ATLANTA, Georgia, Oct. 16, 2015 —
In a small church nestled in a quiet Atlanta, Ga. suburb, DLA Distribution commander Army Brig. Gen. Richard Dix and Deputy Commanding General, National Guard Army Brig. Gen. John King, presented a World War II veteran, Army Sgt. Earnest Felton Jett, Sr. with over a dozen medals and badges including the French A Ses Liberateurs Medal, Normandy, D-Day Comm, Belgium Comm, American Campaign, Transportation Medal, Driving Badge, Qualification Badge with bars, Infantry Badge, Belgium Fouraguerre, and French Fouraguerre.
Jett was born 91 years ago in Chamblee, Ga., and entered the United States Army on March 11, 1943, at Fort Benning, Ga. Jett held the rank of T5 in the 4043rd Quartermaster Truck Company, 66th Infantry Division of the United States Army in World War II. He served in Europe three years, most of the time within a mile of the front lines. Jett’s military occupation specialty was a deuce and quarter truck driver. He drove through storms and unfriendly terrain from France to within miles of Berlin, and transported German prisoners of war from the border of Czechoslovakia back to France. He was injured during the war when a hot piece of shrapnel hit his leg while transporting troops of the 101st airborne.
As Jett, wearing his military-issued Army uniform, spoke to the crowded church of relatives, friends and honored guests, he recalled, “I was a shoeshine boy for the United States Naval Air Station when I was 13 years old. I shined the shoes of naval officers. I looked up to them, respected them, and that’s what made me want to join the service.”
Ironically, Jett had that same influence on another young man who watched him march in uniform through Lynwood Park, Ga. during a parade. The young man not only became a member of the US Army, he is now DLA Distribution commander Army Brig. Gen. Richard Dix, who grew up in another quiet Atlanta suburb near the church where he recognized Jett. “I never forgot where home was,” said Dix, “I’m a proud son and it’s an honor to be here tonight to recognize one of the men who trailblazed the way for those of us who came behind him.”
According to Dix, “The 66th Infantry Division of the US Army, nicknamed the Black Panthers, served in Normandy, France, during 1944. In fact, Mr. Jett was on Omaha Beach in Normandy on D-Day. Of the more than 2.5 million blacks who registered for the draft in World War II, about 909,000 served in the Army including Mr. Jett. In 1944, there were over 700,000 blacks in the Army; this represented the greatest proportion of blacks to total Army strength in World War II. So at its peak, only 8.7 percent of the Army--instead of the planned 10 percent -- was black. In June 1945, blacks accounted for less than 3 percent of all men assigned to combat duty in the Army. About 78 percent of all black males--and only 40 percent of all white males--in the Army were placed in the service branches (including quartermaster, engineer, and transportation corps). Approximately 167,000 blacks served in the Navy during the war, about 4 percent of total Navy strength; and over 17,000 blacks enlisted in the Marine Corps, which was 2.5 percent of all marines.”
"Despite the multitude of problems with which the Army was faced in the use of black troops in World War II," historian Ulysses Lee would later write in the Army's official account of the war, "at the war's end a greater variety of experience existed than had ever before been available within the American Military Establishment."
And on one mild Georgia evening, a crowd gathered to recognize one of the fine men who served our country during World War II. As WWII veterans are passing away at the rate of approximately 492 a day, according to US Veterans Administration figures, the nation needs to recognize them for their service, thank them, and honor them for the sacrifices they have made for the country.