The Untold Story of D-Day's Black Heroes, at Home and at WarBook - 2015
The injustices of 1940s Jim Crow America are brought to life in this extraordinary blend of military and social history--a story that pays tribute to the valor of an all-black battalion whose crucial contributions at D-Day have gone unrecognized to this day.
In the early hours of June 6, 1944, the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, a unit of African-American soldiers, landed on the beaches of France. Their orders were to man a curtain of armed balloons meant to deter enemy aircraft. One member of the 320th would be nominated for the Medal of Honor, an award he would never receive. The nation's highest decoration was not given to black soldiers in World War II.
Drawing on newly uncovered military records and dozens of original interviews with surviving members of the 320th and their families, Linda Hervieux tells the story of these heroic men charged with an extraordinary mission, whose contributions to one of the most celebrated events in modern history have been overlooked. Members of the 320th--Wilson Monk, a jack-of-all-trades from Atlantic City; Henry Parham, the son of sharecroppers from rural Virginia; William Dabney, an eager 17-year-old from Roanoke, Virginia; Samuel Mattison, a charming romantic from Columbus, Ohio--and thousands of other African Americans were sent abroad to fight for liberties denied them at home. In England and Europe, these soldiers discovered freedom they had not known in a homeland that treated them as second-class citizens--experiences they carried back to America, fueling the budding civil rights movement.
In telling the story of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, Hervieux offers a vivid account of the tension between racial politics and national service in wartime America, and a moving narrative of human bravery and perseverance in the face of injustice.
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Watching movies about World War II, you might be forgiven for thinking that no African American soldiers served in that war. Yet more than two thousand African Americans were on Utah and Omaha beaches on D-Day, a mere fraction of the 130 000 sent to England over the preceding months in anticipation of the invasion of the continent. Most of the African Americans at D-Day were service troops, working as stevedores and truck drivers, but one black combat unit participated, the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion. Over six-hundred men strong, the battalion was spread out over more than 125 landing craft arriving on the beaches on June 6, and in the weeks that followed. Their job was to raise a defensive curtain into the skies, protecting the invading forces from low altitude bombing runs and strafing by the Luftwaffe. Yet there is nary a black face to be seen anywhere in the storming of Omaha Beach depicted in such films as Saving Private Ryan. But they were there, and Forgotten is Linda Hervieux’s effort to write those men back into their rightful place in history.
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