he 2nd Ranger Infantry Company (Airborne) has the distinction of
being the first, last, and only all-black Ranger unit. First, because
Ranger training had never before been offered to black soldiers. Last,
because in late 1951, after several months of intense combat, 2nd Company and
all other airborne Ranger infantry companies were inactivated. Only, because
that was how it happened. One group of elite soldiers trained, fought, and was
disbandedbut not before leaving behind a legacy of heroism and honor.
Prior to the Korean War it was commonly thought that blacks would not fight if
placed in combat situations, and white soldiers would not follow the orders of
black officers. Only through the exemplary performance of soldiers such as the
Buffaloes of the 92nd Infantry Division in Italy in World War II did we begin to
dispel these myths.
After Executive Order 9981, which was signed into law on 26 July 1948 by
President Harry S Truman to desegregate the American military, the Army was
the last of our services to comply. In 1950, during the 2nd Ranger Company’s
training at Fort Benning and in 1951 while in Korea, the black soldiers of the
2nd Ranger Company were very much living two lives: one as highly trained,
respected members of the elite Ranger forces, and another as black servicemen
subject to the laws of segregation. In combat, all soldiers were
colorblindhospitals and aid stations treated everyone together, and the rules
of segregation that dominated civilian situations at home did not exist.
Stateside, these were years of uncertainty, racial tension, and a sense of
inevitable, lasting changes to come. But unless you were overseas, under fire,
and in close combat, the concepts of respect, racial equality, and civil rights
often did not apply. Nonetheless, segregation was costly and inefficient for the
military, particularly during a time when armed forces manpower was needed.
When Rangers from 2nd Company boarded a plane for their historic combat
jump at Munsan-ni, one Ranger made the comment that “it took the Chinese to
integrate the American Army,” and he was right. The Chinese Intervention in
Korea was a wake-up call for Army integration: there was a realization that if we
did not use black troops we could lose this war.
The changes necessitated by desegregation did not come easily and were
accompanied by many awkward moments. Even over fifty years after the
inactivation of the Ranger companies, the authors and those Rangers who aided
them in the completion of this book found desegregation difficult to discuss.
Nonetheless, the events that shaped America’s first, last, and only all-black
Ranger unit are described from its activation in 1950 to inactivation in August
1951, as compiled by the unit’s Executive Officer and two sergeants, with help
from many 2nd Rangers who served alongside the authors. In the military the
old World War II policy that no black officer would command white personnel,
maintained by the 92nd Infantry Division, contributed to racial tension.
But there also were other times when white soldiers turned against bigotry
and stood with blacks to demand equality. For example, Lieutenant Richard E.
Robinson, the only black in the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team
(RCT), got there because the white officer paratroopers of his Officer
Candidate Class who were singled out to join the 187th Airborne RCT said they
would not go without him. Major Joe Jenkins, S-1 of the 187th, offered the
opportunity to all of the officersexcept Robinson, because “no colored
soldiers” were in the 11th Airborne Division. But because the rest refused to go
without Robinson, on 20 October 1950, when the 187th RCT jumped at
Sukch’on, Korea, Robinson became the first black paratrooper in the history of
the U.S. Army to make a combat jump.
Yet, nearly a decade after black mess attendant Dorie Miller, U.S. Navy,
valiantly fired from the deck of the USS West Virginia while the ship was under
attack in Pearl Harbor, using a machine gun he could not have trained officially
to use, white soldiers and prominent military figures continued to question
whether blacks had the courage and desire to perform ground combat duty, to
fight for their country. Members of the 2nd Ranger Company did, and this
book has been written to record those events and commemorate their place in
The Korean War has been called “the Forgotten War,” and in many ways it
would be comforting to forget segregation and the efforts that were required to
desegregate the military as well. But segregation was not just a dreamit is a
part of American history and should neither be forgotten nor overemphasized.
Unless we show our descendants how to see beyond the past, racism will
remain; and true equality, in which all individuals are treated without preference
or prejudice, will never be achieved.
After the Korean War, many of the 2nd Rangers decided that they had
“found a home” in the Army. Some took their Ranger expertise to a different
branch of service (such as James Taylor, Navy SEAL, or James Allen, Roland
Hodge, and William Rhodes, U.S. Air Force), but in addition to those few, 64 of
140 Rangers who served in the 2nd Ranger Company from 1950 to 1951 retired
from the military after twenty years of service. Approximately fifteen Rangers
later became officers. This was an exceptional company of men. For many,
their Korean War experiences left a lasting impression that would shape their
lives. Likewise, their experience in the first, last, and only all-black Ranger unit
left a lasting impression on the military.
Master Sergeant Edward L. Posey
(U.S. Army, Retired)