Becton recalls first years of Army integration at book signing
September 30, 2008
By J.D. Leipold
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 3, 2008) - The Army's first African-American three-star general to command VII Corps in Europe paid a call at the Pentagon last week to sign copies of his autobiography, "Autobiography of Becton -- A Soldier and Public Servant."
Retired Lt. Gen. Julius Becton Jr., who spent nearly 40 years in the Army, saw first-hand the integration of the Army in 1948. He signed on with the Army Air Corps in December 1943 while still in high school in Bryn Mahr, Pa. As soon as he graduated in 1944, he went on active duty but was unable to finish pre-flight school due to a stigmatism.
Becton then went to officer candidate school at Fort Benning, Ga., where he graduated in August 1945 following the end of World War II.
"When the war was over I was sent to the Pacific to join an all-black unit, the 93rd Infantry Division in Morotai, an island north of New Guinea, then to the Philippines where my division was deactivated in 1946," Becton said. After returning to the U.S. he was separated from the service as a second lieutenant.
"I had volunteered to be recalled because President Truman had signed executive order 9981 that called for equal treatment, opportunities and advancement for black servicemen," he said. "I had enjoyed doing what I was doing in the Army in an all-black unit, but I came back on active duty to become a regular Army officer.
"I did not feel the effects of the Truman order until I was in combat in Korea," he said. "I was in an all-black battalion that went to Korea from Fort Lewis, Wash.
"We had been there less than six weeks when our battalion was integrated because the Army could not provide replacements based upon color, but they could upon military occupational skill, but not upon that and color," he explained. "The regimental commander said put them where they're needed and that started integration in my unit and is what works today."
Becton said the Army has always been at the forefront of the country for proving that integration, diversity and equal opportunity all work and give individuals the chances to prove what they can do.
"We did that in World War I when the 93rd Inf. Div. was in France assigned to the French because the commander of U.S. forces didn't this black unit," he explained. "We saw it again in World War II when the 761st Tank Battalion was hand-picked by Patton to be part of his Army and we've seen it in every place we've been. Permit Soldiers to do what they are qualified to do and it works without respect to race."
Becton also served with the 101st Airborne Div. in Vietnam and commanded the 1st Cavalry Div. from 1975 to 1976. Promoted to lieutenant general in 1978, he served as VII Corps commander in Germany and as deputy commander of Training and Doctrine Command before retiring in 1983.
Following retirement he was appointed by the Reagan administration to serve as director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance for the Agency for International Development and also as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
From 1989 to 1995 he was the chief operating officer of American Coastal Industries and president of Prairie View A & M University. His final job was as superintendent of public schools in Washington.
In 2007 he received the George Catlett Marshall Medal, the highest award bestowed by the Association of the U.S. Army for being a "Soldier, combat commander, administrator, educator, public servant, government leader and role model."