South West Pacific Area HQ, Brisbane, Australia January 24, 1944

On this date in 1944 an advance party of the 93rd Infan­try Divi­sion landed on the Pacif­ic Is­land of Guadal­canal, the first Afri­can Amer­i­can (“colored” was the term used at the time) infan­try unit to see action in World War II. Reacti­vated on May 15, 1942, at Fort Hua­chu­ca, Ari­zona, home of the famed Buf­falo Sol­diers, the 16,000 all‑Black “Blue Hel­mets,” a nick­name the sol­diers had acquired when their divi­sion fought in France in the First World War, saw ser­vice in the Pacific Theater during World War II: at Bou­gain­ville (Solo­mon Is­lands), where they were attached to the Ameri­cal Divi­sion (the only U.S. divi­sion in World War II with a name instead of a number); on the Admi­ralty Is­lands (Bis­marck Archi­pel­ago) and Dutch New Guinea; and in the Philip­pines. The divi­sion’s regi­ments mainly acted as con­struc­tion units (for exam­ple, con­struc­ting air­fields from which fighter and bomber oper­a­tions could pum­mel other Japanese-held islands) and in defensive and security operations.

In the European Theater the counter­part to the 93rd Infan­try Divi­sion was the all-Black 92nd Infan­try Divi­sion (known as the “Buf­falo Divi­sion”), which was part of Gen. Mark Clark’s U.S. Fifth Army in Italy (see photo essay below). The 92nd Infan­try Divi­sion entered com­bat in Naples, Italy, on August 24, 1944. (The most-dec­o­rated infan­try unit in World War II, the Japa­nese Amer­i­can 442nd In­fan­try Regi­ment (Nisei), was attached to the 92nd.) Three months later, in Novem­ber 1944, men of the all-Black 761st Tank Bat­tal­ion, the so-called “Black Pan­thers” attached to Gen. George S. Patton’s U.S. Third Army, made his­tory as the first Afri­can Amer­i­can armored unit to enter the war, en­gaging the Ger­man enemy for 183 straight days and spear­heading many of Patton’s offen­sives at the Battle of the Bulge and in six Euro­pean coun­tries. No other tank unit fought so hard (suf­fering a casualty rate close to 50 per­cent) and for so long without respite.

All of the segregated divisions, irrespec­tive of their thea­ters of oper­a­tion, fought a two-front war—against the enemy and against chron­ic racism and the widely held belief that African American soldiers, sailors, and airmen and airwomen were not up to the task.

In Standing Up Against Hate: How Black Women in the Army Helped Change the Course of WWII award-winning young-readers author Mary Cronk Farrell tells the remark­able, little-known story of how the only all-women, all-black unit of the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) ever deployed over­seas brought speed, effi­ciency, and order to a chron­ically chaotic mail processing and delivery system in the last six months of the war in Europe. Letters and pack­ages from the States were stacked floor to ceiling in six air­craft hangers in England. Under the plucky leader­ship of Major (later Lt. Col.) Charity Adams, a former high school math teacher from South Caro­lina, the 6888th Central Postal Direc­tory Bat­talion began the process of sorting and deliv­ering mail to over seven mil­lion GIs, civil­ians, and Red Cross workers during the remainder of the war, first from Birming­ham, England, and later from out­posts in Rouen and Paris, France. The motto of the Six-Triple-Eight, as the women liked to call their bat­talion, was: “No mail, low morale.” Farrell’s book is a must-read addi­tion to the canon of coming-of-age books that saw the U.S. armed forces trans­formed from a racially seg­re­gated force into a deseg­re­gated one where the color of one’s skin slowly but even­tually mattered far less than a person’s talent, ability, posi­tive atti­tude, and hard work.—Norm Haskett

African American Servicemen in World War II in the Pacific and European Theaters

African American servicemen in World War II: 24th Infantry Division soldier at Empress Augusta Bay, BougainvilleAfrican American servicemen in World War II: 93rd Infantry Division soldiers on Numa-Numa Trail, Bougainville, May 1, 1944

Left: African American troops of the 24th Infantry Divi­sion, attached to the Ameri­cal Division (less com­monly known as the 23rd Infan­try Divi­sion), wait to advance behind a tank assault on the Japa­nese near Empress Augusta Bay on the island of Bou­gain­ville in Papua New Guinea. Photo likely taken in April 1944.

Right: Cautiously advancing through Bougainville’s jungle while on patrol in Japa­nese terri­tory off the Numa-Numa Trail on May 1, 1944, these mem­bers of the 93rd Infan­try Divi­sion were among the first African Amer­ican foot soldiers to go into action in the South Pacific Theater.

African American servicemen in World War II: Black American troops at Normandy, France, June 1944African American servicemen in World War II: A field artillery battery, Normandy, France, June 1944

Left: A platoon of African American troops surrounds a farmhouse near Vierville-sur-Mer, France, as it prepares to eliminate a German sniper holding up the U.S. advance from the Omaha beachhead. Normandy, Oper­a­tion Over­lord, June 10, 1944.

Right: Following the advance of infantry from the Omaha beachhead, these African American members of a field artillery battery set up a new position for their 155mm howitzer. Normandy, France, June 28, 1944.

African American servicemen in World War II: A 92nd Infantry (“Buffalo”) Division mortar company near Massa, Italy, November 19444African American servicemen in World War II: 92nd Infantry Division decoration ceremony, Italy, March 1945

Left: Members of an African American mortar company of the 92nd Infantry (“Buffalo”) Division pass the ammunition and heave it over at the Germans in an almost endless stream near Massa, Tuscany, some 200 miles north of Rome, the Italian capital, November 1944. The mortar company was credited with liquidating several enemy machine gun nests.

Right: Maj. Gen. Edward M. Almond, Commanding General of the 92nd Infantry Division, inspects his troops during a decoration ceremony in Italy, March 1945. The 92nd Division was strengthened with the addition of the highly decorated Japanese American 442nd Infantry Regiment (Nisei).

African American servicemen in World War II: 332nd Fighter Group members, Italy, August 1944African American servicemen in World War II: Black crew members of USS Mason on day of ship’s commissioning, Boston, March 20, 1944

Left: Five members of the 332nd Fighter Group, nick­named the “Red Tails,” converse in the shadow of one of the P‑51 Mustangs they fly. Italy, August 1944. Seen on the left is Lt. Dempsey W. Morgan, a graduate of the Flight School at Tuskegee, Alabama. On an Octo­ber 4, 1944, mission over a German airbase in Greece, Morgan and four other 332nd Fighter pilots destroyed nine enemy planes while they were still on the ground. For this mission all five were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. They joined 91 other Tuskegee Airmen to have won the DFC.

Right: Black crew members of the USS Mason proudly look over the destroyer escort on the day it was commissioned at Boston Navy Yard on March 20, 1944. The Mason was the first U.S. Navy ship to have a predominately African American crew.

Tribute to Buffalo Soldiers in Italy, 1944–1945