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Home | Cold War Turns Hot | The Armed Forces Integrate | What the Experts Say

Occupation Duty in Japan

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Hammond: They come out of WWII and blacks are inclined to stay in the Army - better than the sharecropper's farm and better than the ghetto. Lot of problems with the Army, but it's better. Black soldier in the post WWII Army couldn't rise above captain, unless he was a chaplain or a doctor and if a doctor, he could only minister to black people.

Strange effect, you would think the black people would be resentful, especially the officers. Well they were, but there was also an undercurrent. Well they aren't any good any way. There is tendency on the part of captive people to absorb some of the rhetoric they hear about their inferiority. It destroys your self-confidence. Pygmalion effect: people react as you expect them to. If you expect your employees to do well, they tend to perform on a much higher level than if you consider them to be flunkies and dumbbells. This works, and it worked in the case of black soldiers.

They did pretty well in WWII, especially the 24th Infantry. It was very good at policing up the battlefields after the main fighting ended, but before the enemy was completely clear out. They got good at going into caves and doing that really hard, unrecognized labor to clean up a battlefield of opponents. They did this in a number of places in the Pacific. Did really well. They were commended. When it was all over, they were given occupation duty in Japan. 'Course many guys went home, but many guys came in and they were always black.

Anytime you have a situation with a group within a group, the smaller group develops its own identity. Just by the fact that it's isolated, it creates its own culture. And that's essentially what they did in Japan. It's a very easy life in Japan. They excelled at sports, as they were expected to. They had some boxers who were just terrific and would rank at Golden Glove level today. They always put on a nice show when called out to parade, and these fellows would do wonderfully.

They were not very well trained for a lot complicated reasons having to do with interwar Army which was shrinking drastically. They went from 8 million after the war to 600,000 in '48 or '49. Everybody was using war surplus equipment and the blacks continued to have problem with leadership. The powers-that-be thought that southerners knew best about commanding black people and therefore they would get southerners - which is not a great combination. Although difficult to generalize because some of these southern officers were very good and very well respected by their men. Some of the northern officers were complete dogs, so it's hard to make comparisons. You have to take each individual on his basis, deal with it that way.

Nobody trained very well in Japan because they don't have a lot of area in which to train and there's one area where you can fire some artillery and take a brigade up and run it. In one of Japan's few national parks, perhaps it's the only one, on Mount Fuji. They would bring the 24th up there and they would exercise.

There were a lot of black people in the Army and they tended to go to the all black units and the 24th was in the Pacific. Where the rest of the Army was running at two-thirds strength - a regiment would have two battalions instead of three - in the Pacific with the 24th Infantry, they had three full battalions. They had an artillery unit, engineers. They were a full fighting-force.

Next: The Korean War