Book Review: “Immortal Valor” | Keisertimes

Terri Schlichenmeyer leaves her review of “Immortal Valor: The Black Medal of Honor Winners of World War II” by Robert Child.

You would need this pin to enter.

Put it on your chest and you will have access to an exclusive club. The pin tells the world what you did, that you were an elite, that you acted with honor. If you deserved the pin, you would wear it with pride. In “Immortal Value” by Robert Child, it’s a beribboned thing that you would certainly have deserved.

Almost since the birth of this country, soldiers who have shown bravery beyond their normal duties have been awarded medals for military merit. According to Child, nearly 3,500 Medals of Honor have been awarded so far in America’s history; “Less than 3%…were awarded to…African Americans…” Of the 500 Medals of Honor awarded for service in World War II, only seven went to black soldiers.

It may not be a surprise. Racism was then commonplace and black soldiers “knew only segregation” which “meant inequality”. Even so, the men in this book did not let racism stop them from serving their country. This did not prevent them from performing exceptional deeds.

Charles Thomas was working at Ford in Dearborn, Michigan when he was drafted into the army. In the midst of the Battle of Climbach, France, Thomas was wounded but continued to lead his men.

If Vernon Baker didn’t see a lot of racism back home in Wyoming, he surely did after he joined the military. Never was this more blatant, however, than when a white officer was given credit for “the actions [which Baker] carried out…”

Willy James was killed trying to reach “his mortally wounded platoon leader”. Edward Allen Carter Jr. was fifteen and living in Shanghai with his missionary family when he volunteered to fight with the Chinese; four years later, he went to the American Embassy and asked to be assigned to Abyssinia with American troops.

George Watson lost his life trying to save one. Ruben Rivers joined the army with his younger brother. John Fox left a prestigious university to attend one with an ROTC program, so strong was his desire to serve…

So what makes these men unique? Author Robert Child explains the rest of the story: in 1993, a study showed that these men had not obtained the honors for which they had been recommended. It took another four years before they finally received their medals, more than five decades after the wars ended. The child tells readers how it happened; he also says that other men are still waiting.

All of this makes “Immortal Valor” part irritation and part story. The former awaits, wrapped in short biographies of these men, Jim Crow tales and tales of bravery so long overlooked. The latter might be a bit of a challenge for civilians: with the stories of American society, it’s a lot of information about battles and dates that, despite everything, vibrates with adrenaline, blood, screams and breathtaking bravery.

Enter “Immortal Valor” knowing this and you will burst into outrage and pride at almost every word. Especially for veterans and their families, this is a book to pick up.

“Immortal Valor: The Black Medal of Honor Winners of World War II” by Robert Child

circa 2022, Osprey Publishing / Bloomsbury $30.00 288 pages

AuthorRobert Child.

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