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