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Black Veterans Win Review of Segregated Unit’s Record in Korean War

Associated Press

Forty years after President Harry Truman ordered the integration of the armed forces, black veterans of the Korean War have won a battle for a fresh look at an Army history they find disparaging.

The Army has ordered a review of accounts of a black regiment that could lead to a change in the official history.

Executive Order 9981, issued by Truman 40 years ago, did not bring immediate integration to the military, in which black units were largely segregated and commanded by whites.

But “as a result of Truman’s order, the military became one of the first major American institutions to desegregate and routinely place blacks in positions of authority over whites,” says Edwin Dorn of the Joint Center for Political Studies in Washington.

‘Engine of Social Change’

The military, grudgingly at first, served “as an engine of social change and racial justice,” Dorn wrote in the May edition of the center’s magazine.

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The last major black unit, the Army’s 94th Engineer Battalion, was not broken up until 1954.

And when the Korean War broke out, two years after Truman issued his order, the 24th Infantry Regiment was still an all-black outfit, commanded by white officers, on occupation duty in Japan.

The 24th was among the first units sent to Korea and was bloodied in the battles that raged up and down the peninsula.

Uncomplimentary History

An official Army history of the first months of the war, written by Roy Appleman and issued in 1961, describes the performance of the 24th in highly uncomplimentary terms, glossing over a battle at Yechon, an engagement that another book published last year calls the first major U.S. victory in the war.

The Army’s treatment of the 24th Regiment rankled Korean War veteran David K. Carlisle, a black graduate of West Point who has campaigned for nine years for a revision of Appleman’s work.

The official history, Carlisle said in an interview, “uses terms which are offensive. The ulterior motive, like all other references to black combat units, is intended to denigrate the contributions that black fighting men have made for our country.”

Army Secretary John O. Marsh Jr. in July ordered that the Chief of Military History, Brig. Gen. William A. Stofft, to review Appleman’s work “to address expressed concerns about the portrayal of the 24th Infantry Regiment.”

Status Not Certain

An Army spokesman, Maj. Greg Rixon, said it is not clear what will happen if Appleman’s version is found to be flawed. Appleman, said Rixon, is ill and not available to comment.

Carlisle, however, is confident the official version will be revised, which he says is “extremely gratifying to me.”

The official history calls the 24th “an all Negro-regiment” and repeatedly describes it in terms more negative than used for all-white regiments under what were apparently similar circumstances.

The 24th, wrote Appleman, was “frightened and demoralized,” had a “tendency to panic,” “straggled” in retreat, and required two officers for every one in another unit: “One must command and the other must drive.”

Nearly all U.S. units in the war retreated in disorder at various times, especially after the Peoples’ Republic of China joined the fight, but Appleman time after time singled out the 24th for what he called a “chaotic” flight, or a “disgraceful episode.”

Battle of Yechon

The most glaring slight seems to have been in the official Army description of the battle of Yechon.

“The first action (for the 24th) . . . if indeed it was an action at all, appears to have occured at Yechon on 20 July,” Appleman wrote.

An Associated Press dispatch on July 20-21 by war correspondent Tom Lambert, who was with the unit, described Yechon as “the first sizable American ground victory in the Korean War.”

And an official Army report at the time called Yechon “the first South Korean city restored to friendly hands by American troops. Although it was not a tremendous victory, many believed it symbolic of the liberation of South Korea.”

Obliterating the Record

Clay Blair, author of the 1987 history, “The Forgotten War,” wrote that “the victory was reason for blacks to celebrate. . . . But Yechon was not long remembered. Moreover, the Army later attempted to obliterate it from the official record.”

Carlisle was assigned to the 77th Engineer Combat Company, which served in close proximity to the 24th Regiment, along with an another black officer, Col. Charles M. Bussey, who was decorated for his heroism at Yechon.

“Bussey arrived on the scene and saw North Korean units attempting to outflank the 24th,” Carlisle said by telephone from his home in Los Angeles. “Bussey commandeered a .50-caliber machine gun and killed 258 enemy, almost single-handedly.”

Gets Silver Star

Bussey was awarded a Silver Star and a Purple Heart after the engagement and, according to Blair and Carlisle, was nominated for the Medal of Honor.

He might have become the first black officer to win the highest American combat award, “but somewhere up the line the medal was killed,” Blair wrote.


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