92nd Infantry Division
The 92nd Infantry Division was reactivated for duty in World War II on October 15, 1942, less than a year after Pearl Harbor. Immediately after activation its units were distributed among four military encampments: Fort McClellan, Alabama; Camp Atterbury, Indiana; Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky; and Camp Robinson, Arkansas. Seven months later, all components of the Division arrived at Fort Huachuca, Arizona to continue training before deployment overseas. The division was composed of Black enlisted personnel and a mix of black and white officer personnel. All senior commanders were white.
During April, 1944, at the completion of Corps Maneuvers in the vicinity of Merryville and De Rider, Louisiana, the division commander, Major General Edward M. Almond, announced that the 92nd Division would join the Fifth U.S. Army in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. The first unit to sail overseas was the 370th Combat Team (CT 370) which departed the United States on July 15, 1944.
The regimental combat team went into the line on the Fifth Army front in Italy in August, 1944. Ten minutes later they went into action against some of the best trained and seasoned troops Hitler had in his army.
From then on, until the Italian campaign finally ended with the surrender of a million crack German troops in April 1945, the 92nd Division fought in General Mark Clark’s Fifth Army. Some of them were in the line as long as 68 days at a stretch, more that 2 months.
It is one of the marvels of the war that the 92nd Division with an enlisted personnel made up almost entirely of Black soldiers from the South, who had been sent out to work in the fields before they were even adolescents, and who in many cases never had a chance to learn to read or write. They had grown up in an area where they and their people were always treated as inferiors and sometime less than humans. Despite this stayed in there week in and week out, through some of the harshest fighting in the whole war, against Hitler’s best, a superb army of self-assured German veterans fighting with all they had to protect their homeland from the attack rolling up from the South.
The 92nd Division consisted of approximately 12,000 officers and men, including some 200 white officers and 600 black officers. Its enlisted personnel was all black - a majority of them rated as IV and V, the lowest grades in the Army classifications. This was largely due to the fact that three-fourths of them came from Southern States, where educational opportunities for blacks were practically non-existent. And the 92nd Division was activated before the Army educational program - designed to carry a man only through the fourth grade in school - got under way. But these men - ill equipped as they were - did their job. They stayed in there, giving their best, day in and day out, seesawing back and forth through the rain and cold and mud, locked in a titanic death struggle with an experienced, magnificently trained enemy who knew all the tricks and who had never known defeat.
Through the whole bitter experience, the men of the 92nd Division were dogged by the racial prejudice and segregation that had followed them from the Southern camps where they trained at home. Other troops might yield temporarily, but there was no comment. But if the 92nd Division lost a yard one day - even though they might gain it back the next day - the reports went back across the Atlantic and soon theirs from home would tell them of loud-mouths screaming, even on the floor of Congress, that the Negro soldiers were cracking, that the Negro soldiers were no good.
The Fifth Army in which the 92nd fought was made up of British, American, Brazilian, French, Italian, Greek, Polish, Palestinian, New Zealand, and East Indian troops. It was in this Fifth Army that the Japanese Americans so greatly distinguished themselves - the Japanese American 100th Infantry Battalion, one of the first outfits to receive a Presidential Unit Citation for fighting in Italy.
On April 30, 1945, General Clark announced that the long, weary, bitter campaign, begun on the beaches of Salerno in September 1943, had ended. His polyglot troops had so smashed the German armies in Italy that they had been virtually eliminated as a military force. Nearly 1,000,000 Germans in Northern Italy and Western Austria laid down their arms in unconditional surrender on May 2, 1945, at 2 p.m. The surrender had been signed in the royal palace of Caserta on April 29, by representatives of the German commander, Col. Gen. Heinrich von Vietinghoff-Scheel, and of the Allied Mediterranean commander, Field Marshall Sir Harold R. L. G. Alexander.
On the day the campaign in Italy ended, the 92nd Division had lost almost one-fourth of its men through casualties. Three hundred and thirty had been killed in action, 2,215 wounded, and 616 were missing in action.
A soldier of the 92nd Division, Private Woodall I. Marsh, of Pittsburgh, Pa., was the first Black to win the Silver Star in Italy. He got it for taking 12 wounded paratroopers from the front lines to safety in his truck, after officers said it could not be done.
When he was told that he could not make it because the water of a raging torrent he had to ford to get to the wounded paratroopers was too deep, Private Marsh replied: "Well, there’s dirt underneath ain’t there?" and he proceeded to ford it.
Under terrific enemy fire, he drove his truck through water up to the hubs of the wheels to get to the wounded men. On return trip, he tried another route, but it turned out to be just as bad. He had to dig his truck out of the muck and mire again and again. For 30 minutes during the trip, the Germans were trying to get him and his truck with heavy mortar and artillery fire.
Another hero of the 92nd Division was Second Lieutenant Vernon J. Baker, of Cheyenne, Wyoming, a rifle platoon leader. He won the Distinguished Service Cross for the bravery he exhibited in action on 2 days, April 5 and 6, 1945, near Viareggio, Italy. The citation reads: "Second Lieutenant Baker, demonstrated outstanding courage and leadership in destroying enemy installations, personnel, and equipment during his company’s attack against a strongly entrenched enemy in mountainous terrain".
"When his company was stopped by the concentrated fire from several machine-gun emplacements, he crawled to one position and destroyed it, killing three Germans. Continuing forward, he attacked an enemy observation post and killed its two occupants".
"With the aid of one of his men, 2nd Lieutenant Baker attacked two more machine-gun nests, killing or wounding the four enemy soldiers occupying these positions. He then covered the evacuation of the wounded personnel of his company by occupying an exposed position and drawing the enemy’s fire".
On the following night 2nd Lieutenant Baker voluntarily led a battalion advance through enemy mine fields and heavy fire toward the division objective. Second Lieutenant Baker’s fighting spirit and daring leadership were an inspiration to his men and exemplify the highest traditions of the armed forces.
One of the officers of the 92nd Division awarded posthumously the Silver Star for gallantry in action was Captain Charles F. Gaudy, Jr., of Washington, D.C. On October 12, 1944, Captain Gandy was ordered to deploy his company in position on difficult mountainous terrain. His citation states: "He personally led his company out in broad daylight and, through further reconnaissance and by personal example and leadership, succeeded in getting his entire company across a canal, with an abrupt 12-foot wall. This was accomplished in rain and under extremely heavy enemy fire".
Halting the company at its intermediate objective, Captain Gandy went forward alone to reconnoiter the route of the next movement. While engaged in this activity, he was mortally wounded by enemy machine-gun fire. His outstanding gallantry and leadership in combat exemplifies the heroic traditions of the United States Army.
Lieutenant Theodore O. Smith, aged 24 years, was killed in action in Italy on February 11, 1945, 1 month after he had been awarded the Silver Star for his bravery in leading a small patrol on a mission that netted the Americans two Nazi prisoners and four enemy dead. According to the citation, Lieutenant Smith led his 14-man patrol 2 miles across a mined area through enemy lines to climb up a mountain where the enemy was holding out.
Risking his life to lead the mission, his action made in possible for the Americans to accomplish their objective and capture a strategically important point on the Fifth Army front. Lieutenant Smith was a native of the District of Columbia. He was a graduate of the Dunbar High School and received the degree of bachelor of arts from Howard University, where he was a captain in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.
First Lieutenant John M. Madison was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action with the 92nd Division in Italy on February 8 and 10, 1945. The first action for which he was cited occurred after his company had taken its objective against light enemy resistance. Immediately afterwards the enemy subjected the position to terrific artillery and mortar fire which killed or wounded all officers except Lieutenant Madison.
"Extremely heavy casualties and the loss of leadership disorganized the company, and it sought to withdraw," the citation said. "First Lieutenant Madison quickly gathered the remaining 15 men, and regardless of continuing enemy fire put them into positions to hold the hill. By sheer personal courage and disregard for his own life, First Lieutenant Madison inspired his men to repel three separate enemy counterattacks aimed exclusively at their position.. He withdrew only upon orders. Two days later he captured seven enemy soldiers while leading his company in an attack routed through an extensive unmarked mine field". Lieutenant Madison was killed in subsequent action with the 92nd Division on April 5, 1945.
First Lieutenant William E. Porter, of Indianapolis, Indiana, who was also awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action, exposed himself to enemy arms while his company advanced on its objective under a hail of machine-gun fire. With his unit pinned to the ground, Lieutenant Porter succeeded in eliminating the machine-gun nest, killing the German officer in command and forcing the gun crew to surrender.
During a patrol action Staff Sergeant Mansfields Mason, of Baltimore, Maryland, distinguished himself by heroic conduct. Acting on information that some Germans had been seen to enter a house near a village, his patrol surrounded the building and effectively covered all of its approaches. Sergeant Mason then crawled to within 30 feet of the house in the face of withering machine-gun fire. He hurled three hand grenades into the building and shifted his position slightly. Out walked five Germans, including an officer, to surrender.
While overseas the 92nd received 12,096 decorations - including 2 Distinguished Service Crosses, 1 Distinguished Service Medal, 16 Legion of Merit awards, 7 Oak-Leaf Clusters to Silver Stars, 95 Silver Stars, 6 Soldier’s Medals, 723 Bronze Stars, 1,891 Purple Hearts, and 7,996 combat infantry badges. It also received 205 commendations.
The 92nd came home during the latter part of 1945, landing in Boston, New York, and Norfolk. Only 4,000 were left of the once 12,000-strong 92nd Division whose ranks, like those of other Divisions that fought overseas, had been thinned by transfers, discharges, and deaths.