WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 14, 2011) -- A Black History Month observance at the Pentagon, Feb. 11, paid homage to African-Americans who fought in Korea and also commemorated the 60th anniversary of the Korean War.
The Korean War was the first American war in which desegregated units took part. Although President Harry S. Truman gave the orders to desegregate the military in 1948, several all-black units participated in the early stages of what some call "the forgotten war."
Col. David J. Clark, director of the 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Committee, told ceremony attendees he found it "simply astonishing" that African-Americans went off to fight for the rights of others, while they were still lacking equal rights at home.
"If you think about it, this is one of the most selfless, patriotic, yet unrequited acts of sacrifice in American history," he said. "The irony is that it is both a tragedy and a triumph -- a tragedy that it occurred at all, but a triumph in that a fundamental injustice was such an affront to common decency that it began to turn the wheels of change in American."
Other guest speakers included Brig. Gen. Lee, Seo Young, defense attache from the Republic of Korea. On behalf of his nation, the general thanked Americans for 60 years of commitment and 60 years of friendship.
Frank Martin, producer of the documentary, "For Love of Liberty: The Story of America's Black Patriots," introduced a 15-minute segment of that film. That work, a four-hour, two-part PBS documentary, tells the story of the sacrifices and accomplishments of African-American military men and women from the American Revolution forward.
Additionally, seven Korean War veterans from all service branches told the audience of their experiences as young men in the war.
Ronald M. Joe, acting director of the Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity, served as keynote speaker.
"For decades, African-American veterans were missing from our nation's memories of the Korean war," he said. "For too long they were Soldiers in the shadows, forgotten heroes, but today, it should be clear to you, to all of you, that you are forgotten no more.
"African Americans of the Korean War, we honor you. We honor your service. We thank you for your sacrifice and the sacrifice of your families and loved ones," Joe said. "You made history. You made a difference, and since the history of African-Americans is the history of America, you made a difference to us all."
Highlights of all-black units in the Korean War include:
-- The African-American 24th Infantry Regiment participated in all major operations across the Korean peninsula, from the defense and breakout at the Pusan Perimeter in 1950, to the United Nations counter-offensive that stabilized near the 38th parallel in late 1951.
-- The African American 231st Transportation (Truck) Battalion was the first National Guard unit to deploy to Korea.
-- The 2nd Ranger Infantry Company (Airborne) was the first and only all-black Ranger unit in the history of the U.S. Army. The Soldiers were volunteers who deployed to Korea for seven months beginning in late 1950. During their time in-country, they gallantly defended a critical railroad running through Tanyang Pass during a night infiltration by communist forces. They also performed the first airborne assault in Ranger history, near Munsan-ni on March 23, 1951.
Highlights of African-Americans in the ground war in Korea:
-- Two African-American servicemembers of the 234th Infantry Regiment were posthumously awarded the nation's highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, for their actions above and beyond the call of duty:
-- Pfc. William H. Thompson was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on Aug. 6, 1950, when he provided covering fire for his platoon despite sustaining mortal injuries.
-- Sgt. Cornelius H. Charlton was awarded the Medal of Honor for leading a charge against Hill 543 near Chipo-ri, on June 2, 1951. Charlton refused medical treatment for wounds received and single-handedly disabled an enemy machine-gun emplacement before succumbing to his injuries.
-- Roscoe Robinson Jr., a 1951 West Point graduate, was the first African-American in the Army to hold the rank of general. During the Korean War he served as a platoon leader and rifle company commander and was the recipient of the Bronze Star.
-- Julius Becton Jr. rose from private to lieutenant general, fighting in three wars during his nearly 40-year Army career. Becton was awarded the Silver Star for leading his platoon in an attack on Hill 201 near the Naktong River.
-- On July 20, 1950, Army Capt. Charles Bussey, the commander of the all-black 77th Engineer Co., was awarded the Silver Star for his action at the battle of Yechon.
Highlights of African-Americans in the Korean air war included:
-- Ens. Jesse L. Brown became the first African-American aviator in the history of the U.S. Navy. He was killed in action Dec. 4, 1950, while provided close air support at Chosin Reservoir. Brown was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
-- Second Lt. Frank E. Petersen Jr. became the Marine Corps first African-American pilot and flew with Attack Fighter Squadron 212 (Devil Cats). Petersen would go on to become the first African- American Marine flag officer and retired in 1988 as a lieutenant general.
-- Air Force Capt. Daniel "Chappie" James Jr. flew 101 missions in the P-51 Mustang and F-80 Shooting Star. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions in Korea. James became the first African-American to reach four-star rank in the armed services.