A Picture from History: Edward A. Carter Jr.


Some men are born to be soldiers, and Edward A. Carter Jr. was one of them.

Carter Jr. was born in Los Angeles in 1916 to an African American father and an East Indian mother. 

Edward Carter

The Chinese Army

Although born in California, Carter spent his childhood traveling the world with his missionary parents. Carter’s family was in Shanghai in 1932 when the Japanese attacked

Though only 15, Carter joined the Chinese army.

Chinese 19th Route Army defending during the Battle of Shanghai
Chinese 19th Route Army defending during the Battle of Shanghai

He served in combat and gained the rank of lieutenant before his age was discovered. Undeterred, he enrolled in a Chinese military academy and became fluent in German and Mandarin.

Eager to continue soldiering, Carter joined American volunteers fighting in the Spanish Civil War in 1936. After two years of heavy combat, the American Abraham Lincoln Brigade disbanded and Carter returned to the U.S. a seasoned soldier. 

Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War
Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War

Segregation and the U.S. Army in WWII

Carter joined the U.S. Army in September 1941. As the Army was racially segregated, Carter was barred from the infantry and achieved the rank of SSgt. in a supply unit.

But Carter’s days of combat weren’t over. Following the Battle of the Bulge, 4,500 Black soldiers were allowed to volunteer for combat.

Black soldiers weren’t allowed to have command over white soldiers, so Carter surrendered his stripes to enter combat as a private.

African American troops during World War II
African American troops during World War II


On March 23, 1945, Carter’s unit approached Speyer, Germany, through an open field. Suddenly, a Panzerschreck rocket hit the tank Carter was riding on. Taking cover along the road, he volunteered to lead a four-man patrol to find the enemy. 

One man was immediately killed by machine-gun fire, and Carter ordered the others to fall back and provide cover. As they went, one of the men was killed and the other seriously injured.

Despite sustaining three gunshot wounds to his left arm, Carter pressed forward.

He was again struck in the leg and fell to the ground. As he drank from his canteen, his left hand was hit. Carter remained behind cover for hours until eight Germans approached to take him prisoner. 

An African American MP in front of segregated military facilities
An African American MP in front of segregated military facilities

Incredibly, Carter rose to his feet and killed six of the Germans before the others surrendered. 

While escorting them back to the American position, Carter interrogated them in German about enemies in the area.

He then insisted on passing this information along before being evacuated. This information proved crucial in the capture of Speyer the next day. 

Medal of Honor

Although Carter’s commanding officer recognized his heroism, he knew the realities of segregation. 

Even though African-American soldiers received Medals of Honor in previous wars and more Black soldiers served in combat than ever before, none received the nation’s highest honor during WWII. 

Carter receives his Distinguished Service Cross
Carter receives his Distinguished Service Cross

So instead, Carter’s commanding officer put him forward for the Distinguished Service Cross.

Carter died in 1963 from lung cancer caused by shrapnel in his neck.

In 1997, the Army investigated instances where Black soldiers were denied the Medal of Honor due to their race.

Medal of Honor Headstone in Section 59
Headstone of U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Edward Carter Jr. in Section 59 of Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, Oct. 30, 2019. (U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser / Arlington National Cemetery / released)

As a result, they upgraded Carter’s award to fully reflect his heroism. Carter was reinterred at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

If you’d like to learn more about Carter, his story is told in the third episode of the Netflix original series, Medal of Honor.

This is a new style of article for Pew Pew Tactical, if you liked it — let us know in the comments! If you didn’t enjoy it…well phooey. To catch up on previous Pictures from History, click on over to our History Category.

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