29 Nov 1942 — Camp Gruber, Oklahoma(World War II)
Growing up I was fortunate enough to live with my immediate family, as well as, my maternal grandparents. My buddy was my PamPaw(that's "Grandpa" for those of you who are not familiar with the Southern vernacular for grandfather). His War experience was secretive and talked about in code like some special "OPS" assignment under lock and key with the Pentagon. I learned about the " foxhole" from my aunts and uncles-as my PamPaw was known to jump over the furniture into an imaginary fox hole to the unexpected amusement of his younger children. As adults in turn, they passed these experiences of youthful folly on to my generation with laughter, but with an anewed adult perspective that their P.O.W. father had been suffering from, what is known today as PTSD(Post Tramatic Stress Disorder). It's affect would impact the man they called "daddy" and my generation called "PamPaw".
When he died my family began to tell his story of War, racism and abandonment. These stories-some first-hand accounts from my PamPaw; others from my grandmother,his young bride during WWII; yet others would come from his children, family, friends and persons in Belguim he never met-gave way to my questions, anger, sadness and voice about the men of the 333rd & 969th. Where were the books about these men? Why had they never received their medals? Who has the information?
My PamPaw and his comrades gave their lives, blood-sweat & tears only to have their efforts, omitted by segregation, ignored by racism, erased by time, lost in a shuffle of politics/wars, burned with 'Archival records in 1973, and forgotten by the generations. Somehow through the winds of time these Banned Brothers are telling their stories through a new generation and a renewed interest in the "Great Generation".
There have been hundreds of stories of bravery during WWII yet little, if any, addresses the role of the "Colored/Negro/African American Soldier. Through my research and these entries I hope to reach my daughter, and a new generation. My wish is to Expose her to the man she calls "Mr. Fred" and the other African American men who were Banned from equality, but united as brothers to show they were equally qualified to fight on the Battle grounds of Europe.
Winter in Northern Europe is not drastically different than winters in the Midwest, U.S.A., it's cold, snows and is unforgiven to human nature. In December of 1944 it was exponentially unbearable. It was one of the coldest Winters ever for the War torn battle grounds of Northern Europe. The men of the segregated "colored" 333rd Field Artillery Battalion,who had been on the front line since coming ashore at Utah Beach in Normandy, it was, for most, the first time these "Southern Boys" had seen snow. Unfortunately for the soldiers of the 333rd FAB the cold weather would be the highlight of the 1944 Christmas Season.
Let me take you back. Life for the men of the 333rd and the 969th Field Artillery Battalion started in 1942. These men, one being my grandfather Pvt. Fred Jones,had been called to arms during the United States entry into World War II. Some were enlisted men; the majority were drafted by "Uncle Sam"(the government). For my grandfather-whom all the grandchildren affectionately called, "PamPaw"(yes! a Southern nickname)it would be a year of unforgettable events.
In May of 1942 his young mother(my great-grandmother) suddenly died of a heart-attack only in her early 40s. Still a newlywed(my grandparents had only married the year before), he was looking forward to becoming a new father and celebrating his one year wedding anniversary the next Month. By November 1942, my grandfather was inducted into the United States Army and was heading for Camp Gruber in Oklahoma; So would several other hundred young men, husbands, fathers and sons of the gallant men whose actions during the Ardennes Defense would go unnoticed, unrecorded, unspoken, and forgotten for over a half century.
Like everything else during the 1940s the United States Military,including Eisenhower's, Patton's and Montgomery's Army, was segregated. It was no surprise when the men, who would form the 2 segregated all "colored" artillery battalions of the 333rd & 969th, came together at Camp Gruber they questioned, " What are we fighting for........." . Fighting for whom, when, where, under what conditions, and how soon, if ever, would they be called to the front? Those questions may have been general among all United States citizens at the time,however, for the negro soldiers at Camp Gruber, it was a double-edged sword; See these men were United States citizens, many living under the foot of segregation and the iron-dumb of "Jim Crow".
These "colored 'boys' "understood a few basic [unofficial] rules about the United States in 1942: first, Segregation was a legal Stratification of government; second, Southern Jim Crow was a 64 year old terrorist institution( the Hayes-Tilden Compromise of 1877 proceeded Plessy v. Ferguerson of 1896 as the "reign of terror" for African American Southerners), 3rd, poverty was known to most as far back as their grandfather's father time during the eras of Emancipation & Reconstruction; and most important, racism and survival was a chess game where Southern born "Colored" people were the pawns.
These unscripted "rights of passage",for African Americans living in the United States, would help the men of the 333rd survive racism and segregation at Camp Gruber Oklahoma, Tattenhall, England, The Western Front(from Utah Beach to the Ardennes and back) and in the Stalag as Prisoners-Of-War(P.O.W.) from 1942-1946. They knew this was not their war, their's was domestic, majority Southern, Taylor-made;real and back home in civilian life waiting their return. Would life be the same? Would they ever be recognized for their bravery once back on Southern or United States soil?
The Negro Soldier's training at Camp Gruber saw the face of racism and fascism, and it was not some Austrian with childhood issues and a narrow minded idealogy living in Germany. For these men he lived in the United States as a de facto way of life in the South and a de jure existence in the Armed Services . Moreover, they also knew life in the Northern, as well as the Western, United States often came with little relief from racism, yet offered opportunity, although limited. It also was masked the the appearance that Northern "indoctrination" regarding race, class and social struture was liberal, free and open to the " negro" cause--a false representation of the historical facts as taught to children in school for generations.
In November of 1942, my grandfather along with hundreds of other young, naive, brave, skilled, unskilled, educated, dropouts, city slickers and country bumpkins reported to Camp Gruber, Oklahoma. They were now the sons of the United States Army. These men would be drilled into formation; taught to be soldiers and attached to the 333rd & 969th Field Artillery Battalion( the 333rd & 969th FAB were reactivated from a Field Artillery Regiment from World War I). During their training at Camp Gruber, the men of the 333rd & 969th experienced the segregated lifestyle they had lived in civilian life. Their clean-cut, well-mannered and military uniformed demeanors,still, only entitled the unit to segregated accommadations; not allowed, by law, to house, eat, be entertained, trained or to bath with fellow White Units. The segregated accommadations were also extended to weekend leave or day passes(during the War some millitary training installations restricted "negros" to on-base or no leave or passes to the cities and towns where they were stationed. Since most of these installations were in rural or Southern towns, the tention of the Southern milieu and it's perspective("steorotypes") of 'Colored boys' in Uniform often set the stage for violent attacks. With a move to "curtail" such events at Camp Gruber, "Negro" troops gained little to no interaction with the local community they would one day 'protect and serve' overseas).
Unlike most "Negro" Soldiers during WWII, who were restricted to the lowest grade duties(latrine, cooking, cleaning, cargo, buring, etc.),the 333rd & 969th FAB would see the battlefields of the European Theatre Operations or ETO. Completing training(most, including my Grandfather, were trained and had perfected use of the 155 MM M1 Howitzer-Truck Drawn) at Camp Gruber in 1943, the 333rd & 969th FAB would be staged at Camp Shanks, OrangeBurg, New York after getting the call to go over seas. Yet again the African American soldiers, from Camp Gruber and the deep South, would experience racism, as segregation continued to plague these brave soldiers. The Government, who had known the bravery of the African American male since the Colonialist Militia, still could not move past federal segregated law,national & international sterotypes and regional & local fears regarding the use of 'colored'/"negro Soldiers during World War II.
Before departing for Europe there would arise the issue of "Where will the 'Colored' troops be staged once overseas?" One of many questions that would arise as the Government continued to call African American men to fight overseas. By 1944 the men of the 333rd & 969th FAB had, finally, departed for the ETO, where they would be stationed at Tattenhall, England.
Tattenhall, a small town in Northwest England, probably had never seen African Americans prior to 1943, yet it is here the men of the 333rd & 969th(and many other African American men )would find themselves once they departed for the ETO. One of the few places that would "accept" African American troops(Negro newspapers wrote about ,and various persons in the African American community talked about the treatment of the "Negro Soldier" during this time period in contrast to certain "privileges" German POWs were given in the South ). The restless nights, thinking of the unknowns; what next? and When? kept their stay in England very focused on why they were there, at least from my Grandfather's perspective, "..... you never knew what was to be your role in that War, you set and waited; waited and set. Then one day we were told to get moving, it was time for the 'show'! At the time we had no idea that show would change our lives, and history forever."
Camp Gruber's training and segregation would be the Cruise ship, and Tattenhall paradise compared to the Hurricane-Of-Hell that would be the push from Utah Beach to Germany. Along the way the Germans would push back creating one of the greatest war battles of all times in the Ardennes Wintery Forrest, known as The Battle of the Bulge.