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50 Years Later, War Hero's Record Is Finally Cleared

Military: Despite combat record, Sgt. Edward Carter was placed under investigation as a possible Communist.

November 11, 1999|PAUL RICHTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Staff Sgt. Edward A. Carter Jr. killed six Germans and took two others prisoner in a single World War II skirmish, winning the admiration of his 12th Armored Division buddies--but not the trust of the Army.

For seven years after he enlisted, Army officials compiled a secret dossier on Carter's suspected Communist ties. And in 1949, when the Los Angeles man tried to rejoin the service, they barred the door and broke his heart.

On Wednesday, the Army declared that the suspicions were all a mistake in a solemn Pentagon ceremony that his family said meant more than the posthumous Medal of Honor he was given at the White House two years ago. The Army said that the long investigation had turned up no evidence of disloyalty, although officials had compiled information on where Carter went, whom he talked to and even what magazines he bought.

"We are here to say we are sorry," Gen. John Keane, the Army vice chief of staff, told a gathering at the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes. "We want to set the record straight--the whole record."

Carter's daughter-in-law, Allene Carter, who campaigned to clear his name, called the move a vindication that lifts "a dark cloud that's been hanging over the family for 50 years."

One day before Veterans Day, Army Secretary Louis Caldera issued a formal apology. The family was given three posthumous awards for Carter's service in World War II.

The Army Board for the Correction of Military Records, meanwhile, has revised Carter's files to expunge all suggestion of disloyalty.

Army officials said that the wrong arose from the fevered anti-communism of the mid-century--"a time when an anxious nation saw the Communist philosophy as a threat to America's democratic values." Allene Carter, who had pressed the Army for years to declassify her father-in-law's files, told Associated Press that she blamed racism more than anti-Communism.

Carter aroused suspicion because before he enlisted for service in World War II he had fought for Spanish socialists against Franco's Fascists in one chapter of an adventurous early life.

Born in Shanghai to an American missionary father and an Indian mother, Carter learned Mandarin Chinese and Hindustani. He fought with the Chinese against the Japanese and for two years served in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

He enlisted in the Army in 1942 at a time when black soldiers were not regularly given combat assignments and more frequently worked as stevedores or truck drivers. After the Battle of the Bulge, as U.S. troop strength ran low, Carter got his chance to fight.

He won the most acclaim in March 1945, when Gen. George Patton Jr.'s forces were pushing into Speyer, Germany. Although he suffered five bullet wounds, Carter killed six enemy soldiers, captured two, and brought back key information on enemy positions.

When the war ended, Carter was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the military's second-highest combat award. But all the while, the secret investigation of his activities was continuing by officers who viewed his knowledge of Asian languages as a sign of risk.

Declassified records show that on more than one occasion some officers unsuccessfully sought to close the files on Carter.

After the war, Carter worked in a Los Angeles tire factory. But he did not like civilian life and, with the help of the ACLU sought to reenter the Army. He failed. In 1963, he died of lung cancer.

Two years ago, Carter was one of seven black World War II veterans who were awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for bravery, by President Clinton.

Yet his family was not satisfied and pushed forward with efforts to clear his name. Three months ago, Clinton wrote to Carter's widow, Mildred, to express his regret for the way Carter was treated.

"Had I known when I presented this Medal of Honor two years ago, I would have personally apologized to you and your family," Clinton said.

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