Historically Yours: 7 WWII veterans belatedly acknowledges as heroes
On Jan. 13, 1997, President Bill Clinton had the honor of presenting seven Medals of Honor, six posthumously, to African American heroes of World War II.
During World War II, 433 men were awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration for valor in combat. None of them were African American.
In 1993, the US Army commissioned an investigation into racial discrimination in the awarding of medals. It was recommended that ten black World War II veterans be awarded the Medal of Honor. Seven of them were approved, including one for Private First Class Willy James Jr. who was born in Kansas City.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:
Pfc. Willy F. James, Jr. Date of action, April 7, 1945, in Germany. James died the next day from his injuries and is buried in the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten. James’ Medal of Honor was presented to his widow.
Pvt. George Watson. Date of action, March 8, 1943, near New Guinea. Watson died in action and was buried at sea. Sergeant Major of the Army, Gene C. McKinney, accepted the Medal of Honor on behalf of Private Watson.
1st Lt. John R. Fox. Date of action, Dec. 26, 1944, in Italy. Fox died in action and is buried at Colebrook Cemetery, Whitman, MA. Fox’s Medal of Honor was presented to his widow.
Staff Sgt. Ruben Rivers. Date of action, Nov. 15-19, 1944, in France. Rivers died in action and is buried at Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial in France. Rivers’ sister, Grace Woodfork, accepted the Medal of Honor on his behalf.
Staff Sgt. Edward A. Carter Jr. Date of action, March 23, 1945, in Germany. Carter survived the war and died Jan. 30, 1963. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Carter’s son accepted the Medal of Honor on his behalf.
1st Lt. Charles L. Thomas. Date of action, Dec. 14, 1944 in France. Thomas survived the war and died February 15, 1980. He is buried at Westlawn Cemetery, Wayne, Michigan. A niece accepted Thomas’ Medal of Honor on his behalf.
Second Lieutenant Vernon J. Baker. Date of action, April 5-6, 1945, in Italy. Baker not only survived the war, but he was the only recipient still living to accept his Medal of Honor personally. When asked how he bore up under the lack of respect and dignity and honor after all these years, Baker said, "Give respect before you expect it, treat people the way you want to be treated, remember the mission, set the example, keep going.” Baker died July 13, 2010 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written HISTORICALLY YOURS for the Boonville Daily News since April 2008, She has covered the War Between the States, US history, and Cooper County history. In celebration of Missouri’s upcoming Bicentennial, she has syndicated her column statewide and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to HistoricallyYours.firstname.lastname@example.org