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AfriGeneas Military Research Forum Archive

Re: Harlem Hellfighters

Understanding our complete history in regards to this aspect of American history is so very important and helps us understand our fathers struggles during the 2nd world war! From bbok 4 "For The Love of Liberty."

In the decade after the first world war, the majority of black officers returned to civilian life, many to resume their old professions and occupations. Most of those who had hoped to continue with careers in the military as regular army officers soon abandoned these hopes (see footnote #52). Postwar policy and attitudes, they found, had created obstacles that could not be overcome.
As the 1930’s approached, the country found itself in the midst of the century’s worst economic crisis. With economic depression and subjsequent malaise permeating the very fiber of the country, the ascendancy of Franklin D. Roosevelt held out the promise of a new deal to the American people. As president, he would propose far-reaching programs of relief, recovery, and reform-indeed, a progressive program that would in its totality alter the political and economic structure of the country.
During this period, however, black participation in the military continued to decline. So complete was the decline that as the nation began to feel the necessity to prepare itself for the inevitability of World War II, blacks found themselves on the outside once again, clamoring to get in. Pervasive discrimination in the military was evident in this decline of blacks serving in the army.
The decline was most acute among those men serving in the four black units of the Regular army, namely the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry regiments. By the 1930’s, only about one soldier in forty was black, this at a time when blacks made up about one-tenth of the total national population. Most of those serving were also re-enlistees, the openings for new recruits being very limited. And new limitations had been placed on the type of training given to blacks, relegating most of them to support as opposed to combat roles.65 Retired Major William Royston said,” It was so bad that by the mid 30’s a black recruit in order to enlist in the army would have to go to the location were the vacancies occured at there own expence, once their it was no gurantee the opening would still be avilable.”66 Edward R. Thomas, who grow up at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, said that during the mid 30’s it was hard for blacks to get into the army. From 1930 to 1936, the 25th Infantry saw no new enlistee’s only reenlistee’s could feel there own vacancy. Thomas said the first new enlisted men joined Co.G, in 1936 private Page, and a Bob Montgomery.67 Retired Colonel Felix Goodwin, said when he joined the army he had to travel from Kansas to Arizona,to enlist in the 25th Infantry he said “I had to wait around three months before he was enlisted in the regiment.”68
In the mid-1930’s, the 10th Cavalry’s units were scattered among West Point, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and Fort Myer, Virginia. The 9th Cavalry, while remaining unified at Fort Riley, Kansas, was not receiving combat training. And the 24th Infantry, stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, had been designated as a noncombat unit. Only the 25th Infantry, stationed at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, was being given any combat training. retired Warrent Officer John A. Clarke, of the 9th cavalry said “all the duties that they performed were service duties,” he said that the “regiment did not have even horses of there own.”69
All of this was anything but appreciated by those blacks who had developed a sense of pride in the past achievenments of the four regiments. They deplored the obvious break-up and scattering of the 10th Cavalry and the lack of combat preparation elsewhere. But what seemed to concern them most was the reduction of black combat soldiers to menials or members service battalions. The soldiers of the 10th Cavalry were now, for the most part, empolyed as groomsmen and horse holders for white officers and cadets. Two retired former soldiers of the 10th cavalry Frank Gamble and Sylvester Linton of Leavenworth, Kansas, had this to say about their service at Leavenworth, Gamble was a cook in the officer’s mess and Linton was the regimental barber the other soldiers acted as messengers, buglers, personal clerks, map copiers and mimeograph operators the 10th at Fort Leavenworth was a service detachment.70 Those of the 9th Cavalry, many of whom were well educated, were now being utilized as hostlers. And the men of the 24th Infantry were being trained as truck drivers, cooks, or grooms.71
In a letter to President Roosevelt, written in late 1933, Roy Wilkins, assistant secretary of the NAACP, called for the reunification of the 10th Cavalry and its restoration as a bona fide combat unit.72 The Secretary of war, George H. Dern, responded by denying that the 10th Cavalry was now a service unit. “ Careful attention,” he wrote, “has been devoted towards insuring that the 10th Cavalry retains not only its identity as a combat unit, but its readiness to perform combat missions.”The fact that the regiment was distributed in three post, he declared, was not unsusual, for such was the case in over forty percent of other combat regiments. As far as he was concerned, there would be no reorganization of the 10th Cavalry.73
This claim that the 10th Cavalry was getting combat training is not substantiated by members of the regiment, in an interview with three former members of the 10th Cavalry, Major William Royston (retired), Major Kenney Thomas (retired), and Master Sergeant Joe Barnes (retired), all of whom served during this period, “they all said that they did not recieve any combat training until the regiment was reactivated for combat in the early summer of 1941.”74 Nor did they perceive any change in response to the NAACP complaints. As late as 1939, Goldman W. Desmond wrote to Walter White that if war came in the “near future,”The Negro could not expect anything other than Labor Corps and then even the Non-commissioned officers would be white.”75
Similar complaints about the other units also failed to produce remedial action. In mid-1934, General Douglas MacArthur, the Chief of Staff, denied that black regiments were being relegated to the status of service units. “All regiments,” he maintained, “colored and white,” were compelled because of “lack of appropriations”to perform “from time to time...duties normally falling to service battalions.” He made no changes, and later in the year, Captain Elijah Reynolds (retired) would find that the only black regiment performing anything approcaching military duty was the 25th stationed at Fort Huachca, Arizona. Whatever the Chief of Staff might say, he implied, blacks were not being trained for an equal role in any way.76
In late 1935, the NAACP again asked the adjutant general to reply to several questions concerning the status of the four black regiments.”If the Negro regiments have combat status,”wrote Wilkins, then why were they assigned to duties generally assigned to service troops? What maneuvers had the regiments been on within the last three years? Was the 24th Infantry at Fort Benning really armed and accoutred with the full armament of a combat Infantry regiment? Why was it that the machine gun troop of the 10th Cavalry, stationed at Fort Myer, Virginia, had to serve as hostlers for the horses of the officers on detached service in Washington, D.C., including private polo ponies? Why did it not have the arms of a combat machine gun troop? Finally, why was it that this machine gun troop had never gone on maneuvers, whereas all the white combat units at Fort Myer had gone on maneuvers or tactical marches each year?77
To this the adjutant general gave a sharp reply. He informed the NAACP that it had been misinformed on what the Regular army regarded as service, that all combat troops had to perform duties of this sort, and that all cavalry soldiers were required to care for horses. Moreover, he added, “the men of the 10th Cavalry have acquired an enviable reputation in the care of horses. The selection of unit of this regiment to handle horses used by the Army War College and the General Staff is, from the military viewpoint, an honor.”78
The adjutant general also insisted that the 24th was under arms, and that all the black regiments, with the exception of the 10th Cavalry, had participated annually in maneuvers. He gave no explantion, however, as to why the 10th Cavalry, especially the machine gun battalion stationed at Fort Myer, Virginia, had not been allowed to participate in maneuvers. Nor did he comment on the fact that the prime responsibility of this combat troop was the care of horses. On paper, the four black regiments might be combat units. But in reality, during the 1930’s, they were mostly utilized as menials.
If reports to the NAACP are to be believed, other forms of discrimination also persisted. At Fort Leavenworth, it was charged black soldiers of the 10th Cavalry, could not even sit down to eat in the Post Exchange. Nor did the engineer detachment have the technical and staff sergeants support accorded to their white counterparts.To Charles H. Houston, special counsel to the NAACP, the treatment of blacks in the military during the decade of the 1930’s had created real problems when it came to garnering the support of blacks for any new war effort.79

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The truth and nothing but...
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Re: Harlem Hellfighters

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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