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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Wereth 11: Execution of Black Soldiers

It all started with a 12 year old Belgian boy named Hermann Langer. Langer witnessed eleven African American Soldiers being marched in his village during the cruel winter of 1945. They had managed to escape the early mass destruction of World War II's Battle of the Bulge.
SS troops apprehended them from Langer's family farm house after being tipped off by a German sympathizer. Langer never forgot the look of fear in the soldier's faces as they were captured and led away, as reported by

Captured members of the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion were used in Nazi Propaganda Films

Over 50 years later, in 1996, Hermann Langer left a cross on the site as a tribute to the soldiers that his family housed. His makeshift memorial was discovered by historians. Most of the world was unfamiliar of the story, until the nineties, when amateur military buffs, journalists, and family members of the soldiers joined forces to discover what happened on that fateful day many years ago. Family members of the Wereth 11, as they were known, were told that they died in combat, not tortured and executed. (

Thanks to the efforts of eyewitness Hermann Langer, the world now knows the truth of what happened to the Wereth 11.

Battle of the Bulge 
(December 16, 1944 - January 25, 1945)

The Battle of the Bulge was a secret offensive launched by Adolf Hitler to splinter the British and American Allies via the Ardennes region of Belgium, France and Luxembourg. Hitler's objective was to decimate defenders, forcing the Allies to sign a treaty. This would allow Hitler to concentrate his energies on the Eastern Front. Originally, the Germans were at an advantage in the early stages of the battle. Heavy casualties were sustained with this World War II battle ranking as the deadliest for Americans, according to 

Personnel of the segregated Army's 333rd Field Artillery Battalion were obliterated by death or capture.* Somehow, 11 soldiers of the 333rd manage to escape. They traveled through the snow for miles and arrived at the Langer farmhouse. It just so happened that the Langer Home was a haven for German Army deserters, and owner Mathias Langer was anti-war. The Langers risked their lives by housing the African American Soldiers. (

The Soldiers were captured by the German Army and forced to run in the extreme cold at gunpoint. Meanwhile, the Battle of the Bulge waged on with the Allies gaining the advantage. Change in tactics and reinforcements stopped the Germans from advancing, and it was the last time Hitler waged an offensive against the west, purports Townspeople remained inside their homes out of harm's way for months. February 1945 yielded this gruesome discovery :  Hands were spotted from underneath the snow. The  Wereth11 Soldiers had been left to die without a proper burial. (

The Wereth 11 Soldiers were deliberately abused and killed, rather than taken Prisoners of War. It was a blatant violation of the Geneva Convention as the German soldiers had no intentions of placing the captured men in a camp. describes how the Wereth 11 Soldiers were stabbed repeatedly with bayonets, and struck in their heads with a rifle. A surgeon's report mentions a finger almost severed.

Which brings us to the Wereth Memorial. Because of Hermann Langer's makeshift memorial as an adult, his heartfelt actions generated interest in the African American Soldiers of the 333rd. The Wereth Memorial was erected in 2004 in Wereth, Belgium. It is the first memorial of its kind in Europe--a Memorial dedicated to the contributions of all African Americans G.I.'s and segregated units that served in World War II. (

Wereth, Belgium, is a tiny hamlet near the German border where, during the Battle of the Bugle in 1944, 11 black American soldiers were captured by German troops. The story of the 11 men would probably have remained buried in a dusty file in the National Archives if not for the efforts of a Belgian man who was 12 years old at the time.
The site where 11 Black soldiers were captured by German troops.

Winston Churchill remarked that the Battle of the Bulge was "one of the greatest battles of the war,"  as stated in When official reports on the various German atrocities were revealed, the Wereth 11 were omitted. A resolution by Congress, and memorials in the US finally shed light on the Black Soldiers decades later. Wereth 11, a documentary released in 2011, depicted the heinous massacre of African American Soldiers. It won a prestigious G.I. Film Festival Award. 

To conclude, the Wereth 11 represent yet another group of African Soldier's whose story was untold. They were members of the United States Army's 333rd Field Artillery Battalion, a segregated unit known for its marksmanship. A gesture by a witness, the combined efforts of historians, journalists and family members brought their story to the media. The Wereth 11 Memorial in Belgium is a tribute to these Soldiers of segregated units, and draws international visitors.

I included the Wereth 11 story because of the similarities to the Montford Point Marines. They were unsung heroes and represented the tremendous sacrifice made by a segregated military unit. Below are names of the Wereth Soldiers. Note that every single Soldier was from the South, where segregation was the law of the land.

 They died defending America from Hitler, but were second class citizens at home.

The 11 soldiers massacred, known as the "Wereth 11", were: Curtis Adams of South Carolina; Mager Bradley of Mississippi, George Davis Jr. of Alabama; Thomas Forte of Mississippi; Robert Green of Georgia; James Leatherwood of Mississippi; Nathaniel Moss of Texas; George Motten of Texas; William Pritchett of Alabama; James Stewart of West Virginia; and Due Turner of Arkansas (

Wereth 11 Motion Picture

* 40daysof states that the 333rd were known for excellent marksmanship. They once hit a target dead on that was 9 miles away.
Battle of the Bulge
The Wereth 11, A Little Known Massacre

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Why Your Contribution is Vital to the Fundraiser

In order to move forward with publishing a book and doing a documentary on my father's life, it requires funding. So I am respectfully asking from both my loyal readers and new readers to contribute to my fundraising account at:

Corporal Clifford Primus
 Source:  Primus Family

Sometimes in life if you want something, you simply have to ask. 

Your contributions will help with book publishing costs and media equipment. As this is my first attempt at Internet fundraising, I decided to not have an exorbitant amount for this initial campaign. We will see how this goes.

I am also requesting that you share this fundraiser with friends or families that may have an interest in promoting the story about the Montford Point Marines, and anyone that was or currently in the military. Perhaps you might know of an educator or a history expert that enjoys the study of World War II or life in a segregated culture. 

Conceivably, you might be a reader from countries outside of the United States. United Kingdom, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil--you have read about the Montford Point Marines or any of my other stories and were inspired to help. Some themes are universal and demonstrates our commonality as a truly global community.

Voices from underrepresented groups need to heard.  Perspectives from socially marginalized groups brings a unique viewpoint to the table and promotes diversity.

Specifically, I feel that the study of the Montford Point Marines would be a great addition to any school curriculum. Students can learn about these men who made significant sacrifices for our country. Black History Month in the month of February would have additional subject matter, as opposed to the same five people, year after year.

And last but not least, these blog entries take time to research, fact check and edit. Sometimes I wonder to myself why don't I just write about something mundane, or celebrity gossip. Who knows, I might try it. I could write a post about Blue Ivy's hair or "Top Five Fuchsia Lipsticks" in ten minutes, push the publish button and be done with it. But it would be a fleeting, short term experience and not lasting, which brings us back to the purpose of this blog: To educate the world about the Montford Point Marines.

I thank you readers for the journey and your anticipated support! A portion of the proceeds from the book will go to a Veterans organization. You are the person responsible for helping the legacy of these forgotten soldiers.

Montford Point Marines on leave, Harlem, NY,1943.

Without looking at a previous post, can you name the photographer of this picture? Don't forget to share this information. I am hoping that you can donate to and will keep you posted.

See Also:
My Father's Story of the Montford Point Marines and the 51st Defense Battalion
A Matter of Public Discussion and Images

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Battle of Saipan: Beginning of the End

Another memorable battle that the Montford Point Marines were known for was the Battle of Saipan. The Battle of Saipan on June 15, 1944, marked the beginning of the end of World War II in the Pacific Campaign. This pivotal fighting resulted in an Allied victory and heavy casualties. The Battle of Saipan also marked the first time that African American Marines saw combat in WWII. Lamentably, mass suicides among the Japanese occurred in levels never seen before in modern warfare.

Saipan is one of the three largest Marianas Islands located in the Pacific Ocean. The other two are Guam and Tinian. Saipan was considered a prized possession because of its proximity to mainland Japan. Here, the United States forces would have access to the Aslito airfield to launch their sizable B29 bombers. states that over 20,000 Japanese troops were part of a garrison on the island. Japan occupied Saipan since 1920. Without question Saipan was a valuable island; Japanese forces from the south would essentially be cut off from Japan once the US seized the highly desirable island.

Fast Facts*

  • Vice Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner
  • Lieutenant General Holland Smith
  • approx. 71,000 men deployed
  • 3,426 Americans dead
  • 13,000 wounded
  • Lieutenant General Yoshitsugu Saito
  • Admiral Chuichi Nagumo
  • approx. 31,000 men deployed
  • 30,000 Japanese died (action and suicide)
  • 20,000 Japanese civilians (action and suicide)

On the morning of June 14,1944, 8,000 Marines landed on the treacherous beaches of Saipan. The beaches were fortified with barbed wire placed by the Japanese defenders. Lying in wait for the 2nd and 4th Division Marines were trenches and machine gun posts. The Marines successfully established a beachhead with a width of six miles by nightfall. Viewing this, the Japanese Lieutenant General Saito decided to launch a counterattack at sea, called the Battle of the Philippine Sea. The move proved disastrous, as the Japanese lost three aircraft carriers and aircraft, rendering Japanese forces unable to become resupplied and reinforced. (

Montford Point Marines at Saipan

What were the early morning hours of June, 1944, like for a Marine first descending on the beaches of Saipan? 800 African African American Marines participated in combat for the first time in World War II. The first one of the Montford Point Marines to die was Kenneth Tibbs, an orderly to the 20th Depot Battalion commander. He was instantly struck shortly after landing the beach. Kenneth Rollock of Harlem, NY was a member of the 3rd Ammunition Company. According to

 "We got caught in the early part of Saipan in the Japanese counterattack. About a quarter mile from the beach, they came out screaming, and we just opened up. Anything moving we shot at."
 Rollock said later he would never forget the sound and sight of the enemy force closing on him and his comrades. (

Montford Point Marine Private Vincent Long of Hempstead, NY recalled: 

"There was one guy, I think his name was Tibbs, who was no farther from me to you,  All of a sudden, I realized he wasn't talking anymore. He'd been hit. I never saw him again. It was tough going and everything was coming down on us. I picked up a Browning automatic [machine gun] and started shooting like everyone else. Until then, I'd never had any one's blood on me before." (
 Montford Point Marines taking a break during the invasion of  Saipan.

Flamethrowers and Caves
Meanwhile, upon discovering that the Japanese could not be resupplied, General Saito had his men fight in mountainous areas of the island. The terrain of the island was a plethora of caves, which provided easy cover for the Japanese defenders instructed to fight to the end and not surrender. states that the American forces had to use flamethrowers to eliminate the Japanese from the caves. Flamethrowers was a new technology at the time.
. described the intense fighting around Mount Tapotchau, Saipan's highest peak. Battle areas were given names such as "Death Valley" and Purple Heart Ridge."

Japanese Family Holding in Cave

Mass Suicides and Suicide Cliff

With the situation in Saipan basically grim, Japanese General Saito instructed his men to undergo the largest Banzai Attack in World War II. Thousands of soldiers participated in this assault along with Japanese civilians. Banzai attacks or charges make for imminent death. The assault lasted for fifteen hours and American forces were able to regain strength.

As the Americans were making significant progress on the island of Saipan, Japanese officials turned to the civilians and urged them under no circumstances to surrender to the American forces. Civilians were promised an elite status in the afterlife, raising their social class rank. The civilians of Saipan were told that the Americans would do heinous things to them if they surrendered, thus instilling fear. Emperor Hirohito made a direct order to the civilians to commit suicide, and approximately 1,000 Japanese can be seen in Army footage films jumping to their deaths off of cliffs, appropriately named "Suicide Cliff." By battle's end on July 9, 1944, Japanese leaders Saito and Nagumo both committed suicide.

Montford Point Marines Considered Marines
A vital and strategic battle, the Battle of Saipan proved to be monumental. It marked the beginning of the end of the war in the Pacific Theatre. 800 African American Marines, the Montford Point Marines, saw combat for the first time, and the first casualty was Kenneth Tibbs. 
Time's war correspondent in the Central Pacific, Robert Sherrod, wrote: "The Negro Marines, under fire for the first time, have rated a universal 4.0 on Saipan." 4.0 is the Navy's highest ranking. And Commandant of the Marine Corps, Lieutenant General Alexander A. Vandegrift  declared: "The Negro Marines are no longer on trial. They are Marines, period." (The Right to Fight)

 Staff Sgt Timerlate Kirvenand and Cpl. Samuel J. Love, Sr.They received Purple Hearts for wounds received in the Battle of Saipan Source: National Archives

The Battle of Saipan was the first time that flamethrowers were used to eliminate Japanese defenders from caves. Furthermore, the world was mortified to learn that thousands of Japanese civilians took their own lives by jumping off of "Suicide Cliffs." This was after a decree by Japanese Emperor Hirohito.

Japanese soldiers were bound by the honor code to die before surrendering. Many allowed themselves to be killed rather than to face shame. In fact, historylearningsite reports of holdouts who refused to surrender until December 1945--months after the war ended. News of the suicides disappointed the Japanese people. They thought the suicides represented defeat rather than "spiritual enlightenment." The Battle of Saipan indeed signified the beginning of the end of World War II for the Pacific Campaign.
Marines landing on the beaches in the Marianas.

What are your thoughts about the Battle of Saipan? Feel free to leave your comments in the comment section.

See Also: 
The Battle of Peleliu Originated the Thousand Yard Stare


Banzai Attack-a mass attack of troops without concern for casualties; originated by Japanese who accompanied it with yells of `banzai'. Source,

Guy Gabaldon- Also noteworthy at the Battle of Saipan was a Mexican American soldier who was praised for his ability to speak Japanese. Private First Class Guy Gabaldon, of Los Angeles, spent part of his life with a Japanese family growing up, allowing him to have a familiarity with the language. Gabaldon effectively convinced 1,000 Japanese enemy troops to surrender, and he was later awarded a Navy Cross.

Navajo codetalkers were instrumental in directing naval gunfire onto Japanese positions.

Right to Fight

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Battle of Peleliu Originated "The Thousand Yard Stare"

For the longest time, Dorie Miller represented the lone figure when it came to African Americans in WWII history. Miller became a household name because of his heroic deeds at Pearl Harbor. I happened to watch the 1970 seminal film Tora,Tora,Tora with my father several months ago. With the exception of a non-speaking Miller grabbing a machine gun and spraying the Japanese, this was the extent of depictions of African American soldiers with a weapon. "There goes Dorie Miller," My father announced. If I blinked, I would of missed him.

 Montford Point Marines participated in amphibious landings throughout the Pacific. While my father was in the Marshall Islands, a battle that was significant to the Montford Point Marines History was The Battle of Peleliu

D-Day on Peleliu
Montford Point Marines participating in the landing of 1st Marine Division.

From Right to Fight:

When the 1st Marine Division, on 15 September 1944, attacked the heavily defended island of Peleliu in the Palau group, the 16th Field Depot supported the assault troops. The field depot included two African-American units, the 11th Marine Depot Company and the 7th Marine Ammunition Company. The 11th Marine Depot Company responded beyond the call of duty and paid the price, 17 wounded, the highest casualty rate of any company of African-American Marines during the entire war. Major General William H. Rupertus, who commanded the 1st Marine Division, sent identical letters of commendation to the commanders of both companies, praising the black Marines for their "whole hearted cooperation and untiring efforts" which "demonstrated in every respect" that they "appreciate the privilege of wearing a Marine uniform and serving with Marines in combat."- The Right to Fight

Montford Point Marine Lee Douglas, Jr vividly recounted his time there:

"The Third day, we went ashore. We went ashore in the barges to beachhead. Because you must go in. You got to go in the barges and go in with your rifles and everything. The ammunition stuff doesn't take place until after you take the islands and settle. But you got go in to do that. Once you go into the Marines Corps, regardless of the assignment, you must learn the rifle, the pistol, the range, your combat, you have to learn all of that.You may be a mechanic, you may be a cook, but the rifle comes first. You must learn that part of combat. So whenever you get overseas, your second job, that's all becomes second, first becomes the rifle. The invasion is first. My company, when we went in, we went in with our rifles blazing. There is no second hand nothing. We had looked forward to taking the airfield in a day or two. And there was no such thing as that you know they were dug in. The enemy was dug in so strong until everybody was held up at the beach." -Men of Montford Point Marines

Medical Attendants at Rest, Peleliu, October, 1944

Another Montford Pointer Laurence Diggs* climbed caves to eliminate the Japanese defenders. Flamethrowers were used and contained the deadly chemical napalm. Oxygen was then removed from the fortified cave, rendering occupants unable to breathe and dead. Also, the intense, searing heat of napalm sticking to the skin caused its targets unthinkable pain and death. 

Coincidentally, "Thousand Yard Stare" was featured in Tom Lea's painting of Peleliu. Lea's subject was described poignantly:
“He left the States 31 months ago. He was wounded in his first campaign. He has had tropical diseases. He half-sleeps at night and gouges Japs out of holes all day. Two-thirds of his company has been killed or wounded. He will return to attack this morning. How much can a human being endure?”

Tom Lea "Thousand Yard Stare" Painting

From that point on, the term "Thousand Yard Stare" was used to refer to the gaze of someone that had battle fatigue.  It is clearly a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Tom Lea was a war correspondent and witnessed first hand the carnage. The appearance in the soldiers' eyes prompted Lea to create this work after an assignment in Peleliu. 

Battle of Peleliu Key Points-

  • One of the most fiercely fought battles of the Pacific War
  • Began on September 15,1944 and originally thought to last only three days, ended in November
  • 5,000 Marines wounded, 1,749 Marines Killed
  • Montford Marines participated in the invasion as members of the 11 Marines Depot Company and 7th Marine Ammunition Company
  • They supported the 1st Marine Division
  • Part of the Palau Islands. Peleliu was important because it was needed to recapture to the Philippines
  • The island had over 500 caves which served as forts for the well- dug Japanese. 
  • Some 11,000 Japanese were killed, only 200 survived. The Japanese were taught to die before surrendering. 
  • Included the Army 81st Infantry Division (additional facts from

Story after story emphasized the Montford Point Marines gallant actions. They finally earned the "right to fight" during the fiery battle of Peleliu. In fact, this battle would always be listed in the opening lines of Montford Point Marine history. They entered the brotherhood of United States Marine Corps with their amphibious landing in September, 1944.   

The phrase "Thousand yard stare" was introduced by artist Tom Lea. He painted a war weary Marine who endured unspeakable hell in this lesser known, but important Pacific World War II battle. "Thousand yard stare" marked a crucial intersection of military, art, and psychology and called attention to the effects of war on its combatants.

For a Video of the Battle of Peleliu click here.


Battle of Peleliu-
Men of Montford Point, Melton McLauren*
Right to Fight

See Also:

Capture of Peleliu for Marine Dan Bankhead story of the Montford Points in The Battle of Peleliu. Bankhead was a former pitcher for the Marines Baseball Team. His team played against Montford Point Marines.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Contributing to the Veterans History Project

"Desiree!!" My father's voice bellowed throughout the house. "Come here, please!" I ventured down to the lower level  where my father was sitting. His large hand held the Sunday edition of the local newspaper, the Hartford Courant. It prominently displayed pictures of World War II Veterans in a special Memorial Day tribute. I looked at the faces and glanced at the articles.  "How come I'm not there?", my father inquired, feeling left out.

"I don't know Dad, there are 13,000 living World War II Veterans in Connecticut, you already had an article."
"Well, I want you to look into it, maybe there is a number you can call."

I read further and located a contact person. It was the director at The Veterans Project* at Central Connecticut University. You might have seen the Veterans History Project dog tags logo in stories about Soldiers. The Veteran History Project is a national initiative that acts as clearinghouse for collecting Soldiers' stories and memorabilia. I recalled seeing them for the first time when I was researching my post "Six Bailey Brothers Served the Country During World War II". The photos accompanying that blog post were repinned over three hundred times from the "Montford Point Marines and Honor Board" on Pinterest.


"They're not open on Memorial Day, it's a holiday for the school. I will contact them on Tuesday."
 I emailed the Veterans Project and immediately got a reply. Within minutes. The director wanted to know if my father had letters or kept a journal. Did he have any military documents or photos? She asked if my Dad was available for two hours and I thought to myself, better plan for three. Dad puffed up with pride.

If you go to the Veterans History Project site there are links where you can find Veterans to speak at events, curriculum guides for educators and more importantly, places where you can view actual materials in person. Based on the their site, the program was established in 2000 by an act of Congress.  Additional funding is provided by AARP magazine.

War Letters

 Letters are important because the reader can get a sense of exactly what the soldier experienced during war time. Moreover, writing letters is a dying art due to the advent of technology. Someone deployed overseas today can instantly communicate with a loved one via a web camera or email. (when possible)

War letters written from Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, for example, formed the basis of a book detailing his experience as commander of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment. Thoughts communicated on scarce paper two centuries ago was used for educational purposes and made into a motion picture, such as in the case of the Civil War epic film Glory.

Continuous communication among loved ones and friends was something that Soldiers appreciated. These letters show how service personnel counted the days until they returned home. Correspondence had a chance of being delayed for various reasons such as enemy interception, censorship and various other logistical causes. Nonetheless, Soldiers looked forward to receiving mail.

Library of Congress
Source: Flickr

Hand written correspondence during World War II was sometimes heavily censored. In looking at pictures of old letters, information deemed sensitive were redacted and an official stamp indicated that the contents were reviewed. Posters and films of that era reminded soldiers that ""loose lips sink ships." Censors and military officials were concerned about details that gave away troop locations, which would put a mission in a danger. The element of surprise is certainly a critical military tactic.

Also, a article on censorship and war letters states:
There was some censoring in the Civil War because letters sometimes had to cross enemy lines. Most of the censoring comes from the prisoner-of-war camps. For example, if someone was writing a letter from Andersonville [a Confederate prison camp where many Union soldiers starved] those at the camp didn't want people to know what was happening, so the prisoners wouldn't be allowed to say anything bad about a camp. The first heavy censorship of U.S. soldiers took place during World War I.

Journals and Photos                                                                                                        

Journals kept by young men in battle captures the Soldier's innermost thoughts and provide commentary for the events. Reader feels like they are part of the action. To illustrate, a seaman penned his observations as a member of the USS Mason, the WWII Navy ship with the mostly Black crew. Sailor James A. Dunn's journal eventually became a published book. The first person account drives the story and allows people to connect.

And speaking of witnesses, in the "Witness to the Holocaust", photographs left an indelible impression. Trained photojournalist William Scott III deftly captured images in order to document the ghastly atrocities of war. General Dwight Eisenhower instructed his men to take photos of concentration camps--  he accurately predicted that people would later deny the fact that the Holocaust happened.

"I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give firsthand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda.’” General Eisenhower (

I bring up all these examples of military letters, photos, and journals to emphasize the importance of gathering materials from Veterans. Civilians and service people can create a better understanding of wars and conflicts. The experiences of African American Soldiers and Sailors are under-represented. I would imagine that the Veterans History Project would seek out stories from this group and other ethnic groups. Perhaps their stories will later be turned into films, plays and literature. Validation can at last be achieved.

For the Montford Point Marines, comprehensive history has been curated at their official museum in Jacksonville, NC, and the University of North Carolina (Wilmington). Office of War Photographer Roger Smith took over two hundred photos showing young African American men transitioning into Marines at boot camp. A good portion of Smith's Montford Point Marines photos are obviously archived in the Library of Congress.

My father's interview with the Veteran's History Project will be held soon. I suggest my readers to encourage Veterans to participate in the project. Artifacts and recordings insure future generations understand our comprehensive history.

One of my readers recently discovered that his father was an officer at Montford Point on Memorial Day. In his comments he also mentioned that his father was injured at Peleliu. Peleliu was one of the fiercest Pacific Battles of World War II. In honor of his discovery, my next series of posts will explore locations where Montford Point Marines saw intense combat. Ironically enough, support divisions ended up assuming combat duties.

"Thanks All Service"

Veterans History Project

* U.S. citizen civilians who were actively involved in supporting war efforts (such as war industry workers, USO workers, flight instructors, medical volunteers, etc.) are also invited to share their valuable stories
.-From Veterans History Project Site.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Origins of Memorial Day

For many Americans, Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer, a long three day weekend where barbecue grills are fired up. Beach-goers eagerly head to the shoreline and fashionistas wear their white apparel for the first time. But for the patriotic, Memorial Day is a holiday where we celebrate soldiers who died for our Nation in battle. Memorial Day is not to be confused with Veterans Day in November, where we salute all surviving military personnel that served. 

The Holiday originally began to commemorate fallen soldiers of the Civil War. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, after World War I the holiday included the war dead from all American wars and became a federal holiday in 1971. Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday during the month of May. It was previously known as Decoration Day because of the tradition of decorating grave sites with fresh flowers.


Have you heard about the Charleston,SC origins of Memorial Day? Yale professor David W. Blight's findings has been widely disseminated over the past several years and you might have seen his essays lately. Here is what Professor Blight has reported about the first Memorial Day:

Thousands of black Charlestonians, most former slaves, remained in the city and conducted a series of commemorations to declare their sense of the meaning of the war. The largest of these events, and unknown until some extraordinary luck in my recent research, took place on May 1, 1865. During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the planters' horse track, the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club, into an outdoor prison. Union soldiers were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of exposure and disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand. Some twenty-eight black workmen went to the site, re-buried the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, "Martyrs of the Race Course."
Then, black Charlestonians in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged an unforgettable parade of 10,000 people on the slaveholders' race course. The symbolic power of the low-country planter aristocracy's horse track (where they had displayed their wealth, leisure, and influence) was not lost on the freedpeople. A New York Tribune correspondent witnessed the event, describing "a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before." Excerpt from

Source: New York Times

Participating in the festivities were the famous 54th Massachusetts and the 34th and 104th U.S.Colored Troops, who marched around the grave site. Professor Blight has authored many books on the American Civil War. His research sheds a compelling light on how the history of the enslaved African-Americans has been down-played and essentially ignored. Note the date of Charleston, SC celebration.
Another town claims to have originated Memorial Day. This town is located in the North, in Union territory. Waterloo, New York claims to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. The idea was conceived when:

 A prominent local druggist, Henry C. Welles, mentioned to some of his friends at a social gathering that while praising the living veterans of the Civil War it would be well to remember the patriotic dead by placing flowers on their graves.

 On May 5, 1866, the Village was decorated with flags at half mast, draped with evergreens and mourning black. Veterans, civic societies and residents, led by General Murray, marched to the strains of martial music to the three village cemeteries. There impressive ceremonies were held and soldiers' graves decorated. One year later, on May 5, 1867, the ceremonies were repeated. In 1868, Waterloo joined with other communities in holding their observance on May 30th, in accordance with General Logan's orders. It has been held annually ever since. (


On May 26, 1966, President Lyndon Johnson issued a Proclamation citing Waterloo, NY as the official birthplace of Memorial Day. His signing came shortly after the New York State Legislature named Waterloo as the town that created Memorial Day.

I then watched a video from Time Magazine dated May 25, 2014, that included the above mentioned birthplaces of Memorial Day. In the video, Columbus, GA and Columbus, MS both claim the birthplace of Memorial Day, along with a handful of other American cities. 

In any event,  Memorial Day is a time to pay tribute to our fallen soldiers.  Memorial Day 2014 will be special to one reader who stumbled upon my blog post " White Montford Point Marine Officers and Letter of Information 421." He had read his father's service papers earlier in the day where it stated that he was an Officer at Montford Point.  He discovered this amazing fact on Memorial Day Weekend:  His father made American history and could be eligible for a Congressional Medal of Honor.


What are your thoughts on all these Memorial Day origin stories? Do you have family members that you honor on Memorial Day?


The Origins of Memorial Day

Monday, May 19, 2014

Robert Gould Shaw Leads the 54th Regiment

The recent post on White Officers of the Montford Point Marines reminded me of another White leader of an African American unit. I previously described how White Officers and Special Enlisted Staff were selected to train Black recruits at the newly established Montford Point training facility in 1942 (New River, NC). The drill instructors and office staff were selected because of their prior interaction with Asians and Latinos in military campaigns. White Officers were also interviewed to determine if they objected to Black Marines in the Corps.

White Officers were needed to train Black recruits. Through testing and observation, capable Black recruits could then be promoted to become a non-commissioned officer. Letter of Information 421, a classified memo, stipulated that a Black person could not hold a rank above a White Officer. Despite progress in admitting Blacks to the Corps, racial guidelines had to be followed. 

The Film Glory

 I immediately thought of the critically acclaimed 1989 movie Glory. Why the connection? Training and guidance came from a White Officer in charge of a segregated Black unit. Again, many Americans thought Blacks were unfit for soldiering. Glory starred Matthew Broderick as Union Officer Robert Gould Shaw. Shaw was the dedicated White leader of the Massachusetts 54th Colored Regiment during the Civil War. The 54th Regiment was the most famous African American Unit. Glory also had an Academy Award winning performance by Denzil Washington and included Morgan Freeman. Washington and Freeman portrayed free colored soldiers in the 54th.

Glory depicted events of the 54th Colored Regiment through the viewpoint of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. The story was based on letters that Robert Shaw kept. One issue the 54th faced was that Negro soldiers received unequal pay for fighting. White soldiers were paid several dollars more than Black soldiers. Members of the 54th refused pay until the situation was rectified. Col. Shaw joined the protest in a show of solidarity. Furthermore, the Colored Soldiers initially mistrusted their young leader. But as the story progressed Shaw and the soldiers developed a strong bond. 

Stakes were considerably high for Colonel Shaw and his 54th Colored Regiment. If captured they would not be prisoners of war. An announcement from the Confederate Congress stated that every captured Black soldier would be sold into slavery and every White officer in command of Black troops would be executed. (

The story of the 54th regiment lead by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw

Civil War and Colonel Robert Gould Shaw

The Civil War (1860-1865) was  a major bloody conflict that saw the South's secession from the Union. Wealthy Southerners needed free labor to cultivate cotton, rice, tobacco and other agriculture that maintained their vast riches. About 3/4 of Southern Whites did not own slaves. However, the remaining percentage of southerners, who were far from rich, felt compelled to fight on the side of the Confederacy, fervently waving the rebel banner. It did not matter that some Confederates might have been dirt poor. They aspired to be rich and identified with their more privileged White counterparts.

During the first part of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln insisted the war was a fight to restore the Union. Yet, many saw a higher purpose in the struggle, and that purpose was to not only save the Union, but abolish slavery as well. Many believed that if the abolition of slavery was a reason for the war, black troops should be allowed to fight. Many others disagreed, including General Sherman, who was reported as saying, "...can a Negro do our skirmishing and picket duty? Can they improvise bridges, sorties, flank movements, etc., like the white man? I say no." ( 

Enter Robert Gould Shaw. Shaw was from a prominent New York and Massachusetts family and was an abolitionist, a person that was the against the the enslavement of Blacks.  Shaw was "socially conscious and deeply devoted to intellectual and spiritual pursuits," and "counted among their friends and associates such thinkers, writers, and reformers as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Lloyd Garrison, and Harriet Beecher Stowe," according to

Robert Shaw was personally selected by Massachusetts Governor John Andrew to become the leader of the 54th Colored Regiment. Shaw's selection was after the bloody Battle of Antiem. Incidentally, Anti-Slavery crusader Frederick Douglas had two sons that fought in the 54th. Colonel Shaw was only 25 years of age. (

Fort Wagner
Source: Library of Congress
Battle of Fort Wagoner

54th Infantry Regiment 


Early in February 1863, the abolitionist Governor John A. Andrew of Massachusetts issued the Civil War’s first call for black soldiers. Massachusetts did not have many African-American residents, but by the time 54th Infantry regiment headed off to training camp two weeks later more than 1,000 men had volunteered. Many came from other states, such as New YorkIndiana and Ohio; some even came from Canada. One-quarter of the volunteers came from slave states and the Caribbean. Fathers and sons (some as young as 16) enlisted together. The most famous enlistees were Charles and Lewis Douglass, two sons of the abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

Now back to the film Glory:

The film dramatizes the fateful assault on Fort Wagner , a Confederate bastion on Morris Island, S.C. Now this actually happened. On July 18, 1863, Colonel Shaw led the charge of 600 men under withering fire against the well-protected battery. Shaw was slain early in the assault, and 256 soldiers were wounded, captured, or killed. Says historian John David Smith, “The Confederates considered the black soldiers to be insurrectionists and their white officers inciters of slave revolts, so they refused to respect the Yankees as soldiers. Accordingly they dumped their dead bodies in a pit.” (

William Harvey Carney

The experiences of that fateful night at Fort Wagner cemented the fact that Blacks had the mettle necessary for being excellent soldiers. During the assault, a brave member of the 54th managed to save the regiment's flag from being taken. Sergeant William Harvey's  body was riddled with bullets. He was awarded a Medal of Honor 37 years later for his valor. William Harvey Carney became the first African American to receive a Medal of Honor.

William Harvey Carney, First Black Medal Of Honor Recipient.
Carney received his medal 37 years after his heroic action at Fort Wagoner during the Civil War.

Colonel Robert Gould Shaw courageously led colored troops during the Civil War. His unwavering commitment to the Union cause was instrumental in garnering support for Colored Troops in the Civil War. Additionally, William Harvey Carney became the first African American to receive a Medal of Honor.The  Army's 54th Regiment, like the Montford Point Marines, demonstrated that Colored Troops were not a farce but a powerful force in United States military history. The United States Colored Troops were later christened Buffalo Soldiers by the Native Americans. They are also Medal of Honor Recipients.

Next week Americans will celebrate a federal holiday called Memorial Day.  How many of readers knew that Memorial Day was started by African Americans after the Civil War?
Robert Gould Shaw


"More than 180,000 African American soldiers (and roughly 19,000 sailors) fought for the Union in a segregated branch of the military, the United States Colored Troops (USCT). Another 200,000 black civilians—men and women—dug trenches, hauled away the dead, cooked meals, and performed other such gritty jobs." (

Antietam National Park slavery
Sergeant William Harvey Carney

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