Fought Japanese in China When 15, Then Franco in Spain and In WWII Europe, Killed 6 Germans and Took 2 POW During a Heroic Charge, Awarded MoH in 1997

Edward Allen Carter
Edward Allen Carter

One look at the life of Medal of Honor recipient Edward Allen Carter and it doesn’t take you long to realize that this was a man who just wanted to get into the fight wherever he could find it.

His parents service as missionaries in Asia would mean the first fight he could find at age 15 was the Chinese National Army battling the Japanese in Shanghai. When that fight was no longer available to him, he decided to jump into the fighting taking place during the Spanish Civil War and fought with the Loyalist.

Then with the rest the world decided to get in on the fighting as well, this veteran of two wars would finally enlist in the United States Army to serve the country in which he was originally born. And while his race as an African-American would initially hinder his ability to fight in Europe, the man with the nose for it found his way to the action and picked himself up a Medal of Honor along the way.

An Early Start to the Fight

Edward Carter was born in California in 1916 to an African-American father and East Indian mother who served as missionaries. Their service would take them to India where he would spend many of his early years growing up and then eventually settling Shanghai China.

Fortunately, if you’re a 15-year-old young man looking for a fight in 1932, China Shanghai was the place. The Shanghai incident which would be a prelude to the greater Sino-Japanese war erupted and Edward Carter decided to fight on behalf of the Chinese.

Unfortunately, while he did see action, it was short-lived when the Army found out he was only 15 years old and forced him out.

Chinese military police fight during the Shanghai incident in 1932 via
Chinese military police fight during the Shanghai incident in 1932

Taking his combat experience with him, Carter would come of age and find his next opportunity for a fight in Spain. The Spanish Civil War erupted in 1936, and Carter jumped at the opportunity to serve as a Corporal in the socialist Abraham Lincoln Brigade which was an American volunteer unit opposing the fascist.

He was quickly able to distinguish himself, perhaps due to fighting his first war at age 15, and became a hardened veteran before most Americans had even contemplated the idea of war. However, when his side of the Civil War took a turn for the worse, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was forced to flee in 1938.

He subsequently made his way back to America where he met his wife and heading into his mid-20s contemplated settling down. But the world was not done with war yet and war was not done with Edward Carter. Just before the US entry into the war, Carter enlisted in the U.S. Army in September 1941 once again quickly established himself as a man who knew what he was doing.

Standing out above the average recruit, he was promoted to Staff Sergeant in less than a year, but his race and suspicions about his involvement with the socialist in Spain would hamper his military career.

From Suspicion to Gallantry

The Army quickly opened a counterintelligence file on Carter and monitored his activities due to his exposure to the socialist in Asia and Spain. His mail was read, his whereabouts reported, and the fact that he had a speaking knowledge of Chinese only seemed to add to the paranoia.

Finally, in 1944, he would eventually get his chance to at least get close to the fight, but was assigned to supply duties due to his race. One might think that a veteran of two wars could be of some use in combat, but it was a different era for the United States military at that time.

However, when replacements in the combat arms began to run short in December 1944, Eisenhower created a volunteer force called replacement command that allowed rear echelon soldiers of any race to jump into the fight.

African American troops serving in an anti-aircraft battery in Europe via
African American troops serving in an anti-aircraft battery in Europe

Carter enthusiastically volunteered despite the fact that he would have to accept a reduction in rank to private so as not to find himself in a position to command white soldiers. Wanting nothing more than to fight, Carter happily accepted and just as one might expect his experience showed up in a big way when it mattered most.

On March 23, 1945, Carter was riding on a tank when it was hit by a bazooka and caught fire. Without hesitation, Carter dismounted and led three of his fellow soldiers to engage the Germans forces.

Under heavy fire, two of the men were initially killed and the third wounded. Undeterred Carter pursued the enemy in a lone charge that resulted in him being wounded up to five times before he eventually had to take cover.

At that time, eight German soldiers moved in to try to capture one wounded Edward Carter. But little did the Germans know, those odds were not in their favor. At close range, Carter killed six of the German soldiers who attempted his capture and then captured the final two.

Being the wily veteran that he was, he used the two prisoners as cover from the enemy fire as he crossed back over the field.

A Medal of Honor Never Seen

The captured German soldiers provided valuable intelligence and those who witnessed Carter’s actions couldn’t deny his inexplicable capacity for combat. Due to his race, he was initially awarded the Distinguished service cross rather the Medal of Honor many believed he duly warranted.

Carter would recover from his severe wounds that day and return home hoping to pursue a future career in the military. However, post-World War II fears of socialism were at an all-time high and he was denied reenlistment in 1949 because of his prior affiliations from the Spanish Civil War.

Edward Carter died of lung cancer in 1963 and took with him a remarkable story that belongs in the halls of history. When subsequent investigations decades later examined whether soldiers had been denied the medal of honor due to race, Carter’s name was quickly evaluated.

In 1997, Pres. Bill Clinton posthumously awarded Edward Carter the Medal of Honor. And while Carter may never have gotten to see that medal or live to see the day when his exploits were truly appreciated, his undeniable gallantry and commitment to the fight are an inspiration for all who would have the courage to pick arms and enter into the fray of combat.

Jeff Edwards

Jeff Edwards is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE