93-year-old George Watts, a Black veteran of the World War II is owed at least three long-overdue service medals by the U.S. Army.
A Black veteran, George Watts has been waiting 70 years for the U.S. Army to issue the medals he earned in a segregated unity during World War II, reported by News One. Watts, 93, now has a powerful ally.
— blicqer™ (@blicqer) December 15, 2016
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), the Senate minority leader, met with the Buffalo, New York resident on Tuesday to call on the Army to correct the apparent injustice, the Army Times reports.
Schumer said in a statement that the segregated military during that “shameful period” failed to recognize the sacrifice of Black soldiers.
Watts, who served in the Philippines from 1943 to 1946 in a combat engineers unit, said none of the Black soldiers he served with received their decorations, The Times reported.
The medals—the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the Philippine Liberation Medal—were due upon his separation from the military.
Watts is the last-known living Erie County WWII veteran to have served in a segregated unit. President Harry Truman integrated the U.S. military in 1948, the Army Times states.
When asked why, 70 years later, he remains without those awards, The peaceable Black veteran Watts said there could be many reasons including lost paperwork, failure to update his address and other errors, according to WBFO.
— Michael Mroziak (@MrozWBFO) December 13, 2016
“I’m not blaming anybody,” Watts said. “Just that I never knew how to get them. I thought eventually somebody would decide that the man didn’t have his medals and would get ’em for me.”
Schumer suggested it was a final injustice against a veteran who was already subject to unfair treatment amidst segregation by the military.
“Watts’ sacrifice to his country will not be truly and fully recognized until these long-delayed medals are awarded,” the senator said. “Any further denial of rightfully deserved medals would undermine this Buffalonian’s valor and sacrifice to his country.”
While Watts did not directly blame his lack of medal on racism, he acknowledged the living conditions under which his unit lived, even stateside, were below the level of other soldiers. He recalled staying in accommodations at Fort Niagara as his unit awaited their call to action overseas. Not far from their living quarters were German prisoners of war who, both Watts and Schumer said, actually lived in better conditions.
“The German prisoners of war lived in brick steam-heated barracks, because they were able to guard them there,” Watts said. “The black soldiers, my platoon for instance, lived in two long tar paper shacks down by the waterfront.”
He went on to describe how those quarters were heated by two stoves, one at each end, that did not necessarily provide adequate heat for all. You either “froze to death or sweated to death,” as Watts recalled.
Very few surviving World War II veterans are left. According to a statistic introduced at the recent Pearl Harbor Day memorial ceremony at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park, only four percent of Americans who served in that war still survive to this day.
Schumer says many of them are still owed medals.
It is quiet hurtful and sad to be denied something that is rightfully yours. The Black veteran, Grant needs to be given the medals and apologized to for the neglect. Seventy years is really a long time to wait.