Staff Sgt. Edward Allen Carter Jr. was born on May 26, 1916, in Los Angeles, California to missionary parents. Their evangelism work took them to Calcutta, India, and Shanghai, China where young Carter was raised.
Being a man who stated he had the vision to fight in an army, Carter ran away from home and enlisted in the Chinese Nationalist Army at the age of fifteen to fight the Japanese after the Shanghai Incident of 1932. He rose to the rank of lieutenant before he was found to be underage and discharged.
When he turned 18, he enlisted in the Shanghai military school. Holding on to that vision of fighting in an army but not getting killed, Carter once again saw action in the Spanish Civil War in Europe as a corporal in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. The integrated volunteer troop of mostly American socialists was later forced to flee to Paris in 1938.
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Now fluent in Hindi, Mandarin, English and German, Carter returned to the United States and enlisted in the U.S. Army on Sept. 6, 1941, shortly before World War II. Because of his combat experience, he was quickly promoted to staff sergeant. In 1942, just months after he enlisted, however, the Army opened a counterintelligence file on him because of his stint in China and Spain fearing he was either a communist or a communist sympathizer.
He was dispatched to Europe in 1944, assigned to supply duties. Fighting with the 12th Armored Division, Carter served as Gen. George S. Patton’s personal bodyguard. However, when Carter’s platoon made it into combat, he had to accept a demotion to private because his superiors would not allow a black to command white troops. Ultimately, he served in the “Mystery Division” of blacks in Patton’s Third Army, where they “performed missions requiring uniforms without identifying unit insignia.”
On March 23, 1945, near Speyer, Germany, Carter’s bravery was exemplified as cited in his citation. “For extraordinary heroism in action on 23 March 1945, near Speyer, Germany. When the tank on which he was riding received heavy bazooka and small arms fire, Sergeant Carter voluntarily attempted to lead a three-man group across an open field. Within a short time, two of his men were killed and the third seriously wounded.
“Continuing alone, he was wounded five times and finally forced to take cover. As eight enemy riflemen attempted to capture him, Sergeant Carter killed six of them and captured the remaining two. He then crossed the field using as a shield his two prisoners from which he obtained valuable information concerning the disposition of enemy troops, in their native tongue. Staff Sergeant Carter’s extraordinary heroism was an inspiration to the officers and men of the Seventh Army Infantry Company Number 1 (Provisional) and exemplify the highest traditions of the Armed Forces.”
For his exploits on the day, Carter was recommended for the Medal of Honor, the highest award for valor but due to his race, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the country’s second-highest military honor, instead of the Medal of Honor.
He was restored to his staff sergeant rank after recovering from his wounds at the hospital. He was assigned a new role of training the troops.
In his career, Carter also received the Bronze Star, American Defense Service Medal, Combat Infantry Badge and other citations and honors.
After the Second World War, Carter was promoted to sergeant first class, but his enlistment was near expiration. When he requested for re-enlistment, he was denied because of his stints in China and Spain. He was rather given an honorable discharge in October 1949.
Now a civilian, Carter spent time with his family in Los Angeles comprising wife Mildred, children Edward and William, and two stepchildren. By way of work, he entered into the tire business.
In 1962, he was diagnosed with lung cancer, which “doctors attributed to wartime shrapnel still embedded in his neck.” He died the following year at the age of 46.
With no African-American soldier awarded the Medal of Honor from World War II, Secretary of the Army John Shannon, in 1992, commissioned an independent study to identify unrecognized African-American heroes from the war. On January 13, 1997, President Bill Clinton presented Carter’s posthumous Medal of Honor to his son, Edward Allen Carter III.