the U.S. Army massacre
by Charlene Muhammad
WASHINGTON-Could the U.S. Army be responsible for the massacre of 1,200 Black soldiers and a 55 year cover-up? A soon to be released book, "The Slaughter--An American Tragedy," states that in 1943, at Camp Van Dorn near Centreville, in southwestern Mississippi, more than 1,200 Black soldiers from the 364th Infantry Division were murdered in cold blood by the Army. The NAACP and at least one congressman take the charges seriously and are calling for an investigation.
The book was written by Carroll Case, a former bank president and free-lance writer from Mississippi. Mr. Case, who is white, researched the book for 13 years and documents his case with eyewitness accounts, letters from soldiers based at Camp Van Dorn at the time and declassified government files.
"Their final riot took place on a night in the late fall of 1943. They (white MPs) shot everything that moved, until nothing did; not one defenseless soldier got away. Then the shooting stopped. Over 1,200 members of the 364th were slaughtered. Their bodies were loaded on boxcars and stacked inside like pulpwood. They were hauled off by train to the south gate of the base where they were buried and lined in long trenches dug by bulldozers. Following this blood bath, records were not only altered, but also destroyed. The Army notified the next-of-kin of the victims, saying that the soldiers were killed in the 'line of duty,' " states Mr. Case in the book.
The remaining members of the 364th were shipped out to remote islands off the coast of Alaska and remained there until the end of the war, according to Mr. Case's book.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) has written Defense Secretary William Cohen asking "for an investigation of the events outlined in Mr. Case's book, and to immediately release all classified or unclassified documents relating to the 364th Infantry Division's service in Camp Van Dorn in 1943."
Rep. Thompson also asked that the NAACP be involved in the investigation "to the greatest extent possible" because NAACP documents "are included in the original complaints regarding Camp Van Dorn."
"We take this matter very seriously and plan to get to the bottom of it," said John Johnson, director of the NAACP's Armed Services and Veteran Affairs Division. Mr. Johnson has written Army Secretary Louis Caldera requesting an immediate investigation and release of all information pertaining to the alleged atrocity at Camp Van Dorn.
The NAACP has also been unable to "locate any official response from the War Department" to a letter dated June 30, 1943, concerning conditions at Camp Van Dorn, before the alleged incident. A copy of the letter is included in Mr. Van Dorn's book.
In addition to a letter sent to the NAACP by a soldier from the all-Black 364th, the book contains copies of letters from a soldier to the Philadelphia Tribune, one of the oldest Black newspapers in the country. "I appeal to you for some kind of investigation of this matter and hope that the negro-hating man of the United States can be made to see the light," wrote Corporal Anthony Smirely, Jr. "I have heard of what may happen if I write, but I am not afraid of the consequences if my story can bring to life the truth of the matter," he continued.
According to the book, the 364th (about 3,000 men) was transferred to Camp Van Dorn from Phoenix, Ariz., after widely-publicized incidents in which hundreds of the division's men were considered to be "riotous." When the 364th reached Camp Van Dorn, the unit had the reputation of being disorderly, rebellious and even mutinous. Arriving in the deep South with such a "reputation" created a dangerous and volatile environment for the men, the town's people and the Army.
Vernon Poindexter, a Black veteran, served in Africa and Europe during this period. He recalled there were numerous lynchings of Black soldiers in the South during World War II and when the Black vets returned home. The Black Press reported regularly on events and conditions concerning the Black servicemen.
In the book, The Black Soldier, editors Jay David and Elaine Crane write, "Military posts were the scenes of innumerable clashes between black and white during the war. There were serious riots at Fort Bragg, Camp Robinson, Camp Davis, Camp Lee and Fort Dix."
The Black-owned Amsterdam Star News wrote in 1942, "They cherished a deep resentment against the vicious race persecution which they and their forebears have long endured. They feel that they are soon to go overseas to fight for freedom over there. When their comparative new-found freedom is challenged by southern military police and prejudiced superiors, they fight for freedom over here."
News reports and government records reveal that U.S. military intelligence suspected outside agitators to be responsible for the unrest in the ranks, such as the Japanese, the Germans, Communists, and the Black Press.
History Professor Robert Jefferson of Iowa University is an expert on Black soldiers during World War II. "The years 1942-1944 was one of the greatest periods of racial hostility in America's history ... The large scale integration of the military created a powder keg, especially in the South where now you have armed Black men being asked to risk their lives for America," said Professor Jefferson.
The Case book contains a declassified memo from the Inspector General of the Army to the Deputy Chief of Staff, dated June 8, 1943, on the investigation of "the report of an imminent race riot in the 364th Infantry at Camp Van Dorn." The memo concludes all attempts to restore the division "to a normal status" had been "ineffective and will probably continue to be so in the future."
The memo proposes "action" that is "drastic" and "yet untried ... purging and disciplining" that "should result in bringing definitely home to the sounder thinking members of the unit that the ringleaders must be disclosed, that all tendencies toward mutinous conduct must be suppressed and controlled by them. Further, it will bring home to other colored organizations where unrest is prevalent and mutinous conduct is smoldering that the Army is prepared to take vigorous, disciplinary action to suppress such conduct. The recent marked increase in disturbances wherein colored personnel is involved, indicates that such a notification would not only be timely but appropriate."
The memo also indicates Army authorities were aware that the proposed "drastic action" would have consequences in the Black community, noting "colored newspapers and national organizations will protest the disciplinary measures taken against this regiment."
The Army criticizes author Carroll Case for his research techniques but offers little proof that the massacre didn't occur. "The records aren't under our control; they're in the National Archives. I'm convinced that the allegations aren't true but to do a full investigation, we'll have to have funds authorized," said Army spokesman Lt. Col. Guy Shields.
Army historian Lt. Col. Charles Graul said, one of eyewitnesses has "recanted his story" and a key researcher for the book is dead. Camp Van Dorn was only operational for about two years and "was sold back to the owners in 1947," he added.
According to "The Slaughter," there are missing records and reports from June 8 to December 1943. The missing records include: the Army Inspector General's files from June 8 until the 364th was "unexpectedly" shipped out months later and the "morning reports" for seven out of 20 companies in the 364th. The missing morning reports could account for the approximately 1,200 men alleged to have been killed.
The Final Call has obtained a confidential report on Camp Van Dorn to the War Department's Inspector General dated September 21, 1943. The report concludes that: there exists considerable danger of racial disturbances in the general vicinity; the 364th poses a threat to normal peaceful conditions; and the 364th should be shipped out for overseas duty by November 1, 1943.
"I wouldn't be too surprised if the massacre occurred ... there is a possibility it could have happened; there are very few records of Black soldiers executed during the war in Europe and the Pacific theatre or the numerous racial skirmishes and incidents that took place at this time," said Professor Jefferson.
Perhaps the words of Corporal Smirely, Jr. of the 364th, in a letter to the Philadelphia Tribune, best describe Camp Van Dorn in 1943, "If I fail in what I am undertaking now, I might as well reserve a berth in Hell, for that is what it will be here ... I beg of you to please, from my heart, please do something for the fellows and myself whom are among the unfortunate to be in this State of blood-Negro blood-that is constantly flowing in the streets."
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