Still, in the quest to understand what makes a soldier go beyond what is expected of him, I found the bittersweet account of Staff Sargeant Edward Allen Carter Jr—and having to delve into that fateful day on Mar. 23, 1945, a date that would eventually earn him the prestigious valor medal, gives me the chills. Because, to cut the story short, Carter has endured multiple shots, for Pete’s sake! But his adrenaline and willpower to earn respect kept him alive with his presence of mind still intact. He managed to capture two remaining Nazi German soldiers, who he then walked back to his unit and interrogated in their native language along the way, all while bearing his wounds. Like serious, severe wounds. How on earth did he stay alive and walk like it was just another day at the office? If you’d tell me Carter was a superhuman, I’d sure as hell believe it!
Destined To Be A Soldier
Carter had a fascinating childhood. He was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1916 to missionary parents. At age 9, his family moved halfway across the globe to her mother’s hometown in Calcutta, India (now known as Kolkata), to start a church. A military base was stationed near their house, and it was there when young Edward started getting interested in the army. Growing up, he had an estranged relationship with his father and ran away from home twice. Eddie, however, managed to tame his rebellious nature and joined the military at 15. When his family was in Shanghai, he snuck out, enrolled in the Chinese Military Academy, and fought alongside the Chinese and British forces during the Japanese invasion in the early 1930s. He’d reached the rank of lieutenant, but his father discovered his enlistment and snitched his age. Nevertheless, this doesn’t stop young Ed from pursuing his military career. He eventually left Shanghai, traveled to Spain, and served the Abraham Lincoln Brigade of Americans as soon as he heard of the uprising against the fascists.
With this history in mind, it was safe to say that Carter was already an experienced warrior when he enlisted in the U.S. Army in September 1941 during the Second World War. He was eager to serve the frontlines, but all these came crashing down when 1) his previous socialist involvement in China and Spain was unraveled and 2) because he was black. It was ironic that World War II broke out because the world was trying to stop and eradicate the racism that Hitler instilled among his men—yet, the armed forces fighting the said war were segregated.
Regardless, Carter persevered and settled to conform to his assigned position. He was a Staff Sargeant when the call for additional manpower was disseminated following the horrific casualty loss in the Battle of Bulge. Carter knew, as grim as this may sound, that this was his chance to join the frontline finally. So, he volunteered alongside other Black soldiers of over 4,000 on the condition that they would be all stripped from their ranks and serve as privates, to which he begrudgingly complied.
That Fateful Day of Mar. 23
On Mar. 23, 1945, Private Carter found himself on top of a tank with his men slowly traversing across the Rhineland en route to Germany for scouting when they were suddenly bombarded. Carter was quick to his feet, docked for covers, and scanned the open field, where he spotted a large warehouse in the middle. A few yards from the house were a combination of bazooka, enemy infantry, and the feared 88-mm gun that could take down their tanks. Knowing this, he stepped up and volunteered to eliminate the threat. He led a three-person team to further scout the area, and almost immediately, they were greeted with intense firing that killed two fellow soldiers and the third one wounded. Despite his wounds and the fact that he is now alone, Carter proceeded with the mission, using the grassy field to his advantage. He stayed low in the area for two hours which was fruitful considering he shot down six of the eight-man German squad and captured the remaining two who surrendered to him. Finally, he reached his unit and relayed valuable intel that would lead to a successful operation.
SFC Edward A. Carter Jr, Medal of Honor for March 23, 1945, Germany. His tank hit by a rocket, he advanced thru machine gun fire across 150 yards of open field, being wounded 5 times. After killing 6 of the ambushers, took 2 POW, providing valuable intel for further operations. pic.twitter.com/Qmism1klzr
— Ned Pyle (@NerdPyle) February 5, 2020
This man did that with all the bullets pierced on his body and bleeding. He’d spent a month in the hospital, but as soon as he recovered from his wounds, Carter jumped out of his bed and hitched a ride back to his unit.
The Victory of An Unsung Hero… Posthumously
This extraordinary gallantry impressed his superiors, but with the lingering prejudice at that time, Carter received the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest award, instead of the Medal of Honor. Nevertheless, his valor was left unsung. He’d also earned Bronze Star, Purple Heart, American Defense Service Medal, and Combat Infantry Badge, among many others.
His life after WWII remained unfavorable, and it somehow devastated him. After being barred from enlistment, Carter worked in a rubber tire factory, but he wasn’t the same. Being taken out of the military for him seem like losing his soul. It was, after all, where he found his sense of purpose… and without it, life was bleak. He may have survived his critical wounds, but Carter would eventually succumb to lung cancer in 1963. He was 47.
Over 30 years after his passing, President Bill Clinton posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor to Carter and six other black Americans—who deservingly earned the award but weren’t bestowed due to race, on Jan. 13, 1997. The next day, Carter’s family transferred his remains to Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. It was just sad that he didn’t live to celebrate this moment.
Below is the official citation:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his own life above and beyond the call of duty in action on 23 March 1945. At approximately 0830 hours, 23 March 1945, near Speyer, Germany, the tank upon which Staff Sergeant Carter was riding received bazooka and small arms fire from the vicinity of a large warehouse to its left front. Staff Sergeant Carter and his squad took cover behind an intervening road bank. Staff Sergeant Carter volunteered to lead a three-man patrol to the warehouse, where other unit members noticed the original bazooka fire. From here, they were to ascertain the location and strength of the opposing position and advance approximately 150 yards across an open field. Enemy small arms fire covered this field. As the patrol left this covered position, they received intense enemy small arms fire killing one member of the patrol instantly. This caused Staff Sergeant Carter to order the other two members of the patrol to return to the covered position and cover him with rifle fire while he proceeded alone to carry out the mission. The enemy fire killed one of the two soldiers while they were returning to the covered position, and seriously wounded the remaining soldier before he reached the covered position. An enemy machine gun burst wounded Staff Sergeant Carter three times in the left arm as he continued the advance. He continued and received another wound in his left leg that knocked him from his feet. As Staff Sergeant Carter took wound tablets and drank from his canteen, the enemy shot it from his left hand, with the bullet going through his hand. Disregarding these wounds, Staff Sergeant Carter continued the advance by crawling until he was within thirty yards of his objective. The enemy fire became so heavy that Staff Sergeant Carter took cover behind a bank and remained there for approximately two hours. Eight enemy riflemen approached Staff Sergeant Carter, apparently to take him prisoner. Staff Sergeant Carter killed six of the enemy soldiers and captured the remaining two. These two enemy soldiers later gave valuable information concerning the number and disposition of enemy troops. Staff Sergeant Carter refused evacuation until he had given full information about what he had observed and learned from the captured enemy soldiers. This information greatly facilitated the advance on Speyer. Staff Sergeant Carter’s extraordinary heroism was an inspiration to the officers and men of the 7th Army, Infantry Company Number 1 (Provisional) and exemplify the highest traditions of the military service.”
You can watch Carter’s full documentary episode on Netflix’s Medal of Honor, among other heroic men who earned the highest military award.