It’s Easter again. Do you celebrate it by hiding and finding the magical Easter eggs or celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ? However you celebrate it, it wouldn’t be quite possible if not for the two black American soldiers in the known photograph holding special “Easter Eggs for Hitler” and many others. They sacrificed their lives so we could freely celebrate these kinds of occasions.

The Photograph

The photo was taken on March 10, 1945, during the Battle of Remagen. In it were two black American soldiers: one was holding artillery ammo scribbled with “HAPPY EASTER ADOLPH” while the other was kneeling on the side with a sign that said “EASTER EGGS FOR HITLER.”

The two men in the picture were Technical Sergeant William E. Thomas and Private First Class Joseph Jackson, both from the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion. Although, at the time the photograph was taken, they were still part of the 969th Artillery Battalion. What was the best way to express your heavy dislike of your enemy than to dedicate some special, exploding easter eggs to him, right?

Now, the irony of this photo was that these two soldiers were fighting in a US Army that practiced racial discrimination as a matter of official government policy. These men were fighting to end the racism of Nazism while being subjected to it in their own country.

333rd Field Artillery Battalion

The 333rd Field Artillery Battalion was a segregated African American unit originally formed in August 1917, during World War I. The Battalion was sent to France but did not see any action, so it was demobilized two years after. When World War II broke out, the 333rd Field Artillery was activated in August 1942 as part of an army-wide artillery reorganization.

Men of the 333rd emplace one of their 155mm howitzers in a Normandy field, June 28, 1944. The battalion soon proved its worth in battle, and their services were in high demand by white infantry units. (warfarehistorynetwork.com)

The troops were trained at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma. Soon, the regiment was turned into the 333rd Field Artillery Group, made up of the 33rd and 969th Field Artillery Battalions. Both of these African-American units were with mostly white officers. Their main weapon was the M1 155mm howitzer, which was versatile and effective in terms of shooting while in a truck that the US Army would use up until the Vietnam War.

Going Into Action

The unit arrived in Utah Beach in June 1944, which was the westernmost among the five landing areas during the Normandy Invasion. They provided vital support to their forces throughout months of heavy fighting, including the time when Brest, France, was sieged. The two battalions became known as one of the most efficient and hard-hitting artillery units in the US Army.

In October 1944, the units were sent along the Belgian-German border to support the VIII Corps and the untested 106th Infantry Division in the Ardennes region. The 333rd Battalion was assigned to cover the humble town of Schonberg, where the atmosphere was “tranquil to a point almost approaching garrison conditions.” While at it, the troops also took the time to relax and recreate in the area’s beer hall, bowling alley, and badminton court.

Everything was quiet in terms of German attacks and encounters until December 16, when the German offensive known as the Battle of the Bulge began while the battalion was preparing a musical theater performance.

Dec. 16, 1944, with the onset of winter, the German army launched a counteroffensive intended to cut through the Allied forces to turn the tide of the war in Hitler's favor. The battle that ensued is known historically as The Battle of the Bulge. (<a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flickr_-_The_U.S._Army_-_Battle_of_the_Bulge.jpg">The U.S. Army</a>, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
Dec. 16, 1944, with the onset of winter, the German army launched a counteroffensive intended to cut through the Allied forces to turn the tide of the war in Hitler’s favor. The battle that ensued is known historically as The Battle of the Bulge. (The U.S. Army, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The surprise offensive by a German army considered beaten and in retreat threw the men of the 106th Division into chaos. The black artillerymen took up their rifles to fight alongside the infantry. At one point, they beat off a German attack and inflicted serious losses only to find that the Germans kept coming like a swarm of ants, and their number was overwhelming. The batteries of the 333rd and 969th battalions began pulling back under orders, realizing that being overrun was becoming very likely. The 106th Division’s artillery commander requested that they leave batteries behind for support instead, promising that they would hold the main lines and they would not be in danger. This assurance he won’t be able to keep.

Ignored Sacrifices

The village of Schonberg ended up being captured by the Nazis. Many of the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion were either captured or killed, almost half of them. In the evening, the captors drove them into the forest and tortured them with rifle butts and bayonets. The Nazis cut off their fingers and ran over them with vehicles before leaving their bodies behind.

Men of C Battery, 333rd, pose for a photo with Captain William G. McLeod, center, in a wintry landscape when the massacre occurred. (warfarehistorynetwork.com)

The remainder of the 333rd, meanwhile, joined the 969th, where 11 of them died at Wereth through brutal torture. They were, unfortunately, ignored by the US Army investigators who uncovered the atrocities after the battle. Jumping to 1949, when a subcommittee of the Senate’s Committee on Armed Service conducted a full review of Nazi atrocities at the Battle of the Bulge, the Wereth massacre was still left behind and ignored. It wasn’t until 2017 that the Congress passed a resolution to officially recognize the victims of the massacre:

Curtis Adams of South Carolina, Mager Bradley of Mississippi, George Davis, Jr., of Alabama, Thomas Forte of Mississippi, Robert Green of Georgia, James Leatherwood of Mississippi, Nathaniel Moss of Texas, George Motten of Texas, William Pritchett of Alabama, James Stewart of West Virginia, and Due Turner of Arkansas.

Thanks to them and all the others who sacrificed that we are now able to freely celebrate this easter and more.

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