have felt at coming home?
Absolutely. That’s exactly what it was. Mostly humiliation from the standpoint that I wasn’t good enough to be in the Service, and I didn’t want to be one of those. I didn’t want to be in the Service and I didn’t want to be out of it.
Just wished the whole thing would go away?
Yeah! But it didn’t, so I was drafted into the Service and sent to Fort Hayes in Columbus, Ohio. And there I was given another physical examination, of course, and classified, and then sent to Fort McClellan, Alabama from Fort Hayes for basic training.
Was that the first time you’d been out of Ohio?
That was not the first time I’d been out of Ohio, because I’d been out of Ohio with the track team in High School. I wasn’t allowed to participate sometimes in West Virginia, because West Virginia’s laws were different from ours in Ohio. I had to sit on the bench a lot of the time, you know.
Just because you’re black?
Just because of my colour, that’s right. And I thought that was kind of strange too, at the time. I didn’t understand that at all at that time, because I wasn’t treated that way in Ohio and I thought, you know, every place was the same. But it wasn’t. In West Virginia we couldn’t participate in any activities that our sports team was involved in. So then I was sent, like I said, from Fort Hayes to Fort McClellan for basic training. And there I was put in a regiment that was all black except for the officers. Most of the officers were white.
Were there any black officers at all?
A few, lower grade officers, 2nd Lieutenants, 1st Lieutenants.
And basic training was just kind of route marches and that kind of stuff?
Yeah, they taught us to use a rifle, you know, and how to shoot, and we had to take physical drills every day to build up our bodies and everything.
You were saying you were drafted in 1942; can you remember when that was, which month?
Um, June… I think it was June… It was in June. June, 1942, I’ll put it that way. June, 1942, yes. It was in the summer time, the beginning of summer.
And how did you take to it, Army life?
I thought was… I thought I had a good education in the Army, and I thought we had just as much education in the Service as I did going to college. I enjoyed what I was doing. In fact…
Being a fit, athletic young man, presumably the route marches were… Do get the phone if you want to.
No, no. My wife will get it. That’s part of her job. I only get it if it rings 3 times. [Phone conversation]
My Wife, she’s not able to do much of anything and that’s her job, to answer the telephone. I do everything else. I do the cooking, seeing that the house gets cleaned up…
Seeing that the porch is alright.
Yeah. I just swept the steps down because the wind had blown a lot of leaves up on the step.
It’s looking lovely out there at the moment. Everyone always talks about the Autumn, the Fall in America, and it’s looking stunning, the colours at the moment.
Yes, the trees and colours of the trees.
I can’t get over how many trees there are in Washington. You think ‘Big City’, there’s loads, aren’t there? All these little suburbs?
What I like, the particular trees that they have in our area here, are the acorn trees, and the acorns are a nuisance. The leaves fall year-round. All the way along into the Spring they fall, you know. And, of course, that keeps the squirrels around. And I used to feed the squirrels until one of the neighbours down the street said the squirrels got into her attic and she asked me to stop feeding them so they’d leave the area.
Did it work?
No. There’s one little black squirrel out there, and you never see black squirrels very often, and I try to keep him around by putting stuff out for him. But she died since, so I don’t have to worry too much about her. But getting back to Fort McClellan; and Fort McClellan, I was there… By the time 6 months was up I was a Master Sergeant.
So you must have done something right.
That’s right. I must have been doing okay. They came and asked for volunteers and somebody had told me…
What, to be an NCO?
They come for volunteers for… I didn’t know what they was asking for volunteers for, that’s what really happened. And the guy called my name and he said, “I understand you can take short hand.” And he said, “We need you,” He says, “So you just volunteered.” And another guy named Richardson – he and I became very close friends – he took short hand, so him and I, they picked us two out right away. They made us PFC’s right away. Two weeks later we were Corporals. Two weeks after that we were Sergeants. Few weeks after that we were promoted again to Staff. And then one of the fellas came down from Regimental Headquarters and asked me did I want to be in charge of Regimental Headquarters. And I told him, I said, “Well, I don’t know. What’s it like?” you know. And he told me what the job would be and everything, and I said, “Well,” I said, “How much money?” I was always interested in money, of course. When I first went in we was only making 21 dollars a month, you know.
So how much did you get for being a Sergeant?
I think I was getting 38 dollars at that time.
That’s quite a big increase, isn’t it?
Yeah. And then by the time I got to be Master Sergeant I was making 138, 128 dollars a month, I think.
Yeah, which was a big jump, you see, for me. So in 6 months time I was making 107 dollars a month, just a little under a Lieutenant. A little under a Lieutenant. In fact, after we got overseas and we was in combat for quite a while, they was picking out non-coms because they were short of men. They were picking out the top non-coms to be a field commissions, and one of the Generals, General Woods, I remember Woods was his name, yeah, General Woods, came to me and he said, “How would you like to be an Officer?” I said, “Nah. Not interested!” He said, “What?” I said, “I’m not interested.” He said, “Why?” I said, “We’re overseas,” I said, “I’m happy with what I’m doing and I make more money than a 2nd Lieutenant.” I said, “A 2nd Lieutenant don’t make as much money as I do.” I said, “I’m not interested in being a (senior).” I said, “He’s got to buy his own clothes and all that kind of stuff.” I said, “I don’t have to buy nothing. I get mine free!”
So you stayed where you were?
So I stayed like I was, yeah.
But when you left Fort McClellan you were a Sergeant?
When I left Fort McClellan I went to, yes, I went to Arizona, Huachuca, Fort Huachuca, as a Master Sergeant, Senior Sergeant. Yeah, Senior Sergeant. And I stayed Senior Sergeant…
With the Regiment? So what Regiment was it?
It was the 3-71st Regiment.
That I was assigned to initially then, at that time. And I went from the 3-71st to Headquarters and…
That was when it became a Division?
That’s right. And I became the Senior Sergeant in the Division at that time.
That’s amazing. What do you think it was, I mean, if you were the top Sergeant in the whole Division, what was it that you were doing so right do you think? You were obviously doing something right.
Uh, I don’t know. I could remember things. They called me the walking encyclopaedia. I can get orders and read ‘em 2 or 3 times and by the time I’d read them 2 or 3 times I could remember what I read. And they would ask me about some order, maybe some officer would come and ask me about an order or something and I’d say, I’d tell him what it was, you know. And I’d go have one of the enlisted personnel who was under me to get it.
Were you good at leadership, at giving orders, at delegating?
That’s right, I was good at delegating and things of that nature. So that’s how I… The Colonel I was under to start with, always called me ‘his Sergeant’. I don’t think he ever called me by name. He just said, “My Sergeant, he runs this Regiment. Talk to him.” When new Officers came in he said, “He’ll tell you what to do, where to go, where you’re going to live and all the basics.”
So was a lot of your job administrative? Kind of organising stuff?
Administrative, my job was like to be available to the senior Officers in the Command, to let them know what was going on, when, where, and how.
But you still did weapons training and all that kind of stuff?
Oh, I had to take weapons training, yeah. I knew pretty good about weapons, you know. I wasn’t no expert but…
But did you have to go out on the D exercises and the Louisiana manoeuvres and all that kind of stuff?
I didn’t have to go to the manoeuvres in Louisiana. That was one thing I didn’t have to do. And I didn’t go, either, when they had manoeuvres in Louisiana. I knew about all the hardships and everything that most of the fellas got through, went through down there in Louisiana and all. And at the time they went to Louisiana for that training in there, they sent me home for my vacation, for my furlough, because I’d never had a furlough. I had never taken a furlough before that. Didn’t need to. I was Sergeant-Major, I was Senior Sergeant. I mean I could get a pass and go anyplace I wanted to go, you know. For a day or two, you know.
But you obviously must have been quite dedicated to your job.
I was. I always liked to do what was right and what was required of me, especially what was required of me.
Was it a demanding job?
I thought so. I think they appreciated the fact that I was more attentive to what the Division was supposed to be doing, and that’s why they moved me up so fast. They could recognise that I could do things and remember things without going to something, finding out what we were supposed to be doing or anything. I could just tell right off the bat. I’d seen it. I didn’t have to go look and see what the Command had told us what we were supposed to do. I knew what we were supposed to do.
And did you have a sense of pride that you were right there at the birth of the 5th Division?
I did. I really did.
Do you think everyone felt that?
I don’t think so, no. Most of ‘em didn’t feel that way, and I know why they didn’t feel that way, and I understood it. Especially after the War, I understood it more, when I became President of the Association, I understood it even more so, because by then I knew a lot of things that went on. Like, I’ve got copies of secret orders now that showed that we were being mistreated, showed that… For instance it showed the fact that white officers were believed to be smarter than black officers, and white officers were always promoted over black officers. I knew that was going on but I didn’t know why.
It’s basic racism, isn’t it?
It’s basic. That was the idea in having the General that we had over us, General Almond. He didn’t even like us. He didn’t like us at all.
Did you like him?
Hell, no! Nobody did! None of the black officers, I’ll put it that way, did. I can’t say none of the black officers, ‘cause there was 2 or 3 that liked him. In fact I know 2 right here in DC that appreciated Almond more so than anybody else. Because he, we called him his ‘pets’, you know. They were Almond’s ‘pets’. One guy was a Lieutenant, ended up being a Lieutenant-Colonel, he stayed in the Army after the War was over and became a Lieutenant-Colonel. And the other one was a Captain. He was one of Almond’s favourites. They were heavy machine gun, heavy weapons Company Commanders, and this one guy, he could set his weapon down and General Almond would tell him, “Hit that television set over there.” And he’d hit it. He could be a mile away and he’d put one right on it. So he became one of Almond’s pets, you know.
But you didn’t like him because basically he..?
He didn’t like blacks at all.
Racist against black officers. He didn’t like black officers at all. He was a… I always thought he was sort of evil. I never had too much contact with him. I had more contact with General Wood, who was the Assistant Division Commander, than I did with General Almond. General Wood would come down to my area where I would be a lot of times and talk to me about different things. There were some things that I didn’t think I was supposed to know, I guess, that I did know, that I found out from my position, that I found out just from my position.
I was going to say that Senior Sergeant – I don’t know what it was like for the American Army – but everyone always says that the Sergeant-Majors are the backbone of the British Army. You’re the kind of man who’s controlling everything, really.
That’s right. That’s exactly right. I guess General Wood felt that way, but General Almond, I don’t know, I just wasn’t around him that much.
Why do you think he was kind of evil, though? Just because he was bigoted?
He was bigoted. He would do things like; you would come into the Division as a 2nd Lieutenant and he, because of your colour, would assign you to a Combat Division, a Combat Company, and then detail you back to Headquarters and put a black 2nd Lieutenant in the position you were supposed to be in, because that guy might get killed and he didn’t want you to get killed, he liked you for some reason. He liked your attitude or he liked where you was from, if you was from the south especially.
He was a southerner, was he?
Oh, yes he was, yeah.
Curious decision by the Government, don’t you think, or by the top military brass, to put him in charge of it?
I think that was the reason they did it. They did it because they said that they thought that – this is what I found out – the said that a white man could control the blacks better than – and get them to do things that they wanted them to do – better than a black Commander could.
But I wonder why they didn’t get someone from the more liberal north of the country? Like from Ohio or Massachusetts?
No, they didn’t want that either, apparently. Most of the senior Officers of the 92nd all came from the south, by the way.
That’s a very curious thing to do. That’s like going back to the old days, isn’t it. Amazing.
Yep. Yeah, it is amazing.
So you finished all of your training, took your furlough, went home, saw everyone…
Yes, I went home, saw everyone as soon as I got back.
Presumably by that stage you knew you were going to be shipped overseas?
Oh, yeah. I knew I was going to be shipped overseas. When I left Fort McClellan to go to Huachuca, I knew they was getting ready to send them overseas. They said that one of the basic reasons that I was put in the 92nd Division was to bring the IQ up of the Division. Not just me, a lot of the fellas from the north were put in the Division to bring the IQ up… That’s my wife.
Nice to meet you.
[Conversation follows] So anyway, when I, when they sent quite a number of us senior non-coms to the 92nd, most of us were from the north, and they said they had to bring the IQ up of the Division in order for them to be shipped overseas. They couldn’t send ‘em ‘cause their IQ was too low to send those men overseas, so they was replacing them with guys like me.
Do you think there was some truth in that?
I found out later that there was some guys that couldn’t read or write.
But that doesn’t mean they’ve got a low IQ, it just means they’re ill-educated.
Yeah, that’s right, they weren’t educated.
It’s not the same as not being intelligent.
That’s right. They claimed that that’s why they had these white Officers, because they trained these boys better than black Officers could, that they would do things for white Officers that they wouldn’t do for their own colour, which wasn’t true either.
That just sounds nonsense to me.
That wasn’t true either. I thought our Division was just as good as anyone. In fact you’ll find a, there’s a writer, I can’t remember his name, he was in England too at one time…
I’ve got a book which is… Actually I’ve got it here. You must know this book, (Hornden Hargrove).
Oh, yeah. I know about that book I don’t have it but I know about it.
He’s very much defending the record of the 92nd. Yesterday I spent an afternoon at the archives, up at College Park, and I was going through all of the 92nd files and stuff.
Lot of stuff in there, that’s right.
But anyway, you knew you were going to be shipped overseas?
I knew I was going to be shipped overseas.
So when you went home was that the, you know..?
Yeah, I told my mom. I told her what I’d do, I said I’ll send the stamp upside down if I was going to South America or someplace like that, and if I was going West, I would turn the head west on the stamp. Going East, I’m going to the Far East, I’ll make the head to the… ‘Cause I knew I couldn’t tell her, ‘cause I remember the old saying about loose lips sink ships. I was telling my wife that the other day, I said it’s a funny thing, I said I always remembered that saying. I said it was funny at the time. The guys used to say, “Loose lips sink ships.” And I didn’t want our ship to sink, that’s the way we was going over. Course, we went over in a convoy.
Did you? So where did you… You were shipping over in, must have been summer 1944?
It was in the Fall, I think. It was in the Fall when we got there, I know, put it that way. It took us about 30 days.
Where did you leave from?
We left from Newport News, down around Newport News, in that area.
That’s down in Virginia. We left in that area and we were in a convoy.
Had you been at sea before? No, I’d never been at sea before that, no. Been at sea a lot of times since then on my own, you know.
Can you remember how you were feeling? Were you apprehensive about going?
No, no. I thought it was a dream. I didn’t think we was going. No, I didn’t think we was going. I didn’t think they was going to send us overseas. I didn’t think they wanted black troops overseas. I just felt that we weren’t going. I told the guys this was a training thing. I said that’s all we were going to do, I said don’t worry about it, we’re not going anywhere. Next morning we got up and come on deck to do our exercises and we was out in the middle of the ocean! Waiting for other ships, of course, to join us for a convoy. And I said, “What the hell is this?”
So you knew you were going to be going overseas but just not when you went?
Just to get this right; you always figured you’d be going overseas at some point, but you just hadn’t realised..?
That’s right, that now is the time. That’s right. I didn’t realise that at all. So…
So did you ever send your mother a postcard with the stamp?
No, I didn’t, because I didn’t know we was going. Like I said, I didn’t think we was going. So I didn’t send her a postcard with the stamp in the position of where I thought we was going. But she said she felt, had a feeling that we were going to go overseas. And she said she had that feeling even when I was (home), that I wouldn’t be back for a long time. I think mothers have a way of knowing things.
So your brothers were also in the Service by this time, were they?
No. It was quite a while before my baby brother went in. My brother next to me went into the Air Force within about a year or two after I did. He graduated from High School and volunteered.
What was he doing in the Air Force?
I don’t know. He was in administration too.
Okay, so he wasn’t flying.
No, he wasn’t flying, no. He was in administration. And my baby brother was an entertainer. I mean he was in one of those company’s where all they did was entertain the troops. He had a good job! He had a wonderful job! He said they used to fly all over, you know, everywhere they went they flew. He didn’t have to worry about being in combat or anything.
So how many was on the ship? Was it the whole Division? No, it wasn’t the whole Division. You went over in parts, didn’t you?
We went over in parts. The 3-7-0 had gone in front of us. They were already there. And the Headquarters, the 92nd Headquarters was going in this convoy.
And did you have any trouble with U-boats or anything?
We had one excitement once, and I remember ‘cause I was on the ship that had MP’s on it. Almond liked MP’s that were big. They had to be over 6 foot and they wore, I always said, size 21 shoes. And I remember some commotion going on and some guy said it looks like U-boats were out there and said everyone was supposed to get on deck. And I said, “Well I’m not going.” And he said, “Why?” I said, “I’m not gonna let them big-foot guys stomp all over me trying to get up on deck!” And I said, “I’m not in any hurry.” I said, “I’ll be there when it’s time to be there.” So he said, “Well, if you’re not going, I’m not going either!” This was the friend I was telling you about, Richardson. So he and I…
And he was a Sergeant too?
Yeah, he was a Staff Sergeant, yeah. So he and I stayed there, laying in the bunk, you know. He was in the bunk under me and I was up on top.
They didn’t fire any torpedoes at you?
No, there wasn’t no torpedoes fired that we knew of. At least we didn’t see any or hear any.
So you didn’t lose any ships from the convoy?
We didn’t lose a ship in that convoy, no.
And you went straight through in the Mediterranean by this time?
Yeah, we went through to the Mediterranean, Gibraltar…
Gibraltar. Did you stop in Gibraltar or just go straight on?
We went straight through.
And where did you land? At Casserta or..?
We landed at… Laverno, I think the place was called. Laverno, Italy. And from there we went into combat later, about a week later.
Okay. And how did you get from Laverno up to the Front? By truck?
Walking and truck. Remember we were infantry.
Yeah. But can you remember your first impressions of Italy?
Um, I thought it was a nice place. The people were friendly. I didn’t understand why…
They weren’t surprised seeing coloured troops?
No, they didn’t seem to be at all.
Was it just parts of the 92nd that were on your ship or were there other troops coming over?
Just parts of the 92nd on my ship.
But there were no other divisions?
No, no. No other Divisions, no other Companies, other than the 92nd, even in the convoy… That I knew of.
And when did you find out that you were actually going to Italy? Was it when you kind of landed or..?
When we was on board ship.
You were told?
Yeah, we were told right when we was on board, after we was 2 or 3 days out in the water.
And you were fine about that?
Yeah. It was alright with me. I knew we was going anyway, sooner or later, and when I woke up that next morning like I said, after we had got on the ship and I seen that we was out in the middle of the water and there wasn’t nothing else around us but water and other ships, I said, “My goodness!” I said, “They mean business!” I said, “We’re really going this time!” And that’s what happened. And that’s when I found out, about 2 or 3 days after the ship started out in the water.
So you got to Italy, you went up to the front, you had this line, didn’t you, south of the Sercchio. But you were still at Divisional Headquarters, weren’t you? What was it? A tented little headquarters somewhere? Or were you in houses?
We were in houses. We were put in houses.
In a town?
In a town, yes.
And presumably they’d just been requisitioned?
That’s right. They just took the house over or whatever, you know, and this was Division Headquarters. In fact we had 2, 3, 4 different houses that I remember. One was a hotel, actually, and the other 3 were houses.
And can you remember where they were?
Uh, I eventually ended up in Viareggio, staying in Viareggio most of the time. That’s where the Headquarters was, in Viareggio, in a house in Viareggio. So that’s where I stayed at most of the time. But I wasn’t in the house all that time, I was living in a tent. I had a tent that I lived in. I had a tent with one Italian…
Right up at the Front?
Yeah, with one Italian attached to me. He wasn’t attached to me really. I just took him because I liked him. He liked me and I liked him, and he learned to speak English and he taught me a little bit about Italian and how to do ‘hello’, you know, ‘good morning’, ‘good night’, all that kind of stuff.
But that was right up at the Front, was it?
Oh, yes. That was near the Front, yes. That was the Control Point, in other words.
That was the Tactical Headquarters rather than the…
That’s right. That’s exactly right.
So that would have been kind of October, late September, October kind of time.
Yes. That was late September or October. That’s exactly what it was.
The Division was put into action pretty much straight away, wasn’t it?
Yes. We had more territory than any other division there, that was assigned to us. Nobody, there wasn’t no way in hell that one division could control all the territory that was assigned to us.
Why do you think you were given so much?
We don’t know why. We thought maybe it was because we were black. “Give it to them. What the hell.” And he always said, “A lot of you guys ain’t going back home.”
I.E. you’ll be killed here.
Yeah. You knew you was going to be told.
Almond said that?
Yeah, Almond said that. He told me. I mean I was right there listening to him.
What do you say to that? You can’t say anything really.
I mean this guy’s evil, you know. That’s the one thing I thought about; him being evil. He doesn’t care. There was not enough people of colour being trained as infantry. Most people of colour were being trained for being like quartermaster, truck drivers, cooks, that sort of thing, maintenance. Most of ‘em were being trained for those kind of jobs in the Service. So a lot of ‘em weren’t trained for infantry so we was running out of personnel.
I see. So you started off being a fully trained Infantry Division but as casualties mounted, replacements came in, and because you were an all black Division they had to be coloured replacements.
That’s it. That’s exactly right. And they didn’t have enough. So that’s when they brought the 3-66th up with the intention of making the 3-66th Infantry Regiment a regiment of infantry as replacements for guys who were being killed in the 92nd. When they got there they found out, “What the hell. We might as well keep these guys together.”
And that’s why they were virtually wiped out on the Sercchio?
That’s right. And, of course, these guys had never had the kind of training that our Division Infantry had had, and when they put them up there at San Colonia in place of the 3-65th, that was a big mistake.
Whose decision would that have been? Would that have been Almond’s?
I think that was Almond’s decision to replace the 3-65th with the 3-66th. And of course they slaughtered the 3-66th. I think we got nine men back and nine men captured out of one platoon. There was about 60 men there in this particular unit that was up on top of this mountain at the time, and I remember calling and asking somebody, “How the hell did we ever get up here?” And they said, “You were ordered up here. That’s how you got up here, you walked!” If you was ordered to do something, you did it, you know. They said, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” This is what happened when we went over there for this ceremony, you know, we said, “How the hell did we get up here to start with?” That’s how we got up there; we were ordered up there.
I must admit, whenever I’ve been to Italy, and I’ve been to Cassino and all along the Appenines and looked around at some of the battlefields, and you just think, ‘What a stupid place to fight a war.’
That’s right. That’s right.
Obviously much easier to defend than attack, the Germans, particularly, were masters of defence anyway, and it’s much easier fighting on the flat than in the mountains.
Absolutely. They had a big advantage over us.
And actually, from the time you guys got out there, they had more men as well.
Yes, they did.
They might not have had the equipment but they certainly had more men.
Oh, they had more men because they used Australians – Austrians, not Australians – they used Austrians, they used everybody that they captured, everybody that they captured.
Loads of labourers.
That’s true. So what was your kind of day-to-day role out there? You know, you’re in the front line all that time; what was you task as Divisional Master Sergeant?
My task was, mostly as Master Sergeant I think my task was more or less with the replacement Company, to keep the replacement Company…
Organised and supplied. That was one of the things that happened, the 3-66th was sent up there to replace the – they didn’t even have ammunition, some of ‘em. That was stupid.
What, they arrived in Italy and none of them..?
Yeah. Here’s a Rifle Company they’re sending into combat. They’ve had very little training, they hadn’t been in combat before, they didn’t know anything about where they were or anything, they were used to guarding aeroplanes in Africa someplace, you know. And they take these guys and it’s just like taking ‘em off the street and putting them up there and saying, “You hold this place. You hold this place.” And they didn’t even have ammunition, a lot of them. The guys coming off the mountain, the Captain of the unit that was coming off of the mountain gave his ammunition to them to replace the ammunition. Because he said, “I can get my ammunition replaced.” He said, “We’re the men pulling off the line, we don’t need this anyway right now. You take this.” So we had about 60 men up there, one platoon, I think it was, and out of that 60 men there was less than half that was able to live, I’ll put it that way. Nine was captured I know of. I know one of the fellas personally, lives up here in Pennsylvania. He’s a member of our organisation now, our association now. He remembers exactly where he was, where he got hit, how they treated him, how they made him walk, told him if he didn’t walk, even though he had a leg that was partly shot up, they would just leave him there and do him in, you know. He said, “So you gotta go.” So he remember all of that and he used to tell me about how they treated him and everything. He was a prisoner of war for over a year before he got released, came back to America.
So he had it pretty tough.
Yes, he did.
So would you go with these guys up to the front or were you..?
I had one young man ask me if I was afraid, I remember him very well but I don’t remember his name. I tried not to remember some of the guys. I knew maybe I might not ever see ‘em again. [Cries]
I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked you that.
No, I’m sorry. I’m bringing back painful memories.
This young man asked me if I was afraid. I told him I was afraid the day I was drafted. I said, “Don’t let anybody tell you that they’re never afraid.” Nobody wants to die. And I said, “When you get used to it,” I said, “Then it doesn’t bother you any more, after you get used to being on the line.” I said, “So don’t let that bother you. He, this young man, happened to come to the Division from a place where my sister had been, and he knew my sister. That’s the reason why he looked me up to talk to me. I told him… He wanted to tell me, you know, who he was and everything. I said I didn’t want to know, I said, “Because you’re going on the line.” I said, “You’re not going to be here where I’m at.” And I said, “I don’t have to stay up there.” I said, “You will be part of a company of men that will be required to be there, and people will meet you every day.” I said, “I’m not shot at every day.”
Just some days.
Yeah. So I told him, yes, I was afraid. And I said, “But I’m used to it.” I said, “It doesn’t bother me any more. I don’t even think about it.”
And was that true?
I didn’t think about it then at all. I think I got adjusted to the standpoint that ‘This is combat. This what you’re supposed to do. This is what your job is, so don’t worry about it. The man upstairs will take care of you.’
Were you a practising Christian?
You took comfort from your faith?
Yes. And I just told the young man, I said, “You just keep your faith in the man upstairs.” I said, “You’ll be alright.” And he accepted that. He had heard guys say, you know, some of ‘em say that they weren’t afraid, or this or that. I said, “Don’t let no one tell you that lie.” I said, “All of ‘em are scared.”
I imagine it was absolutely terrifying.
Yeah. And I said, “It’s not easy to be up there and know that you’re going to be shot at every day, whenever they get ready.” And I said, “And the Germans got one gun up there in the mountains that they can put on a track and pull out and shoot one man if they wanted to.” I said, “That’s just how good they are.”
So you all had a pretty healthy respect for the opposition?
Oh, yes. Yes. They were something else. It was just like I remember when we got to the Arno River, and crossing the Arno, and the guys talking about different things crossing the Arno… We had troops walking across there at the low spots, you know, places, and they said, “This is kind of dangerous, isn’t it?” I said, “You’re damn right it’s dangerous!” I said, “But it doesn’t make any difference.” I said, “It’s just like any place else you’re at.” I said, “Remember we are taking a place that the Germans already had, so they know where you are.” I said, “They know how to get you if they wanted to.” I said, “They’ll fire when they get ready.” And they did. I said, “When they get ready, they’ll fire.” I said, “They got them guns up there high in the mountains where they can pull ‘em out there and shoot miles down and away from here they’re at and hit one man if they want to.”
Yeah, they were masters at that, weren’t they?
Yes, sir. I said, “These guys are good.” I said, “They know what they’re doing.” And I said, “You have to remember, the Germans were here. They were already here. They were here where we are now. They know where we are. They know what we got to go through. They know how we got to cross this river. They know how we got to come up this mountain.”
But you still had to do it.
But we had to do it.
So these replacement troops; were you getting them to the Front as well? Would you take them up there and stuff?
I took some to control points. Like a regimental control point or maybe a company control point or something.
Because what a lot of people talk about in Italy is, you know, once you broke through the Gothic Line then things started moving, but for a long time the line was static. People say all it was was just shells coming over and mortars coming over all the time.
This was one of the things that Command wanted us to do. General Clark at 5th Army Headquarters, he wanted us to keep the Germans there so they couldn’t send ‘em up to Europe.
Keep them pinned down.
That’s right, because they needed more troops up there than they did in Italy because of the way combat was going in that part of the country at the time.
Did you feel that were being treated a bit like cannon fodder?
At the time?
Yes. That’s what it appeared like.
Did you kind of resent that?
That’s what it appeared to me, that our men was being used as cannon fodder.
The 92nd specifically or just all troops along the Front?
The 92nd, especially where we were at because of the area that we were in. Because it was more area than one Division should have been able to handle.
I can’t remember who was on your right, but it would have been someone like the 88th or the 34th or someone like that.
The… I used to know ‘em all in my heart but now I’ve kind of lost it a little bit. I have senior moments and I can’t remember. I think it was the 77th Mountain Division… The 10th, The 10th Mountain Division was to our right. I remember them well, and I was friendly with a lot of those guys, too. I knew a lot of those guys. The Japanese guys came and I was familiar with them, in fact I used to get their shoes, because I had small feet like them. The shoes they had fit me better than the ones Division had, because most of our shoes were too big, really, for me at least. I wear a 7 ½ right now.
Not like my big clodhoppers!
Yeah, yeah. So I used to get my shoes from them because I liked them combat boots that they got.
But did you personally have any close calls or did you..?
I would say I had maybe at least one real close call. My little guy, he was about 11 or 12 years old and I kept him dressed just like myself, in army clothes of course.
The little Italian boy?
Yes. He had one badge, he got a good conduct medal. I gave him a good conduct medal. I got that from some guy.
What was his name? Can you remember?
Franco Bertolucci. Franco Bertolucci. I remember his name just as well. I always wanted to, I tried to find him when I was there the last time I went over. They told me where to go and where to look and… Actually I had been in hospital, and the day after I got out of hospital I went to Italy, and the person that was looking after me wouldn’t let me go nowhere by myself. So I didn’t get to go find him.
But he still lives in Viareggia or somewhere, does he?
I don’t know. They told me where to go to find out if he still lived in Viareggia. I met his family, sisters, I met his sister’s boyfriend at the time, I met other members of his family, cousins, an aunt who lived in Pisa. She really live in Pisa but I met her also and I’ve been to her house.
This was during the War?
This was during the War. I had been to her house for dinner one time, she invited me there for dinner.
So his job was just to kind of..?
He was just trying to steer me around, make sure I didn’t get lost or get involved in something.
So he was paid by the US Army?
No, I used to take care of him. I made sure he got everything that he needed, ‘cause there for a while. It was about 2 or 3 months I didn’t take any salary myself. I didn’t need any. What was I going to do with it? I didn’t have nowhere to spend it so I didn’t take anything. I got an R&R… I’ve forgotten when I got the R&R. I think I got R&R right after that Christmas thing that went on up on (Semafalonia), and I went to Rome for R&R with one other fella.
No. It wasn’t Richardson, no. I’ve forgotten the guy’s name now. He was from Detroit, I remember that part. That’s all I remember, that he was from Detroit. Roosevelt, that’s when it was, when Roosevelt died.
Must have been in April, that’s right. And the papers came out and some guy came to the hotel and told me, came to our room and said, “Presidente is dead!” I said, “Say what?” He said, “You President is dead.” I said, “Bullshit! I don’t believe that.” But he was. I didn’t believe it, but he was.
Was that the only R&R that you went on?
That was the only time I had R&R. And then we were all called back about a day… The next day.
That would have been the final push, wouldn’t it?
Yeah. That was when we were getting ready to do that final push.
Up the Ligurian coast and across the Po.
That’s right. We all went across the Po and up the left side of Italy. And I mean they went, that was so fast, there was… I had prisoners, too. I was guarding prisoners, had a detail guarding prisoners, and I said, “What the hell is this?” You know. And a lot of these guys were young kids. They weren’t men, you know.
They were just teenagers.
I was 24, 25 years old. They were in their teens.
Like Franco’s age?
Amazing. Were you quite surprised?
Yes, I was surprised. I said, “You mean to tell me this is what we’re fighting against right now? These guys here?”
Were they all Germans or did you capture any Italian prisoners?
These were not… These guys were, looked like to me, some of ‘em were Austrians, yeah, from an Austrian unit that was assigned.
So you were just in your truck or in your jeep or whatever, just kind of following the Division as they sped forth?
Presumably you had to leave Franco behind, did you?
No, I took him with me. I took him everywhere I went, yeah.
I bet he loved that.
Yes, he loved it. He loved it.
So at the time you were aware of what was unfolding on the Sercchio at that Christmas time?
Yes, I was aware of everything that was going on almost all the time.
Did you have kind of conferences with Almond and stuff or would it come down from officers above?
I would get the information come down. That’s what it looked like to me. Most of the information would come down for me. I wasn’t – it wasn’t something that I was supposed to tell you or the troops I commanded or anything. It was just that I knew what was going. They wanted to make sure that I knew what was going on.
Oh, by the way, you were just about to tell me your very close call when you were with Franco. You said there was one very close call that you had.
Oh, yeah. Franco, if I remember correctly now, this was one of the times we were going somewhere… I try not to remember certain things, I try not to remember. I do my best not to remember. That’s why I try not to remember even some of the personnel that were involved, that I was involved with, intentionally, because I knew some of the guys that didn’t come back for instance. Good friends of mine. So I tried not to make friends. That’s one of the things, I told that to the fella, that I didn’t want him to be a friend of mine. I said, “I don’t want friends,” I said. He said, “Because I’m not an officer?” And I said, “No, that don’t have anything to do with it.” And he said, “Well, then why?” And I said, “Well, I just don’t want to be friends with anybody that I have to tell what to do.”
Did you have a lot to do with the Italians?
Yeah, I had quite a bit to do with the Italian people. For instance I had to see that the people knew the difference between… How you put it? Being associated with us and not being associated with us. I knew, for instance, that they put a lot of places… We’d take a place, say (in combat), and there would be women there. Course, the women were white. So the Division Commander would have a sign put up – ‘92nd Troops. This is off limits to 92nd Infantry Troops’. I’d say, “What the hell is this?” You know, “We took this damn place! It ain’t off limits to us, god damn it! What the hell do you think we’re doing here?”
So did you ever kind of raise that as an issue?
Uh, it didn’t do any good.
No, I’m sure it didn’t.
I would mention this to Officers every now and then, you know. I had a Commander, Captain James (Glint) – and he might still be living, by the way. I found out not too long ago that he might be living right over here in Virginia.
Yeah. Somebody told me that he might be living right over there in Virginia. And he was a Captain at the time that I knew him. He was a nice guy, I liked him. White. I liked him. He was good to me, he was good to my men. [Cries]
I’m sorry, I’m making you stir up painful memories today.
It’s alright. Captain Glint was one of the nicest guys that I knew at that time. He was good to all the men. It wasn’t no difference to him between me or him, and he was from Texas.
So he was a southerner?
Yeah, he was a southerner. But he was a regular army guy. He had been an enlisted man and got promoted up through the ranks, so he knew what was going on, you know. But he was one of the few white Officers in the Command that was well-liked by men of colour.
Sure. So most of the white Officers weren’t?
Most of the white Officers were not, from the standpoint that a lot of them thought they were better than I was. I let ‘em know from the get that you didn’t mess with us, the Senior Sergeant. Nobody. I didn’t give a damn who you was. If you thought you could, talk to my Commander, don’t talk to me. I didn’t want to talk to you. I had a Officer call me one time, “Hey, you!” I kept going. “Hey, you!” I didn’t know he was talking to me at the time, really, until I turned round and looked. And I done seen him, and I said, “Are you talking to me?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Well, for Christ’s sake! You see those damn stripes going up and down my arm?” I said, “You don’t know who in the hell you’re talking to!” He said, “Do you know who you’re talking to?” I said, “You’re damn right I know who I’m talking to, and you better find out who you’re talking to!” I said, “I happen to be Sergeant Major here, and you don’t call me ‘hey, you’ or ‘boy’! You call me by my rank, Sergeant, if you want me!” And I said, “Now what the hell you want?”
Presumably you didn’t have that problem again?
I didn’t have that problem no more. Especially not out of him. He learned to respect the Senior Sergeant, all of the Senior Sergeants, from then on.
But I’m getting the impression that having come from a contented, good background up in Marietta, that what you witnessed race-wise in the 92nd came as a bit of a shock.
Yes, it did. It did to me. That’s why I said that I may have been a little…
Almost naïve about the way things went.
Yeah, naïve about the world itself. About the people in the world, rather. Not the world itself, just the people. Especially here in the United States. I didn’t know about segregation and all that kind of crap. We wasn’t taught that in school.
Did you feel that you were kind of fighting two battles? One against the Germans and the Republicans, and the other one against the whole system of the white officers and that kind of stuff? Or is that overstretching it?
I think what we thought of mostly was – and I can verify that from a video that we took for Howard University. About 8 of us went to Howard University to do this video… From the standpoint that about 8 of us talked about… The guy asked us questions, you know, and we would give him answers, and one of the questions was similar to what you asked; “Were you all ‘hooray’ for liberty and for freedom for the Americans and for the United States?” The guy looked up and said, “Bullshit.” This was one of the Officers. He said, “Bullshit. We were interested in getting home.” And that was one of the ways I felt, really.
You just wanted to get through it?
I just wanted to get the War over and come home. I think that’s the way that most of the Division’s men felt. At least the ones I was around, that’s the way they felt.
But your impression and your feeling was that the guys who’d had the proper training were good soldiers and it was when guys were pushed up to the Front too early, before they’d had the proper training, that’s where the problems arose?
Some were. That’s exactly right. That’s where the problems existed. If they were given the same kind of support that they gave the troops to our right, which was the 10th Mountain Division, we could have done the same thing or more than what they did. He damned us all the time. Almond never did give us any credit for even the good things we did. He was giving medals out to Officers to the standpoint – white Officers, in other words – that he had none left to give to the Officers of colour because he gave them all out to white Officers.
Now it seems such an odd idea to have a division that was all white or all coloured, you know…
No, I didn’t think that at all. I thought it should be…
Like we were here in the United States, yeah.
People. Period. You’re Japanese? Okay, so what?
It seems to me that if you’re losing well trained men… It seems to me that what happened – This was one of the things about the US Army in World War 2, is that as a nation, America’s new to war. In 1940 I think the standing army was only like 200,000 strong or something, by the end of the War it was 13 million. You’re having to create these fully-formed divisions, and what it seems to me with the 92nd is that great though had been put into creating this all black division, training it very efficiently and all the rest of it, but no one had thought, ‘What happens once you start getting battle casualties?’ Which inevitably is going to happen. There wasn’t a sufficient replacement program coming through, was there?
Right. They didn’t have a sufficient replacement program.
Once the whole Division had bee shipped over, what happened to the new guys that were coming up in the US?
That’s exactly right.
That was the problem.
That was where the problem came in. We weren’t getting properly trained men to come in as replacements.
Whereas if they’d allowed trained replacement troops of all colours and all types, you wouldn’t have had that problem.
That’s right, wouldn’t have had that problem. There would have been no problem at all.
But tell me; I got the impression that the 92nd had quite a lot to do with the Partisans.
With the what?
With the Partisane, with the Partisans in that area.
I didn’t see any problem with –
No, not problems. You had quite a lot to do with them? Contact with them?
Oh, yes. We did, we did. We had a lot of contact with them. They were well trained and efficient troops, the Partisane, considering the weapons that they had.
I was in Italy last week and I was talking to a load of Partisans from the area you were in, they were all operating in what was then ‘The 13th Zone’, the 13th Partisan zone, and they were telling me about what they…
Yeah, I thought they did a wonderful job.
But they were giving you information?
That’s exactly right. They would fight with us side by side.
Oh, would they? They were actually fighting with you?
They would fight right along with us, yes they would.
Once the Front started moving?
Once the Front started moving, the Partisanes was right there.
Really? There was a good understanding?
Yes, there was a good understanding between us and them.
One thing I wanted to ask you was; there were a heck of a lot of civilian atrocities in Italy during the War, the Germans and the Republicans particularly, reprisals against Partisan activities. Did you ever come across evidence of that?
The only evidence we saw of where the Germans did this was the fact that they would take away their food, for instance. Some of the people hadn’t ate for 3 or 4 days, hadn’t had anything to eat for 3 or 4 days.
This was when the Front started moving?
This was when the Front started moving. We found out that some of these people didn’t have any food. We gave ‘em what we had, you know, same things we had. Sea rations so they would have something to eat, something nutritious.
Did you see quite a lot of devastation because of the War? One thing I think people aren’t aware of about Italy is, you know, if the Front happened to pass through a town, I mean it could be absolutely annihilated.
That was true. I saw a lot of devastation.
Every time you see a house in rubble, I mean that’s someone’s home, isn’t it?
That’s right. That’s right. I can show you some pictures… [Moves away from mic] I might have some in here, I’m not sure. I have quite a collection of different material and things that went on. This is my last trip over there. This is from my last trip over. This was from the place where they built the park. That’s a picture of me and one of the fellas there. That guy was a 2nd Lieutenant. He was in charge of picking up the dead. This was San Colonia. This was the building that got totally knocked down.
Where the guy got the Medal of Honour?
Where the guy got the Medal of Honour, that’s right. And they kept this as part of that park there.
So where is that? That’s on a mountain, is it?
That’s on top of this mountain called, we called it San Colonia. That’s where all these pictures was taken. [Moves away from mic] My wife’s medicine. Yeah, this is part of that place up in the mountains. This is part of the ceremony that they had that day up there. I spoke, by the way, they had me speak also. They had quite a ceremony that day. That’s his wife, the guy that got the Medal of Honour. That’s his wife, she was there too. His wife and daughter, see? (Summer/San) Colonia. There you see I wasn’t too well at that time either. I wasn’t quite.
So when was this? A few years ago?
This was just a few years ago, yeah. I’d just gotten out of the hospital. This was part of that park too. And there’s one of those buildings. There’s one here that was knocked partly off.
This was all where you were?
That’s part of that park, yeah.
Could you remember that sweep of the land?
I could remember… I didn’t remember the sweep of the land, I just remembered the… That we were up high, you know. You could look out and see nothing but woods in a lot of places, you know. We were wondering, ‘How the hell do you get up here?’ There wasn’t no street like this, by the way, at that time, when we went up there. This was all built afterwards, you know, from rocks right from this mountain that we were on. And this is where you had to park, where people that came to this ceremony that we had up there, came here and parked below where we were at. You had to walk up. You had to walk up around here. I guess you could take a car up there if you absolutely needed to, but it wasn’t necessary. This guy was one of the guys that was in charge of the artillery, and he was one of ‘em that thought he might have knocked this fella who got this Medal of Honour off the top of this building, because he was ordered to fire up there.
Well, someone would have done it.
Yeah. But somebody had to do it, so he cried quite a bit too, afraid that he was one of ‘em that knocked this guy, killed this fella.
Yeah. It must be difficult for you, going back to these places.
Oh, yes, it was. I told, in fact when I went up there the first day, I said I didn’t want to go back there any more.
Did you find it made things worse or was it cathartic?
It was better. I even went to church with ‘em, with the people that Sunday. I went to church with ‘em, and I didn’t know everything the priest was saying but I got the idea, you know.
I suppose ‘amen’ is the same.
Yeah, that’s right, That’s right. It’s the same in every language. There’s only one God. I don’t care what religion you have, there’s only one God. The God of all of us. So I felt that was the thing to do, you know. The people were so…
So appreciative. I’m telling you, it was… There was several people there that remember us. And I met one, two men in Viareggio that remember us. One man that knew me. The other one didn’t know me, of course, he didn’t know me at all. But this one man knew me. He was a boy. He said he was about 10 or 15 years old. He came here with Franco one time, he said.
Oh, right. So he remembered you specifically?
He remembered me as being Sergente.”Sergente,” He said, “You sergente?” And I said, “Yes, that was me.” I said I remember. He said, “I remember that.” He said he took me to, he went with me to a house people called ‘Bartegglia’ or ‘Bartigglia’, or something like that. Alberto Bar… Oh, I’ve forgotten now. Course, my little man was named Bertolucci and his name was similar to that. He took me to his house to meet his mum and dad.
Yeah, and his dad too. And I said, “How come –“ I asked his dad, you know, why he wasn’t in the Service, How come he hadn’t been in the Service? He had two boys, young men, they looked like they should have been in the Service, you know. And I said, “How come they weren’t in the Service? How come they had never seen combat or anything?” He said, “They saw combat alright. Right here!” He said, “But they wasn’t in the Service.”
I mean, it was civil war in Italy.
Yeah. They… Some people participated, some didn’t. And I guess they was one of ‘em that didn’t participate.
Yeah. You were supposed to and if you didn’t answer the call, you know, you had to run off and be a Partisan, basically, or lie low. You could get in big trouble if you didn’t turn up.
Yeah. Yeah, that’s right.
Did you feel sorry for the Italians?
Yes, I did. I did. I felt sorry for the Italians as a people, because they were being treated worse than we were, people of colour.
And I think it’s very interesting, because you had this relationship with Franco, who was kind of looking after you and stuff, so you had a day to day, direct contact with the Italians which the vast majority of Allied troops in Italy did not have.
That’s exactly right.
And consequently, when you’re out there fighting a war, you’re looking after number one and you’re looking after the guys who are in your immediate circle. You don’t give a damn about the Italians.
No. True. You weren’t supposed to. You weren’t supposed to. But I cared for those people in the area that I was in.
Yeah, it’s very interesting. Your experience was different to the vast majority of people, I would think.
Yes. Yes, it was.
What were the conditions for you? I mean, food, comfort, did you get enough sleep, all that kind of thing?
I felt that – Well, the Germans would keep us awake at night if they wanted to, any night they wanted to, they kept us awake. They made sure of it.
Guns and small arms?
Yeah. Them guns was fired almost constantly when we first, especially when we first got there. Constantly at night, every night, they would make sure we didn’t sleep.
And you would hear those shells whistling over all the time?
It was one shell right after another a lot of the times. That’s another thing I didn’t tell you about, was that we were rationed. Some of the men were rationed as far as arms was concerned.
Arms? Arms and ammunition?
Arms and ammunition. I didn’t know at first. Well, being the Senior Sergeant Major, I found out, of course, that the ammunition was being rationed. I said, “What the hell is this about rationing?” I said, “We’re at war!” I said, “This is combat! We’re not over here playing! What the hell do you mean you’re not getting your ammunition?” You know, they would come to me as the Senior Sergeant Major, I was the one supposed to find out why they wasn’t getting it, you know. And they said, “Well, our CP says that we’re not getting enough ammunition.” And I said, “I don’t understand what the hell you’re talking about! This is war! You’re supposed to have everything you need!”
Particularly if you’re American!
Yeah. And he said, “No,” he said, “We’re rationed,” he said. One of the artillery guys told me one time, he said, “We were told to fire one night, we were told to fire 3 rounds and stop. Didn’t give a damn what was going on, we was to stop.” And I said… I didn’t swear back there then. I went to say ‘shit’, or something like that, but I wasn’t one of those guys that used foul language in the Lord’s name. And the guy said… I said, “Oh, you’re kidding!” I said, “You just want something to complain about, and you’re going to come to me to complain.” I said, “Go tell that to the Adjutant,” I said, “And see if he believes you.” I said, “Because I don’t believe that!” I found out that this guy was telling the truth!
Amazing. On who’s orders though?
Command. All of them went through the Commander.
So it was Almond who was rationing it?
So this is was all why I always blamed it on him.
So you’ve been to the archives too?
Oh, yeah. I’ve been to the archives. I got secret orders. This is what had amazed me, was the fact that I found out that… Here, where they have the white Officers who served more than 6 months or a year were to be relieved and somebody went to replace them.
But not the coloured Officers?
None of the coloured Officers. Just the white Officers. That was because it was a strain on them to command people of colour. Can you imagine that? I said, “What the hell is this?” You know.
Thank God that doesn’t exist any more.
Yeah, that’s right. And they had even… Down here, for instance, he showed, they showed that we had 8 Officers that had served more than 3 years. We had 2 Officers… 54 Officers that had served longer than 2 years. We had 525 – 325 Officers – or 525 2nd Lieutenants that had served more than 1 year. And we only had (52) Officers that served – and these are white guys I’m talking about mostly – that served 1 year or less. So these guys were to be replaced every 6 months to a year, because it was strain on them to command people of colour. These were secret orders, of course. I wasn’t supposed to know this.
You didn’t know that at the time?
At the time I didn’t know that, that’s right. This guy was something else.
Almond, yeah. Oh, I got copies of a lot of stuff. I got a lot of stuff now that I found out after I became President of the Association, I found out a lot of different things. Here it says, ‘As of June, 1943, white Officers of the 92nd Infantry Division that have served with negro troops are as follows…’ We had 19 Officers that had served 4 years or longer. We had 21 that had served 3 years or longer. And we had 102 that had served – these were white Officers only – that had served 2 years or longer. Now, see, these guys were to be relieved once we got into combat. I thought this was a terrible thing. Here’s a guy commanding you who will stay in combat for 6 months. He gets to know his troops, he get to know his men, he know who can do what and who can’t, and then they take him away.
After 6 months he’s just getting good.
Yeah. “Let’s take this guy away. He’s under strain now.” What about all these other guys? They’re not under strain? Shit, they’re all in combat!
It’s just nonsense, isn’t it? But do you think that would have come from Almond? Would that have been instigated by him or would it come from 5th Army or what?
I think it came from Almond. I think it came from Almond. Now, Clark was the 5th Army Commander, which was what all of ‘em was under. Clark was a… He wasn’t much better.
I don’t think he was much better. I think he was…
He was an arrogant man.
Yeah. He was an arrogant person, yeah. So I don’t think he was much better either. But…
The Italian campaign could have been over a bit earlier if it hadn’t been for him.
That’s right. But these orders, I think, were Almond’s orders. I think that’s where these come from.
Can I just see them?
Oh, sure. I’ll make you a copy of it if you want.
Yeah, I wouldn’t mind. I got a whole load of stuff yesterday from…
Yeah, I photocopied absolutely tons, but I don’t know that I got this. I got loads of stuff about… Histories and write-ups and all sorts of stuff. There was a whole load of cases in October when they’d first got over there, from 3-70, a whole load of guys had run away or something.
Yeah, that was a lot of bullshit too. Those guys didn’t really run away. Almond didn’t have any faith in ‘em, people of colour, at all.
That’s quite apparent.
He made remarks and things of people of colour and things that really didn’t happen. I think he made a lot out of that bit that really didn’t happen. He was a…
The bottom line is; my experience of talking to former combat soldiers is that all this stuff, as you suggested, about doing it for your country, you’re doing it for patriotism, all that stuff, push comes to shove, what your doing it for is your mates in your section and the guys either side of you, and the Platoon, that sort of stuff. The pride is such that you’d rather die than let those guys down.
That’s exactly right.
That’s a sort of fundamental, instinctive part of human nature, and it doesn’t matter what your background is.
When you’re in that situation you develop a very strong sense of camaraderie and friendship with the guys around you and you’re not going to let them down.
Yes, you have loads of deserters and stuff, everyone has deserters. Certainly in the British Army there were more cases of deserters in Italy than there were anywhere else. But you’re always going to have a few bad guys and people who are…
Oh, yeah, you’re always going to have them.
But the idea that a fully trained coloured infantryman would somehow perform worse than a fully trained white infantryman is clearly absolutely nonsense.
And the other thing was a man of colour who tried to desert and not come back to his unit; where was he going to go that he wouldn’t be recognised? Where was he going to go? They didn’t desert. Hell, they were there all the time. Some guy might go back to get himself a little peace or something, you know, or try to. I know a guy – he’s dead now, died about a year ago, this was one of the guys that went back with us when we went back for this affair – who deserted at least 2 or 3 times. But he always went back to his unit.
Because he had nowhere else to go?
Where in the hell was he going that he wouldn’t be recognised? So that was a lot of stuff. You know, you always wanted to be with your unit and be with the people that you knew and help those that you could help.
Also, the other thing is, you know you’re in this situation and you know what you’re trying to do is just get through it and get home.
And get home.
The most likely way you’re going to do that, to survive it, is by having the solidarity of your friends around you, and your comrades.
That’s the basis of camaraderie, isn’t it?
Your comrades, that’s exactly right. That’s it.
So you fished out all sorts of stuff when you went to the national archives, did you?
I got some things. I didn’t have time to get everything that I wanted to get, you know. A lot of stuff I just picked up to let the guys know, you know, ‘I was there, I knew this happened, I knew what was going on, I just didn’t know why’.
So this just confirmed a lot of opinions?
This confirmed, yeah, what people was telling me or what other people thought. And I thought all the time I was just as good as you next door to me, in the Mountain Division. Our outfit was doing what they was supposed to do, period. There wasn’t no difference to me, you know. I knew that.
But it’s what I was saying earlier; it does seem to me like you were having to deal with two battles in a way.
One, the enemy, and one, kind of Almond and the bigoted opinions of the top brass.
Absolutely. I got a thing here, my brother had an interview by some organisation or some guys that was writing a book, or something. And he says in that book that he wrote, or that he had an interview for… It showed that he was fighting two wars. He said, “I was fighting two wars,” he said, “And I didn’t know it.” I don’t know whether I got a copy here or not. Oh, here’s one. I don’t know whether you got a copy of this or not, ‘Fighting Two Wars’.
Oh, no I haven’t.
That was a thing we had downtown. I don’t have that thing of my brother’s. I don’t have that here. I do a lot of speaking in the public schools and things here. I get a lot of calls for speaking in the schools and places.
I wonder if I could get a copy of that. I’d be really interested to read that.
I’m trying to now think if I could get another copy and I’d let you have that one, but I don’t know, I don’t know whether I got it or not, whether I can get another copy of that or not. But if I can you give me… I got your card here. If I can find another copy, I’ll send it to you.
If you can photocopy this or something, I’ll gladly cover you for that. I don’t want you to be out of pocket on it.
Okay. Yeah. This is your address here, right?
Yeah, in the UK. Yeah, it looks fascinating.
Yeah. ‘Fighting Two Wars’. We were fighting segregation and combat. And then when we came back we thought, ‘Well, after this there won’t be any of this segregation or anything when we come back’. Hell, when we came back it was just as bad as before we went over there. Got thousands of men killed and, you know, and everything. And then Truman, Truman was the one that decided – I don’t know whether that was during the Korean thing or during the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War I think was Truman – decided that he was going to integrate the troops.
Well, they certainly were integrated by the Vietnam, weren’t they?
Let me just make a note of it. Maybe I can get it. But how did you get on with the conditions and stuff? You got enough to eat? What were you on?
I used to go to the Officers’ Mess, to tell you the truth. Go to the Officers’ Mess because I knew everybody, you know, and I knew who was who and what was what and I could do anything almost I wanted to as a senior non-com. There was things that I knew I could get by with, and I did it.
But you did get enough to eat and stuff?
Yes, I always got enough to eat. I always got enough to eat.
And how was the conditions? That winter that you got there, it was pretty cold and wet and muddy.
Well, it was pretty bad, yes. In the mountains it was terrible. The guys that was strictly in the mountains at all times, they had it worse than I did.
Because at least you were getting back to Headquarters occasionally.
At least I was getting back, yeah, back at Headquarters, yeah.
So what percentage of time were you in a requisitioned hotel in Viareggia and what time were you in a tent up near the Front?
I’d say it was about 50/50, really, yeah.
I’m just trying to work out your slightly differing roles. I mean, at Headquarters you were… When you were back in Viareggia it was kind of administrative stuff you were doing?
Organising replacements and so on?
That’s right. Making sure we had equipment, ammunition, supplies.
So you were liaising with the Quartermaster?
Rifles, sometimes trucks coming in with rifles. I remember Thanksgiving day, for instance, they said we was going to have real turkey and I sent two trucks to Laverno, I think, where the ships came in with the food, to pick up the Thanksgiving dinners, Because we were supposed to have real turkey and all that kind of stuff. I find out we had that crap in a can. The trucks came in, they had all this stuff in the cans. I said, “Where the hell did you guys go? Did you go where I told you to go?” Uh, “Yes.” You know, “Here it is, Sergeant.” I said, “Well what the hell is this?” I said, “These guys are going to be evil when tell them they’re gonna get this crap in a can!” I said, “I thought we were getting stuff that was fresh off them ships.” He said, “No, this is it.”
And then when you were up at the Front you were kind of talking to guys, checking out what they needed?
Yeah. Most of that time I’d be at the control points. Either Company control point, Regimental control point, Company control point, or even a squad control point, you know.
Yeah. In the British Army we call those ‘Command Posts’.
Yes. That’s why I tried to tell you that I tried not to remember guys’ names. I didn’t want to know.
For obvious reasons. So you had your fair amount of shelling and fire?
Yes, that’s right. I didn’t want to be friends with none of ‘em because I was afraid I’d never see ‘em again. And a lot of ‘em, course, I didn’t see again. Just from knowing who they were, where they were at, I knew. That must have been the hardest part I should think.
Yeah, that was the hardest part, I think.
And did you get letters from home and stuff?
I got chewing gum from my sister. She was with the USO, I mentioned to you that my sister next to me was with the USO, and she was able to get chewing gum. And she would send me a pack of chewing gum once a month. Now chewing gum, I understand, was hard to get, and I would get it and take a stick – we had 5 sticks in a pack – and I would give it out to the guys, you know, especially the guys that was going to the Front. And I’d say, “Look,” I said, “Chew gum, chew ‘bacco,” You know, especially if they was from the south, a lot of ‘em chewed tobacco. And I said, “Well, that’s not good for you.” I said, “I got two uncles that chewed up ‘bacco,” And I said, “And I never did like it,” I said, cause they’d spit all over the place! I said, “I got some gum. You want a stick of chewing gum?” You know, give a stick of chewing gum. I said, “This is a little gift from me,” You know.
But you’d write home, would you?
Yeah, I would write home. Not very often. I didn’t write very often because I didn’t have time to write. I just didn’t find time to write or didn’t take time to write, I’ll put it that way.
So did you find you were kind of busy pretty much all the time?
I stayed pretty busy, yeah.
That’s the best way though, isn’t it.
Yeah, I think it was too. After thinking about it, you know, after coming home I thought about it, and I said I did the best I could with what I was supposed to do and what I was supposed to be doing.
So when did you get home then?
I got home in December of 1945. December the 5th, I believe it was.
And were you discharged immediately?
You stayed in for a bit?
They wanted me to sign up for the Reserves. Oh, let me tell you about that! They wanted me to sign up for the Reserves and they wanted to – I had to have a physical, of course, everybody got a physical before they got out – and they couldn’t get any blood. And I said, “Look,” I said, “I’m walking and I’m talking and I’m here. If you can’t get blood, get somebody up here that can get the damn blood!” I said, “Because I know I got some!” And I said, “Our troops, the guys I’m with, are leaving tomorrow and I’m leaving with them.” I said, “Now, you might think you’re going to keep me here,” I said, “But you’re not keeping me here!” I said, “I’m leaving tomorrow. When my guys leave, I’m leaving.” And there was a strike on at the time. I think it was, I don’t know whether it was railroad or buses or something, but it was right, there was a strike going on. I got a ride some kind of way, I don’t remember how I got the ride, even, but I know I got the truck ride from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Zanesville, Ohio. And Zanesville was only about 60 miles from my home town and I had a sister that lived in Zanesville. And I told ‘em, I said, “I’m going home. You get blood or you don’t get blood. Doesn’t make a difference to me, I’m leaving tomorrow.” I know they got somebody there to take the blood out of my, you know, to get the blood out of my arm that day. But I told them, “I’m leaving when the other guys leave. You’re not keeping me here.” Somebody signed up my, well, they got my name in the Reserves and I got called back in for the Korean thing. I told ‘em, I said, “I didn’t sign up for the Reserves!” And they said, “We have your record,” You know, “I mean, you’re a Reserve and you’re gonna serve! You don’t wanna serve for the United States?” I said, “No.” I said, “I was shot at once and I don’t want to be shot at again.” I said, “I was shooting at people I didn’t know and I don’t want to shoot at them no more.” They said, “You’re a smart alec.” I said, “The guy that gave me my physical at Fort Myer,” – that’s over here in Virginia – “Was drunk!” He said, “What?” I said, “The guy that gave me my physical examination was a Major, and he was drunk the day I got out. And that’s how I passed the physical.” I said, “I’m a 30% disabled veteran.” I said, “I’m a 30% disabled veteran.” I said, “How did I pass the physical?”
Oh, is that true?
This was true! This was true, what I’m telling you.
So you were wounded, were you?
Oh, I had shrapnel in my side. Yeah, I got hit once. You know, I had shrapnel in my side and right in here.
When was that? Right at the end of the War?
Even my wife can tell you! Yeah.
When did that happen?
Oh, this was one of those close calls, I guess.
So how long were you out of action for with that?
I wasn’t out of action. I didn’t go. I wouldn’t go to… They wanted me to go to, what they call it, the first aid station, and told me that you can get a Purple Heart if you go to the first aid station. I said, “I don’t need a Purple Heart.” I said, “What am I going to do with it?” So I said, “I’m not going to the first aid station. Have the first aid man come up here where I’m at.” So they sent somebody up to take care of my what-you-call-it…
And he took a thing and, you know, scraped it all out. Scraped ‘em out, picked ‘em up.
Bandaged you up.
Bandaged me up and gave me some, I called it Aspirin. I don’t know what it was.
Yeah. I said gave me a couple of Aspirin, told me to take those before I went to sleep that night and take two in the morning.
But could you still walk and everything?
Yeah, I was alright. I mean I thought I was. I thought I was alright, you know. So he said… So I wouldn’t go anyway, to the…
It was true? The Major was drunk, was he?
This was true. Oh, yeah. Yeah, he was drunk. So I said,” I’ll tell you what,” I said, “I’m not going.” He said, “Oh, you’re going.” This guy told me, he said, “I need 201 bodies and you are the 201st.” He said, “You’re going.” I said, “Let’s make a little bet!” I said, “I ain’t going.” And I said, “If I go you’re going to have to put a ball and chain on me and put me on that aeroplane,” I said, “Cause I’m not going to walk on.” He said, “Oh, you’re going.” I said, “Okay. We’ll see.” I got in touch with my wife, my family in Ohio, I got a lot of cousins, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, and I told ‘em, “Write to my Congressman! Tell him what they’re doing to me. They’re trying to get me back in service and get me back in combat, and I don’t want to go. They did that. My Congressman at that time was a guy named Robert Taft. I don’t know whether you recall that the Taft’s were pretty powerful people. And my other Senator was Robert Bricker [means John W Bricker], and my immediate Congressman was named Griffin. I had them write to every one of them. I had my friends here write, here in Washington write to my Congressman. They kept him busy! He told me, he said, “Don’t worry.” He said, “I’ll take care of it.” He sent a message out there, ‘Don’t send that man anywhere until we investigate and find out what’s going on’. I was at the port of embarkation. So the Red Cross sent the information down to the company I was assigned to, that I wasn’t to go anywhere. I said, “I told you I wasn’t going anywhere.” I said, “You didn’t believe me.” I said, “You watch.” I said, “You’ll be leaving here before they find out what’s going on.” And I said, “And I’ll still be here.” I said, “Well, I won’t be going.” Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. So they had me come back to Washington and go to the Pentagon, report to some Colonel over there. So this Colonel told me, he said, “You know you could be court martialled for accusing an Officer of drunkenness on duty?” I said, “I wasn’t accusing him of nothing.” He said, “What did you say?” I said, “I said the Officer was drunk, I said, that examined me that day, that I was fit for duty.” And I said… And he said, “Well,” He said, “Then you accused him.” I said, “No I didn’t. I said he was drunk.” I said, “I still say he was drunk.” And he said, he told me I could be court martialled, I said, “Okay.” I said, “There was about 2 or 300 men over there that day. I want ‘em all back to testify.” Well, I knew they wasn’t going to do that. Half of those guys was in combat by that time.
So that was the end of the matter, was it?
So eventually they sent word out there, “Discharge him.” This was March of 1951, I think it was. I still got a copy of the orders from where they discharged me and sent me back home.
So can you remember the end of the War?
You talking about World War 2 now?
Okay. I remember…
The announcement that it was over?
I remember I was in Genoa, I was in Genoa by this time, and they said the War was over. We could still hear a little rumbling now and then, you know, but these were troops some place that didn’t know that the War was over, I guess.
Right. You must have felt relieved, didn’t you?
I felt relieved. I really felt relieved.
No great celebrations or anything?
No great celebration or nothing. I just knew that the War was over and it wouldn’t be long before… Then the thing came out about how they was gonna decide what men could come home and which ones was going to go east. So I said, “Well, now,” I said, “I hope I have enough points, or whatever you gotta have to take you home!” Well, I had been in combat, I had been in two battles.
I don’t… The Rhine was one of ‘em, I forgot what the other was, whatever they was, anyway, I had been in those two battles, involved in the two battles, and I was able to have enough points to come home. You got so many points for the battles you were in, you got so many points for how long you’d been in service, you got so many points for how long you’d been overseas, and so on and so forth. So I had enough points, anyway. You had to have more than 54 or 60, something like that, and I had more than that, so I was one of them that was going to get to come home.
Presumably at some point you had to part company with Franco?
Yes. That’s when I had to part company with Franco.
That must have been sad.
It was. For me it was.
What did you do? Just say ‘so long’? He must still be alive, I’m sure, over there somewhere.
[Cries] Yeah, someplace. I still want to go back. I still want to take my wife. I went back twice, that was one of the times I went back, those pictures I showed you, that was one of the times I went back. I wanted to take her. I wanted her to see what I had been through, some of the places I had been, you know, different places places that I had been, you know. I just wanted her to see it, so she’d have an idea of what was going on. When I first came back a loud noise would frighten me.
Did you have bad dreams and stuff?
Yes. I would jump up out of bed and tell my wife to get down. She’ll tell you now, she’ll say sometimes I even… There was guys I was with last time I was over there for the affair.
You all look very smart.
Yeah. I was a small guy, but they said I was a bad-ass Sergeant!
Did they say that?
So they’d say you’ve mellowed with age?
Yes, yes. They’d probably say that. These fellas were really nice to me, most of ‘em, they looked after me. When they found out I’d been in the hospital, they watched out for me pretty closely, you know. I told ‘em, I said, “Well,“ – they found out I had just got out of the hospital and decided to come over there, anyway, so I told them, “Yeah, I wouldn’t miss this,” I said, “For nothing in the world.”
You got a good letter from Bush.
Yeah, I got a nice letter from Bush, although I didn’t particularly appreciate it that much, I didn’t think he cared that much.
Probably didn’t, but at least he went through the motions.
Yeah. But at least he had decided to write us a letter and let us know, which I though was nice. Cause he didn’t even have to write to us and let us know, you know. He could have had somebody tell us I can’t do that.
But tell me, what did you do after the War then, once you got out? You went back to Marietta?
I went back to Marietta, and I didn’t sign up for that 2-50, they called it at the time, that readjustment program they had. It gave you like 20 bucks a week or something like that until you found employment. The job I had, I think the company had sold out or something. They’d gone to another company, sold out to another company. So I didn’t try to find a job with them right away and I didn’t sign up for the readjustment thing. I went to work for a guy named Whittaker, I remember him just as well. He wanted me to stay with him. I used to take his kids back and forth to school, did his wife’s shopping. He was a… Oh, they used to tell me he was a gangster, that he was one of Al Capone’s Lieutenants, and that he left Al Capone and came there to Marietta and started a business. And they used to ask me, “What does he do?” And I’d say, “What do you mean, ‘what does he do’? He works! I don’t know what the hell he does. I don’t give a damn what he does! He treats me nice.” You know, and I said, “He buys a suit for himself, he buys one for me. He buys a pair of shoes for his self, he buys one pair for me.” I said, “I don’t give a damn what he does. That doesn’t make any difference to me. I just like the guy.” So I worked for him for a while. And then I took the examination for a job with the Federal Government. And I passed the examination and they, about a month or so passed by after that, and the called me to come to work, and I went to work for the Government.
And then you worked down here in Washington?
And then I came… Well, I worked there in Marietta for the Government for 2 or 3 months, I guess it was, and then I transferred to Cincinnata, Ohio. That was about 2 or 300 miles from Marietta, down the river, and I worked there for about a month and I said, “I want to go to…” I said, “A friend of mine told me in Marietta that if I wanted to move up in the Government, since I was a man of colour, I’d be better off if I came to Washington DC, if I went to Washington DC.” And I said, “I’d like to go to Washington DC.” So they said, “Okay, we’ll transfer you.” So they transferred me to Washington DC and I’ve been here ever since. Within 6 months, I’d say, I was transferred here to Washington DC.
So what was your area, field?
Uh, I went to school… I wanted to go back to school anyway, so I signed up to go to Howard University, actually. I couldn’t get into Howard because too many people had already signed up to go to Howard. They had allotments at that time of guys, of veterans, because the veterans coming back could go to school so easy now that the Government would pay for them going back to school. So they told me to go out to American University, which I did, and I got in American University. So I went to American University. I stayed at Howard’s dormitory. They didn’t know that at the time, but I stayed at Howard’s dormitory ‘til I got married! But I went to American University and that’s where I finished at.
Got your degree at last.
Got my accounting degree and everything at American University, and that’s what I was involved in.
So you were working in accounting for the Government?
Yeah, in accounting for the Government. And I became chief of the data processing unit, here at the Veteran’s Administration. That’s where I retired from. When I retired from there I went to work for the Tax Office. I don’t know whether you know anything about the biggest tax organisation here in the United States, is H & R Block. And I went to work for them as a… Well, I did everything for H & R Block. I ended up being like a spokesman for H & R. I called myself an ‘ambassador’. That’s what I called myself. I saw myself as an ambassador for H & R Block, and I would go out and make speeches and talk on television and radio, schools, embassies, anyplace they wanted me to go I would go. And I was on television, radio, and I did that for 24 years. This was after I retired from the Government, and with my Service time I had 30 years with the Government and 24 years with H & R Block. I was trying to make 25, and I got to that 25th year and they kept changing the district manager so often I got tired of it, and, “ I don’t want another boss. To hell with this.” I said, “I quit.” So I left them. In fact that’s where this ring came from. This ring came from H & R, and this watch. Got this watch from H & R Block. In fact it says H & R Block on it, I think. Yeah they gave me this. Yeah, it says H & R Block on it.
Doesn’t that say H & R Block? This has H & R Block on it too, on the side, I think.
Amazing. Yeah, there it is.
Yeah, so they gave me… They kept… Every year they would give me something. Every year I would say I was going to quit. They would say, “Look, we’re going to send you out to Kansas City to do some television. Would you like to do that?” And I’d say, “Well…” They said, “You get 300 dollars a day.” And I said, “What? 300 dollars a day?” And I said, “Hell, yeah!” I said, “I’ll take that!” So I would stay another year, you know. Every year they would do something to keep me. This watch, this ring, they gave me a private office, you know, every year they would do something for me to keep me there. And this particular year when they brought this new guy in, I said, “This is it. I don’t give a damn what you got to offer, I don’t want it.” I said, “I’m not staying any longer. I quit.” That would have been my 25th year. I stayed there 24 years.
So where did you meet your wife?
I met my wife at a restaurant. I was going to school and I had my sister in school at a university in Maryland, and I was paying her with… Didn’t have a lot of money. And there was somebody working there, who was a cook there, who used to be in a band, orchestra, a travelling orchestra, band. They used to play for dances and parties and affairs for people all over the country, a travelling band. And this guy used to come to out house when he played in West Virginia, he used to come to our house and stay at our house. And I found out he was working there. And when I’d get hungry and didn’t have any money, I could go there and he’d feed me. My wife was there one night at the cashier, and the girls there didn’t want to wait all night because they knew I didn’t tip, I didn’t have any money to tip. So they told her, “Go wait on that guy.” They said, “We don’t want to wait on him.” She said, “Sure. I’ll wait on him.” So I said, “Damn!” I said, “You got some pretty legs!” I said, “I like that!” I gave her a 10 cents tip and I asked her to marry me that same night. Didn’t know what her name was. I asked her to marry me that same day. She said, “No. No way am I going to marry you.” And I said, “We’ll see.” You know, so every once in a while I’d go back. She wasn’t there every night. She just happened to be taking somebody’s plates that particular night, she was helping somebody out. So she wasn’t there every time I went there. But finally she told me, once I did see her 2 or 3 times after that, and every time I’d ask her, you know, “You still not going to marry me?” She’d say no, you know. I said, “Okay,” I said, “That’s alright.” I said, “I’m going to keep on asking you.” She said, “Help yourself!” You know, she said no. So finally she asked me one time if I would go – it was Thanksgiving time – she asked me did I want to go with her to her home in Virginia for Thanksgiving dinner. And I said yes, I’d love that. Cause I didn’t have no way of getting up to…
Home. You know, couldn’t go home. Didn’t have no money to go home. And I was giving my sister money so she could go home for Thanksgiving from school over in Maryland. So I went to her home for Thanksgiving dinner and I fell in love with her dad. Her dad, he was just like my dad. I felt like he was my dad, you know, cause I didn’t have a dad very long. And I went on a turkey shoot and I told him I didn’t want to shoot, I said, “I hate to shoot.” I said, “I hate to shoot. I just don’t like it.” I said, “Since I got out of the Service I don’t like guns anymore.” And he said, “That’s alright.” He said, “You don’t have to if you don’t want to.” I said, “Are you sure?” And he had one son and one son-in-law, and they said, they would tease me, “He’s chicken.” You know, and I said, “No. You guys think I can’t shoot.” I wanted a turkey at that turkey shoot that day. I showed ‘em I could shoot, you know, and I wanted a turkey that day. So they didn’t bug me any more after that. And she started going out with me every once in a while after that. 6 months later we was married.
What a nice story.
Yeah. We got married.
You got kids?
One. We got one daughter and two grandchildren. My daughter graduated from American University like I did. She wanted to go to school where I went to school. I wanted her to go to school out in the mid-west somewhere, and she wasn’t, “Ahh, no. I want to go to school right here in Washington DC.” I said, “Alright.” You know. So she was home more than she was at school, even though we had paid for her to stay at the school, you know, on campus. And she finished school and she married a guy. She’s not together at the moment with him because… I don’t know what happened between them. I never wanted to get involved, tried to get involved.
But it didn’t work out, anyway.
It didn’t work out, yeah. So she got an annulment and she married another guy. And she had two… She graduated from American University, she got two grandchildren for us, just as lovely as they can be. [Moves away from mic] That’s my daughter and that’s her husband there. My daughter, when she was about this high, she came to me one day [inaudible]. And I said, “So you took after your grandma.” I said, “We have in our race, we have people of all colours. It’s a flower garden.” And I said, “So don’t worry about your colour.” So she never did after that. That’s all she wanted to know. She said ‘cause some of the kids would tease her, you know, and say she was white. I said, “No, you’re not white.” I said, “But that doesn’t matter.” I said, “Don’t let that bother you. When you make a friend, keep ‘em. Don’t make any difference what their race is, their religion is, or where they live or anything else.” I said, “If they’re good people, don’t lose ‘em.” And she’s done that. My two grandchildren are just wonderful. My oldest grandchild just called yesterday from Florida. She goes to a university there in Florida, Florida A & M, I think it is, and she called yesterday just to say, “Granddaddy, I love you.”
Isn’t that something? So my daughter, my grandchildren, my son-in-law there, and I got another – I was wondering if he hasn’t walked in here today – he came in last night, the guy across the street thought it was my son. I said, “Well, he thinks he’s my son.” I said, “If you ask him, he’ll tell you, ‘That’s my dad’.” And I said, “But I’m not really his dad.” I said, “He’s my nephew from my wife’s brother.” And I said, “That’s how he…” I said, “We raised him.” And I said, “He has always…” He brought these flowers for her yesterday.
Oh, right. That’s nice.
Yes. He’s gone up to Pittsburgh to see one of our relative’s in Pittsburgh on their birthday, and when he came back he brought these flowers here yesterday up to her. She’s been ill for long time. She’s doing fairly well, as you can see. She walked out here so she don’t do too bad, you know.
But flowers help.
Yeah. She said it made her feel real good when he brought those flowers in.
It’s amazing how something like that can lift the spirits.
Yeah, that’s right.
So tell me, do you have any photos at all of when you were in the Army? Any pictures of yourself when you were in the Army?
Yes. I’m trying to think of… I may have one. I don’t have a whole lot of pictures. I got one right here. [Moves away from mic]
Yeah. Here’s one I can give you. I got two right here.
Great. Even better.
My nephew, that’s the one that calls me his, calls his self my son…
You’ve given me two here.
Oh, did I give you two?
Oh, that’s great. Perfect, thank you. I don’t want you to go back over this close shave but can you remember roughly when that was?
Uh, I did my best to forget but it’s sort of coming back in little bits at a time, coming back to me. Seems like to me we had gone to 5th Army Headquarters and we were on the way back to… I had a jeep and a driver, and like I said I always took my little Italian guy with me every place I went. He liked that too, you know. Oh, he was like my own son, really. Seems like to me we went too far or something. We was in an area we didn’t have no business being and we got fired on. I think that’s when I got the shrapnel, maybe, that’s when I got the…
But was that near the end of the campaign?
That was near the end of the campaign, yeah.
I’m amazed that you were just able to walk out of there and get back.
I said, “I’m not going to no damn first aid station. What the hell do I want to go to a first aid station for?” I said, “I got work to do!”
And the wounds healed up okay?
Yeah. I said, “Go on down there and tell the first aid guy to come up here where I’m at and patch me up. I’ll be alright.” I got a 30% disability when I came out.
Had you had it treated properly do you think you would have been alright?
I don’t think it would have made that much difference. I don’t think it would have made much difference. I had shrapnel in my body when I got married. I still had shrapnel coming out, you know.
Working its way out.
Yeah, working its way out. The Doctor told me – I remember the Doctor’s name; Green was his name – He said, “It’ll come out by itself.” He said, “You don’t have to have that taken out, no way.” He said, “It’ll come out. It’ll work its way out.” He said. The only thing that bothered me was if you touched me I’d jump, ‘cause I could feel it right away.
It’s all gone now, has it?
Oh, yes, it’s gone now. Used to be if I did that, oh man, I’d jump out of this chair. So this lasted for years, you know, before it all worked out. But once it worked out I was fine. I’m fine now, yeah. I’m alright so it doesn’t bother me now. So I just didn’t bother with it. But I let them know that I wasn’t going back in the Service and didn’t have to go back in, after they found out, you know, that I was telling the truth. But they never did tell me… They told me that somebody had used my name, rank and serial number to participate in the Reserves, because they got paid for every weekend they served and every summer that they did the summer camps, yeah. Because he asked me one time, he said, “What did you do with all the money that you made?” I said, “What money? I didn’t make any money.” He said, “What do you mean you didn’t make any money?” He said, “The records show that you served so and so, and so and so, you did weekends, you did summer camp 3 different years here.” He said, “It’s got that right here.” And I said, ”I don’t know anything about that.” And I said, “All you have to do if you want to find out if I was there, write to the Veterans’ Administration. I was working.” So apparently that’s what they did. When they wrote to the Veterans’ Administration, found out I hadn’t been there all the time, I hadn’t been anywhere, they said, “This guy don’t belong in here. Somebody was using his name.” So they never did tell me who it was or if they found out who it was or anything. They just told me that they knew it wasn’t me then, and I was discharged. That was in March of 1951. So I got credit for the years, too, the service. I got credit for 9 years and about 8 months, I think. The guy served all that time for me and I got the credit for it. But he got the money. I didn’t get the money, he got it. But I got the credit. So that helped me get 30 years in the Government with my years of service that I got in working for the VA, the Veterans’ Administration.
But the bad dreams and stuff that you used to get after the War, they’ve gone now, have they? You were saying that after the War you didn’t like loud noises and you had a few bad dreams; they’ve gone now, have they?
Oh, yes. No, not completely. I used to. I don’t do as bad as I was before. I used to jump up, for instance, out of bed and tell my wife to get down, you know. I think I did that once maybe a year or two ago. That was the last time I can recall. My wife knows more about that than I do. She can tell you, but I really don’t know for sure. But it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to, because a car could backfire and I’d jump up out of my shoes, you know, and get down.
Do you find when people like myself come and visit you – you know, I really appreciate this because it’s making you go over stuff that you’d rather not go over – but do you find yourself thinking about the War a lot, on a day to day basis, or do you not worry about it much now?
No, no. I try to stay away from it as much as possible. The only time I think about it is when somebody like you calls me or something, and wants to interview me, talk to me, like the lady that called just before you came, in fact. Somebody wants me for what they call ‘Black History Month’, what they call ‘Black History Month’ here, in February, has already booked me to come to a school for a speech at their school, to talk to the boys and girls in the school.
It’s good that you do that. I
think so. I like it, I do. I like to keep the kids, I like to let young people know that we participated, we did what we were told to do, and we did the best we could with what we were allowed to have. I knew some troops, for instance, that had (used) equipment. Like I said, I knew some troops that were rationed, firearms, ammunition. Lot of this stuff I knew about already in advance, before I got stuff like this.
But it just confirmed what you knew.
It just confirmed what I was thinking all the time, you know. I said, “How in the hell did this happen?” I found out, ‘Well, Jesus Christ, they did this on purpose!’ That’s terrible. I said, “I wouldn’t treat a human being this way.”
I think you’re right about Almond. He sounds like not good news at all.
Yeah. My wife always says, she says, “Some day they’re going to send somebody to pick you up!” She says, “You spreading all this bad news about Almond around the country.” And I said, “What can they do to me?” I said, “They can’t do anything to me.” I said, “I know too many people that know what I know.” And I said, “And they’ll come to my defence.” And I said, “How many people do you think he’s got on his side?” If he’s got any at all, they’d have to be white.” I said, “So that doesn’t bother me.”
I think there is a general acceptance now that, you know, I was conscious before I contacted you of some of the stuff. I was aware that you guys had a bad deal. That novel that has done so well, they’ve brought what you guys did to the forefront, you know, the James McBride novel. That’s been a massive…
I’m listed in his book as one of his, yeah, as one of his people that gave him information, you know.
That’s been an international bestseller all round the world.
He gave me credit, yeah.
I’ll go and look at my copy. That was one of the reasons why, you know, I read that book when it came out and I thought it was really interesting. Because I’d been doing a lot of work on the atrocities that happened.
Oh, I see. Okay.
Not at (Santana), but others, so I was interested to read it from that point of view as well. I thought it was a good novel. But books like that, I think people are aware now.
In fact I don’t think of white and black or white and coloured now unless somebody like you comes to interview me or talk to me, or they want to talk about the 92nd or anything. I have to say that the Command was white, you know, top command was white, and they didn’t think like we thought.
The reason I wanted to talk to you was not specifically about the racism in the Army, but because I was interested to hear your story, you know, different experiences.
She asked me if I was a man of colour and I said, “Why would you ask me that?” She said, “Well, I just wanted to know if you were.” And then she told me she was white, you know, and she had talked to another man of colour and he had told her a lot about the 92nd Division. And he lived up here in Delaware and she wondered if I knew him and if I knew of some different things that had happened, she said, ‘cause she was amazed at some of the things that he told her, that she didn’t know happened during the War. And I said, “Yes,” I said, “A lot of things went on,” I said, “That people that were not of colour didn’t know what was happening to us people who were of colour.” And I said, “Because we were under the command of a man who was born and raised in the south and came up in one of the southern schools that was specifically for Army personnel only.” And I said, “So a lot of people didn’t know about what was happening. A lot of people of your race,” I said, “Didn’t know.” And some still don’t. I said, “In fact some people said they didn’t know there was a Buffalo Division in combat.” I went to Alabama one time, to a program in Alabama, and a man sitting down with a platform as big as this room here, seats all the way around it, people that was involved in this program sitting on this platform. And there was a man sitting down in front of that platform said, “What is that nigger doing up there with a Purple Heart on?” I heard him, and I turned and looked, and I said. “What in the hell are you talking about?” He said, “I didn’t know niggers got in combat.” I said, “Well shame on you.” I said, “There’s a lot you don’t know about yet.” This was in Alabama, of course.
How long ago was that?
This was a long time ago. I would say this was about 5 or 6 years after the War, about 1955, 54, 55. He said, “I didn’t know any niggers got hurt in combat, was in combat at all.” And I said, “Where in the hell have you been?” That really shocked me when I heard that guy say that.
I think things are changing.
Oh, yes. I think they are too. People are more aware now, today. I always said if they left the young people alone and don’t teach ‘em this thing about races and all that kind of stuff, everything would be fine. Let them decide. Let them do their thing. Not all this kind of stuff.
Yeah. I’m sure you’re right. Well, thank you, I really appreciate it.