Staff Sergeant Edward A. Carter, Jr.
Sgt. First Class Edward A. Carter was one of only seven African Americans who belatedly received the Medal of Honor for their heroic actions during World War II. As a warrior, Edward A. Carter Jr. had few peers. 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.
Born in Los Angeles in 1916 to Reverend E. A. Carter, a traveling missionary, and Mary Carter, a native of Calcutta, India, Carter grew up in India and moved to Shanghai, China, where he attended a military school. While in Shanghai, he ran away from home and joined the Chinese Nationalist Army fighting against invading Japanese. Carter had to leave the Nationalist Army because he was not yet 18.
Edward Carter, Jr. eventually made his way to Europe and joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, an American volunteer unit supporting the Spanish Loyalists fighting against Gen. Francisco Franco's fascist regime during the Spanish Civil War. Carter eventually made his way to the United States and enlisted in the Army in 1941. Because of his war-fighting experience, he stood out among other recruits. In less than a year, he was promoted to staff sergeant.
In 1944 Staff Sergeant Edward Carter, Jr. was shipped to Europe and ended up assigned to supply duties. When General Eisenhower ran short of combat-arms replacements in December 1944, he instituted the volunteer Ground Force Replacement Command for rear-echelon soldiers of all races. By February 1945, a total of 4,562 black soldiers were serving in units up to company size attached to previously all-white infantry and armored divisions.
When the opportunity to fight arose, Carter gave up his sergeant's stripes and volunteered for an all-black infantry platoon. On March 23, 1945, Carter heroically acted when the tank on which he was riding was hit by bazooka fire. Dismounted, Carter led three soldiers across an open field. In the process, two of the men were killed and the other seriously wounded.
Carter continued alone and was wounded five times before being forced to take cover. 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 in 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.
As a result of his heroic actions, Carter was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. More than 30 years later, the Army conducted a study from 1995 to 1996 to determine why no African Americans received the Medal of Honor during World War II. After reviewing the cases of nine African Americans, Congress decided to award seven of the individuals, including Carter, the Medal of Honor.
Staff Sergeant Edward Carter's citation for the Medal of Honor reads:
For extraordinary heroism in action on 23 March 1945, near Speyer, Germany. When the tank on which he was riding received heavy bazooka and small arms fire, Sergeant Carter voluntarily attempted to lead a three-man group across an open field. Within a short time, two of his men were killed and the third seriously wounded. Continuing on alone, he was wounded five times and finally forced to take cover. As eight enemy riflemen attempted to capture him, Sergeant Carter killed six of them and captured the remaining two. He then crossed the field using as a shield his two prisoners from which he obtained valuable information concerning the disposition of enemy troops. Staff Sergeant Carter's extraordinary heroism was an inspiration to the officers and men of the Seventh Army Infantry Company Number 1 (Provisional) and exemplify the highest traditions of the Armed Forces.
At the height of his career Carter was even close to General George S. Patton, serving as one of the general's guards. Patton had no room for prejudice in the ranks. They had a strong bond with the fact they both believed they had been visited by a spirit who foretold accomplishments on the battlefield.
Carter returned to Los Angeles in to a hero's welcome. After a short stint running his own business, he tried to re-enlist but was refused because of unfounded allegations that, as a result of his affiliation with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, his knowledge of the Chinese language, and a Welcome Home Joe Dinner, he had communist contacts and allegiances. In 1999 the Carter family received a formal apology from the U.S. Army and President Clinton, and a hero's legacy was restored.
Staff Sergeant Edward Carter, Jr. died of lung cancer on January 30, 1963, in the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, California.