BLACK HISTORY MONTH Honoree: Edward Carter Jr.

2nd of a series…

By Allan Jamail

February, 14, 2024 ~ When the Civil War ended, 21 African American soldiers wore the Medal of Honor. Blacks have earned our nation’s highest honor in every war since then, except strangely eighty years later, World War II. Then 1.2 million blacks served in that conflict and many bravely died in it, yet not one received any of its 433 Medals of Honor.

As a warrior, Edward A. Carter Jr. had few peers and won several war battles.

He fought the Japanese as a teenager in China, and in Spain’s Civil War in an American volunteer unit opposing Francisco Franco, the ruthless general and dictator who ruled Spain’s fascist troops.

But one skirmish he couldn’t win, at least in his own lifetime, was the fight he waged at home against ignorance, bigotry and McCarthyism.

A disheartened Carter died at age 47 in January 1963 without an inkling that he would become, more than three decades later, California’s most decorated African American hero of World War II.

President Clinton in 1997 righted some of the wrongs inflicted on Carter during his lifetime when he posthumously awarded Carter this country’s highest decoration for heroism in combat, the Medal of Honor.

Carter’s contributions to the California National Guard and to his exploits on the battlefields is on exhibit in California’s Military Museum, the state’s official military heritage museum in Old Sacramento.

“It’s taken 31-32 years of research and pressing the Army to do the right thing, but the recognition he so deserved is finally on its way,” said Carter’s daughter-in-law, Allene Carter, in 2000 — the family member most responsible for uncovering Carter’s unsung heroism. “We’re excited about it.”

Gregory Tracy, curator of the California Military Museum, said Carter was “the consummate soldier, an American hero who continued to hold his country in high regard” despite the prejudice he encountered throughout his military career.

“In a democratic nation, there is an ability to correct deep injustices,” said California Military Museum Director Donald E. Mattson.

“What’s amazing is once he was allowed to go into combat it only took him 11 days to earn the Medal of Honor,” Allene Carter said, pointing out that Army policy relegated most African American troops to behind-the-lines non-combat roles until March 1945.

When the opportunity to fight arose, Carter gave up his sergeant’s stripes and volunteered for an all black infantry platoon. Eleven days later, he found himself pinned down outside an enemy-held warehouse with five bullets and three shards of shrapnel in his body, the rest of his patrol some distance away.

Army records show that when Carter refused to show himself, the Germans sent eight of their own out to get him, and Carter opened up with his Thompson submachine gun, killing six of the enemy and forcing the other two to surrender.

Using the captured Germans as human shields, Carter rejoined his company, pointed out the machine gun nests he had found on patrol and turned over his prisoners, who provided information that paved the way for a U.S. advance.

Carter’s exploits earned him the nation’s second-highest honor for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross, and 42 years later, the top prize: the Medal of Honor.

But in the years after the war, with communism posing a threat, McCarthyism taking hold and racism entrenched in some segments of society, Carter’s colorful past became the subject of Army counterintelligence inquiries. Incredibly, he was denied re-enlistment. Carter had been a soldier since his teens.

The son of a traveling missionary to Shanghai, Carter attended military school and fought with the Chinese Nationalist Army until his father got him booted by revealing that he had yet to turn 18 years old.

After riding a merchant ship to Manila and being rebuffed when he tried to enlist in the U.S. Army, Carter joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a group of American volunteers in the Spanish Loyalists’ fight against Gen. Francisco Franco’s fascist regime.

That 2 1/2-year experience exposed Carter to fierce combat, got him captured and later cast a political cloud over his loyalty to the United States. Many of those in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade turned out to be members of the U.S. Communist Party, a fact that tarnished the reputations and careers of the hundreds who weren’t.

As the Red scare spread, Carter was denied re-enlistment and his name was deleted from the California National Guard honor rolls, all “part of a design to destroy his entire military career,” Allene Carter said.

But Allene Carter launched a crusade in 1996 to restore her father in-law’s dignity, and Army records ultimately proved he had been wrongly stigmatized by innuendo and fear-based hysteria.

After months of volunteering, Carter’s platoon made it into combat, yet he had to accept demotion to private. This was because his superiors would not allow a black to command white troops. He eventually served in the “Mystery Division” of blacks in Patton’s Third Army. (The Mystery Division performed missions requiring uniforms without identifying unit insignia.) On March 23, 1945, Private Carter earned his Medal of Honor, was recommended, but received the nation’s second highest award, the Distinguished Service Cross because of his race.

At the height of his military career he was even close to General George S. Patton, serving as one of the general’s guards. Patton had no room for prejudice in the ranks and reinstated his sergeant’s rank. They had a strong bond due to the fact they both believed they had been visited by a spirit who foretold accomplishments on the battlefield.

The Medal of Honor Deed:

Carter’s unit was the Seventh Army Infantry Company Number 1 (Provisional) attached to the 56th Armored Infantry Battalion, 12th Armored Division. In concert with the Third U.S. Army it was advancing toward Speyer, Germany on March 23, 1945. Speyer, a city of about 50,000, was a target in a race to secure bridgeheads.

The tank on which Carter, then 28, and other infantry men were riding came under heavy small arms and anti-armor fire. Unit members thought the fire had come from a large warehouse on the outskirts of town. This resulted in him volunteering to lead three other soldiers on a patrol against the German position. They advanced toward the structure and took cover where they located and assessed the approximate enemy strength. They left this cover to cross 150 yards or so of open fields to the warehouse.

One American soldier was soon killed and Carter sent the two survivors back to hold the position covering his advance. There, another comrade was killed and the other seriously wounded by the German defenders. Carter inched his way to a place of safety behind a ridge 30 yards away and endured an exchange of gunfire with the warehouse. Along the way, his deadly fire knocked out two enemy machine gun nests and a mortar crew.

He paid a price though, as a machine gun burst put three bullets through his left arm. Continuing, he was knocked to the ground by another wound to his left leg. Then, after taking “wound tablets,” a drink from his canteen was interrupted with another wound through his left hand. Three shrapnel wounds followed and were credited for pain he endured the rest of his life.

After enduring Carter’s close proximity and periodic fire, German officers in the warehouse finally sent eight soldiers to flush him out and finish him off. He lay still for two hours until the patrol approached him, thinking the blood-soaked American soldier was dead.

Suddenly, Carter, seriously wounded, opened fire with his .45-caliber submachine gun. He shot six of the enemy dead and took the other two prisoner. Using them as a human shield, the sergeant made his way back to the American tanks. As another act of courage. Carter refused to be evacuated until he could report all he had observed and extract needed information about the enemy’s emplacement from his German speaking prisoners.

He died a heartsick man, never knowing the real reason for his country’s post-war rejection of him. He died peacefully of lung cancer in the UCLA Medical Center, a Los Angeles hospital, on January 30, 1963 at 47 years of age. His doctors attributed the discovery of lung cancer due to shrapnel still in his neck.