NEW ORLEANS (October 2, 2015) — In conjunction with the special exhibit Fighting for the Right to Fight: African American Experiences in World War II, The National WWII Museum presents “Unsung Heroes: Seven African American Heroes, Seven Medals of Honor, and the Decades that came Between Them”—a commemorative program honoring seven African American men who received Medals of Honor more than 50 years after their service in World War II. Hosted by NBC’s “Today” show weather anchor Al Roker, the event will take place on October 14 at 6:00 p.m. in the Museum’s US Freedom Pavilion, and feature family members who will share their experiences of the long fight for recognition.
Although thousands of black soldiers saw combat, no African American servicemen received the Medal of Honor during World War II. Several of these men received Distinguished Service Crosses, but Medals of Honor were not distributed due to an unofficial practice of denying the nation’s highest military medal to African Americans. In 1997, after an investigation “to determine if there was a racial disparity in the way Medal of Honor recipients were selected,” President Bill Clinton conducted a ceremony awarding the Medal of Honor to seven men.
The honorees include First Lieutenant Vernon Baker; Staff Sergeant Edward A. Carter, Jr.; First Lieutenant John R. Fox; Private First Class Willy F. James, Jr.; Staff Sergeant Ruben Rivers; First Lieutenant Charles L. Thomas; and Private George Watson. Five of the Medals are reunited at the Museum for the first time since 1997, those of Carter, James, Rivers, Thomas and Watson.
“After successfully winning the war against two of the most racist regimes in history, thousands of black servicemembers returned home after World War II expecting a more tolerant nation,” said the Museum’s Associate Vice President of Education and Access Owen Glendening. “Most were disappointed to discover that very little had changed at home. For them, the war’s outcome was bittersweet. By the time these seven men were awarded their Medals in 1997, Vernon Baker was the only living veteran to receive it from President Clinton.”
The “Unsung Heroes” event program will include a screen clip from “Honor Deferred”—a documentary produced for The History Channel by Al Roker Entertainment. Following the clip, Roker will lead discussions with family members of Carter, James, Rivers and Thomas about the impact the Medals had on their lives, as well as their roles in preserving the legacy and stories of the honorees.
Audience members will also have the opportunity to ask the family members questions. Additional event speakers include Joe Galloway, war correspondent and author; Dr. Conrad Crane, chief of historical services at the Army Heritage and Education Center, Carlisle Barracks; and Dr. Nick Mueller, president and CEO of The National WWII Museum. DVD copies of “Honor Deferred” will be available for purchase following the event.
Fighting for the Right to Fight is on display at the Museum through May 30, 2016. Following Memorial Day, the exhibit will embark on a two-year national tour, expanding access and educational opportunities across the country as part of a robust exhibit touring program sponsored by the New Orleans-based Museum and its partners.
*Additional event details below.
The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world—why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today. Dedicated in 2000 as The National D-Day Museum and now designated by Congress as America's National WWII Museum, it celebrates the American Spirit, teamwork, optimism, courage, and sacrifice of the men and women who served on the battlefront and the Home Front. For more information, call 877-813-3329 or 504-528-1944 or visit nationalww2museum.org. Follow us on Twitter at WWIImuseum or on Facebook.
October 14, 2015
“Unsung Heroes: Seven African American Heroes, Seven Medals of Honor, and the Decades that Came Between Them”
US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center
6:00 p.m. Reception | 6:30 p.m. Presentation
RSVP online or call 504-528-1944 x 229 for more information.
Can’t make it to the Museum? Watch the event live.