Fort McCoy News Feb. 26, 2016

Speaker: Army history provides cues for racial unity

Public Affairs Staff

The military and government can show the nation how to find a common identity as Americans, said Lt. Col. Richard T. Cranford, guest speaker at Fort McCoy's Feb. 11 observation of African-American History Month.

"I have been affiliated with the military for my entire life," Cranford said. "I grew up as a mixed-race child of an African-American noncommissioned officer in the Air Force."

Cranford said he left the United States with his Family when he was 3 years old and lived overseas on military installations. He said that while growing up, he wasn't really conscious of racial divisions.

Photo: Lt. Col. Richard Cranford addresses those attending the Fort McCoy observance of African-American History Month Feb. 11.
Lt. Col. Richard Cranford addresses those attending the Fort McCoy
observance of African-American History Month Feb. 11.
Photo by Scott T.

That experience, he said, has remained true throughout his 20-plus-year military career. Cranford, an instructor in Department of the Army Tactics at the Command and General School campus at Fort Gordon, Ga., said it is important to study the Army's history of racial integration to understand why the military has been able to create an environment in which race hasn't been as much of an issue for him.

This year's theme for African-American History Month is "Hallowed Ground: Sites of African-American Memories," and Cranford said that during his studies, he came up with a few Army-specific hallowed grounds.

The first, he said, is Ground Forces Reinforcement Center in northern France during World War II. After D-Day, infantry replacement Soldiers were in short supply in Europe.

"By July of 1944, the casualty rate among infantrymen reached 100 percent," Cranford said. "So if you were an infantryman in Europe, you were getting wounded in some way."

Leaders tried several options to fill the shortfall, which totaled approximately 29,000 men. Lt. Gen. John C.H. Lee proposed soliciting African-American volunteers from support units.

At the time, black Soldiers weren't allowed to serve in integrated combat units. In December 1944, Lee said he'd assign African-American volunteers to any units that required replacements, not just African-American units.

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower instead decided to organize the volunteers into platoons rather than individual replacements. In early 1945, 2,000 volunteers were retrained as infantrymen. Many had been in the Army for years with some attaining noncommissioned officer status, Cranford said. All the volunteers began new careers as privates.

"So you imagine giving up rank … to start over as a private in the infantry when the reason why they need you is because every infantryman in Europe is becoming a casualty," Cranford said. "But what they looked for was an opportunity to serve in combat."
There were 53 African-American platoons that served in the final European campaign. "In three months, they proved their courage and their willingness to fight, receiving praise from several division commanders," Cranford said.

After the war, the Army conducted a survey of white officers and noncommissioned officers who'd served with African-American Soldiers, asking what they thought of their combat performance. "What they found was that there was a dramatic improvement in the attitudes of these Soldiers toward serving with African-Americans," Cranford said.

About 77 percent said they were more willing to serve with African-American Soldiers in the future. "Not one respondent stated that his experience during World War II made him more reluctant to serve (with African-Americans,)" he said. Their experiences proved their previous prejudices wrong, Cranford said, and they weren't afraid to admit it.

The second site Cranford said should be considered hallowed ground in the Army is Washington, D.C., as it was the location of two important steps in the integration process.

In October 1945, the Board for Utilization of Negro Manpower was formed under Lt. Gen. Alvan C. Gillem Jr. to examine the question of utilizing African-Americans in the postwar Army. The prevailing belief of the day was African-Americans couldn't handle the tasks needed of a modern combat Soldier and that forcing integration would only cause problems, Cranford said.

"But Gen. Gillem was willing to examine some of those underlying beliefs and assumptions rather than just accept that this is how things are," Cranford said. "He highlighted a lack of leadership and the requirement for leadership to step forward and create conditions for all Soldiers to succeed."

Quote: “No one wants anything more than what they’re entitled; they just want the opportunities that everyone is entitled to as Americans." Lt. Col. Richard T. Cranford, African-American History Month guest speaker

The Gillem Board did recommend retaining a segregation policy, despite concluding that environment influenced success more than genetics, Cranford said. But the board also advocated transitioning toward providing equal opportunity for all qualified personnel. It said African-American Soldiers with special skill sets should be assigned to any unit that needed them.

"I think that's what any of us want now. If I have the ability to do the job, give me the opportunity, open those pathways to me. That is what the struggle has been about," Cranford said. "No one wants anything more than what they're entitled; they just want the opportunities that everyone is entitled to as Americans."

On July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman issued an executive order stating, "It is hereby declared to be the policy of the president that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin."

The Fahy Committee, headed by Charles Fahy, was formed to analyze putting the executive order into motion. The committee consulted with all service branches on how to implement it without inhibiting combat readiness.

"For the Army, this process became a protracted struggle to maintain the ability to continue to use segregation," Cranford said. Secretary of the Army Kenneth Royall and Chief of Staff Gen. Omar Bradley said segregation was necessary to ensure the readiness of the Army. They also said Army practices already ensured equal opportunity and African-American Soldiers didn't have a problem with being segregated. Later, in his biography, Bradley said he worried the Army would lose support from Southern communities and politicians if integration was forced.

After a year of negotiations, the Fahy Committee forced the Army to make several concessions: African-Americans with special skills could be assigned to any unit requiring those skills, and the race-based enlistment quota was abolished.

This paved the way for integration at Cranford's third selection of an Army hallowed ground: Korea.

"The outbreak of the Korean War served as a catalyst for the Army's transition from a segregated force to a fully integrated force," Cranford said. "However, this transition was not intentional or planned."

The abolishment of the race quota meant that an increasing number of Soldiers were African-American, making it difficult to assign them only to African-American units, he said. About 20 percent of replacement Soldiers to Korea were African-American. Commanders who had experience working with African-Americans began replacing casualties from white units with African-American Soldiers, despite guidelines calling for those Soldiers to be placed in segregated units.

In 1951, Gen. Matthew Ridgway, who'd previously requested permission to fully integrate the Eighth Army, assumed leadership of the Far East command and ordered the entire command to integrate.

During the Korean War, the Army once again ordered a study to determine the most-efficient use of African-American Soldiers. "Just as it did after World War II, the Army started to examine its assumptions about the impact of race on combat effectiveness." Cranford said.

"They found that racial integration actually created a sense of unity among white and African-American Soldiers alike," Cranford said. "That process began … in basic training."

Basic training was integrated during the Korean War to maintain the required throughput. Soldiers said the intense pace of training and the knowledge they'd be serving in Korea together erased any racial tension that might have existed. Once in Korea, Cranford said, the Soldiers realized their survival depended on their fellow Soldiers, no matter what race they were.

"Army officials had long worried that integration would lead to open conflict between African-American and white Soldiers forced to live together in close proximity," Cranford said. "(The study) concluded that integration actually decreased racial tension as the exposure of African-American and white Soldiers to each other broke down many of the preconceptions and prejudices that they had held before they joined the Army."

Necessity forced the Army's integration, Cranford said, but African-Americans and Army leadership made the process a success.

"African-American history and progress in the Army has occurred due to the willingness of African-Americans to fight and die as Americans first and African-Americans second," Cranford said. "But there's also been a willingness of leaders of all echelons in the Army to challenge the status quo."

While Cranford said it would probably be naive to think the Army is immune to the race problems affecting the nation as a whole, he added, "I would submit that for the most part, the military and the federal government offer equal opportunity to the pathways for advancement.

"Perhaps our part today is to carry forth the legacy of those who have come before us and offer the rest of the nation a way to find a common identity as Americans that bridges some of those other racial, ethnic, gender, economic, and ideological divisions that threaten to fracture American society," he said.

Mitzi Hinton, retirement services officer, said she enjoyed the presentation. "I'm not a history buff, but I have a high respect for those who have the tenacity to really engage history," Hinton said. "I thought (the presentation) was very relevant, so I enjoyed it."

Sgt. 1st Class Yaw Osei with the 181st Infantry Brigade said Cranford's presentation was very educational. "The insight he gave helped me understand why the military Family gets along better than the country," Osei said. "You don't see a lot of race issues in the military because … we've been solving it way before the country (started) solving it."

For more information about Equal Opportunity observances, call 608-388-6153.