Veterans History Project Spotlights Stories of WWII 92nd Infantry Division
Soldiers from WWII African American Unit Recount History in Their Own Words
The Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP), a program of the American Folklife Center, commemorates Veterans Day on Nov. 11 and National Veterans Awareness Week, Nov. 9-15, with a special Web presentation at www.loc.gov/vets featuring the firsthand recollections of soldiers from the 92nd Infantry Division of World War II.
(Photo: Meda of Honor Recipient Vernon Baker, First Lieutenant, U.S. Army 370th Regiment, 92nd Infantry Division)
The 92nd Division, an all-African-American unit in World War II nicknamed the "Buffalo Soldiers," distinguished itself on the battlefields of Italy and earned an honored chapter in our nation’s history. Two years after the war ended, President Harry Truman signed an order to desegregate the U.S. Armed Forces.
Showcasing original photographs, video and firsthand narratives, the VHP presentation provides an up-close look at the experiences of nine division soldiers who contributed their recollections to the Library of Congress. The special feature is the latest installment in more than 20 online presentations comprising the "Experiencing War" series.
Narratives include that of A. William Perry, who had been in the Army for only 10 days when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He was shipped from his hometown in Cleveland to Alabama for the first of many postings in the racially divided South. Perry recalls that Italy was the first place in his service career where he actually felt welcomed by certain senior officers and by grateful Italian citizens. He describes the challenge of fighting the Germans while they hid out in landmark buildings like the Tower of Pisa, off-limits to Allied firepower.
Elvin Davidson enlisted with a plan to become a cavalry officer, just as his father had during the Spanish-American War. As the cavalry became obsolete, Davidson wound up a noncommissioned officer in the infantry with the 92nd Division. Davidson describes the hardships of serving in Italy, his leniency with his men, the importance of camaraderie to morale and the conditions in postwar Japan, where he served during the Occupation.
Robert Madison’s profile is rich in personal perspective. "We really believed sincerely that we were going to make our mark in this war and become able to claim our rights when we returned to the States." An architecture student at Howard University on December 7, 1941, Madison was also a member of ROTC, which allowed him to serve in the Army as an officer, albeit in a segregated environment. Madison lacked the points he needed to go home at the close of the war, and he served in various duties until May 1946. He faced prejudice back home in Cleveland as he studied architecture, but he persevered and eventually opened a minority-based firm in Ohio.
"Because these extraordinary individuals shared their recollections with the Veterans History Project," said VHP Director Bob Patrick, "future generations will have more than a textbook account of what it was like to serve in the 92nd Division. They will learn history directly from those who lived it."
The Veterans History Project was created in 2000 by Congress to record the firsthand remembrances of American service personnel in major conflicts beginning with World War I. During Veterans Day and National Veterans Awareness Week, the Library of Congress and VHP issue a challenge to Americans to interview a veteran in their family or community. Guidelines are online at www.loc.gov/vets. Individuals may also request information via email at mailto:%firstname.lastname@example.org or call the toll-free message line at (888) 371-5848.