> Army: Racism played role in all-black unit's failure
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Racism in All-Black Unit
Army: Racism played role in all-black unit's failure

The Army has rewritten the official history of the all-black 24th Infantry regiment to say racism was at the root of its failures in the Korean War. The regiment was ordered disbanded in 1951 as inept and untrustworthy - igniting a controversy that has continued to this day.

In an effort to set the record straight, the U.S. Army Center of Military History conducted an eight-year investigation that included interviews with more than 400 men who served in the 24th before and during the 1950-53 Korean War.

The study's release coincided with a week of official events in Washington commemorating the end of the Korean War on July 27, 1953 - including the formal dedication of the Korean War Veterans Memorial.

The Army suffered by far the largest share of the more than 33,000 U.S. battle deaths in the war against communist North Korea and its Chinese and Soviet backers. The 24th Infantry regiment fought well in some battles but collapsed in others.

"What is clear is that if the 24th went into battle much as the other regiments in the Eighth Army did - poorly trained, badly equipped and short on experience - it carried baggage none of the others possessed, all the problems of trust and lack of self-confidence that the system of segregation had imposed," the historians wrote in an executive summary of the study.

"Although infrequent, enough instances of genuine bigotry occurred to cement the idea in the minds of black enlisted men that their white officers were racially prejudiced," it said, adding that the mistrust and resentment that built up "ate incessantly into the bonds that held the unit together."

Thus, when the 24th was thrust into battle in July 1950 near Sangju, South Korea, against the North Korean army the lack of cohesion and confidence among the enlisted men was a primary reason the unit fell apart, the historians wrote. When men began to flee the front lines, their white commanders did little more to than return them to their units.

"Some units became so accustomed to withdrawals that their men began to abandon their positions at only the sound of firing or after receiving minor enemy sniper or mortar fire," it said. Other units in Korea experienced similar problems, "but what happened to the 24th was complicated by segregation."

After subsequent failures in August and September near the U.N. perimeter established at Pusan, the white leadership of the 24th blamed the black soldiers - "but they themselves were at least as much at fault," the report concludes.

The 24th, like other U.S. Army units summoned to Korea from U.S. bases in occupied Japan, was in a poor state of readiness from the start. Alcoholism and venereal disease flourished, the report said, and even worse was rampant drug abuse.

"Overall, few in positions of authority were willing to admit that the system of racial segregation was at fault or that a lack of mutual confidence and respect between the black soldier and his white commanders had all but destroyed the sense of oneness, mutual dependency and self-worth in black units that are the chief constituents of good military performance," the historians wrote.

Sept. 22, 1951: The 24th Infantry regiment received formal notice that it was being disbanded.

By The Associated Press Black Soldier, White Army The 24th Infantry in Korea