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

The Korean War

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Hammond: When the Korean War started, none of them had expected that they would go, because they were black. Nobody had any high expectations of them, but they were sent. And if you stop and think it was perfectly logical - they were better trained than many of the all white units and they were whole. So they went. But they didn't have great leadership. Blacks were never allowed to command whites, so the colonel in charge of the 24th wanted to improve the leadership of the 24th and therefore he put some black officers over units that had white members, battalions and companies. They had to shift everybody around then so that while the black officers could command only blacks, the white officers could command both blacks and whites. Now there weren't many white enlisted men in these units, but there were white sergeants. So there was a shift back and forth. And if you had a company commander and he had two blacks and one white platoon commanders, well if he was black, all the white platoon commanders left the unit and were replaced with blacks. Very bad situation.

Ellis: And this was after Truman's executive order?

Hammond: This was after Truman's executive order, in theory integrating the Army. But there was a lot of foot-dragging to that, the Army's very good at that. Army doesn't like to get ahead of its constituents, considers itself the people. It is constantly having to go to the people to get recruits and doesn't want to make anybody mad. Never has, never will.

Ellis: How did the circumstances you described lead to bugging out?

Hammond: Well, they get into combat, everybody has problems. We compared the 24th Infantry to the what, the 35th Infantry—

Ellis: All white?

Hammond: Yes, they had problems. The 24th had problems. The 35th, the troops ran. The 24th, the troops ran. Well, what happened in each unit when something like this happened? In the case of the 35th, the commander was a well-experienced, old colonel who had won the Distinguished Service Cross a couple times in WWII, the medal right below the Medal of Honor. He knew how to run an infantry regiment, knew his command, knew his people. He fired officers whose units had not performed. Got the men who were really good in battle, gave them medals and set them up and examples.

Ellis: Did you say this was—

Hammond: He retrained everybody. The 24th Infantry, they put everybody back on the line. Nothing changed, nobody was retrained, no officers fired; it just went on as before. Nobody even got arrested. Technically when you go to the rear in combat, you're a deserter and you could be arrested. This never happened. And with no correction, it's easier to do the next time. Not everybody runs, not even the majority, but it weakens the whole organization, the whole organization's morale is affected.

There's a number of really good black officers, Oliver Dillard comes to mind - he ended up his career in the integrated Army as a major general. When his unit fought, they were right there on top of it. There were white commanders who were very good, who essentially led very good units and you had fewer problems in those units. But unit as a whole was not working and was not being fixed. A leadership problem.

Ellis: Why wasn't it fixed?

Hammond: It wasn't being fixed because nobody expected black people to do anything different. As simple as that.

Smith: Expected them to run and when they ran—

Hammond: They do. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Next: Motivating Styles of Military Leaders