WASHINGTON — African Americans fought against Communism during the Korean War of 1950–53 to protect the rights of individuals, even as their own civil rights were denied at home, the Defense Department’s top equal opportunity official said here yesterday.
Speaking during a Pentagon ceremony to honor African American veterans of the Korean War, Ronald M. Joe, acting director of the Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity, said America now remembers the contributions of African American veterans during the war sometimes called “The Forgotten War” or the “The Forgotten Victory.”
“Yours is a distinguished generation in the history of African American military service,” Joe said to a group of seven Korean War veterans in attendance. “You belong to a legacy older than the Declaration of Independence, one that includes the legendary service of the Massachusetts 54th in our Civil War, the Buffalo Soldiers in the West, the 92nd Division and the Tuskegee Airman of World War II.”
For too long, he said, the service of African Americans during the Korean War was forgotten, “but it should be clear to all of you that you are forgotten no more.”
Joe said the armed forces has played a pivotal role in the nation’s pursuit of equity for all Americans, following President Harry S. Truman’s 1948 Executive Order 9981, which called for the end of segregation in the military.
The Korean War “interrupted” work to desegregate all-black units, so many of those units went into the conflict.
It was when fighting intensified in Korea that the armed forces realized they had “a manpower problem,” Joe said. Increasingly, large numbers of black American draftees and volunteers were in the training pipeline, but no more room existed in the segregated units.
Joe said Army studies showed “integration was a more efficient policy than segregation.” The result, he said, was that “Black Americans were individually assigned to units on an as-needed basis, and the Army began working toward true integration.”
The last two years of the Korean War, after all-black units were disbanded and ended segregation in the U.S. military, African Americans had served in command positions, in elite units such as combat aviation, and served in a variety of technical specialties, Joe said.
The military began a social movement, he said, that served as a model or the nation and as a pattern for other military organizations. The armed force has made impressive progress toward equality, but work is yet to be completed, because women and minorities are still under-represented, Joe added.
A number of other speakers made brief remarks at the ceremony, including members of a panel of Korean War veterans; South Korean Defense Attaché Brig. Gen. General Lee, Seo Young; and Frank Martin, producer of “For the Love of Liberty: The story of America’s Black Patriots.” The audience watched a 15-minute segment of Martin’s four-hour documentary.
Today’s Black History Month observance stems from the Department of Defense 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemorative Committee, created by Congress to honor the service and sacrifice of Korean War veterans, their families and those who lost loved ones in the conflict.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)