Edward Carter served his nation honorably and heroically. Living for roughly two decades after the war, he knew what he had accomplished in the war, but sadly it was not fully recognized by his country until 34 years after he passed.
Born in 1916 to a missionary father and an East Indian mother, Edward Allen Carter Jr. was raised in India, which began a life-long, worldly life. As a young man he went to China, where in 1932 he joined the Chinese in their fight against the recent Japanese invasion. He then went to Spain to fight against the fascists as a part of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.
He joined the US Army in September 1941. Carter’s hopes of serving on the front lines to fight for his country were quickly squashed due to his previous experiences with socialists in China and in Spain, and of course, as a Black man. He was relegated to a service and supply position but rose to the rank of staff sergeant. His time to fight for his own country came after the horrific losses incurred by the Americans in the Battle of the Bulge. The Army, facing a manpower shortage, sought to put African American troops into combat infantry positions for the upcoming push into Germany. Carter was one of over 4,000 Black volunteers who were selected to serve in a combat role.
Assigned to the “1st Infantry Company Provisional, 7th Army (Negro Company),” Carter was attached to the 56th Armored Infantry Battalion in March 1945 as the Allies pushed towards the Rhine River. As the 56th approached the Rhine, they found bridges severely damaged by allied air bombardment and the retreating Germans. They made their way south from Mannheim towards the town of Speyer, which reportedly still had an intact bridge to cross to the east side of the river. Just north of the town, Carter and his men encountered heavy fire from the German defenders. His Medal of Honor Citation below details how he responded.
Medal of Honor Citation
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: Staff Sergeant Edward A. Carter, Jr. Distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 23 March 1945. At approximately 0830 hours, 23 March 1945, near Speyer, Germany, the tank upon which Staff Sergeant Carter was riding received bazooka and small arms fire from the vicinity of a large warehouse to its left front. Staff Sergeant Carter and his squad took cover behind an intervening road bank. Staff Sergeant Carter volunteered to lead a three-man patrol to the warehouse where other unit members noticed the original bazooka fire. From here they were to ascertain the location and strength of the opposing position and advance approximately 150 yards across an open field. Enemy small arms fire covered this field. As the patrol left this covered position, they received intense enemy small arms fire killing one member of the patrol instantly. This caused Staff Sergeant Carter to order the other two members of the patrol to return to the covered position and cover him with rifle fire while he proceeded alone to carry out the mission. The enemy fire killed one of the two soldiers while they were returning to the covered position, and seriously wounded the remaining soldier before he reached the covered position. An enemy machine gun burst wounded Staff Sergeant Carter three times in the left arm as he continued the advance. He continued and received another wound in his left leg that knocked him from his feet. As Staff Sergeant Carter took wound tablets and drank from his canteen, the enemy shot it from his left hand, with the bullet going through his hand. Disregarding these wounds, Staff Sergeant Carter continued the advance by crawling until he was within thirty yards of his objective. The enemy fire became so heavy that Staff Sergeant Carter took cover behind a bank and remained there for approximately two hours. Eight enemy riflemen approached Staff Sergeant Carter, apparently to take him prisoner, Staff Sergeant Carter killed six of the enemy soldiers and captured the remaining two. These two enemy soldiers later gave valuable information concerning the number and disposition of enemy troops. Staff Sergeant Carter refused evacuation until he had given full information about what he had observed and learned from the captured enemy soldiers. This information greatly facilitated the advance on Speyer. Staff Sergeant Carter's extraordinary heroism was an inspiration to the officers and men of the Seventh Army, Infantry Company Number 1 (Provisional) and exemplify the highest traditions of the military service.
After the war, Carter’s dream of continuing to serve in the military was dashed by his previous associations in China and Spain. With the onset of the Cold War, individuals with controversial backgrounds faced increased suspicion, and the Army denied Carter’s efforts to re-enlist.
Carter passed away in 1963 and was buried in Sawtelle National Cemetery in Los Angeles. Upon hearing that he was to be awarded the Medal of Honor, Carter’s family decided to have his remains reinterred to Arlington National Cemetery, which took place in January 1997.
In March 2019, the Museum was honored to host the family of Edward Carter for a premiere screening of his episode in the Medal of Honor series by Netflix. After the screening, Carter’s daughter-in-law, Allene Carter, was joined by the producer of the series, Christopher Pavlick. Thepost-screening conversation was moderated by the Museum’s Vice President of Education & Access, Col. Pete Crean.
To learn more about Edward Carter and his remarkable life, you can purchase a copy of his daughter’s book, Honoring Sergeant Carter: A Family's Journey to Uncover the Truth About an American Hero.
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Jeremy Collins joined The National WWII Museum in 2001 as an intern, and now oversees the institution’s public programming initiatives.