More than a half-century ago, they answered the call to arms against Germany. Only on Thursday did the five black soldiers finally get full recognition from the Army.
At a ceremony in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes, the Army's No. 2 general awarded medals to the soldiers. They were among 2,221 blacks answering Gen. Dwight Eisenhower's emergency request to serve in the front lines with units depleted in the fight against Germany.Former 1st Sgt. Vincent Malveaux remembers well the day in December 1944 when the "invitation" from Eisenhower was circulated among his infantry support unit of black soldiers serving in what was then a segregated Army.
"It was an invitation to a rendezvous with death," Malveaux said. "There was no feeling you might get out of it alive." Anxious to do more than unload ships in French ports and eager to fight the army of a deeply racist regime, Malveaux said, "I didn't feel any compunction about volunteering."
The opportunity to be the first black soldiers to serve with white troops on the front lines came with a catch, however. The volunteers had to give up their noncommissioned officer's stripes and serve as privates. When they returned to their units at the end of the war, their lost rank was not restored.
After the war, when the military decided to award the Bronze Star to all who had served as combat infantrymen, these men were not contacted.
Through contacts by black veterans organizations and individual letters, the Army learned of its oversight and took steps this year to correct the record.
Gen. William Crouch, the Army vice chief of staff, pinned the medals on the attendees and handed two of the veterans "shadow boxes" lined with velvet and containing the sergeant's stripes they had pulled from their uniforms for the privilege of taking up a rifle against Hitler's soldiers.
"You think about someone ripping that off their sleeve and taking up a rifle," Crouch said as he held up the shadow box before the gathering of about 100 friends, relatives, veterans and soldiers. "That's really something. Congratulations."
The Bronze Stars went to Malveaux, a native of Galveston, Texas, and now a resident of the Bronx borough of New York; former Sgt. J.C. Wade of Irving, Texas; former Pfc. Andrew W. Nix Jr., of Philadelphia; former Tech. 5 Mate Montgomery of Chapman, Ala.; and former Sgt. Marteller Pollock Jr., of Atlanta. Malveaux and Wade had their sergeant's rank restored.
Malveaux and Wade attended; Dorothy Nix accepted for her husband; Montgomery and Pollock were unable to attend.