Unknown Black Heroes: Edward A. Carter Jr.

As a part of my initiative to do something different for Black History Month I plan on putting people on to little known black people who have made a mark in different areas of American history. We all know about the steadfast leadership of MLK, the resolve of Rosa Parks, A. Phillip Randolph’s foresight, and Madame C.J. Walker’s business savvy. Well there are tons of other black men and women who lived through strife to do extraordinary things in extraordinary places.

Anyways, I’m a massive WWII nerd. I do WWII stuff like your coworkers do fantasy football. I’ll watch the History, Military, and any other channels just to get my fill.*  It can be argued that WWII is the most pivotal six to seven year period in the history of the modern world. There is no corner of the Earth that was not changed by WWII. **

I could also argue that the war was more about race than most people would like to admit. We all know the fascist government of Germany fancied themselves to be racially superior to just about other ethnic group on the planet. Jews, people of African origin, slavs, the Roma ethnic group (Gypsies), and anyone else who didn’t fit their ethnic idea.

The Japanese also sought to subjugate others based on their racial superiority. They also thought themselves to be higher on the totem than other Asians (The treatment of the Chinese, Koreans, and Filipinos is evidence of this.), those of European stock, and again folks of African origin also found themselves near the bottom of the totem.

The allies weren’t nearly as harsh but they were also the carriers of the idea of racial superiority. *** England and France both had vast empires where Africans, West-Indians, and Asians were under the thumb of the crown and Tri-Color across the globe. America’s racial attitudes of the time were also well known around the world. Jim Crow was just as much of a part of the Big Green Machine as much as it was a part of downtown Columbia, SC or any other southern town at the time with Japanese-Americans being locked away and being segregated along with blacks in the military.**** During this period Bugs Bunny cartoons were even had a racist anti-Japanese tone.

So after watching and reading hours of documentaries, movies, and books I wondered, “Where the hell were the brothers during this mess?”

The exploits of the Tuskegee Airmen and the 761st Tank Battalion are somewhat well documented but very few know them as individuals. So today I’ll let y’all in on the exploits of Staff Sgt. Edward A. Carter Jr.

Edward Carter is a native of Los Angeles, California. Born to Baptist missionary parents, Carter was raised mainly in the Far East, in locales like India and China. His family eventually settled in Shanghai, China.

In his early teens Carter left his parents and joined Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Chinese army. By the time he was 15, Edward Carter had become a lieutenant in the Chinese Army. Not long after his actual age was discovered and he was returned to his parents in Shanghai. Taking a page from George S. Patton’s playbook of crazy, Carter claimed the he was visited by a spirit that informed him that he was destined to become a great warrior who would not be killed during battle.

No longer able to soldier professionally, Edward Carter was enrolled into a military academy in Shanghai where he would gain more formal military skills and learn to speak German, Hindi, and Mandarin Chinese. After his secondary education Carter then found himself fighting in the Spanish Civil War as a member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, which was composed of Americans who stood anti-fascist forces fighting Francisco Franco.***** By 1938 it became apparent that the forces loyal to the Spanish government were going to lose so all foreign nationals fighting fascism in Spain fled and Carter eventually returned to his native California.

In the period between his fighting Spain and America entering WWII, Carter met and married his wife Mildred in Los Angeles but decided to enlist into the U.S. Army in the fall of 1941, a few months before Pearl Harbor. Having much more experience than most recruits Carter was promoted to Staff Sgt quickly. The Army would then open a counterintelligence investigation into Carter’s past due to his involvement with the anti-fascist forces in Spain. The Army’s investigation stated this “while not necessarily a communist” he had been “exposed to communism.”****** From this moment on, every commander Carter served under kept tabs on his activities and reported them to higher authorities.

By 1944 Carter was shipped to Europe and settled into a life that consisted of supply duties and other indignities that came with serving in a segregated army. Near the end of the Battle of the Bulge the U.S. Army in Europe found itself running short-handed on combat soldiers. To ameliorate this problem Dwight Eisenhower instituted a program named Ground Force Replacement Command which would allow non-combat soldiers to be trained as infantry replacements no matter their race.******* There was one slight catch, black soldiers would have to give up their earned ranks of corporal or higher to prevent them from giving orders to white. Carter was then demoted from staff sergeant to private.

On March 25th, 1945 Private Carter was riding atop a tank near Speyer, Germany when his patrol was attacked. Carter volunteered to lead a four-man patrol to find the source of the German fire. To do this Carter’s patrol would have to cross a distance of 150 yards without cover. One patrol member was killed initially. Carter then ordered the two remaining soldiers to provide covering fire for him as he advanced further ahead. During this time another member of the patrol was killed leaving Carter, with one other man providing cover for him. During this time he exchange gunfire with the defending German soldiers and managed to knock out a mortar crew and two machine gun emplacements.

Carter would then get shot three times in his left from another machine gun emplacement. While taking a drink of water he would also receive a gunshot wound in the left hand. Next, he would take shrapnel to one of his legs due to an explosion. Bleeding heavily Private Carter played dead while a German patrol consisting of eight men searched for him. When they approached his body Carter opened up on the patrol with his Tommy Gun, dropping six of his would be captors. Carter then took the two remaining Germans prisoner and returned to American lines where he delayed his hospitalization until he interrogated the two prisoners in German. Oran “Juice” Jones only talked about having the impulse to run up, do a Rambo, jam you, and flat blast some folks but Edward Carter actually did it.

During his recovery Carter’s rank of staff sergeant was restored. By the end of the war he had earned his Combat Infantry Badge, the Distinguished Service Cross, a Purple Heart, and various other medals. He would later attempt to re-enlist in the Army but his ties to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade would prevent any further service. Staff Sgt Edward A. Carter Jr. was kind of a bada**.

Edward A. Carter Jr. would pass away on January 30, 1963 from lung cancer at UCLA

On January 13th, 1997 Staff Sgt. Edward A Carter Jr. was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Jed Clampett. Carter’s medal was awarded to six other black soldiers who were denied the Big Green Machine’s highest honor. 

So read some more on this weeks unheralded black history icon while I try to find another standout for next Thursday.

Vaya con Dios.

*Don’t look at me like that. Every grown man in this country has something that they are a nerd about. It does matter if it’s fantasy football, spades, cars, or strippers EVERYONE has that something that they will nerd out about. So keep your thoughts to your shabby and inglorious selves.

**I maintain that WWII marked the beginning of a world wide civil rights movement. Like their black American colleagues members of the King’s African Rifles, British West Indian soldiers various groups of French Colonial troops, East Indians, and the Vietnamese went about taking matters into their own hands for the right to control their national and racial destinies believing that shedding blood against the Axis for nearly half a decade was well worth the cost of Independence and equally. Some chose bullets others decided to use the ballot.

***I’m not sure of the racial attitude of Canada. Canadians just seem so nice. I think the Soviets were just happy putting their hands up the skirts of the Germans but I do know that Stalin was not a fan of the Jews, moose, squirrels. Australia was noted for being staunchly anti-Asian and Aboriginal. (Or at least that’s how they were according to Hugh Jackman)

****I do find it odd that Mexicans, Native Americans, and Puerto Ricans were allowed to serve in white units. America’s racial totem just switches up from time to time. I guess we’re one of the few places where a race can find it self at different positions on the hate list thusly proving that racism makes no sense.

*****As dictatorial dirt-bags of last century go, Francisco Franco doesn’t receive nearly enough credit for being a massive a**hat…and yes. He’s still dead.

******I still maintain that everybody in America hated everybody else in America until about 1989.


13 responses to “Unknown Black Heroes: Edward A. Carter Jr.

  1. Wu, you crafted those last 2 paragraphs perfectly! It was like watching a movie…I couldn’t read fast enough to find out what happened!!

    Edward A. Carter was a bad a$$ and 100 times more gangster than anyone who refers to themselves as such today.

    I’m reading The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin and he actually discusses Blacks and WWII. How the blacks were treated worse than German prisoners b/c white soliders weren’t hesitant to make the Blacks status at home known. So while they were fighting for this country, they caught flack in forgein countries (although they were much more free than they would ever be here).

    I love black history. I remember doing a research paper on slave revolts…Nat Turner and Gabriel Prosser in the 5th grade. I’m sure my teacher loved that,lol

    • Thanks LaLa,

      It’s funny you said that this was like watching a movie because when I first heard about SSgt. Carter eight years ago I was wondering why no one has made a movie about this guy. WWII aside, his life in China and Spain was pretty damn remarkable for a brother in the 1930’s.

      He is gangster but most people who refer to themselves as such aren’t really gangster at all.

      Blacks were treated a lot worse than the enemy both stateside and in Europe. I’ve also read accounts of German prisoners saying that they would rather be looked after or captured by black G.I.s than white because the white G.I.s treated German prisoners horribly at times. Segregation followed the army everywhere. England which is mostly white had no formal segregation laws but when the Big Green Machine arrived they insisted on setting up a “Jim Crow” like system.

      Our history is dope but we never get a fresh perspective any more. I wish stories like this would be told more often.

  2. I could definitely see this on the big screen. It can similar to the Great Debaters…b/c I damn sure didnt’ know anything about them before the movie…and I loved it!

    We need to get on this Wu! Bring Carter’s story to life

    • I debated in high school and had never heard of the Great Debaters until the movie came out. As for the big screen, I’m hoping that Tom Hanks and Spielberg finish their WWII series on HBO with something like this. There are so many black men who actually saw combat but have little known stories. HBO would be perfect for that. I’m still waiting on a release date for George Lucas’ movie about the Airmen.

      We should work on that. I’m not working with Spike Lee or Tyler Perry. I’ll even work with Terrance Howard, but not those two.

  3. Wow!!!! Edward A. Carter was a true badazz!! Love it. I had never heard of him til today, thanks. 🙂
    Since you mentioned you dig WWII stuff, I saw a documentary on the Triple Nickle battallion. Have you heard of them?

    • Dude was obviously a beast. How many brothers could speak Mandarin in 1945?

      I’ve heard of the 555th Parchute Infantry Regiment. They never saw any combat in WWII but they were some of the first smoke jumpers. They were utilized in the Pacific Northwest to put out forest fires set by Incendiary ballon bombs set by the Japanese.

      After the war they were attached to the 82nd Airborne. The commander of the 82nd at the time, James Gavin was like a 38 yr-old general and was a pro-integration during the war so he went out of his way to welcome them. I quess because of his age he just realized how silly racism is compared to the older generals.

  4. Princess_Jasmen

    I enjoyed this read!

  5. I can’t afford to read all of the comments since it took me half the morning to get thru the main post. You have a lot to say about Mr. Carter. Interesting story!

  6. Pingback: Unknown Black Heroes: August Wilson | Up Here on Cloud 9

  7. Pingback: Post Number 200 and The Things I’ve Learned | Up Here on Cloud 9

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