|Houston, Ivan J. with
The Buffalo Soldiers of
World War II: Memories
of the Only Negro Infantry
Division to Fight in Europe
iUniverse (232 pp.)
$28.95; $18.95 paperback
April 27, 2009
|Houston’s memoir chronicles his experiences fighting with the 92nd Infantry Division in Italy from August 1944 through the end of World War II.
With clipped, workmanlike prose, Houston and co-author Cohn recall Houston’s journey from California college boy on an integrated campus to enlisted man in the segregated U.S. Army preparing to go to war against the Germans while enduring the indignities of being treated as a second-class citizen by his own country (and several of his fellow countrymen). Houston’s account revels in intriguing details of Army life, ranging from mandatory collective inspections of recruit’s genitalia for venereal disease to the tendency of better-educated enlistees to alter their speech so as to fit in with the other troops. Once the narrative shifts to Europe, the book carefully catalogues the exploits of the 92nd, as well as the equipment, rations and weaponry its soldiers used; in addition to Houston’s own ordeals, the text makes note of the heroic actions of his fellow soldiers — often citing the medals they would earn after the war — and remarks each time a comrade is killed. This level of detail, combined with a dispassionate writing style, is sometimes numbing, and creates a distancing when it pushes back on other observers’ and analysts’ critical accounts of the 92nd’s mettle in combat (or lack thereof), arguing somewhat persuasively that a lack of trust between black soldiers and white officers contributed to many of the difficulties faced by the division, and Houston’s insights on this from the perspective of an infantryman are thoughtful as well as valuable. As an aside, the reader might find the use of the term “Negro” throughout jarring, but it’s difficult to take issue with Houston’s prerogative in this regard.
Unspectacular, but more than solid.
Foreword Clarion Reviews
AUTOBIOGRAPHY / MEMOIR
Black Warriors: The Buffalo Soldiers of World War II
Ivan J. Houston
Five Stars (out of Five)
Black Warriors: The Buffalo Soldiers of World War II is dedicated to giving an accurate account of the little known story of the only black infantry to fight in Europe. Despite suffering discrimination and segregation in the army, the men served with distinction. Ivan Houston presents a well-written account and recollection of their service in what amounts to a legacy of honor. The valorous achievements of these brave men need to be recognized and raised to their rightful place in American history.
Combat Regiment Team 370 of the 92nd Infantry Division, better known as the “Buffalo Division”, was comprised of young, untrained, and uneducated black Americans. A small complement of the unit were college men, including the author, who was only nineteen years old. The regiment’s mission was to cross the Arno River in Italy and break through the German’s Gothic Line, a highly-fortified position stretching hundreds of miles from the sea across the Apennine Mountains.
As the regiment’s recorder, radio operator, and intelligence officer, Houston compiled minute-by-minute records of his unit’s activities assembled from continuous reports from the men in the battlefield. Owing to the extensively well-documented records, the book is rich in detailed account. Houston not only succeeds in describing compelling historic encounters and achievements of his fellow black soldiers, but sets the record straight about allegations made by white commanding officers that black soldiers were unwilling to stand up and fight. Houston explains, for example, why officers and platoon leaders were being killed: they were trying to lead men who all their lives has been treated as second-class citizens. On the other hand, records indicate no shortage of valor displayed by the black troops, who eventually succeeded in helping defeat a retreating German army. On the day the war was declared over, Italians cheered the black soldiers and blew kisses for their liberation. Here Houston brings to light the painful irony that the soldiers must have felt at the moment of victory. White Italians showered their black liberators with love while back in America these heroes remained second-class citizens. As Houston so succinctly writes: “We were fighting the Nazis with one hand and Jim Crow with the other.” The irony of warring both the awesome power of their enemy and the racism in their own ranks speaks to the undervalued service bestowed to their country by these brave soldiers.
Black Warriors is straightforward in its description of events. There is little hyperbole or need to over-dramatize. The reader encounters moving episodes of combat constituting the factual and historic efforts made by Combat Team 370. During the course of their grueling missions, most of the men, though untested and untrained, undertook veritable suicide attacks on a highly-trained and deadly enemy. Naturally, the missions took a great toll. Owing to the nature of the missions, some soldiers struggled behind or panicked in the heat of battle. However, the author controverts in a convincing manner the allegations of cowardice made by high-ranking white commanders, making it clear that the charges were unfounded and racially motivated.