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My Father's War

Fighting with the Buffalo Soldiers in World War II

Carolyn Ross Johnston

Publication Year: 2012

My Father’s War tells the compelling story of a unit of black Buffalo Soldiers and their white commander fighting on the Italian front during World War II.
The 92nd Division of the Fifth Army was the only African American infantry division to see combat in Europe during 1944 and 1945, suffering more than 3,200 casualties. Members of this unit, known as Buffalo Soldiers, endured racial violence on the home front and experienced racism abroad. Engaged in combat for nine months, they were under the command of southern white infantry officers like their captain, Eugene E. Johnston. 
Carolyn Ross Johnston draws on her father’s account of the war and her extensive interviews with other veterans of the 92nd Division to describe the experiences of a naïve southern white officer and his segregated unit on an intimate level. During the war, the protocol that required the assignment of southern white officers to command black units, both in Europe and in the Pacific theater, was often problematic, but Johnston seemed more successful than most, earning the trust and respect of his men at the same time that he learned to trust and respect them. Gene Johnston and the African American soldiers were transformed by the war and upon their return helped transform the nation.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Title Page, Copyright, Quote

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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiii

In my search for my father’s war over the past ten years, I have been indebted to many remarkable people. First, I want to thank my father, Eugene E. Johnston, for collaborating with me on this project. We spent endless hours recording oral history over many years. Regrettably he did not live to see the publication ...

Part I. War and Memory

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1. The Buffalo Soldiers at the World War II Memorial

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pp. 3-6

The bus pulled up to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., on October 9, 2004. One by one, the veterans of the 92nd Division, the Buffalo Soldiers, stepped out. They moved slowly toward the memorial, some carrying canes. To one side in the distance, the Lincoln Memorial sits on the horizon; ...

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2. “This Is Your Father”

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pp. 7-10

My search for my father’s war began long before that October day in Washington, D.C. It began, perhaps, as long ago as a sultry August day in 1953, with a five-year-old girl perched high on the swing set, her hair tangled and her clothes covered with the red clay of Georgia, holding a rubber knife in her mouth, a wolf-child, ...

Part II. Becoming a Buffalo Soldier

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3. The Road to War

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pp. 13-25

In 1940, Gene Johnston cut a handsome figure in his new uniform. He was twenty-five years old and would soon go to war as a white commander of an all black unit of the Buffalo Soldiers. Like many black and white Americans, his first war was a war against poverty. The Great Depression hit Gene’s family especially hard. ...

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4. Training at Fort Huachuca

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pp. 26-29

When Johnston, Lancaster, Moore, Perry, Hairston, Stephenson, Burke, McCaffrey, and all the other members of the 92nd Division arrived at Fort Huachuca in April and May 1943, they found themselves in a remote area. Fort Huachuca, a place with deep roots for black soldiers, is located in southeastern Arizona at the base of ...

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5. Marriage and Bisbee

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pp. 30-32

When Gene Johnston met Alta Ross at the Eureka Baptist Church in Cleveland, Tennessee, it was love at first sight, for him at least. They only had three dates before they got married. When he went to see her at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, she already had a date. She told him to meet her later, and he took her and her friends ...

Part III. The Fight to Fight

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6. Buffalo Soldiers in the Jim Crow Army

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pp. 35-48

Racial tensions ran high at Fort Huachuca, and creating a sense of community proved to be difficult. The post mirrored the larger American society and had racially segregated facilities. White and black soldiers at Fort Huachuca rarely had any contact when off duty. There were two officers’ clubs, the Lakeside Officers’ Club ...

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7. Maneuvers in Louisiana

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pp. 49-56

The maneuvers in Louisiana involved fives phases: division exercises, river crossings, advance to combat, defense on a wide front, and meeting engagements. The area stretched sixty miles long and forty miles wide. This realistic training took place from February 8 to April 3, 1944.1 While on maneuvers in Louisiana, ...

Part IV. Women Waiting

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8. “I’ll Be Seeing You”: The Long Wait

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pp. 59-62

Those months at Fort Huachuca were like a honeymoon for many of the soldiers and their wives. It helped when Alta Johnston could forget that Gene would be shipping out soon, and they could just enjoy one another. Sometimes they would go to dance at the cantinas at night. Gene was an award-winning jitterbug enthusiast, ...

Part V. Facing the Gothic Line: War Stories in Black and White

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9. Combat in Italy: September 1944–January 1945

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pp. 65-88

The war experiences of black and white soldiers took place in parallel universes. The 370th Combat Team left the United States on July 15, 1944, and arrived in Italy on August 1, 1944. The 371st arrived on October 18, 1944. As a member of the 370th Combat Team, Spencer Moore arrived in Italy before Gene Johnston. ...

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10. From Defeat to Victory: February–November 1945

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pp. 89-116

In February 1945, the 365th, 371st, and 370th assembled on the coastal plain near Pozzi and Querceta for the largest attack the 92nd would mount. Their objective was to capture Massa, but first they had to take Mount Strettoia, with hills they called X, Y, and Z. The steep mountain was 450 feet high. ...

Part VI. Life after World War II

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11. Coming Home

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pp. 119-130

The war’s end was a beginning for all the Buffalo Soldiers as they attempted to adjust to the peace. Gene Johnston came back with his company on a slightly larger vessel than the one they had gone over on. He came in with the packs he had carried for so long that he was sick of them. When they landed at Newport News late in November, ...

Part VII. Afterword

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12. My Search for My Father’s War

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pp. 133-134

As a daughter of the fortress, my search for my father’s war has been in part an attempt to understand its legacy. Early in my childhood when my father spoke about his experiences in the war, he never mentioned being with black troops. Like many veterans who feel no one could possibly understand what they went through, ...

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13. Fort Huachuca

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pp. 135-136

Driving from Tucson on August 15, 2006, I was struck by the flat, monotonous desert terrain, but I was excited to be going to Fort Huachuca, where my father and the other Buffalo Soldiers trained during World War II. I had expected to be going to a god-forsaken, barren place. I had studied the photographs of the fort ...

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14. Carlisle and the Battle for Memory

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pp. 137-139

My search for my father’s war led me to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the home of the Army Military History Institute, which houses many of the records of the 92nd Division. Down the road a short distance from the Army Military History Institute are Carlisle Barracks and the Army War College, where the Carlisle Indian School once stood. ...

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15. Notes from Italy

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pp. 140-149

The war in Italy officially ended on May 2, 1945, but Gene Johnston’s war and the other Buffalo Soldiers’ war did not actually end on that day. Their war with the Germans was officially over, but there were other wars ahead: the Cold War, the prelude to Vietnam, and the continuing war against racism. ...

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16. The Buffalo Soldiers at the Capitol Rotunda

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pp. 150-160

On July 23, 2008, African American veterans of many wars, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the leadership of the House and Senate, and other distinguished guests filled the Capitol Rotunda. On the platform were Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who arranged the ceremony; Secretary of Defense Robert Gates; ...

Appendix I

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pp. 161-162

Appendix II

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pp. 163-168


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pp. 169-200


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pp. 201-212


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pp. 213-223

E-ISBN-13: 9780817386207
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817317683

Page Count: 228
Publication Year: 2012