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To Thine Own Self Be Truman

June 28, 1992

Book Review headlines Dallek's review of "Truman" "The Last Honest Man," and Dallek associates much civil-rights progress with this plain-speaking President. Uncharacteristically, Truman's 1948 order "integrating" the armed forces illustrates how sometimes even he was less than forthright.

His Executive Order 9981 read in its most important part: "There shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed forces . . . as rapidly as possible, having due regard to the time required to effectuate any necessary changes without impairing efficiency or morale . . . . " The order was ignored throughout the Army and, particularly, in two armies of occupation in Germany and Japan.

The Eighth U.S. Army began implementing it in Korea only on Oct. 1, 1951, by which time black combat soldiers had fought and died under conditions of segregated servitude so that an Asian people might enjoy the fruits of democracy.

My own 77th Engineer Combat Company became the last black combat unit ever to engage an enemy of the U.S. as of June 30, 1952. Elsewhere, the peacetime Army took until 1954 before integrating the last black combat unit.

Most surprisingly, perhaps, at least one all-black National Guard outfit served last year in the Gulf War, and continues to exist even in 1992.

DAVID CARLISLE, LOS ANGELES

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