Museum exhibit honors WWII hero
By Wayne Wilson
Sacramento Bee Staff Writer
(Published February. 17, 2000)
As a warrior, Edward A. Carter Jr. had
He fought the Japanese as a teenager in China, battled fascism
in the Spanish Civil War and took up arms against the Nazis during
World War II, all with great success.
But one skirmish he couldn't win, at least
in his own lifetime, was the fight he waged at home against ignorance,
bigotry and McCarthyism.
A disheartened Carter died at age 47 in
January 1963 without an inkling that he would become, more than
three decades later, California's most decorated African American
hero of World War II.
President Clinton in 1997 righted some
of the wrongs inflicted on Carter during his lifetime when he
posthumously awarded Carter this country's highest decoration
for heroism in combat, the Medal of Honor.
And at 4:30 p.m. today in Old Sacramento,
the California Military Museum will celebrate Carter's contributions
to the California National Guard and to his exploits on the battlefields
with a new exhibit in the state's official military heritage
museum at 1119 Second St.
"It's taken 31/2 years of research
and pressing the Army to do the right thing, but the recognition
he so deserved is finally on its way," said Carter's daughter-in-law,
Allene Carter, the family member most responsible for uncovering
Carter's unsung heroism. "We're excited about it."
Gregory Tracy, curator of the California
Military Museum, said Carter was "the consummate soldier,
an American hero who continued to hold his country in high regard"
despite the prejudice he encountered throughout his military
"What's amazing is that it only took
him 11 days to earn the Medal of Honor," Allene Carter said,
pointing out that Army policy relegated most African American
troops to behind-the-lines non-combat roles until March 1945.
When the opportunity to fight arose, Carter
gave up his sergeant's stripes and volunteered for an all-black
infantry platoon. Eleven days later,
he found himself pinned down outside an enemy-held warehouse
with five bullets and three shards of shrapnel in his body, the
rest of his patrol some distance away.
Army records show that when Carter refused
to show himself, the Germans sent eight of their own out to get
him, and Carter opened up with his Thompson submachine gun, killing
six of the enemy and forcing the other two to surrender.
Using the captured Germans as human shields,
Carter rejoined his company, pointed out the machine gun nests
he had found on patrol and turned over his prisoners, who provided
information that paved the way for a U.S. advance.
Carter's exploits earned him the nation's
second-highest honor for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross,
and 42 years later, the top prize: the Medal of Honor.
But in the years after the war, with communism
posing a threat, McCarthyism taking hold and racism entrenched
in some segments of society, Carter's colorful past became the
subject of Army counterintelligence inquiries. Incredibly, he
was denied re-enlistment.
Carter had been a soldier since his teens.
The son of a traveling missionary to Shanghai,
Carter attended military school and fought with the Chinese Nationalist
Army until his father got him booted by revealing that he had
yet to turn 18 years old.
After riding a merchant ship to Manila
and being rebuffed when he tried to enlist in the U.S. Army,
Carter joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a group of American
volunteers in the Spanish Loyalists' fight against Gen. Francisco
Franco's fascist regime.
That 2 1/2-year experience exposed Carter
to fierce combat, got him captured and later cast a political
cloud over his loyalty to the United States. Many
of those in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade turned out to be members
of the U.S. Communist Party, a fact that tarnished the reputations
and careers of the hundreds who weren't.
As the Red scare spread, Carter was denied
re-enlistment and his name was deleted from the California National
Guard honor rolls, all "part of a design to destroy his
entire military career," Allene Carter said.
He died a heartsick man, never knowing
the real reason for his country's post-war rejection of him.
But Allene Carter launched a crusade in
1996 to restore her father-in-law's dignity, and Army records
ultimately proved he had been wrongly stigmatized by innuendo
and fear-based hysteria.
Allene Carter and her husband, Edward
A. Carter III, will come to Sacramento from their home in Cerritos
for today's opening.
The exhibit, titled "An American
Hero," celebrates Black History Month at the museum and
demonstrates that, "In a democratic nation, there is an
ability to correct deep injustices," said California Military
Museum Director Donald E. Mattson.
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