African-American D-Day veterans celebrate Barack Obama's trip to Normandy
By Philip Sherwell in New York
Published: 9:00AM BST 06 Jun 2009
The Telegraph (UK)
John Noble Roberts received the Purple Heart, awarded to all injured servicemen, but felt there was little recognition for the role played by African-Americans in Normandy Photo: JEFF RAYNER
They have long been the forgotten heroes of D-Day, the African American military personnel who stormed ashore and risked their lives for a country that still treated them as second-class citizens.
Their faces were missing from the Hollywood films that heaped glory on US forces and and their stories were missing from the books, exhibitions and museums that commemorated the Normandy landings.
But with President Barack Obama, the country’s first African American commander-in-chief, in France for the 65th anniversary celebrations of D-Day on Saturday, black veterans of the segregated US army believe their role is finally being acknowledged.
“Where we were in The Longest Day or Saving Private Ryan?” asked Charles Sprowl, 87, referring to two of the best-known films about the events of June 6, 1944. “Where we were we in the history books?” The former corporal in the 490th Port Battalion, who dodged German bullets and rockets as he carried supplies ashore on Utah beach that day, believes that oversight is belatedly being put right.
“I think people are finally realising that there were African Americans there too and how important we were in the operation, but it’s been a long time, too long.”
For Mr Sprowl, who has lived his whole life in Dalston, Georgia, the biggest shock of his wartime service was not the carnage on the beaches of Normandy but his experience in the months before the invasion when he was stationed in Maghull, Merseyside.
“We would go in to Liverpool and we were treated like normal people,” he said. “There was no segregation and we could go where we wanted and do what we wanted. We went dancing in the Grafton Ballroom and shopping on Whitechapel like everyone else.
“My time in England was the first time I had really felt free in my life. And I wondered why another country was treating us better than our own country, better than the country we were fighting for.”