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African American Heroes of the Pacific

February 6, 2013

As we celebrate National African American History Month, we want to take a moment to honor the many African Americans who helped liberate the Pacific Islands during World War II. Many of these men were wounded and killed in action, all during a time when the military was still segregated and so-called “Jim Crow Laws” kept African American soldiers, sailors, marines and coastguard-men from enjoying the same rights and privileges as their white counterparts. Today we are going to take a look at some historic photos taken as African Americans helped liberate the Pacific Islands. Though the American society of that time prevented them from enjoying their full rights as citizens, they are no less heroes. Let us all remember their sacrifices and the mark they made upon the history of our Pacific islands:

“A kitchen was set up along the beach for the…labor battalion unloading the boats. This picture shows a couple of the men enjoying a hot meal for a change. Massacre Bay, Attu, Aleutian Islands.” May 20, 1943. (National Archives)

“Cautiously advancing through the jungle, while on patrol in Japanese territory off the Numa-Numa Trail, this member of the 93rd Infantry Division is among the first Negro foot soldiers to go into action in the South Pacific theater.” May 1, 1944. (National Archives)

“Negro messmen aboard a United States Navy cruiser who volunteered for additional duty as gunners. They have been doing proficient work under battle conditions on a task force in the Pacific under the instruction of the officers at the right.” July 10, 1942. (National Archives)

“First Negro Marines decorated by the famed Second Marine Division somewhere in the Pacific (left to right) Staff Sgt Timerlate Kirven…and Cpl. Samuel J. Love, Sr… They received Purple Hearts for wounds received in the Battle of Saipan…” (National Archives)

“Aboard a Coast Guard-manned transport somewhere in the Pacific, these Negro Marines prepare to face the fire of Japanese Defense Battalion, one of two such Negro units in the Corps.” 1945. (National Archives)”

“Surrounded by a veteran crew of Marines who have spent 15 months in the Southwest and Central Pacific, this gun, named the ‘Lena Horne’ by its crew, points majestically skyward. The gun is manned by members of the 51st gunners.” Ca. February 1944. (National Archives)”

“A startling change is affected by Coast Guardsman Dorall Austin, Steward’s Mate third class, at the alarm of general quarters aboard his Coast Guard assault transport somewhere in the Pacific. With the enemy sighted Austin springs from his duty in the ship’s galley to his battle station as a gunner…” (National Archives)

“Marines receiving instruction in the Demolition Course at Montford Point Camp [NC, during intensive combat training in preparation for action in the Pacific.” February 1945. Sgt. L. A. Wilson. (National Archives)”

“American Negro nurses, commissioned second lieutenants in the U.S. Army Nurses Corps, limber up their muscles in an early-morning workout during an advanced training course at a camp in Australia. The nurses, who already had extensive training in the U.S., will be assigned to Allied hospitals in advanced sectors of the southwest Pacific theater.” February 1944. (National Archives)

“A contingent of 15 nurses,…arrive in the southwest Pacific area, received their first batch of home mail at their station.” 268th Station Hospital, Australia. Three of the nurses are Lts. Prudence L. Burns, Inez Holmes, and Birdie E. Brown. November 29, 1943. (National Archives)

“Aboard a U.S. Coast Guard-manned transport somewhere in the Pacific, a group of Negro Marines presents a cheerful front.” (National Archives)

Admiral Nimitz pins the Navy Cross on Doris Miller for his heroic actions during the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941. Miller later died in action aboard the USS Liscome Bay in 1943.

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