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Dear Mr. La Farge:
I have your letter of May 2nd inquiring about the Army’s position on the use of Negro troops as actual combatants in order to help correct the rumors you mention. I appreciate your interest and your desire to assist in this manner.
Some weeks ago, in a letter on this subject to Honorable Hamilton Fish, member of Congress from New York, the Secretary of War summed up the position of the war Department on this subject in the following manner: “….. any implication that the war Department is deliberately attempting to avoid sending overseas, or to keep out of combat, troops of the Negro or any other race, is entirely without foundation. Our personnel is distributed and employed as required, on duties individuals are qualified to perform, regardless of their racial derivations. Large numbers of Negro troops are overseas or en route and will be given every opportunity to win battle honors and demonstrate their worth in actual combat. The war Department had every intention of continuing its past efforts to make the best possible use of its available manpower in the prosecution of the war without regard to race, religion, color, or other unmilitary considerations.”
I believe the rumors which you referred to may have arisen to some extent from announcement that because of changing military needs, some Negro combat units were to be converted into service organizations. I wish to emphasize that this same policy has been applied to white units as well. Actually many more white than Negro units have been converted to service organizations. All of this has been necessary because of the constantly increasing demands from overseas commanders for service units in excess of those available. This conversion in units, however, does not prevent Negro soldiers desirous of combat service from serving with combat units if they are physically qualified. Liberal provision has been made for the acceptance of qualified men in the proper age groups by combat organizations upon application by any soldier. This process is now going on within the Army at the rate of hundreds a day. The reverse, of course, is equally true; men in combat organizations who are obviously better suited in service commands are likewise given the opportunity to transfer.
The statement in your letter that there are only “a few Negro troops” in the Pacific areas is not correct. The 93rd Division, composed entirely of Negro troops, is in the South Pacific, and an element of this unit, the 24th Infantry, is now in action on Bougainville. In commenting on the activity of this unit in his press conference on May 4th, the Secretary of War stated: “Negro troops of the 24th Infantry, supported by tanks, crossed the Mavavia River (on Bougainville) and drove the enemy from the beach in an eastward enlargement of our perimeter. These troops are gaining experience and giving a good account of themselves.”
The War Department has made every effort to avoid discrimination against any individual or group. In correcting an impression to the contrary you will be rendering a real service to the Army and to the nation.
G. C. Marshall
Mr. Christopher La Farge
Writers’ War Board
122 East 42nd Street
New York 17, New York