Veteran of the day | U.S. Army veteran Edward Carter Jr.
Born in May 1916 in Los Angeles, California to missionary parents, Edward Allen Carter Jr.’s early childhood was spent in Calcutta, India, and Shanghai, China.
From an early age, Carter knew he was destined to join the army, and he devoted his studies to learning several languages. He is fluent in Hindi (his mother’s language), Mandarin, English and German. He was so determined to start a military career that he ran away from home and enlisted in the Chinese Nationalist Army when he was 15 years old. Although his tour was short-lived, Carter rose to the rank of lieutenant before being arrested, fired, and quickly returned to his parents.
At the age of 18, Carter attempted to join the United States Army but was rejected due to discrimination. Instead, he traveled to Spain in the late 1930s and joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, an American volunteer unit that fought Spanish Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War. In 1938 the unit was forced to flee to France, and it returned to the United States.
In 1940 Carter met and married his wife, Mildred, in Los Angeles, California. He enlisted in the United States Army in September 1941. However, his basic training in the separate state of Georgia exposed the blatant violence and discrimination towards African American soldiers. Many of those who protested against discrimination often found themselves dishonorably fired. To stay in the military, Carter felt he would have to put up with such behavior, not defending himself against the multiple demotions he would receive because of the color of his skin.
In 1945, reinforcements were needed for the war effort. To join the fight, Carter gave up his staff sergeant stripes to volunteer as a private and deployed to Europe. He was assigned to the Provisional All-Black 1st Infantry Company of the 7th Army and was attached to the 56th Armored Infantry Battalion of the 12th Armored Division. After months of volunteering, his platoon arrived in battle. He eventually served in the Mystery Division, which ordered troops to remove their identification badges so the Germans wouldn’t realize there was an extra tank division.
On March 23, 1945, near Speyer, Germany, Carter and his comrades-in-arms were ambushed by bazooka and small-arms fire. After taking cover, he volunteered to lead a three-man patrol to determine where the enemy was. When one patrolman was wounded and the other two were killed, Carter took it upon himself to advance to the enemy’s location. He was shot three times in the arm, once in the left leg and a bullet went through his hand. Despite his injuries, he continued to crawl forward until he was close to the objective. Because the enemy fire was intense, he hid behind a bank and waited nearly two hours until the enemy found him. Eight enemy riflemen approached him, but Carter managed to kill six soldiers and capture the other two. The prisoners then gave valuable information revealing the location of the enemy and the number of soldiers.
Company commander Captain Floyd Vanderhoff noted Carter’s leadership and bravery, restored his stripes as a staff sergeant, and made him an infantry squad leader. His actions in March earned him a Medal of Honor recommendation, but he did not receive it, at the time, due to his race. Instead, he was awarded the Bronze Star, Combat Action Ribbon, Purple Heart for injuries he sustained, Distinguished Service Cross, and many other citations and accolades.
After World War II, Carter was promoted to Sergeant First Class and attempted to re-enlist, as his time in the Army was nearly expired. However, he was turned down as it was feared he had communist ties due to his early service in China.
In October 1949, Carter was honorably discharged and lived out the rest of his life with his family. He worked in a vehicle tire company.
On January 30, 1963, he died of lung cancer.
More than four decades after his military service, a special commission has been created to identify unrecognized African-American heroism during World War II. The commission named seven men to receive the Medal of Honor. On January 13, 1997, 52 years after that fateful day, Edward Allen Carter III received the Medal of Honor from President Bill Clinton on behalf of his father for his actions in 1945.
We honor his service.