In honor of Black History Month, U.S. Army North (Fifth Army) recognizes the 92nd Infantry Division (Buffalo) as the only African American infantry division to see combat in Europe during World War II, fighting in the Italian Campaign.
Activated Oct. 15, 1942, at Fort McClellan, Ala., the 92nd ID was made up of primarily white officers and African American enlisted personnel and was one of three segregated African-American divisions, referred to as Colored Troops, activated during World War II, according to the U. S. Army Military History Institute. Only the 92nd served as a full division in combat.
After spending more than a year training together at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., the division of “Buffalo Soldiers” deployed to Italy in the fall of 1944, assigned to Fifth Army and joining the continued assault toward the Alps after the fall of Rome.
On Oct. 19 of that year, a rendezvous area near Leghorn, Italy, was designated for most of the arriving 92nd ID elements. By that time, Task Force 92, the 370th Infantry Regiment and 2nd Armored Group, was already attacking up the Ligurian coast of Italy as part of the Fifth Army assault on the Gothic Line.
The next five months of difficult fighting in the Northern Apennines and Italian Alps identified some genuine heroes in the 92nd ID and the strength of the men of that fighting force.
From August of 1944 through the end of the war in May 1945, the division advanced more than 3,000 square miles and captured more than 20,000 German prisoners, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, or DPAA. They also suffered casualties in the thousands.
For their accomplishments, the 92nd earned more than 12,000 decorations and citations, including two Medals of Honor, according to the 92nd Infantry Division’s World War II association.
Medal of Honor recipient 1st Lt. Vernon Baker was one of those recognized for his actions with the 92nd ID.
On April 5, 1945, Baker’s unit was ordered to assault the mountain stronghold of Viareggio, Italy.
According to his Medal of Honor citation, on April 5-6, 1945, then 2nd Lt. Baker demonstrated outstanding courage and leadership in destroying enemy installations, personnel and equipment during his company’s attack against a strongly entrenched enemy in mountainous terrain. When his company was stopped by the concentration of fire from several machine gun emplacements, he crawled to one position and destroyed it, killing three Germans. Continuing forward, he attacked an enemy observation post and killed two occupants.
With the aid of one of his men, Baker attacked two more machine gun nests, killing or wounding the four enemy soldiers occupying these positions. He then covered the evacuation of the wounded personnel of his company by occupying an exposed position and drawing the enemy’s fire.
On the following night, Lieutenant Baker voluntarily led a battalion advance through enemy mine fields and heavy fire toward the division objective.
The other Medal of Honor recipient from the division was 1st Lt. John R. Fox, who distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism at the risk of his own life on Dec. 26, 1944, in the Serchio River Valley Sector of Italy.
Fox served as a forward observer for his division and the 598th Field Artillery Battalion, and gave his life to delay German advances.
After the war, 53 men from the 92nd were still unaccounted for, and in 2014, DPAA started the 92nd Infantry Project in an attempt to account for the missing. They have been able to account for three of the missing men.
The greatest challenge in accounting for the missing isn’t lack of information or the ability to correlate remains buried as unknowns with the unaccounted-for, according to DPAA, but not having the necessary DNA family reference samples for comparison in order to make an identification.
The DPAA encourages any family members of men unaccounted for from the 92nd Infantry Division to contact the Army Casualty Office at 800-892-2490 to arrange for giving a DNA sample.