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February 2001

Staff Sgt. Edward A. Carter -- a hero's legacy
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Photo courtesy of Carter Family. Susan Thomas design

Staff Sgt. Edward A. Carter, Jr.
Staff Sgt. Edward A. Carter, Jr. (1944) and the Army Medal of Honor (above right).

Only a handful of African Americans received the Medal of Honor for their heroic actions during World War II. Among the seven who were belatedly awarded Medals of Honor in 1997, Sgt. First Class Edward A. Carter's life reads like a novel.

Edward Carter's life was heroic in itself. Born in Los Angeles in 1916 to Reverend E.A. Carter, a traveling missionary, and Mary Carter, a native of Calcutta, India, Carter grew up in India and moved to Shanghai, China, where he attended a military school. While in Shanghai, he ran away from home and joined the Chinese Nationalist Army fighting against invading Japanese. This would not last however, Carter had to leave the Nationalist Army because he was not yet 18.

He eventually made his way to Europe and joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade -- an American volunteer unit supporting the Spanish Loyalists fighting against Gen. Francisco Franco's fascist regime during the Spanish Civil War.

Carter eventually made his way to the United States and enlisted in the Army in 1941. Because of his war-fighting experience, he stood out among other recruits. In less than a year, he was promoted to staff sergeant.

While in the United States, Carter married Mildred Hoover, a widow with two children, in 1942. They had two more children -- Edward III and William.

In 1944, Carter and his company were sent to Europe and were assigned to transport supplies to the fighting forces. Carter volunteered repeatedly to join combat, but was denied because he was African American. When the Army desperately needed reinforcements, however, the rules changed.

Carter answered the call for volunteers despite being forced to give up his rank. On March 23, Carter's division was on its way to Speyer, Germany, when his convoy was attacked. Carter volunteered to lead three men to gather information on the enemy position. Two of his men were killed, and the third was seriously wounded. As eight enemy riflemen tried to capture him, Carter killed six of them and captured the remaining two.

As a result of his heroic actions, Carter was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

Carter returned to Los Angeles in 1946 to a hero's welcome. After a short stint running his own business, he decided to re-enlist. Carter was quickly promoted to sergeant first class, and the Army chose him to train a new National Guard engineer unit made up entirely of African Americans.

At the end of his three-year tour, Carter tried to re-enlist and was repeatedly denied based on his so-called connection to communism -- fighting with the Chinese and the Spanish. Banished from his military career without a coherent explanation, Carter died of lung cancer in 1963.

More than 30 years later, the Army conducted a study from 1995 to 1996 to determine why no African Americans received the Medal of Honor during World War II.

After reviewing the cases of nine African Americans, Congress decided to award seven of the individuals, including Carter, the Medal of Honor.

"President Clinton asked the families to provide biographies of the recipients," said Allene Carter, Edward A. Carter Jr.'s daughter-in-law who is married to Edward A. Carter III. Allene then began the research that ultimately cleared her father-in-law's name.

"At first I thought I had just stumbled onto this, but the more I look back on it, the more I see I was meant to do it," said Allene.

When Allene started asking family members about Sgt. Carter, they could not remember all the details.

"The family couldn't remember much because it was so long ago."

Then she remembered the trunk that Mildred Carter guarded so intently. It contained her husband's letters.

"After reading some of the letters, I knew I had come across something big. I wanted to get to the bottom of this," said Allene.

Allene launched her intense research by requesting FBI files and contacting the American Civil Liberties Union.

"The irony was the fact that his commanding officers requested that the Army discontinue their unfounded investigation," said Allene.

"When we were presented the Medal of Honor in 1997 there was still an emptiness," said Allene. The Army had not removed the stain on Carter's record.

It was not until 1999 that the Carter family received a formal apology from the U.S. Army and President Clinton -- a hero's legacy was restored.

Edward Carter III and William Carter
Above: Edward Carter III (left) and William Carter stand at their father's grave at Arlington National Cemetary.

Right: Staff Sgt. Edward A. Carter Jr. shows his young sons his army uniform (1947).
Photos courtesy of Carter Family
Staff Sgt. Edward A. Carter Jr. and sons