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The Human Cost of Racism in the Military

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Ellis: Do you think racism in the Army cost lives?

Hammond: It did in Korea. It cost white lives and black lives. Because that black unit was not functioning quite on the level it should have been functioning. But it was a—a post in the fence and it was a weak post and the other posts are at risk. Once you put a hole in the dam, the dam is done. And I know at Masan where they had a terrific North Korean attack, the 24th Infantry was very lucky it had a spare brigade that day. The 25th Division was lucky that it had a spare brigade that day and it put the Wolfhounds in and they plugged that hole.

Smith: Didn't it help that they happened to be all white?

Hammond: Well, they were all white. And that fits into the stereotype, that the white boys can hold and the black boys can't, but that's not true. Anybody who's really well led will have much better chance. And the Wolfhounds had Michaelis who became a four star general.

Smith: The 24th had some pretty lame white leadership because the Army was throwing in anything because there was a shortage of white officers anyway, but there was a supply of well-skilled black officers.

Hammond: But there weren't any black officers above the rank of captain. That's the hell of it.

Smith: They had the capacity.

Hammond: They had the capacity but the Army is an army and you have to advance through the ranks. You can't take a captain and make him a colonel because he doesn't have the experience you learn in those intervening ranks. It's very important that they move up in echelon so for years. In the beginning of the Vietnam War there weren't a whole lot of black officers of any rank. A few, they were majors or lieutenant colonels, but I don't think there were very many generals at all. Not whole lot of colonels. Vietnam was only 10 years after Korea and they didn't have time to move through the ranks, but they were coming up. And by the 1970s and 80s they were all over the place and they do just fine.

Calvin Walter was Schwarzkopf's deputy in the Persian Gulf and he's a three star general and a good one. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither was the integrated Army. People say, the Army today is 40 percent minority, well heck, it's always been minority. In the Civil War it was the Germans and Irish who fought, not the whites. There were white Americans who joined, but they could buy substitutes and a lot of them did. And they would get immigrants off the boat and put them into the army. My mother's grandfather was the same - Irishman ended up in the Army. The Frenchman in her family was a socialist, pacifist and ended up in New Orleans. Confederates wanted him in their army and gave him till sundown; he stole a horse and rode north. He evaded the draft for four years, married and moved to Kansas and hid out. That's the reality of it; the Army's always been an immigrant army and lower classes.

Ellis: It's always so striking interviewing black veterans that, to a person, they all enlisted.

Hammond: Found after book was published, there is scattered evidence that many of the soldiers in Japan and went to Korea were very under age. Some officer says they were 12 and 13 years old.

Smith: Certainly we had some guys who said they were 14 and 15 and parents lied for them so they could get out.

Hammond: I had a man who called after the book came out and wanted to be interviewed. He brought his pictures and had commercial pictures of the platoon and he went down the list of me and said, this one's 12, this one's 12, this one's 13, this one's 15. You put a 12 year old in a battle with everything that's coming at him and if he doesn't run, there's something seriously wrong with him, I'm sorry.

Next: Lessons from the Korean War

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