The soldier that graces the cover of Immortal Valor, Sergeant Edward A Carter, epitomized the courageous warrior. His look of iron-willed determination was not forged during the battles of the Second World War but from an early age. Little did he know when he returned home to Los Angeles from the war that his battles had only begun.
His post WWII life was a story of discrimination, frustration, false accusations but ultimate redemption driven by the efforts of his tenacious daughter-in-law, Allene Carter. Edward Carter was a born soldier, it was his profession and first love, and his transition to civilian life was complicated. Discrimination after the war was widespread, and many black veterans had trouble securing employment, including Carter.
He applied but was turned down for a VA (Veterans Affairs) loan to launch a painting business and eventually landed as the Director of Public Relations for the Eastside Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles. He became chairman of the Chamber’s Veterans Bureau and attempted to form an interracial veterans committee. He saw it as a way black and white veterans could work together to set an example to improve race relations. Unfortunately, the committee never got off the ground.
Frustrated, he returned to the life he knew best and reenlisted in the military. Carter was assigned to Camp Lee, Virginia, in the First Service Group, but it was only temporary. His combat experience was needed, and he became an instructor on loan from the Army in the California National Guard and transferred west to Sacramento. Carter served successfully at different posts across the state.
In the late 1940s, however, it came to light that he had been under investigation and surveillance by the Army Counterintelligence Corps (CIC) for suspected communist sympathies. The investigation stemmed from his service with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain during the Spanish Civil War.
In 1948 Carter was abruptly removed from the National Guard post without explanation and reassigned to the Military Police Provost Detachment in Fort Lewis, Washington. Here he was well respected and successful but still under investigation.
In the spring of 1949, he relocated his family from Los Angeles to Tacoma and was promoted to Sergeant First Class. His future was looking bright, and he announced he planned on reenlisting when his tour was up in September of that year. The Army, however, had other plans. They decided to bar his reenlistment, even though Carter was held in high regard by his superior officers in the Detachment at Fort Lewis.
Higher command made this decision, and Carter, being the warrior that he was, decided to fight against it and defend his honor. Two days after getting the letter of denial for reenlistment, he traveled to the Pentagon in Virginia to plead his case. He asked the Army Inspector General for a hearing but was refused. Army Intelligence also declined to meet with him. Carter even appealed to President Harry Truman in a letter that October declaring his loyalty to the United States, but it was all to no avail.
Carter returned to Tacoma and moved his family to a small farm in Orting, Washington. He taught his boys, “Buddha” and Redd, all about farm life and how to shoot, while he picked up odd jobs here and there, but his family continued to struggle. After seven months of fighting and getting nowhere, Carter decided in desperation to return his Distinguished Service Cross to President Truman via an attorney, Herbert Levy, with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in New York. Carter had lost two civilian jobs as word was spreading that he had been kicked out of the Army for being a communist. Levy held onto the medal and decided to continue a letter-writing campaign, which was ineffective.
By 1954 Carter wrote to Levy that he was forced to concede defeat. He asked for the return of his papers and the DSC. Upon receiving the medal back, he told his wife Mildred that. “he almost broke down and cried. That Army deal I took harder than anything I ever had to. You’ll never realize how tough it was on me.” The family returned to Los Angeles, but Carter joined them later after working several jobs in Tacoma trying to pay off their bills.
When he finally returned to the family, he was a changed man who had grown quiet and despondent. His relationship with Mildred suffered; they’d grown apart. As a result of the turmoil, Carter’s health deteriorated, and he was diagnosed with lung cancer. His condition worsened rapidly, and on January 30, 1963, Sergeant Edward Carter died at the age of just 46.
For over 30 years, that remained the end of the story for Sergeant Carter until he was recognized deservedly with the nation’s highest military honor for valor in 1997, the Medal of Honor. Fortunately, this proud man’s story did not end there. His daughter-in-law, Allene Carter, who attended the 1997 ceremony with President Clinton in Washington, pressed his case further.
She recognized that the military had done a terrible wrong to the legacy of a proud soldier who only sought to serve his country.
Allene went on a crusade to correct the record of Carter’s military service and clear his name. Through the Freedom of Information Act, she requested all of Carter’s associated military records and those of the intelligence agencies. Allene discovered a long campaign to smear an innocent man’s name, which had begun when Carter was at Fort Benning in 1942. She read report after report stating there was no evidence to support the suspicion that Edward Carter was a communist. His investigation was finally closed.
With binders of materials in hand, Allene enlisted the help of the media to clear her father-in-law’s name. She contacted reporter Joe L. Galloway at US News and World Report, who had penned the New York Times bestseller We Were Soldiers Once and Young, with Colonel Hal Moore.
Galloway and his editorial board were stunned with the material Allene Carter had uncovered. On Memorial Day weekend 1999, two years after Carter’s Medal of Honor was awarded, the news magazine decided to make Edward Carter’s story the lead with Sergeant Carter’s picture on the cover.
The damning article began “about how a battlefield hero could be broken by the country he served.” The exposé and public outcry prompted a letter of apology shortly thereafter from President Clinton and a new investigation by the Board of Correction for Military Records.
Not only did the board find medals that Carter was supposed to have received, but they issued a new discharge certificate for his second enlistment for the period 1946–1949 that removed any statement of restriction on his ability to reenlist.
In the conclusion of their written report, the Board of Correction for Military Records stated that:
“The denial of reenlistment at the conclusion of the former service member’s second enlistment was unjust. The allegations of interests by the former service member in conflict with those of the United States are determined to be unfounded based on a review of all the evidence available. The denial of reenlistment should be rescinded with apologies.”
Subsequently, on November 10, 1999, in the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes with Carter’s former commander, Russell Blair, present, the Army made an official public apology. General John Keane, Army Vice Chief of Staff, apologized on behalf of the US Army for the banishment of Sergeant Edward Carter. The proud soldier’s name was officially cleared at last.
Robert Child is the author of Immortal Valor: The Black Medal of Honor Winners of World War II, published by Osprey.