Military Service and Minorities

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MILITARY SERVICE AND MINORITIES This entry includes 3 subentries:
African Americans

African Americans

From the beginning of the nation's history, African Americans have served in the vanguard of the country's military, fighting its enemies as well as racism and discrimination in their own armed forces. At the beginning of the Revolutionary War in 1775, they made up 500,000 of the budding nation's population of 2.5 million. About five thousand blacks served in the ranks of the Continental Army. During the War of 1812, blacks made up between 10 and 20 percent of the United States Navy. New York organized two regiments of one thousand former slaves and free blacks each, while Louisiana and Philadelphia organized a battalion.

The Civil War and Spanish-American War

By the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, there were 3.5 million African Americans living in the South and 250,000 living in the North. Blacks joined the Union army in large numbers and participated in 449 military engagements. Some 180,000 African American soldiers served in the Union army during the Civil War; 38,000 died, 3,000 to combat-related fatalities. At the end of the Civil War, 122,000 black troops were on active duty. Almost 30,000 blacks served in the integrated Union navy and a few vessels were manned predominantly by black sailors. Blacks won 23 of the 1,523 Medals of Honor awarded during the Civil War, 8 after the Civil War, and 17 during the Indian campaigns from 1861 to 1898.

Twenty-two African American sailors, 9 percent of the ship's complement, perished with the USS Maine when it was sunk in Havana Harbor, Cuba, on 15 February 1898, igniting the Spanish-American War. Because of the war's brevity, the only black units to see combat were the 1,700 men of the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments. These were the only African American units to survive military cutbacks after the Civil War. Black soldiers and sailors won 6 of the 109 Medals of Honor awarded during the war.

The World Wars

At the beginning of World War I, there were twenty-thousand African Americans serving in the military. In October 1917 the War Department authorized the organization of the first black division, the 92d. Fear of concentrating too many black soldiers in any one place, however, resulted in the division being scattered to seven different locations in France. Under the command of the more racially tolerant French, the men of the division won fifty-seven Distinguished Service Crosses. The success of the 92d resulted in the formation of the 93d Division. The latter division's 369th Infantry Regiment became the most famous African American unit in World War I. The French awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Merit to 170 officers and men of the regiment.

Eighty-nine officers and men of the division's 370th Infantry Regiment won the American Distinguished Service Cross or the French Croix de Guerre. Some 140,000 black soldiers served in France during the war, but only 40,000 saw combat. The bulk of the 400,000 African Americans who served during the war were assigned to service and supply duties. Corporal Freddie Stowers of the 93d Division was the only black to win the Medal of Honor during the war.

In August 1939 there were only 3,640 African Americans in the army. By the end of November 1941, this figure had grown to 97,725, and one year after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to 467,833. World War II marked the advent of blacks in the air and signal corps. Overall, twenty-two African American combat units served in Europe during World War II, including the 92d Infantry Division, which saw protracted combat in Italy and suffered 2,735 battle casualties. Other units, like the 93d Infantry Division and the 24th Infantry Regiment, fought in the Pacific. Most black army and marine units, however, never saw combat and the majority of black soldiers, sailors, and marines served as stevedores, truck drivers, wiremen, cooks, and mess stewards. Those that engaged in combat, however, proved themselves superb fighters. The army's 761st Tank Battalion, the first black unit to go into combat, fought for 183 days in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and Austria, inflicting tens of thousands of enemy casualties and liberating thirty major towns while suffering 50 percent losses. It was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation thirty

years after the war. The air force's famed 99th Fighter Squadron, the Tuskegee Airmen, won 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses for service over North Africa and Europe. The black sailors of the destroyer escort USS Mason won special praise for their outstanding seamanship and determination in the North Atlantic. By the end of the war the U.S. Army had 8,268,000 men organized into eighty-nine divisions. Of these, 694,333 men were black. In comparison, the navy had only 7,000 black officers and sailors in its ranks. Nine out of ten were mess stewards. In all, some 1.1 million African Americans served in the U.S. military during World War II. Only seven African Americans won the Medal of Honor during the war.

Post–World War II Conflicts and the Desegregation of the Armed Forces

By the beginning of the Korean War on 25 June 1950, the army had 591,000 men in uniform; 1,317 officers and 56,446 enlisted men were African American, 9.8 percent of ground force strength and 10.9 percent of enlisted strength. Most still served in support units. Between September 1950 and September 1951, almost one hundred black units served in Korea, including the 24th Infantry Regiment, the 64th Tank Battalion, and the 58th, 96th, and 999th Field Artillery Battalions. Heavy infantry losses early in the war, the resulting shortage of white infantrymen, and a surplus of black replacements however, prompted General Matthew B. Ridgway, the Eighth Army commander, to integrate the army in Korea in 1951. Two 24th Infantry soldiers won the Medal of Honor during the war.

African Americans made up about 10 percent of the approximately 8,744,000 service members in Vietnam. A total of 7,115 of the 58,151 Americans killed in Vietnam, or 12.2 percent, were black, a figure equal to the proportion of African Americans in the U.S. population. By the end of the war there were twelve black generals in the army, three in the air force, and one black admiral in the navy. African Americans won 20 of the 239 Medals of Honor awarded during the war. They made up about 30 percent of the U.S. military during Operations Urgent Fury in Grenada (1983), Just Cause in Panama (1989), Desert Storm-Desert Shield in the Persian Gulf (1990– 1991), Restore Hope in Somalia (1992), and Uphold Democracy in Haiti (1994–1996). In 1999 African Americans made up 13 percent of the U.S. population and 22 percent of the military. After two centuries of national history, they were finally serving as full and equal partners, defending their country.


Black Americans in Defense of Our Nation. Washington, D.C.: Department of Defense, 1991.

Bowers, William T., William M. Hammon, and George L. MacGarrigle. Black Soldier, White Army: The 24th Infantry Regiment in Korea. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, U.S. Army, 1996. The army's candid and controversial history of the African American 24th Infantry Regiment in the Korean War.

Lanning, Michael Lee. The African-American Soldier: From Crispus Attucks to Colin Powell. Secaucus, N.J.: Carol Publishing Group, 1997. A detailed history of African Americans in the U.S. military. The author highlights the racism that existed even while African Americans were fighting alongside whites in America's wars.

Lee, Ulysses. The Employment of Negro Troops. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, U.S. Army, 1963. The official army history of African American troops in World War II.

MacGregor, Morris J., Jr. Integration of the Armed Forces, 1940– 1965. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, U.S. Army, 1981. Official army history of the integration of African Americans into the U.S. military.

Moore, Brenda L. To Serve My Country, To Serve My Race: The Story of the Only African-American WACs Stationed Overseas during World War II. New York: New York University Press, 1996. The story of the first African American Women's Army Corps unit to serve overseas.

Trudeau, Noah Andre. Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War, 1862–1865. Boston: Little, Brown, 1998. An excellent history of African Americans in the Civil War.

Wilson, Joe, Jr. The 761st "Black Panther" Tank Battalion in World War II: An Illustrated History of the First African American Armed Unit to See Combat. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland, 1999. A superb battle history.


See alsoAfrican Americans ; Desegregation ; Segregation ; andvol. 9:Black Power Speech .


Hispanics have served in the U.S. military since the Revolutionary War. The Civil War, however, was the first conflict in which they were represented in large numbers. At its outbreak in 1861, some 2,500 Mexican Americans joined the Confederates, while about 1,000 joined the Union forces. By 1865 more than 10,000 Hispanics had fought in the war and two had won the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest combat award. Union admiral David G. Farragut, the most famous Hispanic of the war, is best remembered for his command, "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!" at Mobile Bay in Alabama on 5 August 1864.

During the Spanish-American War in 1898, Hispanics served in volunteer units, mostly from the southwestern United States. The First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry (the Rough Riders), for example, contained a number of Hispanic officers and soldiers. After the war, a battalion of Puerto Rican volunteers was organized in Puerto Rico. It later entered the Regular Army as the Puerto Rico Regiment. Private France Silvia, a Mexican American in the U.S. Marines, was the only Hispanic to win the Medal of Honor during the 1900 Boxer Rebellion in China.

More than 200,000 Hispanics were mobilized for World War I. Puerto Rico alone provided the Army with 18,000 soldiers. Most of the latter served in the island's seven segregated infantry regiments on Puerto Rico and in the Panama Canal Zone. Three regiments were combined to form the Provisional Division of Puerto Rico. Private David Barkley, of the 89th Infantry Division's 356th Infantry Regiment, was the only Hispanic to win the Medal of Honor during the war. Between 250,000 and 500,000 Hispanics served in World War II, mostly Mexican Americans. General Douglas MacArthur called the 158th Infantry Regiment, or Bushmasters—a unit with a large number of Hispanics—one of the greatest fighting combat teams ever deployed for battle. The regiment served with distinction in the Pacific theater. The 141st Infantry Regiment, another unit with many Hispanics, fought in Europe, suffering almost seven thousand battle casualties in 361 days of combat and winning three Medals of Honor, thirty-one Distinguished Service Crosses, 492 Silver Stars, and 1,685 Bronze Stars. Some 65,000 Puerto Ricans served during World War II, most with the 65th Infantry Regiment and the Puerto Rican National Guard's 295thand 296th Infantry Regiments in the Caribbean, North Africa, Europe, and the Pacific. Many also served in medical, transportation, and quartermaster units, including two hundred Puerto Rican women of the Women's Army Corps. Hispanics won 12 of the 431 Medals of Honor awarded during the war. Shortages of infantrymen during the war might have been alleviated had the United States taken better advantage of the large numbers of Hispanics that registered for service.

Nearly twenty thousand Puerto Ricans were serving in the army and marines at the beginning of the Korean War. Puerto Rico's 65th Infantry Regiment arrived in Korea in September 1950 and fought in every major campaign of the war, winning 4 Distinguished Service Crosses and around 130 Silver Stars in three years of fighting. The regiment killed six thousand Communist soldiers and captured two thousand. It received the Presidential Unit Citation and two Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citations. About 60,000 Puerto Ricans served in the army during the Korean War. More than three thousand were killed and wounded. By end of 1953 Puerto Ricans had been integrated throughout the army. Nearly 148,000 Hispanics served in the military in Korea, winning 9 of the 131 Medals of Honor awarded during the war.

Some eighty-thousand Hispanics served during the country's involvement in Vietnam (1963–1973), winning 13 of the 239 Medals of Honor awarded during the war. About twenty thousand took part in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm (1990–1991). In 1997 Hispanics made up almost one-third of the infantry, artillery crews, and specialists deployed to Bosnia for peacekeeping operations. At the time they constituted nearly 11 percent of the U.S. population and 8 percent of the U.S. military. By November 2000, Hispanics constituted almost 11 percent of the military, but still accounted for only four percent of all the officers. The marines had the highest representation with almost 14 percent, while the air force had the lowest with slightly more than 7 percent. The army and navy both had about 11 percent.

Over the years Hispanics have slowly risen to the top of the military profession. In 1964 Admiral Horacio Rivero, a Puerto Rican, became the navy's first Hispanic four-star admiral. In 1982 General Richard E. Cavazos, a Mexican American, became the army's first Hispanic four-star general. On 2 July 1998 Luis Caldera, a Mexican American, became the highest-ranking Hispanic ever when he was appointed secretary of the army. Caldera sought to increase the number of Hispanics in the military. The failure of nearly half of all Hispanics to graduate from high school, however, continues to be a major obstacle to greater representation in the military.


Arthur, Anthony. The Bushmasters: America's Jungle Warriors of World War II. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987. A history of the 158th Infantry Regiment in World War II.

Harris, W. W. Puerto Rico's Fighting 65th U.S. Infantry: From San Juan to Chorwan. San Raphael, Calif.: Presidio Press, 1980. A history of the 65th Infantry Regiment in Korea by its commander.

Hispanics in America's Defense. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Manpower and Personnel Policy, 1990. The only existing military history of Hispanics in the U.S. military.

Into the Storm. The Story of the Puerto Rican National Guard in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Puerto Rico: Arteaga and Arteaga, 1992.

Population Representation in the Military Services, Fiscal Year 1999. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Management Policy, November 2000.

Thompson, Jerry D. Vaqueros in Blue and Gray. New ed. Austin, Tex.: State House Press, 2000. A history of Hispanics in the Civil War.

Villahermosa, Gilberto. "Glory, Defeat, and the Road Back." Army Magazine. September 2001, pp. 81–85. A review of the history of the Regular Army's only Hispanic regiment in Korea.


See alsoDesegregation ; Hispanic Americans ; Segregation .


The U.S. military's ban on homosexual conduct, later applied to homosexual service members themselves, has from its beginning been nebulously defined and inconsistently applied. The first soldier discharged for homosexual conduct in the U.S. military was Lieutenant Gotthold Frederick Enslin, ceremonially drummed out of the Continental Army at Valley Forge on 27 February 1778.

Letters, diaries, and other historical documents from the late-eighteenth century and the nineteenth century record homosexual conduct and relationships amid the ranks. The first documented female homosexual service members were among the approximately four hundred women who passed as men to serve in the Civil War. Homosexual conduct in the military prior to the twentieth century was neither explicitly banned nor sought out by official policy, although once exposed, the customary result was immediate discharge and public humiliation and sometimes even institutionalization or suicide.

The first codified law prohibiting homosexual conduct in the U.S. military appeared during World War I. The Articles of War of 1916 listed assault with the intent to commit sodomy as a felony crime, and by 1919 sodomy itself, consensual or otherwise, was named as a felony crime. During World War II homosexuals were first categorized as a particular group of people unfit for military service due to what psychologists regarded as a pathological sexual orientation. Regulations banning homosexual persons from all branches of the U.S. military went into effect in 1943.

In the 1950s homosexuals were characterized as a threat to national security and the nation's moral welfare. Military investigators turned to so-called "witchhunts," detaining suspects and subjecting them to lengthy and repeated interrogations for the purpose of rooting out other suspected homosexuals. As a result service members were coerced into admitting their homosexuality against their will, and many quietly accepted dishonorable discharges before even being formally charged to escape the harassment of investigators.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s investigations and discharges of homosexual personnel were applied largely at the discretion of commanders. Relatively few homosexuals were discharged during the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, with far greater numbers discharged during peacetime. The first lawsuit challenging the ban was brought in 1973 and was followed by several others in subsequent years, although none was successful in over-turning it.

In 1982 the Department of Defense established a policy that mandated exclusion of homosexuals without exception, stating that service by open homosexuals under any circumstance was detrimental to unit cohesion, individual privacy, recruitment, and public acceptance of military policy. The department supplied no data to back up these claims, and homosexuals were investigated, interrogated, and discharged at a faster rate than in previous years, costing the government nearly half a billion dollars between 1982 and 1992.

The 1990s brought greater public attention to the military's ban on homosexuals. The 1992 murder of Seaman Allen Schindler by his shipmates for his alleged homosexuality was followed by public outrage and inquiry into the policy and its implementation. In 1993 President Bill Clinton proposed a compromise on the homosexual ban, resulting in the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue" policy. After the 1999 murder of Private First Class Barry Winchell by fellow soldiers who perceived him to be homosexual, the Department of Defense surveyed some seventy-five thousand service members the following year and found that antihomosexual harassment was prevalent throughout the military. The policy was amended to also include "Don't Harass."

Military policy has sought to eradicate and exclude homosexuals for reasons that have reflected the prevailing antihomosexual sentiments of the day. Since the first internal report prepared for the secretary of the navy in 1957, numerous official studies have concluded that no credible evidence supports the ban on homosexuals in the U.S. military. The ban remained in place in the early twenty-first century.


Bérubé, Allan. Coming Out under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two. New York: Free Press, 1990.

Halley, Janet E. Don't: A Reader's Guide to the Military's Anti-Gay Policy. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1999.

RAND. Sexual Orientation and U.S. Military Personnel Policy: Options and Assessment. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND/National Defense Research Institute, MR-323-OSD, 1993.

Scott, Wilbur J., and Sandra Carson Stanley, eds. Gays and Lesbians in the Military: Issues, Concerns, and Contrasts. New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1994.

Shilts, Randy. Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993.

Williams, Colin J., and Martin S. Weinberg. Homosexuals and the Military: A Study of Less Than Honorable Discharge. New York: Harper and Row, 1971.

Kristen L.Rouse

See also"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ; Gay and Lesbian Movement ; Sexual Orientation .

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