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Army rights old racial wrong
Thursday July 23 3:24 PM EDT

Army rights old racial wrong

By Jonathan Wright

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Righting one of the wrongs of racism over 50 years late, the U.S. Army Thursday decorated three African-American soldiers who gave up their military rank for the chance to join previously whites-only units on the front line against the forces of Nazi Germany.

At a ceremony to celebrate the 50th anniversary of racial integration in the U.S. military, Gen. William Crouch awarded the Bronze Star for valor to the old soldiers, who were among the 2,221 blacks who signed up for combat duty to replace white casualties in the Battle of the Bulge.

The veterans already had combat infantry badges, which entitled them to the Bronze Star, but no one told them at the time. The army has also restored their original ranks, ignored when they left the army after World War Two.

Sgt. J. Cameron Wade of Irving, Texas, who was the driving force behind the campaign for recognition, said that the injustice had troubled them for years.

"But to see all of you here backing us, putting us out front, I couldn't help but have tears," he added.

Dorothy Nix, who took the award on behalf of her husband, Pvt. Andrew Nix of Philadelphia, said: "It's 50 years late. But the time is never too late."

The story of the African-American volunteers goes back to December 1944, when U.S. forces were battling the German army in the Ardennes region of southern Belgium.

Army Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, against the wishes of many whites and in response to appeals from black leaders at home, decided to invite African-Americans into combat units. They had previously served only in combat service support units.

"One of the most poignant things was first you had to renounce your rank... You had to take off those stripes, volunteer to be retrained in infantry, pick up a rifle and go forward to replace troops in formerly white segregated units and go into the jaws of death," said Gen. Crouch, who is vice chief of staff of the Army.

"You have to have a special sense of duty and patriotism that burns in your soul to take up that challenge," he added.

Three and a half years later, on July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman signed the executive order which decreed racial integration throughout the U.S. military.

The U.S. armed services then become a pioneer in the trend toward integration, leading the way at a time when many southern states continued to enforce racial segregation in schools and other public services.

Sgt. Wade said he was taking his family and friends to see a display of photographs of all the African-American generals who have served in the U.S. Army since the 1940s.

"It's amazing to see that it comes to a total of 220 since then. I think for 24 years they only had three, and then every 10 years, it would jump," he said. "It makes us feel proud that whatever we did, we got a good result."

The other soldier was 1st Sgt. Vincent Malveaux of Brooklyn, New York. Two other veterans, Mate Montgomery of Chapman, Alabama, and Marteller Pollack of Atlanta, Georgia, will also receive the Bronze Star but they were not present.


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