There’s an old U.S. Marine adage: “The only color that matters in the Corps is green.” That saying got its start in the 1970s under the guidance of Gen. Leonard Chapman, Jr. In the 20th Century, the U.S. military was far ahead of the rest of the country in terms of race relations.
But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its shameful moments.
There are so many stories of American troops overcoming racial bias in World War II because Chapman is right: the only color that mattered was (and still is) green. It would be years before these stories became widespread. It would take even longer for the stories of racial bias without happy endings to come to light.
One such story is that Cpl. John E. James, Jr. James, an African-American drafted in 1941, attended officer training school at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1942. But instead of graduating with the deserved rank of second lieutenant, he was given corporal’s stripes and shipped overseas with an all-black unit.
The U.S. Army rectified that error in judgment on June 29, 2018, according to the New York Times. James was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant at age 98.
“It’s unbelievable,” James, who comes from a military family dating all the way back to the Revolution, told the New York Times. “I thought it would never happen.”
James’ daughter spent three years fighting the Army Review Board to get her father his promotion. It was originally denied because his OCS records were lost in a fire – but they resurfaced in the National Archives. His daughter even had a photo of his graduating class as proof.
(Museum of the American Revolution)
When James was told he wasn’t going to be an officer, he did his duty like any U.S. troop might have during World War II. He took the racial injustice and became a typist in a quartermaster battalion. When he got home after the war, he didn’t even tell his wife.
But 76 years later, with the support of his family and his senator, he found himself reciting the officer’s oath to retired Air Force General and former Chief of Staff John P. Jumper at the Museum of the American Revolution.
There is no word on his date of rank and if it comes with back pay.