African Americans WW2 Study Guide

Vol. 3 - Minority Units of WWII

This video highlights the contributions that minority men and women made to America’s victory in World War II, despite discrimination in the armed forces and at home. The program points out the irony of racial minorities fighting abroad for democratic ideals that they were not accorded in the military or in their own country.

The video begins with discussion of Benjamin O. Davis, West Point’s first African-American graduate, and efforts to end discrimination in the thriving war industries and in the military prior to America’s entry into the war. Once President Roosevelt declares war,  100,000 African-Americans volunteer for the armed services; they encounter racism in boot camp and are in placed segregated units that are assigned subordinate jobs. The program discusses the 99th Pursuit Squadron, also known as the Tuskegee Airmen; the 332nd Fighter Group; Dorie Miller’s heroism at Pearl Harbor; the construction of the Ledo Road and the Alcan Highway; the Red Ball Express; the 6888th Postal Battalion; and the 92nd Infantry Division, known as the Buffalo Soldiers. The program then explores the contributions of Japanese Americans during the war. After Pearl Harbor, many Japanese Americans wanting to demonstrate their loyalty to the United States volunteer for the armed services. They serve valiantly in the 100th Infantry Battalion, also known as the Nisei Unit; the 442nd Combat Regimental Unit, and the Military Intelligence Service (MIS).

The video also discusses the critical role the Navajo Code Talkers played in transmitting information about tactics and troop movements in the Pacific Campaign, especially at Iwo Jima. Ira Hayes, a Pima, is one of six marines who raise the American flag in victory, a scene immortalized on film and at the Iwo Jima Memorial.

Learning Objectives

∙  Explain how minorities in the armed services confronted discrimination.

∙ Assess the contributions of African-Americans, Japanese Americans, and Native Americans to Allied victory in World War II.

· Evaluate the impact of World War II as an instrument of social change for minorities.


Vocabulary words appear in the order they are presented in the video.

1. segregation – Separation by races.

2. racism – Belief that some races are inherently superior to others.

3. Tuskegee Airmen – An African-American pursuit squadron formed in 1941; they were based in Tuskegee, Alabama, and trained at Tuskegee Institute.

4. D-Day – June 6, 1944, when Allied forces invaded German-occupied France under the command of Dwight D. Eisenhower; it was the largest amphibious landing in history.

5. Buffalo Soldiers – Established by Congress in 1866, the 9th and 10th  
Cavalry Regiments were mounted regiments of African-American soldiers, who were nicknamed Buffalo Soldiers by Native American tribes. The Buffalo shoulder patch worn by African-American soldiers in the 92nd Infantry Division in both world wars
symbolically tied them to the original Buffalo Soldiers.

6. Nisei – Second generation of Japanese Americans; U.S. citizens by birth.

Viewing Questions

1. Who was the first African-American to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point? (Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.)

2. In what ways did African-Americans who volunteered for the armed services during World War II encounter discrimination? (Both the Marine Corps and Army Air Corps refuse to accept African-American enlistees; the Navy accepts them on an as-needed basis, while the Army accepts them only as replacement in existing African-American units; recruits are put in segregated units in boot camp and experience discrimination and hostility; they are placed in subordinate jobs and never in combat units.)

3. Describe the contributions of each of the following African-American individuals or units during World War II:

99th Pursuit Squadron – (Also known as the Tuskegee Airmen, it was the first African-American unit, formed by the War Department in 1941 and flew in the North African Campaign.)
332nd Fighter Group – (African-American bomber escort unit that ended the war as the only fighter group without a single escort bomber casualty.)
Dorie Miller – (Mess attendant aboard the U.S.S. West Virginia during the bombing of Pearl Harbor who shoots down two enemy planes in spite of having had no training.)

African-Americans in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – (They help build the 300-mile Ledo Road from India to western China and the 1,500-mile Alcan Highway from British Columbia to Alaska.)

Red Ball Express – (A massive convoy that supplies troops in Western Europe; 75% of the drivers are African-American.)

6888th Postal Battalion – (A unit of African-American women who break all records for mail redistribution to the front line.)

92nd Infantry Division – (Also known as the Buffalo Soldiers, the division lost nearly a third of its men in harsh fighting during the Italian campaign.)

4. What is the Nisei Unit? (A combat unit of Japanese Americans formed after the bombing of Pearl Harbor; the unit loses over 1,000 men in fighting in Cassino, Italy in 1944.)

5. Why did Japanese-Americans (or Nisei) leave internment camps to enlist in combat units? (They wanted to prove their loyalty to the United States, their country of birth, and defy the perception that they were aliens and dangerous to America.)

6. What were the major contributions of the 442nd Combat Regimental Unit. (They liberated Bruyères and the rescue of the lost battalion; they become the most decorated unit in military history.)

7. What controversy surrounds General John Dalquist’s decision to send the 442nd to rescue the Lost Battalion? (The 442nd lost more than 800 men in rescuing more than 200.)

8. What did the Military Intelligence Service do during the war? (Japanese-Americans in the service interrogated Japanese prisoners and translated seized enemy documents; their work saved Allied lives and shortens the war.)

9. What did the Navajo Code Talkers do during the war? (They used their Navajo language as a secret code to develop a dictionary and a list of military terms in order to transmit information about tactics, troop movements, and other vital communications. They play a critical role at Iwo Jima.)

10. Who was Ira Hayes? (A Pima from Arizona who is one of six Marines to raise the American flag in victory at Iwo Jima.)

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