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Army Delays Study As It Reconsiders History of Black Unit

May 24, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Army has delayed publication of a study blaming racism for the failures of an all-black Korean War regiment. It will conduct a review to see if it should further absolve the soldiers accused of cowardice.

David Carlisle, a black West Point graduate and amateur historian, is the primary reason for the additional examination of the study, completed last month after nine years of intense Army research and 400 interviews.

Carlisle, who fought alongside the U.S. 24th Infantry Regiment in an engineer’s unit, said he and other black veterans believe the study should better report the unit’s heroism as well as its flaws.

``The history will not be wholly satisfactory until the Army adopts the posture that this regiment fought as well as any other regiment _ despite its problems, which included racism and deficient commanders,″ Carlisle said Friday in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. ``This study is supposed to correct misrecorded history over the years, but it does not.″

Lt. Col. Ray Whitehead, an Army spokesman, confirmed that Carlisle’s concerns were the driving force behind the Army’s decision to conduct ``one final review″ of the study before publication.

Army Secretary Togo D. West, Jr., on Friday appointed a panel to review the study, conducted by the Army Center of Military History, of the service’s last segregated, all-black regiment, which fought in Korea in 1950-51.

The report from the five-member panel is scheduled to be sent to the Army secretary by June 30 and publication of the study, titled ``Black Soldier, White Army,″ is expected in late summer.

The 4,000-member regiment, commanded by white officers, was ordered disbanded in 1951 as inept and untrustworthy. Soldiers were accused of disobeying orders, failing to obtain or hold positions and fleeing the battlefield in ``mass hysteria″ before shots were even fired.

Previous Army histories of the Korean conflict and the 24th’s role, including one written in 1961, portray the soldiers as hapless cowards. Those accounts were based on the views of the regiment’s white commanders.

The new study, the Army’s attempt to correct the record, indicates that the 24th Infantry regiment fought well in some battles but broke down in most. The researchers cited poor training and equipment and the white commanders’ lack of trust in the black troops due to racial prejudice.

``The regiment labored under a special burden, unique to itself, that seemed to doom it to misfortune,″ the study says. ``Whites then expected blacks to fail. When they did, few looked beyond race to find a cause.″

In some instances, however, the study backs up the older view of the black soldiers as near deserters.

``Some squads and platoons became so accustomed to withdrawals that their men began to abandon their positions after only the sound of firing in the distance or minor enemy or sniper or mortar fire,″ the study says. ``As the trend continued, the trust of one soldier on the line for the man next to him deteriorated and each became more inclined than ever to flee.″

Carlisle, hoping to destroy that negative image, insists the black soldiers were no better nor worse than their white peers, and in fact there are at least six documented combat victories for the 24th.

``The 24th fought as well as any combat unit out there under very difficult conditions,″ Carlisle said. ``The study should talk about combat first and talk about racism second. Talk about what the regiment did.″

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