Proud and Humble

This is a story I have wanted to write since I left America in August, 1942-the story of colored troops in actual combat, exchanging lead with the enemy. I covered many miles to be on the spot when they began writing a glorious page in the history of the North African campaign. But now that I have seen our lads in action on the Tunisian front, I am both proud and humble.

I am proud because they covered themselves with glory as well as with mud-and humble because I cannot tell the story as it should be told.

A correspondent can have only a bird's-eye view of a battle front such as this one, and when I found a field artillery unit blasting the Germans out of the mountains just before we took Gabes on the Tunisian front, I took a front-row seat for an hour without actually knowing the full importance of the action.

It was early one morning that I sat on a ridge behind big guns manned by colored troops in a wooded area. Every time the lads cut loose with a barrage, the earth trembled and my ears roared.

Having no cotton, I stuffed pieces of cloth in my ears and held my ground. These men must remain anonymous for the present because there was no time for taking names. Also, the show was not one-sided. The enemy found our range with his heavy stuff, and I learned what it means to be close to bursting shell fire.

It was murderous. Time after time, both sides sounded off simultaneously and whole mountain vibrated. Interspersed was the roar of tanks charging down a highway with their guns blazing. Machine guns chattered off to one side, and all hell seemed to break in trip-hammer spurts.

During a lull, I lit a cigarette and wondered who was winning. There was no way of knowing. These colored soldiers firing away throughout the morning never saw their target. They had to wait for reports, as I did, until late that day.

An officer coming back after the advance told me that colored artillerymen did a marvelous job of blasting the Germans out of their mountain strong-hold, making it possible for tanks and infantry to gain considerable mileage.

The next day I tried to find these lads for interviews, but they had moved on without leaving a forwarding address. To understand this war you have to think in terms of pitched battles.

All our forces are mobile, and after winning a position, they don't dig in. Instead, they load up and move to the next mountain ridge. A regiment or an entire division can evacuate an area in an incredibly short time. Once you lose sight of an outfit, you may never see it again.

Near the front line I encountered an aviation quartermaster outfit with four colored officers: Lieut. Edward R. Woodwar of Pineville, La., who feels at home every place he goes; Lieut. Milton B. Wright of Washington, 2nd Lieut. Richard D. Hill of Indianapolis, Ind., whose brother, Lieut. Louis G. Hill, is still in America. Another brother, Cpl. Robert Hill, is still in North Africa.

I must emphasize that every unit near the front is a combat unit. All our quartermasters, engineers and truck drivers are subject to encounters with the enemy day and night, and all are prepared to fight their way out of a crack.

You can be sure that every man in Tunisia whose name I write in stories is really helping push the Germans out of North Africa.

Unshaven and looking like bearded Arabs, living in caves, dirty and tough as leather, our boys are helping every time the Allies gain mileage in this push, which we all hope will last in this theatre of operations.


Copyright 2001-, Terry Muse
Revised: December 30, 2001
Contact: Terry Muse