I have always been interested in the history of individual military units, especially ones written by a former member. Thus, I was intrigued by Edward Posey’s The U.S. Army’s First, Last, and Only All-Black Rangers when I found out about it. Although the unit was only in existence for ten months during the Korean War, its members proved to many skeptics (some high ranking generals in the Army) that African-Americans could fight. I believe their example and the efforts of others pushed the Army leadership in Korea (and worldwide) to finally end segregation in the U.S. Army – the armed forces were ordered to desegregate by President Truman, but the Army took its sweet time in carrying out the order.
The book follows the standard framework of unit histories. Brief background on segregation in the Army, training and formation of the unit, combat actions of the unit, and the deactivation of the unit. Briefly, the unit was formed in October, 1950 and deactivated in July, 1951. Between those dates the rangers were trained, transported to Korea, fought in several engagements, and finally sent to Japan.
Although I have read some criticism of this book that it is just a glorification of a unit that did not contribute much to the war effort, I would disagree on the value of the book. Maybe I am too much of a history buff, but I believe that the human experience (whether unique or not) must be recorded. And this book is no exception – it is fascinating to read about the experiences of these men as they had to deal with not only the normal Army life, but also that of an Army that had members that were racist. I am sure that not all members of the white Army were racist, but even a few well-placed racists could and did make the lives of the African-American soldiers more tedious. It is to their credit that the men ignored these racists and served their country with honor.
Anyway, Posey (who was a sergeant in the company) provides a good narrative of the company’s experiences. Following the last chapter on the unit’s history, Posey includes a chapter that provides the experiences of the individual members of the company in their own words. Although there is some repetition of events described in the unit’s narrative, it is compelling reading. The details of their experiences brings a fuller understanding of the events described earlier.
The book is generally well-written with some awkward writing in places. It is a quick read that keeps you interested throughout.
The narrative portion of the book is 136 pages and the recollections of the individual members portion is another 31 pages. In addition, there are several pages of black and white photographs. Finally, Posey includes several appendixes that cover such topics as the unit’s roster and a glossary of terms used in the book.
Please note that this book was provided to me by the book’s publisher.