Army Apologizes to Combat Hero's Family; Clears Record
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 22, 1999 In January 1997, Army Sgt. 1st Class Edward A. Carter Jr. and six other World War II heroes became the first African American veterans of that war to receive Medals of Honor. That wasn't enough for the Carter family.
Following the award of the nation's highest military honor for combat gallantry, Carter's family pressed for the answer to a 50-year-old mystery: Why had the Army barred him from re-enlisting in 1949. When they learned earlier this year that the Army's bar stemmed from a groundless concern he was a communist, they demanded justice and that his name be cleared. They got their wish Nov. 10 when the Army apologized during ceremonies in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes.
"We're here to apologize to his family for the pain and humiliation he suffered so many years ago at the hands of his Army and government," Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John M. Keane told Carter's widow, Mildred, and about 30 other family members and friends. "No words can right the wrong or undo the injustice that was done to Sgt. 1st Class Edward Carter. We must, however, acknowledge the mistake, apologize to his family and continue to honor the memory of this great soldier."
Carter's two sons, Edward A. Carter III and William Carter accompanied their mother here to accept the apology. Also present was Edward's wife, Allene, who spearheaded the three-year battle to clear her father-in-law's name and to set the record straight.
The son of a traveling missionary living in Shanghai in the 1930s, Carter had joined the Chinese Nationalists to fight against the Japanese. He then served more than two years in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a military organization consisting of American volunteers that fought Gen. Francisco Franco's Nazi-backed fascists during the Spanish Civil War. Unfortunately, the Lincoln Brigade's strong ties to the American Communist party tainted the idealism that motivated many of its volunteers in their fight against the fascists. These ties would ultimately and unfairly be used to cast doubt on Carter's patriotism.
Carter arrived in the United States in 1940 and enlisted in the Army in September 1941 on the eve of America's entry into World War II. The Army made him a cook in a quartermaster truck company.
"Despite the fact he had proven himself in combat on two separate battlefields, he was denied the opportunity to join the infantry because of his race," Keane said. "History, however, would put Eddie Carter back where he belonged: leading soldiers in combat."
In February 1945, the Army turned to black soldiers in support units to help plug holes in the line caused by fierce fighting during the Battle of the Bulge. Carter was among the first of more than 2,600 African American volunteers, Keane noted.
The general said Carter, then a staff sergeant, earned his place in the Hall of Heroes on March 23, 1945, near Speyer, Germany. When anti-tank and small arms fire rocked the tank he and his men were riding, Carter led a three-man detail across an open field to destroy the enemy fire position. Two men died in the advance and the third was wounded. Carter continued alone to the enemy position in a warehouse and received five bullet wounds and three shrapnel wounds in the process.
He waited patiently, bleeding into the frozen earth for two hours. When the eight-man German patrol stepped into the clear, he opened fire on them, killing six and capturing two. Carter used his prisoners as human shields to make his way back to his company. Fluent in German, he extracted information from his prisoners that helped the Army capture Speyer, Germany, Allene Carter said.
Carter received the Distinguished Service Cross for heroism and separated after the war. Spending only a short time in civilian clothes, though, he rejoined the Army, which welcomed him back and quickly promoted him to sergeant first class. The service's records on him also came back to life, however, and ended his career when he tried to re- enlist in 1949.
Carter's Lincoln Brigade service apparently caused Army officials to investigate him secretly and then keep close watch on him throughout his service. The note that triggered the watch intimated only that Carter's time in Spain might have exposed him to communism. Another note mentioning his ability to speak Chinese was more "evidence." The Army ignored two of his commanders who recommended the whole matter be dropped as groundless. Despite an extensive investigation, the Army never found any evidence that Carter was a communist, a sympathizer or in any way disloyal.
Keane said recounting Carter's bravery and determination reveals the depth of the injustice done him after the war.
"We are here today to set the whole record straight, to acknowledge that a man of great personal courage who served his country with honor and dignity was denied the opportunity to re-enlist -- without explanation and without the opportunity to defend his good name and preserve his honor," the general said.
Keane said Carter fell victim to the wave of anti-communist hysteria that engulfed America after the war. Though Carter was honorably discharged on Sept. 21, 1949, his papers noted "not eligible for re-enlistment except upon permission of the adjutant general."
He spent the rest of his life trying to find out what was behind those 11 words. He died of lung cancer in 1963 at age 47 with his question unanswered.
When the seven African American heroes received Medals of Honor in January 1997, Allene Carter and other family members used the occasion to press for answers. The Army's secret records came to light, and the Army Board of Correction of Military Records recently determined the Army's treatment had been unjust. It ordered Carter's 1949 discharge certificate expunged.
Keane presented Carter's widow with a new discharge certificate, back-dated to Sept. 21, 1949, that now indicates Sgt. 1st Class Edward A. Carter is fully eligible for re-enlistment. The general also presented the family with three military awards Carter earned but never received -- the Good Conduct Medal, Army of Occupation Medal and the American Campaign Medal.
Carter's picture hangs with Medal of Honor recipients in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes.
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