…and then there was history

Posted: June 11, 2008 in Remember

From Time magazine:

History, as it turns out, is on both their sides. Lee is correct that African-Americans played an instrumental role in World War II, in which more than 1 million black servicemen helped defeat the Axis Powers. Those efforts include significant contributions to the fight for Iwo Jima. An estimated 700 to 900 African-American soldiers participated in the epic island battle, many of whom were Marines trained in segregated boot camps at Montford Point, within Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

Those soldiers were restricted from front-line combat duty, but they played integral noncombat roles. Under enemy fire, they piloted amphibious truck units during perilous shore landings, unloaded and shuttled ammunition to the front lines, helped bury the dead, and weathered Japanese onslaughts on their positions even after the island had been declared secure. According to Christopher Moore, the author of a book about African-Americans’ myriad contributions during World War II, “thousands” more helped fashion the airstrips from which U.S. B-29 aircrafts could launch and return from air assaults on Tokyo, about 760 miles northwest. Hosting that air base, Moore says, was Iwo Jima’s primary strategic importance.

Eastwood’s portrayal of the specific battle is, if narrow, also essentially accurate. Flags Of Our Fathers zeroes in on the soldiers who hoisted the U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi, and this task, memorialized in a famous staged photograph, was accomplished by five white servicemen and a sixth, Ira Hayes, of Pima Indian descent. (His other entry in the Iwo Jima category, Letters from Iwo Jima, is told largely from the perspective of Japanese soldiers.)

Eastwood is also correct that black soldiers represented a small fraction of the total force deployed on the island. That argument doesn’t placate Yvonne Latty, a New York University professor and author of a book about African-American veterans. Black soldiers “had the most dangerous job,” she says. “If you were going to show the soldiers’ landing, you’d need to show [African-Americans] on the beach.” In Flags of Our Fathers, which shows the landing in significant detail, African-Americans appear only in fleeting cutaway shots and in a photograph during the film’s closing credits. (more…)

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