Some men are born to be soldiers, and Edward A. Carter Jr. was one of them.
Carter Jr. was born in Los Angeles in 1916 to an African American father and an East Indian mother.
The Chinese Army
Although born in California, Carter spent his childhood traveling the world with his missionary parents. Carter’s family was in Shanghai in 1932 when the Japanese attacked.
Though only 15, Carter joined the Chinese army.
He served in combat and gained the rank of lieutenant before his age was discovered. Undeterred, he enrolled in a Chinese military academy and became fluent in German and Mandarin.
Eager to continue soldiering, Carter joined American volunteers fighting in the Spanish Civil War in 1936. After two years of heavy combat, the American Abraham Lincoln Brigade disbanded and Carter returned to the U.S. a seasoned soldier.
Segregation and the U.S. Army in WWII
Carter joined the U.S. Army in September 1941. As the Army was racially segregated, Carter was barred from the infantry and achieved the rank of SSgt. in a supply unit.
But Carter’s days of combat weren’t over. Following the Battle of the Bulge, 4,500 Black soldiers were allowed to volunteer for combat.
Black soldiers weren’t allowed to have command over white soldiers, so Carter surrendered his stripes to enter combat as a private.
On March 23, 1945, Carter’s unit approached Speyer, Germany, through an open field. Suddenly, a Panzerschreck rocket hit the tank Carter was riding on. Taking cover along the road, he volunteered to lead a four-man patrol to find the enemy.
One man was immediately killed by machine-gun fire, and Carter ordered the others to fall back and provide cover. As they went, one of the men was killed and the other seriously injured.
Despite sustaining three gunshot wounds to his left arm, Carter pressed forward.
He was again struck in the leg and fell to the ground. As he drank from his canteen, his left hand was hit. Carter remained behind cover for hours until eight Germans approached to take him prisoner.
Incredibly, Carter rose to his feet and killed six of the Germans before the others surrendered.
While escorting them back to the American position, Carter interrogated them in German about enemies in the area.
He then insisted on passing this information along before being evacuated. This information proved crucial in the capture of Speyer the next day.
Medal of Honor
Although Carter’s commanding officer recognized his heroism, he knew the realities of segregation.
Even though African-American soldiers received Medals of Honor in previous wars and more Black soldiers served in combat than ever before, none received the nation’s highest honor during WWII.
So instead, Carter’s commanding officer put him forward for the Distinguished Service Cross.
Carter died in 1963 from lung cancer caused by shrapnel in his neck.
In 1997, the Army investigated instances where Black soldiers were denied the Medal of Honor due to their race.
As a result, they upgraded Carter’s award to fully reflect his heroism. Carter was reinterred at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
If you’d like to learn more about Carter, his story is told in the third episode of the Netflix original series, Medal of Honor.
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