Korean War vets celebrate leadership and integration
March 19, 2009
"We made history," said retired Sgt. 1st Class Louis S. Diggs author, Korean War veteran and former member of the all-Black Maryland National Guard 726th Transportation Truck Company. "We made history because the 726th Transportation Truck [Company] was the first of many National Guard units to support the Korean War."
History and enlisted leadership were the themes at the Milton A. Reckord Memorial Lounge at the Fifth Regiment Armory in Baltimore on February 25, 2009 as more than 40 current and former noncommissioned officers of the Maryland National Guard listened intently.
The luncheon combined Black History Month with a celebration of "The Year of the NCO" announced earlier this year by Army Secretary Pete Geren, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth Preston to recognize the efforts and history of the American military's noncommissioned officer corps.
The venue was poetic. The lounge was dedicated to the adjutant general who signed the order effectively integrating the Maryland National Guard in 1955, and his portrait hung directly behind the four presenters as they each took their turn at the podium.
Diggs, along with retired 231st NCOs Claude Patterson, Wilson Thornton and Nathaniel Pope entertained the audience with animated accounts of their experiences as Soldiers and later, as noncommissioned officers in one of the state's most storied units.
The 231st Transportation Truck Battalion, which included the 726th, received two U. S. Army Meritorious Unit Citations and a Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation and was the only Maryland National Guard unit mobilized for the Korean War.
"I can't thank the senior NCOs enough who brought us along," Diggs said of the NCOs who helped the young Soldiers as they learned the ropes under fire in Korea.
But, the transition back to the Maryland National Guard following overseas duty was difficult.
President Harry S. Truman integrated the active duty military in 1948, years before the 231st went to Korea, but Maryland was slow to follow suit.
After Patterson arrived back in Maryland in 1953 after his rotation to Korea, he wanted to continue his military service and went to the Fifth Regiment Armory to request a transfer to the Maryland Army National Guard's famous 29th Infantry Division, which was in one of the first waves to storm the beaches at Normandy on D-Day.
"I'm very sorry," he was told. "But we don't have any blacks in the 29th Division."
Determined, the displaced Soldiers continued to meet regularly at a member's house in the McCullough Street Projects until the rest of the 231st returned to Maryland and they could drill as a unit, albeit a segregated one.
In fact, it wasn't until Nov. 21, 1955, that Maryland Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Milton A. Reckord complied with President Dwight D. Eisenhower's request to racially integrate the Maryland National Guard with General Order Number 49.
Long since retired from military service, the speakers reflected on their National Guard training and experiences with a sense of pride and nostalgia. Diggs explained how he was able to take on assignments of greater responsibility throughout his military career specifically due to his training with the Maryland National Guard. The others had similar stories.
Sometimes Soldiers make history, and sometimes history makes Soldiers. Whatever the case, for Diggs and the other surviving members of the 231st, history will secure their places NCOs and pioneers of American progress.