On his dining room table James “Pat” Daugherty had arranged some old faded photographs from his Army days, his Bronze Star, a copy of his recently published World War II memoir, The Buffalo Saga, and his olive-drab steel helmet, marred near the visor by a chunk of now-rusted iron.
“If you feel the inside of the helmet, you can see how close it was,” he says of the shrapnel from a German mortar that struck the young private in Italy in the fall of 1944. A few more millimeters, and he might never have lived to write his memoir, which is what I went to his home in Silver Spring, Maryland, to learn about.
Daugherty, 85, served in the Army’s storied 92nd Infantry Division, which was made up almost entirely of African-Americans and was the last racially segregated unit in the U.S. armed forces. Known as the Buffalo Soldiers—a name that Native Americans had bestowed on a black cavalry unit after the Civil War—men of the 92nd division were among the only African-Americans to see combat in Europe, battling German troops in Italy. In 1948, President Truman issued an executive order that ended racial segregation in the military.
Daugherty, drafted at age 19, was so deeply affected by his two years in the division that he wrote an account of the experience soon after he returned home in 1947. He self-published the story this year, virtually unchanged from the manuscript he had scribbled in longhand. The Buffalo Saga promises to be a significant addition to the history of African-American troops in World War II because it was written by a participant almost immediately following the events in question, rather than recollected or reconstructed years later.
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