Segregation in America did not stop in World War II. Though bullets did not discriminate, the US Army Command did. African American soldiers served in all black units.

In April 1944, one soldier recounted how he and eight other African-American soldiers traveling through Texas could not find a place where they could buy a cup of coffee. Finally, the lunchroom manager at a railroad depot served them from the back door of the kitchen. Then, “About two dozen German prisoners of war, with two American guards, came to the station. They entered the lunchroom, sat at the tables, had their meals served, talked, smoked, in fact had quite a swell time.”

In spite of their second-class status, segregated soldiers distinguished themselves on the battlefield. The 969th Field Artillery Battalion earned praise from General Maxwell Taylor for its supporting fire during the defense of Bastogne. “Our success,” Taylor wrote the 960th’s commander, “is attributable to the shoulder to shoulder cooperation of all units involved. This Division is proud to have shared the battlefield with your command.” He put the battalion in for a Distinguished Unit Citation, which it received on February 5, the first African-American combat unit to be so honored.

In spring, 1945, the US Army moved north and east, capturing more and more land that had been controlled by the Germans. American troops liberated Nazi prison and death camps as they came upon them. African-American units were among the first to reach several camps. These liberators ended the Holocaust for the thousands of victims imprisoned inside. None of the soldiers—regardless of skin color—had been prepared for what they would find there. What preparation could there be for something beyond what had ever happened in history?