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Editorial Note on African-American Troops
December 1943-March 1944
In January 1943 the War Department had asked Lieutenant General Millard F. Harmon, commanding general of U.S. Army Forces in the South Pacific Area, if his theater could use a division of African-American troops. Harmon was dubious about such troops’ effectiveness, and when asked again in December 1943 his opinion was unchanged, but he reluctantly accepted the African-American Ninety-third Infantry Division. In January 1944 orders were issued sending the division to the Solomon Islands area. By early 1944 the War Department was under increasing criticism for converting combat units to service functions, and the level of criticism escalated following Secretary Stimson’s February 19 reply to New York Congressman Hamilton Fish concerning conversion of African-American units. (Marshall [OPD] to Harmon, Radio No. RANE-225, December 23, 1943, NA/RG 165 [OPD, TS Message File (CM-OUT-8913)]; Ulysses Lee, The Employment of Negro Troops, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1966], pp. 471-72, 474-81.)
On the last day of February 1944, the War Department’s Advisory Committee on Negro Troop Policies recommended that the army take steps to introduce “qualified colored combat units, as promptly as possible, into battle.” The War Department advised Harmon on March 7 that ongoing operations on Bougainville appeared to offer an opportunity to utilize elements of the Ninety-third Infantry Division. (John J. McCloy Memorandum for the Secretary of War, February 29, 1944, NA/RG 165 [OCS, 291.2]; Marshall [OPD] to Harmon, March 7, 1944, Out Log, p. 21, NA/RG 165 [OPD, Message Log].)
Meanwhile, the First Battalion of the African-American Twenty-fourth Infantry Regiment had been assigned to the Thirty-seventh Infantry Division in a combat zone on Bougainville. On March 12 one of the battalion’s patrols became involved in a skirmish with eight Japanese, and accounts of this soon reached U.S. newspapers. (New York Times, March 17, 1944, p. 7; Lee, Employment of Negro Troops, pp. 497-99.) As a result, Marshall sent the following message (Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-302 [4: 355-56]).
Recommended Citation: ThePapers of George Catlett Marshall, ed.Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens(Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 4, “Aggressive and Determined Leadership,” June 1, 1943-December 31, 1944 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), pp. 354-355.