Fort McClellan, Alabama October 15, 1942

On this date in 1942 the 92nd Infantry Division was re­acti­vated at Fort Mc­Clellan, Ala­bama. The famed Afri­can Amer­i­can infan­try divi­sion, nick­named “Buf­falo Sol­diers Divi­sion,” had served in World War I in France from July 1918 until it returned to the United States to be deactivated in February 1919.

The 92nd Infantry Division was one of three “colored” divi­sions acti­vated in 1941–1942. The con­stant need for man­power and the spirited lobbying by First Lady Elea­nor Roose­velt and mem­bers of the black com­mu­nity, par­ticu­larly civil rights leaders and the press, wore down the War Depart­ment’s resis­tance to placing African Amer­i­can draftees and enlisted men in com­bat roles. The rank and file of the three “colored” divi­sions were trained and led by white staff offi­cers and com­pany com­manders, who were mostly south­erners. The first of the three divisions, a cavalry divi­sion, was acti­vated in April 1941, but it was de­acti­vated 2 months after arriving in Algeria, North Africa, in March 1944. Com­bat ele­ments of the second divi­sion, the 93rd Infan­try Divi­sion, nick­named “Blue Hel­mets,” saw fighting in the Pacific Thea­ter on Bougain­ville Island in March 1944 when they were attached to the Ameri­cal Divi­sion; how­ever, most “Blue Hel­mets” were assigned to labor and secu­rity detach­ments and mopping up oper­a­tions as the war against Japan wound down. Only the 92nd Infan­try (Buffalo) Divi­sion under 51‑year-old Maj. Gen. Edward M. Almond saw serious com­bat in the final phases of the Ital­ian Cam­paign of 1944–1945 as part of the U.S. Fifth Army under Generals Mark Clark and later Lucian Truscott. The first engage­ment with the enemy occurred on August 23, 1944, 3 weeks after the division’s 370th Infan­try Regi­ment disem­barked in Naples. Other ele­ments of the 92nd arrived over the next 2 months, struggling against sea­soned German troops in their laborious ascent up the Italian boot.

Relations between the 92nd’s white offi­cers and the black rank and file exploded in hate-filled recrim­i­na­tions during the harsh 1944–1945 Italian winter. Maj. Gen. Almond and his white com­manders blamed the divi­sion’s set­backs, low morale, unau­tho­rized with­drawals upon engaging the enemy, and high casual­ty counts on black cow­ard­ice, while black GIs com­plained Almond and his “south­ern crackers” were using them as “cannon fodder.” U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Marshall had per­son­ally hand-picked the Virginia rising-star to com­mand the almost exclu­sively black infan­try divi­sion because he believed Almond would excel in a diffi­cult assign­ment. But that was not to be. Almond began parroting the wide­spread preju­dice in the segre­gated Army that blacks by nature made for poor front-line sol­diers and thus were fit only for gene­ral ser­vice roles. He whined to con­fi­dants that the 92nd’s com­bat record had cheated him out of a higher command.

The Buffalo Soldiers emerged from the war with a mixed record of suc­cesses and failures, but also of honor­able ser­vice to their coun­try (see photo essay below). Many of its offi­cers and men wore their Distin­guished Ser­vice Crosses, Silver Stars, Purple Hearts, Com­bat Infan­try­man Badges, and Bronze Stars with pride. Their fighting was over, yet vet­er­ans of the Buffalo Division con­tinued to come under fire from com­mitted racists like Gen. Almond and his ilk. Their views were rejected by three deco­rated 92nd Divi­sion vet­er­ans: future U.S. sena­tors Robert Dole of Kansas, Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, and Edward Brooke of Massachusetts.

The U.S. armed forces were still segre­gated when World War II ended, but things started to change in 1948 when Presi­dent Harry S. Truman’s Exec­u­tive Order 9981 man­dated equal treat­ment and oppor­tu­nity regard­less of a service­member’s race, color, reli­gion, or national origin. Last to deseg­re­gate was the U.S. Army. Not until the end of 1954 was the last all-black unit dis­banded. Offi­cially racial segre­ga­tion had been erad­i­cated in the U.S. mili­tary, yet there was still room for improvement. There still is.

U.S. Army’s 92nd Infantry Division During World War II

blahBuffalo soldiers pound German enemy positions north of Lucca, Italy, September 7, 1944

Left: Fighting men of the 92nd Infantry Divi­sion, the famed Buffalo Soldiers, march past the wreck­age of a knocked-out PzKpfw VI Tiger tank in the vicinity of Pon­sacco, Italy. Pon­sacco is a muni­ci­pality in the Pro­vince of Pisa in the Ital­ian region Tus­cany and is located about 30 miles southwest of Florence.

Right: Soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division engage the German enemy on Sep­tem­ber 7, 1944, 3 miles north of the town of Lucca, Italy. Famous for its fan­tas­tic medi­e­val city walls that pedes­trians and bicyc­lists can navi­gate, Lucca is 23 miles north of Pon­sacco. A soldier rises up to fire a bazooka at a German machine-gun nest just 30 yards from the Amer­i­can posi­tion, while at left an Ital­ian parti­san, one foot on the dirt path, the over on grass, covers his ears.

A 92nd Infantry Division mortar company near Massa, Italy, November 194492nd Infantry Division decoration ceremony, Italy, March 1945

Left: Members of a field artillery battalion of the 92nd Infan­try 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 former capi­tal of the Ital­ian dicta­tor Benito Musso­lini, Novem­ber 1944. The bat­talion was cre­dited with liqui­dating several enemy machine-gun nests.

Right: Virginia-born Maj. Gen. Edward Almond took com­mand of the 92nd Infan­try Divi­sion the month it was acti­vated. He had previously served as assis­tant divi­sion com­mander of the newly raised 93rd Infan­try Division. In this photo Almond is seen inspecting his troops, which at the moment included the highly decorated Japa­nese Amer­i­can (Nisei) 442nd Infan­try Regi­ment, during a deco­ra­tion cere­mony in Italy, March 1945. Almond grew up in the “Jim Crow” South and claimed he “under­stood the char­ac­ter of the Negro and his habits and incli­na­tions . . . and Negro cap­abil­i­ties.” Totally lacking class and tact but with friends in high places (he mar­ried the sister of Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Marshall), he once told one of his black regi­ments, “I did not send for you. Your Negro news­papers, Negro poli­ti­cians, and white friends have insisted on your seeing com­bat, and I shall see that you get combat and your share of casualties.”

Tribute to Buffalo Soldiers in Italy, 1944–1945

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