Friday, March 29, 2019

U.S. Army Desegregation in Korea: A Primer

Ollie Linn (1923-1975) of Farm Haven, Madison County, Mississippi.

1950. This nasty little war in Korea caught the U.S. Army unprepared to mobilize its assets according to traditional doctrine. The Army was only two years past the issuance of President Truman's Executive Order 9981, which essentially declared that all branches of the military should dismantle the human resource provisions that separated personnel roles and accommodations on the basis of race. The language of the E.O. provided a bit of wiggle room:

"This policy shall be put into effect as rapidly as possible, having due regard to the time required to effectuate any necessary changes without impairing efficiency or morale."

The issuance of an executive order does not constitute compliance. The Army, as evidenced by collective action across its command structure, made it a point to largely disregard Truman's order. For this reason, the first U.S. troops deployed in Korea were drawn from occupation forces in Japan that thoroughly segregated black (negro) troops from all others.  Segregation was achieved up thorough and including entire regimental structures.

The exigencies of war in Korea would soon challenge this century-old military custom. Here's how it worked, if you allow the following as a realistic hypothetical.

August 1950:  Combat troops of the U.S. Eighth Army have been pushed down the Korean peninsula into the redoubt known as the Pusan Perimeter.  General Walton Walker lacks sufficient manpower to form a strong, continuous line of defense.  He enjoys limited mobility in the form of trucks that can relay troops from one position to another as needed to repel North Korean forces, which have not only superior numbers, but also the initiative as to when and where they wish to attack the perimeter. In other words, Walker's defense was a shell game that required him to move units quickly in order to achieve success.  Among the units holding the perimeter at this time was the all-black 24th Infantry Regiment.

Understand that U.S. combat losses at this time were formidable, with attrition being accounted for by rounding up replacements drawn from non-combat roles in Japan. These clerks, mechanics, military police, intelligence analysts, and others were rushed to Korea by the ship and plane load. Efficiency demands that these vehicles attain a high load factor - why dispatch a 100-seat airplane with only three passengers?  One segregational barrier falls with respect to troop transport to Korea.

Now comes the crucial step.  Replacement troops arrive at a depot in Pusan. They await truck transport to the appropriate units.  Recall that transport capacity is limited; the Eighth Army of 1950 was wholly reliant on equipment left over from World War II.  Trucks are often unreliable.  The replacement depot's personnel officer has a dilemma: he has 100 replacements, 12 of whom are black. The 19th Regiment needs 100 replacements immediately.  The truck capacity for 100 men is available now, but not for long, as some trucks will be dispatched for other tasks.  The officer is forced (gasp!) to fulfil the demand for 100 men by including 12 blacks on the roster.

And it was in this fashion that the U.S. Army made its first meaningful strides toward the integration of its personnel, allowing men of all races to bear arms side-by-side as they fought and died in the "police action" in Korea.

No comments:

Post a Comment