Often overlooked are the stories of the African American soldiers during World War 2. After the Battle in the Huertgen Forest area and the Battle of the Bulge, there was a desperate need of infantry reinforcements. In January 1945 it was therefor decided to take volunteers from Corps troops such as service battalions, artillery units and attached tank and Tank Destroyer units. By 4 February 1945, 4562 Black troops had volunteered for infantry duty. Many were non-commissioned officers who took a reduction in rank to volunteer. By March 1, 1945, the first 2253 men were ready.
These African American men never got the recognition they deserved. In this article we will have a closer look at the so called “All black Fifth Platoon” soldiers who fought with the 9th Infantry Division.
Having finished training in January and February 1945, the 9th Infantry Division received its first Negro (this was the term used back in the 40’s) troops in March 1945. The idea was to assign one platoon to each of several companies within an Infantry Regiment. These “fifth platoons” were assigned as follows:
Company E, 60th Infantry Regiment.
Company F, 47th Infantry Regiment
Company G, 39th Infantry Regiment
These men soon demonstrated that they were excellent soldiers.
Sgt. Joe Bergin of F Company, 47th Infantry Regiment, remembered when the black soldiers joined his company.
“There was one platoon (about 35 men) with F company that joined us about 4 to 6 weeks before VE day, May 8, 1945. My recollection is that our Captain at the time was Ray Schmader, who had been a Lieutenant and was promoted to Captain. I think that in my memory it was Schmader who asked to have the “All black platoon” assigned to our F Company. The black group seemed to stay together mostly and they were not talking that much with the other platoons or squads in F Company.
When the war was over, the 47th Infantry Regiment was stationed in a German town, Scheyern, which was in the Munich area. The black platoon was grouped together and not mixed in with the rest of us. At that time they were not called “blacks.” I think back then they were referred to as “the Negroes”, a word used back then. They were all really nice guys and seeing them in action a couple of times, proved they were excellent soldiers as well”.
Gallantry in action
That these men could fight, was proven on several occasions. On 5 April 1945, “E” Company of the 60th Infantry Regiment with the recently attached platoon of Negro troops (all of whom had volunteered as combat infantry) took town of Lengenbach, Germany. This was the first taste of combat for the colored troops and they took a big bite.
Four days later one of the men from this fifth platoon was awarded the D.S.C. . Private First Class Jack Thomas led his squad to take out a tank supporting a strongly defended German roadblock. Approaching the tank, he lobbed two grenades, wounding several Germans. But, he had lost his bazooka man. Thomas then picked up the bazooka and with two shots immobilized the tank. Two of his comrades were lying seriously wounded nearby. He picked up the nearest and carried him to safety under a hail of intense fire.
Another man, Private First Class Edgar E. Zeno from G Company, 39th Infantry Regiment earned a Silver Star for gallantry in action on April 7th, 1945 near Siedlinghausen, Germany. When his company encountered heavy machine gun fire, Zeno assaulted the enemy position across open terrain, firing a BAR. When he was 25 yards from the German machine gun, Private First Class Zeno hurled a grenade and rushed the emplacement, killing seven Germans and wounding three. Later, in Badeborn, Germany, General Craig would pin the Silver Star Ribbon on PFC. Edgar E. Zeno’s jacket. PFC. Zeno was the first colored soldier in the 39th Infantry Regiment to receive a major decoration.
The black soldiers eagerly volunteered for every patrol and argued with one another for the more dangerous jobs.
A total of 708 African American soldiers were killed in action during World War 2. We must never forget what they have done for our freedom.
Looking for more information
3 African American Soldiers that served with the 9th Infantry Division are buried at the American Cemetery in Margraten, the Netherlands. They are:
PVT Willie N. Hall, ASN: 34230422
PVT Theodore Jones, ASN: 39619063
PFC Julius A. Lawrence, ASN: 36792315
We would like to find out more information about these men.
Research about the “all black fifth platoon” soldiers of the 9th Infantry Division is still ongoing. I am always looking for any information in regards to these colored troops, so please contact me if you have any further information. I will keep updating this page as new information comes in.