In Memoriam - Sergeant Milton Graham 69th Infantry Division
Sergeant Milton Graham
69th Infantry Division
Passed away at his home in Oxnard, California on November 14, 2008
Sergeant Milton Graham
69th Infantry Division
By Lawrence Lee
On December 16, 1944, Adolph Hitler launched a massive counteroffensive in the Ardennes of France that caught the Americans off guard. The German surprise offensive called for Hitler to pull as many forces as he dared away from confronting the Russians on the Eastern Front to augment his attack in the West. Due to the ferocity of the attack and bad weather which initially grounded allied air support, German armor and infantry made astonishing gains, punching a 60-mile wedge, or "bulge"; between British and American forces. However, when the weather cleared on December 24.1944, the allies sought ways to regroup and push the Germans back.
On December 26, 1944, the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized a letter to all the segregated units on Dec. 26, 1944 offering a limited number of African Americans the opportunity to enter into white units fighting on the front line and to replenish front-line ranks. This would be the first and only example of an integrated Army fighting force in W.W.II. The only drawback with the infantry in combat was that any noncommissioned officer who wanted to fight in the integrated units was forced to accept a reduction in rank to private first class. Gen. William W. Crouch, the Army's former Vice Chief of Staff would later characterize this dedication to service by stating, "You have to have a special sense of patriotism that burns in your soul that will allow you to take up that kind of challenge"; and Sergeant Graham took up the challenge by volunteering forth is special assignment.
Out of the 5,000 African American soldiers who responded to this opportunity to fight, Sergeant Graham was one of the 2,221 men who were eventually made it through the screening process and assigned to special training in Noyon, France. After eight weeks of intense training, the troops were organized into 37 rifle platoons of 40 men each, which were then attached to white units of 200 men each. The 69th Infantry Division was one of eight Infantry Divisions assigned African-American soldiers to be amongst its combat soldiers. These men were in so-called "Fifth Platoons." Usually, there were three "Fifth Platoons" assigned to a Division. One in each Infantry Regiment. In the case of the 69th Division, four "Fifth Platoons" were assigned to the 271st, 272nd and 273rd Infantry Regiments as follows: Company K, 271st Infantry; Company F and K, 272nd Infantry; Company G, 273rd Infantry. Private Graham was assigned to G Company, 273rd Infantry Regiment, 69th Infantry Division and sent to protect various posts along the Rhine River.
Not was the 69th Infantry Division one of the first units to integrate blacks and whites but it's legacy also include them being the first military division of all the Allies to meet the Russians in W.W.II. This took place in, and the vicinity, of Torgau, Germany, April 25, 1945.
By the end of the war, Pvt. Graham not only displayed extraordinary discipline, courage, and competence as he participated in the downfall of the racist Third Reich, but along with the other men of the 69th Infantry Division, he unknowingly set the stage for President Harry S. Truman's Executive Order 9980 on July 26, 1948, which lead to the eventual integration of the Armed Forces. White officers later judged that these black soldiers had performed "very well" or "fairly well." Although this experiment proved to be quite successful, the Army withheld a favorable survey on the intermixing of its troops because it would supposedly have undermined southern political support for a postwar peace time draft. After the war, many of these men were either were either reassigned back to a service unit or discharged from the Army. Sgt. Graham transferred to the newly formed United States Air Force and continued to serve with dignity and honor. As for his participation in the 69th Infantry, the United States Army would not publicly acknowledge his service for 53 years. In 1997, in an effort to (1) restore African-American World War II veterans to the prior rank they had renounced when they volunteered for the experiment, (2) to correct military records to reflect combat service rendered, and (3) provide well deserved medals and other awards to those who served, the US Army Review Board officially honored the remaining " 2,221 African American Volunteers" and their families in a ceremony held in Washington, D.C. Sgt. Graham was finally awarded his service awards which also included the long overdue Bronze Star for his meritorious service to the United States of America during World War II.