Korean War Legacy Project

Out of the Shadows Inquiry: Supporting Question 2


Supporting Question 2:

In what ways did service in segregated and integrated units contribute to servicemen/women’s views of discrimination?

The second supporting question, “In what ways did service in segregated and integrated units contribute to servicemen/women’s views of discrimination?” invites students to consider the perspectives of Korean War veterans. The video clips focus on the personal experiences of John Gragg*, Diana Kathleen Cattani, and Rudolph Valentine Archer related to service in segregated and/or integrated military units. Using a triple-Venn diagram, the second performative task requires students to analyze and evaluate how service in integrated and/or segregated units contributed to their experiences. The Venn Diagram allows students to distinguish the unique and similar experiences of the veteran sources.

On this page:
Source A: John Gragg (Interview Transcript)
Source B: Diana Kathleen Cattani (Interview Transcript)
Source C: Rudolph Valentine Archer (Interview Transcript)



Source A: John Gragg (Interview Transcript)


*While telling his story, John Gragg uses racially charged language that must be previewed by teachers. The word is stricken and replaced in the interview transcription but remains part of his oral history. KWLF and C3 Teachers do not condone use of the word and believe teachers must do their due diligence (e.g., contact school administration, parents, etc.) before leading this inquiry. Redaction and replacement are based on guidance from The National Archives Records Administration: https://www.archives.gov/research/catalog/lcdrg/appendix/black-person

I: Was there a segregation policy?

J: Yes, they were segregated. The Army, uh, uh, segregation was disbanded in 1948.

I: ’48 or ’47?

J: Nineteen forty-eight. Executive order came out in 1948, that the Army would not be segregated anymore. But the organization dragged they feet. They didn’t fulfill it, it didn’t actually start ‘till the Korean War. You still had Black units and you had White units. Very few units was integrated until the Korean War, that’s when they had full integration. When I went to Korea, the only White I had in my unit was a lieutenant, one White lieutenant. He was the company commander. And, what happened back during those days of the segregated Army, 90% of all-Black units was commanded by White officers. And most of those officers was officers getting ready to get kicked out of the service. They couldn’t make it in White units, headquarters said we’d put them in charge of this Black company, and if they can’t make it, [whistles], their gone. So, normally you got a White officer that was assigned to Black [inaudible] we were the best company there ever were. But we had a dirty, racist White officer. I mean, he was so dirty that when we got ordered to go to Korean, 140 black troops, we got our weapons and our ammunition…now this officer knew that once his feet hit the beach we were going to shoot him. He was going to be dead. So, he started fightin’ and runnin’ and finally he was able to get relieved and we went to Korea with a young, White, second lieutenant, had never seen a duck before. We knew our jobs; all he did was sign papers and let us run the company. And, he made captain within a year, from second lieutenant to captain based on what we were doing. But most of the Black units that was commanded, now you’d have some units like the Tuskegee Airmen, there were a few other units with Black officers, but for most of the units, even in the 24th Infantry Regiment, all the officers was White. It didn’t bother me that much because I came from the South. I came from Arkansas. It was segregated but it wasn’t bad like Alabama and Mississippi, nothing like that. No hangings or anything. But there were certain places a Black couldn’t go. Uh, a certain way you had to conduct yourself. Like, for instance, on the farm, highly integrated. White farm here, Black farm here, White, Black, and everybody have around 100 to 200 acres, and we got along great. No problem whatsoever. And all of these people own their own farms. So, you got along real good. The only time you had a little problem was when you went into the city, and that would get in with the poor Whites when you’d hear somebody say, “Hey [Black person]!” You didn’t hear that out on the country. People were very nice. We got on together. We’d fish together, swim together and all that. But for me, being from the South, it didn’t bother me. I was used to it, so the only thing that bothered me was having my commander get out and call me negative names and you couldn’t do anything about it. We would sleep in [Japanese] huts, in Yokohama, hardwood floors. You had a big inspection every Saturday morning, I mean spotless inspection, displays laid out, we would take a brush and GI the floor at night, lay out our display, and sleep on the floor that night so we’d be ready for inspection the next morning. A unit commander would come through and the first sergeant with his notebook, taking down notes and everything. Have you ever heard of, talkin’ about a “white glove inspection?”

I: Yeah, yeah.

J: Okay. He come through with white gloves and he inspect, there was thirty something men in each [inaudible]. And he would inspect, and he couldn’t find anything that was negative. If one gig, all the troops couldn’t go to town that night. So, if one day he couldn’t find anything, so he took a fork, took off the white glove and run the prong between the blade and did that, till the glove turned dark, Gig! And he restricted all of us because of what he had did with that white glove. He couldn’t find nothing negative. He fabricated something. So that’s the kind of thing you had to put up with a lot of White officers that was in charge of Black troops.

I: Were you angry?

J: Not so much at him, but hey, you want to go to town and go dance with the Japanese girls and have a Japanese beer, and you was angry in that respect. But we had gotten conditioned to him mistreating us. We was a very, very good organization. We got presidential commendations in Korea. But that was the type thing you put up with. Most of the young blacks at that time, especially ones from the South, handled it better than Blacks from the North. They hadn’t witnessed that type of thing. But for me, and a lot of my comrades from the South, we could handle it, you know. You just had to tough it up and suck it up and go.

I: Do you know how many African American soldiers served in the Korean War?

J: I do not. It wasn’t like Vietnam. It wasn’t that many compared to Vietnam, Iraq. In Vietnam, about 40% of the troops was Black. But in Korea, the only large Black unit was the 24th Infantry Regiment.

I: Twenty-fourth?

J: Twenty-fourth Infantry was an all-Black unit with White officers. Now, that organization, the 24th all-Black Regiment of Fairfax received more Congressional Medals of Honor than any organization in Korea. It never made the paper. Didn’t nobody know about it until about ten years, it was brought to light that they were the highest decorated organization in Korea. And they deactivated them and put them into White infantry units. All that information and the history of the Black unit was lost unless set aside. So, all of those Congressional Medals of Honor, there were fourteen Congressional Medals of Honor out of the 24th Infantry Regiment. All Black, before they mixed them in with the White units. Nobody knew about it. They did away with the records. And there was once Black sergeant who started the research about twenty years ago. And it came out and it made history. The papers came out, the Ebony magazine had articles on it about the records of the Black soldiers during the Korean War. The other Black unit, you know about the Tuskegee Airmen, troops that trained in Tuskegee, Alabama? Well, every year they’d have a huge write up and comentation on news about the fightin’ troops. There was a Black fighter unit, 77th Pursuit Squadron. And they went to Germany, and they was, they didn’t want them to fly. The White people said the Blacks couldn’t fly planes. So, they finally got a chance to start flying, called the Tuskegee Airmen – about 10,000 of them, including mechanics and all the support troops. And they had a Black general. And they started flying escorts for bombers. And they was flyin’ with a P51 Mustang. It was the best plan the Army ever had. They set a record during World War II as the best protector of the bombers during the war. Reason being, White pilots was tryin’ try to make a record for themselves, tryin’ to see who could shoot down more enemy planes. The Black troops, pilots, escort, they stayed with the bomber. They’d have a long-range bomber. They’d have five or six fighter planes, and they stayed with it. If the enemy came in, they would fight them off and stay with bomber, protect the bomber. Whereas the White they want to see who could get what’s call Ace, who could shoot down the most enemy planes. So, they’d leave the bomber, chasing the plane, and the bomber gets shot down. So that’s how the Tuskegee airmen got they uh, name, by protecting the bombers. When they started out, all the bomber pilots were White. Nobody wanted a Black guy flying protection for them until they found out, hey, all the White bombers wanted the Tuskegee airmen because they stayed and protected the bombers. And every year there’s a, I’ve talked to, at all of the military bases they have one of the older, a couple of colonels that flew there, and they tell history and, uh, they have movies about the Tuskegee airmen, what they did.

I: So, you said that the desegregation policy was implemented in 1948?

J: Executive order was passed by the President in 1948. All units would be integrated. But major units didn’t do it. The order was there but they didn’t follow through.

I: So, when you were in Korea in 1950, did you see still the problems?

J: There wasn’t no problem. We were all Black, we got, before I left we got one White troop in my company out of 140. Finally, a few started coming in for replacement. But most of the unites were even, at the end of the Korean War, most of the units were still Black. They had mixed up to a certain extent.



Source B: Diana Kathleen Cattani (Interview Transcript)


I: And your duties there were just kind of secretarial, clerical?

D: Clerical. Absolute clerical, nothing more than that.

I: That was kind of a disappointment for you?

D: I was terribly disappointed because I felt underused and kind of abused in a way. I felt as a woman that I was being mistreated, uh, that women were not treated fairly. And to this day, I believe that. I believe that happens in every place in the whole United States. I mean, I know it’s a great deal better, but women still earn, what is it now, 69% of whatever it is that men ear doing the same job? So, there’s still a very interesting women’s rights.

I: That’s probably why you write the President.

D: That’s one of the reasons. One of the reasons. I am, that’s not the only one.

I: Did you try and fight the discharge at all?

D: No. There was no way to fight it. That was the rule. You were gone. You didn’t question. As a matter of fact, we were held in such low esteem that we were told we had to sign a document stating that we would never ask or be buried in the main, um, outside Washington.

I: Arlington?

D: Arlington. We would never be buried in Arlington no matter what the circumstance.

I: Why is that? Because of the chauvinistic uh?

D: Well, that was my interpretation, yes, that it was chauvinistic, uh. You know, we were trying to do our job.

I: What was their explanation?

D: And not all men got, had a gun and were fighting either.

I: What was their explanation.

D: They didn’t have an explanation. There was no explanation to give.

I: Wow.

D: And I thought that was really rather awful.

I: It was.  Very interesting and awful. Have they changed that policy today do you know?

D: I don’t know if that policy’s been changed. I do know they treat women differently, that they’re allowed to remain on their training. And they let them wear maternity clothes for as long as it is necessary. They help them with childcare, um, and I think that’s for the betterment. And, although I worry sometimes about them all being mixed up because I think they’re young and they’re kind of foolish because I know I wasn’t the smartest person in the world when I was young. And I’m sure every woman can say the same thing, that uh, when they’re 18, 19, 20, 21, that timeframe, you’re not very worldly. I wasn’t worldly.

I: So, your actual career was shortened because of instance that you don’t believe should have caused that.

D: Absolutely.

I: But your husband was still in the Air Force?

D: Yes, he was.

I: And your background training was in the Air Force. So, you followed him around.

D: I followed him every time I could, yes.

I: And it’s still that Air Force discipline mentality are with you.

D: Well, to make it even worse, I started working for the Federal Government, Dept. of Defense, and spent 30 years. I retired from the Federal Government, um.

I: And your grade was what? G?

D: When I, 11. I was a GS11.

I: That’s pretty high, isn’t it?

D: Well, it is yes. And, because I didn’t have a degree. That was one thing. But I did pass their college entrance examination which was, I was very proud of doing that, um. It wasn’t a college entrance. It was a test for college graduates. I want to be more specific than that. It was uh, and I passed it very highly. And then I went to [INAUDIBLE] taking accounting lessons because I, accounting training because that’s what I was doing, uh, for the government. I worked in Rochester, NY George Air Force Base and oh, there was um, Air Force Contract Management District in Concord in Detroit. Then it moved and became Dept. of Defense in the old Packard Plant if anybody knows what the old Packard Plant was. And from there, I moved to, because they closed that down, I moved to [INAUDIBLE] town and spent the rest of my career there.

I: This is after all the Air Force traveling is done?

D: Yes. Oh, I worked in those other places while, you know, some of it was as the wife of a military member. For instance, Okinawa, I was working Naha Air Base, and we lived on Naha.  And at George Air Force Base.

I: In Okinawa?

D: George was in California.

I: Okay.

D: In a desert. And uh, Clovis, New Mexico um. I was there, but I didn’t work at that time. I had too many little babies.



Source C: Rudolph Valentine Archer (Interview Transcript)


I: Tell me um, so, you were in Columbus for the most part until about 1948?

V: Forty-eight, forty-nine.

I: Forty-nine. Now, I believe Truman integrated the services

V: Forty-eight.

I: In ’48.

V: Um hm.

I: How did that affect you?

V: That um, in terms of uh, of segregation, that really brought that home to me. I, you know, my growing up part in the civilian community was in Chicago. And it was not like growing up in Georgia or Mississippi or someplace like that. So, I have a whole different kind of learning thing to get a grip on. It occurred to me when I left this all-black outfit, that was the only kind of military experience that I was aware of. In fact, um, one distinction we briefly mentioned earlier about the white officer corps, when I finished my training, and I went to Lockbourne that was the end of my white officer experience. Our officers were all black. And uh, in my estimation far more professional and qualified in every way than those white officers that I had met prior to that time. Um, and they were good mentors. Some of those guys I met back in those days who um, decided that they would take an interest and teach me some lessons which they did, a lot of them. I still know those guys, those who are still surviving. And we can recall some interesting experiences from those days. Uh, but as far as the integration was concerned, that was my first experience with segregation from a different sense because I was moving from an all-black community that had its own social and political and other kinds of dimensions into an all-white installation where uh, there may have been 2,000 white troops there and three black troops. The black troops who were already serving on those installations were in the um, in Food Service jobs and Motor Pool and were considered unskilled jobs at the time. When I hit, my first assignment was at Bolling Field Headquarters USAF. And when I reported in there, although I’m sure it was well publicized that you’re gonna get some black troops coming in here, and probably that they’re skilled and qualified people. When I went to, first reported to the flight line, I was told well, I was a sergeant at that time, and I was told that um, well, you can’t supervise anybody here. We can’t have you supervising any white troops. So, we will have to find something else for you to do until we get a white person who will come in and be over this shop or this position.  So, I wound up now being sent off to uh, tech school.