“… They were prepared to sacrifice everything for freedom even though freedom’s fullness was denied to them.” – President William J. Clinton remarks from Medal of Honor ceremony honoring Black soldiers of World War II, January 13, 1997
Sergeant Edward A. Carter Jr. was a career soldier who lived a life of humble service. His actions in World War II that went above and beyond the call of duty were unrecognized until 1997, 34 years after his passing.
Carter was born on May 26, 1916, in Los Angeles. The son of evangelists, he spent his childhood in India. In 1927 after his mother, Mary, left her husband and three young children, the elder Edward Carter decided to move the remaining family members back to the United States. However, they were forced to disembark their ship in Shanghai after the youngest, William, was suspected of contracting typhoid. The Carter family did not return to the U.S. and instead remained in China.
In China, Edward Carter Jr. attended a military academy, and in 1932 when the Japanese attacked Shanghai he volunteered to fight. After a month of combat the elder Carter intervened, and had his son pulled off the front lines. When Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935 the younger Carter, by then a lieutenant, appealed to the American consulate in Shanghai to send him to fight. His request was denied, and instead he was sent to work a merchant marine job. The next months he spent traveling the seas before eventually ending in Los Angeles.
Back in the U.S., Carter found it hard to secure employment. During the Great Depression work was sparse, especially for Black men. News of the Civil War in Spain caught his attention, and he made his way toward the fight. In Spain he joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade; with his military education and combat experience he was better prepared for the fight than most of the soldiers alongside him. Following the Loyalist defeat in Spain Carter returned to California.
In 1941, Carter, already a seasoned soldier, enlisted in the U.S. Army. Despite the racism he faced in the military he excelled and quickly earned the rank of Staff Sergeant. As World War II continued and the need for infantrymen increased, Black soldiers who previously were not allowed in combat were able to join segregated units commanded by white officers. Carter immediately volunteered, and complied with the condition that his rank be reduced to Private.
On March 23, 1945, the Fifty-sixth Armored Infantry Battalion was advancing on Speyer, Germany, when they came under fire from a large warehouse. Carter volunteered to lead three men to scout the 150 yards between the battalion’s position and the warehouse. As the group left their covered position one man was killed. When Carter ordered the others to move back, another was killed and the third wounded. Sergeant Carter was hit three times in his left arm but continued advancing alone. He was wounded in his left leg and stopped to tend to his wounds and was shot again in his left hand. Despite his multiple wounds, Carter continued crawling towards his target. He was within 30 yards of the enemy when the incoming fire became so heavy, he was forced to take cover for two hours. Eight enemy soldiers left their position to attempt to take him prisoner. Carter killed six of the enemy soldiers, and captured the remaining two, which he used as shields to make his way back to the American lines.
Carter refused medical aid until he could relay the critical information he learned while interrogating the captured Germans. Carter’s solo assault eliminated the obstacle and allowed for the troops to continue into the Rhineland.
After World War II Carter returned to the U.S. and served in the California National Guard and the Provost Office at Fort Lewis, facing the rampant racism of a racially segregated country. In 1949 the career soldier was denied reenlistment after false accusations of suspected communist ties. On Jan. 30, 1963, he died at the age of 46 of lung cancer.
Carter died before his actions received the recognition they merited. In 1997, following government research into Black World War II soldiers denied consideration for the Medal of Honor, Sergeant Edward Carter was one of seven Black soldiers to finally be recognized. That same week he was re-interred in Arlington National Cemetery.