USA — Ceremony Honors Service of African Americans in Korean War

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)

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