Military - Men
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Arthur Guest and the 320th Anti-Aircraft Balloon Battalion
On D-Day June 6, 1944, 160,000 allied troops invaded Normandy Beaches in France with the goal of overtaking the Germans and gaining control of the beaches. Pushing German forces inland would allow more US and allied troops, tanks and supplies to enter the war and ultimately defeat the Germans.
In order to establish a presence on the beach, troops landed and fought their way forward while under attack from German air and ground fire. A group of Black soldiers known as the 320th Anti-Aircraft Balloon Battalion, VLA (Very Low Altitude) Unit also stormed Normandy Beach. They fought to establish and maintain a position on the beach, and they were responsible for floating helium-filled balloons attached to small bombs, up to 2000 feet in the sky. The balloons made it difficult for German planes to fly low enough to shoot at ground troops.
It was my honor to interview Mr. Arthur Guest on July 3, 2014, at his home in Charleston, SC. He is one of the last known living African Americans from the 320th Anti-Aircraft Balloon Battalion.
FindFamilyRoots.com: I want to first thank you Mr. Guest for meeting with me today. How old are you Mr. Guest?
Mr. Guest: I’m 93 years old.
FindFamilyRoots.com: When were you drafted into the Army?
Mr. Guest: December 21, 1942. The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941.
FindFamilyRoots.com: Do you remember the attack on Pearl Harbor?
Mr. Guest: Yes! I was sitting by the radio. There was no TV then. I remember hearing that on Sunday morning and I remember saying, “Where is Pearl Harbor?”
FindFamilyRoots.com: Where did the Army send you for boot camp?
Mr. Guest: I was sent to Tyson TN, about 40 miles outside of Paris, TN. The 320 Anti-Aircraft Balloon Battalion was started there at Camp Tyson.
FindFamilyRoots.com: You served in the Army during a time of segregation. How were you treated at Camp Tyson?
Mr. Guest: We were treated badly. We served in a segregated Army. It was ugly and ungodly with unworthy conditions.
FindFamilyRoots.com: After Boot Camp you were eventually sent to England?
Mr. Guest: Yes. I was drafted in 1942 and in November 1943, we were moved to Checkendon, England to further train for the invasion in June.
FindFamilyRoots.com: How were you treated in England?
Mr. Guest: The people there treated us very nicely.
FindFamilyRoots.com: My father was in WWII. He was in the Navy. He told me stories about white servicemen telling people in Europe that Black men had tails. Did you have a similar experience?
Mr. Guest: Not only that but here in America when I went to California for worship in 1954, several white boys began walking around me. They didn’t say anything. They just kept on walking around me. They had heard Black people have tails.
FindFamilyRoots.com: Mr. Guest you landed on the Omaha section of Normandy Beach. How were you and other soldiers transported to the beach?
Mr. Guest: The Navy had different makes of ships. We were transported on an LST (Landing Ship Tank). That was the one used for transporting tanks, supplies and troops. The Germans had gone into the English Channel during low tide and took railroad ties and spiked 20 to 30 miles of the beach to keep our ships from getting close to the beach. We had to get off the LST with our packs on our backs and our guns in the air. You couldn’t let your gun get wet because that was your protection. We had a fellow named Shorty Martin from Manning, South Carolina. He was only 5’ 7’’ tall and when he stepped of the LST he went down in the water and almost drowned.
FindFamilyRoots.com: How deep was the water?
Mr. Guest: I wouldn’t know. The ship went as far as it could, then they would let the ramp down and we got off. You had to fend for yourself. Many of the men did not make it. I was blessed to have survived. With our guns and our packs on our backs, we landed on the beach. When we went into battle, we were given a mess kit, a cup, a fork, a spoon and a knife… and an 18 inch shovel. It looked like a play toy but when you hit the beach, it was your life.
FindFamilyRoots.com: How much did your equipment weigh? It had to be very heavy.
Mr. Guest: It was but we practiced with the equipment before that day. We marched with it. It was a hellish way to live but you had to do what you had to do.
FindFamilyRoots.com: Were the LST’s being fired upon as you approached the beach?
Mr. Guest: Oh yes but the air force was bombing them night and day, keeping them busy.
FindFamilyRoots.com: You were surrounded by gunfire when you landed on the beach.
Mr. Guest: The Germans were in front of us and had built what was called a “pill box” where they put the gun. It was an 88 millimeter gun, equivalent to our 90 millimeter. The guns were spaced every few miles and their fire could not cross each other. So there was a space between the Germans firing power and that’s where the LST's unloaded us on the beach. While the Germans were looking at the English Channel, paratroopers would fall behind them and all hell broke loose.
FindFamilyRoots.com: When you got off the LST you had to get up and over a hill.
Mr. Guest: You came up to a sandy bank about 5 feet high and when you made it over that embankment the first thing you did was to dig in. That shovel was your lifesaver. We had to dig a foxhole in a hurry because German Messerschmitt 109’s (German fighter planes) would strike. That’s why we had the balloons. We had to fly the balloons on the beach so that the German planes had to stay above 2000 feet and the balloons had a small bomb attached to them. If the German planes hit the bomb, it would blow his wing off. So they had to stay up very high. That was the objective of the balloon battalion, to line the whole beach up with balloons and decrease or prevent enemy fire from German airplanes.
German foot soldiers were also shooting at you. You could see the tracers and hear the bullets going by you. A whole lot of people were wounded and many died. There were so many people who died, I thought to myself, “Who’s going to be next?” The men who died were wrapped in cheesecloth and carried back to the convoy but we were not afraid. You can’t be afraid or you wouldn’t be able to do your job.
FindFamilyRoots.com: What did the Army give you to eat?
Mr. Guest: They gave us three boxes. On each box was written one of three words breakfast, lunch or dinner. That’s what you ate until the Germans could be pushed back far enough so that we could set up a little cooking place.
FindFamilyRoots.com: If you eat, you’re going to eventually have to relieve yourself.
Mr. Guest: That’s why they gave us the shovel, so that we could dig a hole. If a German plane came by and you were relieving yourself, you finished quickly.
FindFamilyRoots.com: How long did the shooting last?
Mr. Guest: The foot soldiers kept moving, going further into France. Our objective was to keep this beach so that other people by the thousands could come in. We stayed from June 4 until November. Remember, Eisenhower was the Field Commander and he passed an order for us to come home because we had done so well. We were home by December of 1944. To see the Statue of Liberty in the harbor… it was really beautiful. I saw a fellow kiss the ground in New Jersey. He got of the ship and kissed the ground.
FindFamilyRoots.com: Mr. Guest, while doing some research about you, I read that during the time you were on Omaha Beach, you kept a picture in your pocket of your future wife. I think that’s beautiful.
Mr. Guest: Yes. We met in January of 1941 and got married March 23, 1945. We've been married for 69 years.
FindFamilyRoots.com: Tell me about what happened at Camp Gordon in GA.
Mr. Guest: It was Thanksgiving Day 1945, all of us, Black and white, had on our uniforms. When we got to the lobby of the bus station, the whites went through one door and the Blacks had to go around back. I wouldn’t do it. I don’t know what it will take for man to see that all men are equal. We were in Hawaii training and loading ammunition in a truck. There was a white sergeant. I was also a sergeant. He tried to tell me what to do. I told him I’m not doing it and that I received my orders from an officer. I told him that he’s a noncommissioned officer just like me. So I put my men in the truck and we left. The battle is on and will continue to be on until Christ comes again.
FindFamilyRoots.com: Mr. Guest, in closing is there anything is there something I may have missed that you would like to add?
Mr. Guest: I want to thank you Mr. White for taking on this challenge of enlightening people about what happened in the past. By looking at the past it should give us the fortitude to go forward. Jesus’ way is the best way. Treat others as you’d like to be treated and prepare yourself with education and knowledge for the battle to move forward.
Interviewer - Percy White III
Top L, R: The National D-Day Memorial.
Second L, R: Two plaques from the National D-Day Memorial.
Third L: Arthur Guest. R: Arthur Guest in uniform at age 21.
Bottom: Soldiers from the all-Black 320th Anti-Aircraft Balloon Battalion on Normandy Beach courtesy of United States Army website, Army.Mil.
D-Day Plus 20 1944-1964. A Commemorative Documentary Recording and Photographic Album of the Allied Invasion of Normandy, June 6th, 1944. Columbia, 1964. LP.
"Normandy Landing – Battle of Normandy" dday-overlord.com, https://www.dday-overlord.com/en/. Web.
"320th Anti-Aircraft Balloon Battalion." army.mil https://www.army.mil/article/119639/all_black_balloon_unit_served_with_distinction_on_d_day. Web.
"Messerschmitt BF 109G-10." nationalmuseum.af.mil, https://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/196264/messerschmitt-bf-109g-10/. Web.
"US Army Field Rations." history.army.mil, https://history.army.mil/museums/TRADOC/frontier-army-museum/docs/army-rations/Brief-History-of-US-Army-rations_Frontier-Army-Museum.pdf. Web.
"Why the German 88mm Gun Was the Best Throughout WWII." warfarehistorynetwork.com, https://warfarehistorynetwork.com/2017/07/10/why-german-88mm-gun-was-best-in-the-war/. Web.
Guest, Arthur. 320th Anti-Aircraft Balloon Battalion, Charleston, SC. 3 Jul. 2014.
Interviewed Arthur Guest. Charleston, SC.
The National D-Day Memorial. Bedford, VA.
Lt. Colonel Alexander Jefferson Ret.
Tuskegee Airmen were dedicated, determined young men from all over the U.S. who volunteered to become America's first Black Military Airmen. Only those who possessed the physical and mental qualifications were accepted into aviation cadet training. Initially they were trained to be pilots. Later they were trained to be navigators or bombardiers.
The U.S. Army Air Corps contract was awarded to Tuskegee University due to it having previously invested in the development of an airfield. With financial support from the Julius Rosenwald Fund, Moton Field was built in 1940 and completed in 1942. The field was named after Dr. Robert Moton, second President of Tuskegee University. Moton Field was the main flight training location for the airmen. They also used Walterboro Army Airfield in Walterboro, SC. More than 1,000 Black pilots between 1940 to 1946 were trained at Tuskegee.
The all-Black 332nd Fighter Group was comprised of airmen who completed the training. It consisted of four fighter squadrons, the 99th, the 100th, the 301st and the 302nd. As a member of the 332nd Fighter Group, Lieutenant Jefferson along with his squadron, escorted B17’s and B24’s from Italy into Germany during World War II. On his 19th mission, he was shot down and spent nine months in Germany as a POW.
The Tuskegee Airmen did not lose a single bomber to enemy fire in more than 200 combat missions. Their record is unequalled by any other fighter group. The 332nd Fighter Group was depicted in the movie Tuskegee Airman 1995 and Red Tails 2012.
Top L, R and Second L, R: Lecture given by Lt. Colonel Alexander Jefferson Ret. on November 8, 2009, at Charles Houston
Recreation Center in Alexandria, Virginia.
Third L, R: Tuskegee Airmen.
Fourth L: Tuskegee Airman. R: Black Women Army Corps in Training.
Bottom: Members of the 92nd Infantry.
Presentation posters provided courtesy of Mr. Olvin McBarnette. Photos taken November 8, 2009. Also, see Walterboro Army Airfield Memorial Park.
Appiah, Kwame, Anthony and Gates, Henry Louis, ed. "Africana The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience." 1st ed. New York: Civitas, 1999. Print.
Stewart, Jeffrey C. "1001 Things Everyone Should Know About African American History." New York: Broadway. Reprinted 2001. Print.
"Tuskegee Airmen." nationalmuseum.af.mil, https://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/196131/tuskegee-airmen/. Web.
Jefferson, Alexander. The Tuskegee Airmen. Charles Houston Recreation Center, Alexandria, Virginia. Lecture.
Moton Air Field. Tuskegee, AL.
Walterboro Army Air Field. Walterboro, SC.
Carl Maxie Brashear
January 19, 1931 to July 25, 2006
Carl Brashear, son of former sharecroppers was born January 19, 1931, in Kentucky. In 1948 at the age of 17 and with a 7th grade education, he joined the navy and worked as a steward. In 1953, Brashear applied for and was accepted in the US Navy Ships Salvage Divers School after having been turned down several times. The personnel officer told him the Navy does not have Colored divers. Several white officers and instructors made Brashear's stay in diving school difficult and sought to have him kicked out. In October of 1954, Brashear graduated.
Deep Sea Diving School was Brashear’s next goal. In 1960, he enrolled but failed the course. He studied hard for the next three years and earned his GED. In 1963, he took the course again, this time successfully completing the course work and graduating third in his class.
A shipboard accident in 1966 resulted in the loss of his lower left leg. Brashear chose not to let his naval career end due to an injury. He secretly trained at Second Class Diving School and eventually proved to naval officers and doctors that he could continue his duties as a diver. In 1970, Brashear became the first Black US Navy Master Diver. He remained on active duty through 1979. On July 25, 2006, Brashear died of heart failure. Cuba Gooding portrayed Carl Brashear in the 2000 movie "Men of Honor".
L: Master Chief Boatswain's Mate Carl M. Brashear. R: Grave marker. Photo of MCBM Carl Brashear courtesy of History.navy.mil.
"Carl Brashear." carlbrashear.org, https://carlbrashear.org/legacy/. Web.
"Master Chief Boatswain's Mate Carl M. Brashear, USN, (1931-2006)." history.navy.mil, https://www.history.navy.mil/content/history/museums/nmusn/explore/photography/personnel-us/personnel-us-b/brashear-carl-m-master-chief-boatswains-mate.html. Web.
"Carl Brashear." divingheritage.com, https://www.divingheritage.com/brshearkern.htm. Web.
"Carl Brashear." usni.org, https://www.usni.org/press/oral-histories/brashear-carl. Web.
Carl Brashear grave. Woodlawn Memorial Gardens, Norfolk, VA.
Woodlawn Memorial Gardens, 6309 East Virginia Beach Boulevard, Norfolk, VA 23502. Phone: 757-455-2838.
Richard "Dick" Poplar
1816 to May 22, 1886
Richard “Dick” Poplar served as a cook for Confederate Company H of the 13th Virginia Calvary, formerly known as the Sussex Light Dragoons; an all Volunteer Virginia Calvary. Members of the Sussex Light Dragoons were wealthy white men who took their enslaved servants with them to war. Mr. Poplar was enlisted in Company H in 1861 and remained attached to it until their retreat from Gettysburg.
Upon their retreat, confederate soldiers and Poplar were captured and imprisoned in Fort Delaware. Poplar was detained for five months and later taken to Point Lookout in Maryland where he was detained for an additional fourteen months. While imprisoned at Point Lookout, Poplar was offered the opportunity to take the oath of allegiance to the Union and be released. He refused and chose to remain at Point Lookout.
On March 1, 1865, poplar was released and returned to Petersburg, where he lived the remainder of his life. A short time before his death, Poplar became ill and was moved into the home of James Muirhead, one of the Confederate soldiers for whom he cooked during the Civil War. Muirhead provided for Poplar’s care and wellbeing until his death on May 22, 1886.
Photo courtesy of findagrave.com.
Grave marker of Richard "Dick" Poplar.
"Richard "Dick" Poplar" findagrave.com, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/18140931/richard-poplar. Web.
Richard "Dick" Poplar gravesite. Blanford Cemetery, Petersburg, VA.
Blanford Cemetery, 111 Rochelle Lane, Petersburg, VA 23803. Phone: 804-733-2396.
Alexandria National Cemetery
1450 Wilkes Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
In 1866, Congress established a peacetime army. Six regiments were created for Black enlisted men: the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 38th, 39th, 40th and 41st Infantry. In 1869, the 39th and 40th regiments were combined to create the 25th Infantry. This new unit protected and escorted western immigrants, and mail carriers. They fought out west in wars against the Apaches, Kiowas, Cheyennes, Comanches, and Arapahos. The 10th Cavalry is credited with capturing the feared Indian leader, Geronimo, in 1885. Native Americans named the Black infantrymen Buffalo Soldiers. They fought in not only western territories but also in the Spanish American War, the Philippine Insurrection in 1899, and patrolled Yosemite, General Grant and Sequoia National Parks in California. Buffalo Soldiers served with distinction and earned fourteen Congressional Medal of Honors for their heroic efforts.
Top: Buffalo Soldiers. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. LC-DIG-ppmsca-11406.
Bottom: Graves of five Buffalo Soldiers interred at Alexandria National Cemetery.
Appiah, Kwame, Anthony and Gates, Henry Louis, ed. "Woodson Africana The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience." 1st ed. New York: Civitas, 1999. Print.
Stewart, Jeffrey C. "1001 Things Everyone Should Know About African American History." New York: Broadway. Reprinted 2001. Print.
"Buffalo Soldiers - An American Odyssey." loc.gov/exhibits/odyssey/educate/buffalo.html. Web.
Buffalo Soldiers' gravesite. Alexandria National Cemetery, Alexandria, VA.
All photos property of FindFamilyRoots.com unless otherwise indicated.