Veteran’s Day 2013

Saga of the Black P.O.W.: the Flip side of military service

Gregg Reese | 11/7/2013, midnight
Once let the Black man get upon his person the brass letters U.S., let him get an eagle on his ...

In December of 1944, desperate to position themselves so that they could force the West to sue for a favorable peace, Adolf Hitler and his minions mounted a counter-offensive hoping to catch the over-confident enemy off guard and hinder their drive towards Germany. The Axis Powers could then concentrate on the Russian menace encroaching on their eastern front.

Caught flatfooted, the Americans suffered their first major set back since they set foot on the continent, before rebounding with General George S. Patton’s miraculous maneuvering to turn the tide of battle. However, isolated components of the U.S. Army were overwhelmed by the unexpected Axis surge, and while the Germans gained tactical victories, they were not in a position to secure the Americans who surrendered. Conseuqently, rather than abandon enemy troops who could regroup to fight later in the war, the Nazis often panicked, resulting in events like the Malmédy (Belgium) massacre of Dec. 17, where 80 White soldiers were machine gunned down after surrendering—an open and shut war crime. Lesser known is the slaughter of 11 Black G.I.s from the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion on that same day in Wereth, a tiny hamlet a few kilometers away.

The majority of this segregated unit had been over run on the second day of the German advance in December, and 11 of the men were separated from the other survivors in the chaos of battle. Armed with only two rifles, they reached the Belgium hamlet of Wereth, where a Nazi sympathizer notified elements of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH), personal bodyguard to the Führer.

The poorly-armed Americans surrendered to their numerically superior enemy, and as darkness fell, they were taken to an isolated cow pasture and shot.

A month later, in the aftermath of the battle, their bodies were found in the frozen pasture, along with evidence that the Nazis had done more than simply kill them. Investigators determined that before dying the unfortunates had been maimed and tortured, some of them having their limbs broken and fingers cut off.

The soldiers victimized in the Malmédy massacre were avenged after the war, when defendants in the German SS ranks, including three generals, were brought to trial and convicted of war crimes. Their sepia comrades however, the Wereth Eleven, as the Black servicemen came to be known, were largely forgotten after a cursory investigation until 1994, when a memorial was erected at the site of their execution.

A change in methodology

Negro Soldiers!

Did you ever stop to think why you should be in Korea, fighting other Colored people, while lynchings, murders and insults pile up against the Negro people at home? We say: No U.S. soldiers have any business in Korea. Korea for the Koreans. China for the Chinese. America for the Americans, Negro and White.

—propaganda leaflet geared towards Korean War era G.I.s

A few short years later America found itself in another war, with a decidedly different enemy. The Chinese and the Russians, who arguably were the principals using North Korea as a “proxy” to avoid direct conflict with the Americans and other shot callers in the West, had no extensive tradition of racial intolerance compared to the Antebellum American South, or Germany under the sway of Adolf Hitler and his New World Order.