Real Life Action Hero Edward Allen Carter, Jr. Started his Heroic Life at 15
Real Life Action Hero Edward Allen Carter, Jr. Started his Heroic Life at 15

Real Life Action Hero Edward Allen Carter, Jr. Started his Heroic Life at 15

Khalid Elhassan - August 28, 2018

There have been about a dozen Spiderman remakes, who knows how many Sharknadoes, and seemingly a hundred Fast & the Furious franchise movies. So it is baffling that Hollywood has never gotten around to making a movie about Edward Allen Carter, Jr. The man’s biography reads like a real-life action-adventure epic, in which, just like a hero from the comics, he donned a figurative cape, and journeyed all over the planet to fight monsters wherever they could be found. And to top it off, the man had movie star good looks.

Carter’s life could be summed up in this: he wanted to fight bad guys, of whom there were many in his lifetime, and he pitched into them with might and mien. He put on his cape and went crusading at age 15 to fight Japanese militarism in China. He then took off to take a whack at fascism, fighting General Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Then, like a video game character working his way up to the highest level to take on the Big Boss, he capped it off by taking on Hitler’s Nazis in World War II, earning a Medal of Honor in the process.

Real Life Action Hero Edward Allen Carter, Jr. Started his Heroic Life at 15
Edward Allen Carter’s medals. Weebly

Fighting the Japanese in China as a Teenager

Edward Allen Carter, Jr., was born in California in 1916 to an African American father and an East Indian mother. His parents, Christian missionaries, took him with them first to India, where he grew up, and then to China, which used to be a huge magnet for missionary activities. Young Edward’s African American/ Indian mixed-race background had already set him apart as somewhat unusual for his era. Getting raised in India and China, viewed at the time as the epitomes of the mysterious and exotic Orient, added more layers of complexity to the young man.

For all that China was the biggest attraction for Christian missionaries in those days, they were still relatively thin on the ground in China. That in of itself would have set Carter apart while growing up in China. Blacks were even thinner on the ground in China, which would have set him apart yet even more. While it would not be quite accurate to describe Edward as a social misfit, his background, the restrictions imposed by his religious parents, and the environment in which he grew up, all combined to form him in a different mold.

The first major manifestation of just how different came when he was still in his teens. While there is nothing unusual about teenagers acting up, rebelling, and testing boundaries, Edward’s teenage rebellion, when it came, went beyond testing boundaries to shattering them. No, taking up smoking, drinking, drugs, or hanging out with punks and ne’er do wells: that was for poseurs and pikers, and would not do for Edward Allen Carter, Jr. Instead, he ran away at age 15 to go fight the Imperial Japanese Army.

Real Life Action Hero Edward Allen Carter, Jr. Started his Heroic Life at 15
Chinese 19th Route Army soldiers in a defensive position during the Shanghai Incident. Wikimedia

In 1932, Japan was reeling from the Great Depression. As countries around the world resorted to high tariffs and other trade restrictions to protect their native industries, Japan’s export-based economy was hit hard. So the Japanese cast their eyes on the teeming millions of nearby China, and saw in them the perfect captive market. Diplomacy failed to convince China to adopt trade policies highly favorable to Japan, so the Japanese resorted to arms. In 1932, a red flag operation was staged, Japan falsely claimed it had been victimized by Chinese aggression, and launched a military intervention known as The Shanghai Incident.

That was how Carter got his first taste of combat. At age 15, he ran away from home and joined the Nationalist Chinese forces as they fought to beat off Japanese aggression. Fighting in the ranks of the Chinese 19th Route Army, the teenaged Carter endured aerial bombing from Japanese carrier planes, shelling from Japanese artillery, and ferocious ground attacks from Japanese infantry.

He showed a knack for fighting, and somehow managed to get a brevet commission to lieutenant in the Chinese army. He was sorely disappointed when he was yanked from the front lines and out of the Chinese military, when it was discovered that he was only 15. To Lieutenant Carter’s chagrin, he was discharged and returned to his parents. By then, however, he had gotten his first taste of combat, and decided he liked it. He would be back at it, before long.

Real Life Action Hero Edward Allen Carter, Jr. Started his Heroic Life at 15
Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War. Literal Magazine

Fighting the Fascists in Spain

At some point during his brief stint fighting the Japanese in 1932, Carter came to believe that he had been visited by a spirit, which informed him that he would become a great warrior, but would not die in war. Convinced of his spiritual military destiny, he enrolled in Chinese military school in Shanghai as soon as he was old enough. In addition to excelling in the common fare of military schools, he also learned German as a fourth language, adding it to English, Hindi, and Mandarin Chinese, all of which he already spoke fluently.

While in China, Carter became active in leftist politics, and when the Spanish Civil War erupted, it drew him like a magnet. The war pitted fascists under the leadership of General Francisco Franco, generously backed by the Benito Mussolini fascist Italy and Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Germany, against an elected leftist Republican government. An antifascist to the core, Carter traveled to Europe in order to join the fight on the Republican side.

He made it to Spain, and enlisted in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade – an American volunteer unit composed primarily of leftists, that fought as part of the International Brigade against the fascists during the Spanish Civil War. Unfortunately, the bad guys won, and as Franco’s fascists surged to victory and the Republican government collapsed, Carter and the rest of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade were forced to flee to France in 1938. From there, he made his way to the United States.

Real Life Action Hero Edward Allen Carter, Jr. Started his Heroic Life at 15
Members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Wikimedia

Back in his birthplace after having spent most of his life overseas, Carter took a stab at settling down, and in 1940, while World War II raged in Europe, he met and married his wife Mildred in Los Angeles. However, as the clouds of conflict drew closer, Carter sensed that it would not be long before America was drawn into the fighting. So he enlisted in the US Army in September of 1941, just three months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

With his background and experience, it took only months before Carter was promoted to staff sergeant. However, his background and experience also led to the opening of a counterintelligence file on him: globetrotting African Americans were rare in those days. Globetrotting African Americas who spoke Hindi, Chinese, and German, and who had fought in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, were rarer still. The US Army did not know what to make of Carter. Eventually, an unknown intelligence officer deemed it advisable to put him under surveillance because his Spanish Civil War experience meant that he had “been exposed to communism“. The counterintelligence file also noted: “Subject… capable of having connections with subversive activities due to… early years (until 1938) in the Orient“.

Real Life Action Hero Edward Allen Carter, Jr. Started his Heroic Life at 15
Staff Sergeant Edward Allen Carter. Wikimedia

Fighting the Nazis and Earning a Medal of Honor

Carter was shipped to Europe in 1944, but with typical Army logic, he was not assigned to one of the black combat units – few as those were in the day’s racially segregated US military – but to supply duties. However, racism had to make way, at least partially, to the dictates of necessity in December of 1944, thus allowing Carter yet another opportunity to engage in combat on the front lines against the bad guys.

On December 16th, the Germans launched a surprise strategic offensive that caught the Allies off guard. As the ensuing Battle of the Bulge raged and the Army desperately fought to contain the Germans, it ran short of replacement combat troops. So General Eisenhower instituted the volunteer Ground Force Replacement Command for rear-echelon troops of all races. Staff Sergeant Carter jumped at the chance to have a go at the Nazis, and immediately volunteered for combat duty.

However, while the ad hoc units cobbled up by the Ground Force Replacement Command were racially integrated, they were integrated on the basis that no black soldiers were to command white ones. To join, Carter had to accept a demotion from staff sergeant to private. Taking a whack at the Nazis in person was worth it, so Carter accepted. On March 23rd, 1945, near Speyer, Germany, he was riding on a tank when it was hit. As his medal citation described it:

When the tank on which he was riding received heavy bazooka and small arms fire, Sergeant Carter voluntarily attempted to lead a three-man group across an open field. Within a short time, two of his men were killed and the third seriously wounded. Continuing on alone, he was wounded five times and finally forced to take cover. As eight enemy riflemen attempted to capture him, Sergeant Carter killed six of them and captured the remaining two. He then crossed the field using as a shield his two prisoners from which he obtained valuable information concerning the disposition of enemy troops“.

He spent a month recovering in a hospital from his wounds. He was then restored to his rank of staff sergeant, and spent the rest of the war training troops. He tried to reenlist in 1949, but by then the Red Scare was on and America was in the grip of anticommunist hysteria. Carter’s background in China, which had recently fallen to the communists, and in the Spanish Civil War, where he had fought with the leftists of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, made him suspect. His bid for reenlistment was denied, and he was discharged from the Army.

He resumed civilian life, working in the tire business, and became a dedicated family man. In 1962, he was diagnosed with lung cancer, which doctors attributed to wartime shrapnel still embedded in his neck. It killed him the following year. His wartime heroics had earned him a recommendation for a Medal of Honor, but due to racism, it was downgraded to Distinguished Service. It was not until 1997 that the injustice was corrected, and Carter was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor his actions had earned him in 1945.

Real Life Action Hero Edward Allen Carter, Jr. Started his Heroic Life at 15
Edward Allen Carter’s headstone in Arlington National Cemetery. Weebly


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources & Further Reading

Black Then – Edward Allen Carter: United States Army Staff Sergeant and Medal of Honor Recipient

California Center for Military History – Staff Sergeant Edward A. Carter, Medal of Honor Recipient

US Army Online – Medal of Honor: African American Hero Recognized Decades After Brave Act

War History Online – Fought Japanese in China When 15, Then Franco in Spain, and in WWII Europe Killed 6 Germans and Took 2 POW

Weebly – Edward Allen Carter II

Wikipedia – Edward A. Carter, Jr.