Excerpted From: Micah Poulson, Heroes Abroad, Forgotten at Home: The Case for Reparation for Black WWII Veterans, 31 Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law and Policy 151 (Fall, 2023) (195 Footnotes) (Full Document)


MicahPoulson.jpegDespite being confined to segregated units and experiencing stifling discrimination, over one million Black people served during World War II. soldiers aided the war effort in both combat and support roles.

The Tuskegee Airmen, the country's first Black military aviators, would garner significant acclaim in combat. In fact, by the end of the war, the Tuskegee Airmen flew over 15,000 flights and damaged or destroyed 273 German planes, over 900 vehicles, and one German Destroyer. They earned more than 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, the highest award for aerial performance. The 761 tank battalion, commonly called the Black Panthers, was the first Black tanker squadron. They distinguished themselves in four major campaigns, including the Battle of the Bulge. By the conflict's conclusion, the Black Panthers had earned 11 Silver Stars, 69 bronze stars, and a remarkable 300 Purple Hearts. Nearly 2,000 Black soldiers served on D-Day, the battle which ensured Allied victory in Western Europe. Intriguingly, some Black soldiers had the unique role of erecting explosive balloons high over the beaches of France to dissuade German planes from attacking Allied troops. In the Navy, one Black seaman went above and beyond the call of duty. Despite being a cook who was never trained to use an antiaircraft gun, Doris Miller successfully operated an antiaircraft gun during Pearl Harbor and carried many wounded soldiers to safety, including his commander. For his accomplishments, he earned a Navy Cross, the second highest award in the Navy, and the Navy commissioned a warship in his honor after his death.

Due to rampant racism in the military, Black people were often relegated to support roles. Frequently, military leaders did not believe Black soldiers could be in combat or lead other soldiers. Still, Black people distinguished themselves in support roles. The support unit which gained the most acclaim was the predominately Black truck convoy known as the Red Ball Express. The Red Ball Express truck convoy delivered supplies to Allied troops in Europe. The Red Ball Express was critical after an extensive bombing campaign destroyed the French rail system. Consequently, the traditional form of delivering supplies, rail, was unavailable. The members of the Red Ball Express worked tirelessly to ensure that Allied forces had sufficient supplies to continue their path toward Germany and victory in Europe overall. The Red Ball Express operated round the clock for nearly three months, delivering more than 400,000 tons of ammunition, food, and fuel to Allied troops. After completing their final delivery, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who would later become president, said that the Red Ball Express was the Army's “lifeline.” Despite these extraordinary sacrifices throughout the war, Black people could not use the GI Bill like their white counterparts.

This Note argues that Black World War II veterans or their descendants should receive their entire GI Bill benefits. However, this Note also maintains that to fully address the economic consequences of the GI Bill on Black communities, Black veterans are entitled to more. Black WWII veterans or their descendants are entitled to individual compensation for the generations of wealth lost because of discrimination. Part II describes the racist politics that ensured the discriminatory implementation of the original GI Bill. Furthermore, it details the consequences of the racist implementation of the GI Bill. Specifically, it examines the denial of educational and housing opportunities for Black veterans. Part III analyzes the effects of the discriminatory GI Bill on Black communities and states the moral and historical reasons Black WWII veterans are entitled to government reparations. Part IV explains why pending legislation which extends previously denied benefits to living veterans and their descendants is inadequate. Finally, Part V argues that living WWII veterans and their descendants should be entitled to compensation over other forms of reparations.

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To address the generational wealth and the benefits Black veterans and their descendants lost to discrimination, the US government should provide Black veterans or their descendants both their owed benefits and individual compensation. Only this action will fully address the disparities in education, homeownership, and generational wealth the original GI Bill created. It is a small price to pay for those who have sacrificed and endured much more.

Micah Poulson graduated from Georgetown University Law Center in May 2023 and currently works as a litigation associate at White & Case. Prior to law school, he served in the United States Air Force for four and a half years.