Lt. Monroe Allen Scott Biography-3
John E. James: 73 Years to Receive His Commission
At 98, the Army Just Made Him an Officer: A Tale of Racial Bias in World War II
Excerpts from the New York Times -- June 29, 2018 -- By Rachel L. Swarns
PHILADELPHIA — Marion Lane discovered the faded photograph after her stepmother died, crammed in a closet with her stepmother’s Sunday dresses. She unrolled it and there was her father, young, handsome and grinning amid a phalanx of soldiers. She was stunned: “It looked like a graduating class of Army men.” Her father was a longtime mail carrier who loved his family, fishing and his beloved, gleaming Cadillacs. He never spoke about his service in World War II. On the day she found the photo, he finally told her why.
Her father, John E. James Jr., graduated from the Army’s Officer Candidate School in Fort Benning, Ga., in 1942, but was never allowed to serve as a commissioned officer. Instead, he was shipped overseas as a corporal with an all-black battalion at a time when racial discrimination in the military derailed the dreams and careers of a generation of African-American soldiers.
On Friday, the Army will finally make amends, promoting Mr. James to the rank of second lieutenant, two weeks after his 98th birthday. The ceremony at the Museum of the American Revolution will be attended by a deputy assistant secretary from the Army, a retired four-star general and Senator Bob Casey Jr., the Pennsylvania Democrat who championed the case. “It’s unbelievable,” said Mr. James, who descends from a long line of military men dating to the Revolutionary War. “I thought it would never happen.”
But after decades of silence, Mr. James was ready to tell his story. As a young man, he had never met any black officers and he had never seen any either. But after he was drafted in 1941, he heard that the Army wanted to recruit black officers. He applied and was accepted in 1942 to a class at Fort Benning that included 21 men of color. He slept in segregated barracks, but for the first time in his life he also ate, trained and studied alongside his white counterparts. He still remembers joining the jubilant black and white officers-to-be in their march, after they had completed their training in December of that year. They all expected to be promoted the next morning.
The African-American graduates would join the military’s tiny, black elite: Fewer than one percent of black soldiers in the Army were officers in 1942, according to a book published by the Army’s Center of Military History in 2001. But later that day, Mr. James said, a white officer pulled him aside. Instead of receiving his commission, he was going to be shipped to another post. “I wasn’t going to be getting my bars,” Mr. James said.
Click to view a YouTube video about "African American Units in WW2 --------->
Mr. James didn’t know why he was denied his promotion, but he said he knew better than to complain. So he swallowed that injustice and the indignities of racial discrimination and segregation that dogged the rest of his service, including 3 years as a typist with the 242nd Quartermaster Battalion, which supplied the front lines in some of the fiercest battles in Italy and northern Africa.
Mr. James said he didn’t pray about it, didn’t dream about it and didn’t talk about it, not even to his wife after he returned home from the war in 1945. Instead, he spent 30 years working at the post office in Philadelphia and sent his three children to college. He buried his wartime memories until his daughter found the photograph of his class at Fort Benning. “Throw it in the trash,” Mr. James told her. What was the point, he asked, of reviving old history?
In October 2016, the Army review board denied Mr. James’s request, saying they could not confirm his attendance at the Officer Candidate School. His personnel records had been destroyed in a fire in 1973......[But thanks to the efforts of Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, the Army reviewed his case again. In April 2018, the Army finally accepted his James' request....]
On Friday, Mr. James will don a dress uniform and take the oath to become a second lieutenant in the Army, two weeks after his 98th birthday. His two daughters will pin epaulets on his shoulders, and John Jumper, a retired Air Force general will administer the officer’s oath. “I thought it would never happen,” he said. “Decades have gone by and there hadn’t been a measure of basic fairness, of basic justice that was brought to bear,” Mr. Casey said. “We owe him this commission.”
Mr. James has given up fishing and hunting and Cadillacs. But he’s still young enough to drive, mow the lawn and to celebrate a victory he never believed was possible.