Intermission Story (10) – George Watson

 

George Watson

During the course of a war gallant actions are not bound by race, nationality, or cause. Wherever men fight, some will distinguish themselves from the others. In WWII, when the Allies were engaged in battle against the Axis powers it could be assumed that on both sides men were heroes.

In the case of George Watson, it was his race that limited him from achieving his country’s highest military honor. When his ship was sunk by enemy bombers he assisted several of his wounded comrades to reach life rafts. However, it would be over 50 years before the story of George Watson finally received its due honor and its rightful place in military history.

George Watson was born in 1915 Birmingham, Alabama.  Apart from his birth, little is known about his early life. He attended school in Colorado and graduated in 1942. Like many men that year, Watson then accepted the call to arms in defense of his nation.

Jacob survivors clinging to debris and waiting for rescue from the HMAS Bendigo

As an African-American, the career opportunities in the Army were extremely limited. Consequently, Watson joined the 29th Quartermaster Regiment after basic training. With the war in full swing, Watson’s unit was immediately transported to the Pacific on board the American controlled Dutch Steamer USAT Jacob. They arrived on March 8, 1943.

As Watson and his unit waited to disembark the Japanese attacked the Jacob while she was moored near Porlock Harbor, New Guinea. With little defense against the devastating assault, the Jacob took several direct hits and the order to abandon ship was issued. Troops threw themselves into the sea, many of whom had been severely wounded. Fortunately, Watson had avoided injury and being a competent swimmer was able to head towards the few life rafts that were available. As he did so, he looked back to see many of his comrades were not so lucky.

The sinking Jacob only shows her bow

The wounded soldiers and those who could not swim flailed about in the sea in need of help. Watson turned from the rafts and headed towards the men. The Japanese continued to rake the sea with gunfire making it all the riskier. Time and time again he swam back to rescue troops and bring them to safety. Watson continued saving his comrades until he reached the point of exhaustion. As he swam towards the steamer once more, she slipped beneath the waves. The subsequent drag proved too strong for the exhausted Watson to escape and he was sucked to the bottom with her.

Distinguished Service Cross

As news of his gallantry spread, it was evident to the Army that a heroic and distinguished act had taken place. However, for African-Americans of that era, the Medal of Honor was too far out of reach despite the inexplicable gallantry they consistently displayed. Watson was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and was the first African-American to receive that award during WWII.

However, as the decades passed the US military realized such men had been overlooked. They instituted a review in the early 1990’s to determine those that might have been excluded due to race. In 1997, George Watson was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. With no family to receive Watson’s medals, they are on display at the US Army Quartermaster Museum in Fort Lee, Virginia. Also, the ship USNS Watson was named in his honor.

USNS Watson

USNS Watson (T-AKR-310) is one of Military Sealift Command’s nineteen Large, Medium-Speed Roll-on/Roll-off Ships and is part of the 33 ships in the Prepositioning Program. She is the lead ship of her class of vehicle cargo ships.

Laid down on 23 May 1996 and launched on 26 July 1997, Watson was put into service in the Pacific Ocean on 23 June 1998.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor – 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Willard Blankenship – Burdine, KY; US Army, WWII, eto / Korea, 187th RCT, (Ret. 22 years)

William Devitt – St. Paul, MN; US Army, WWII, ETO, (author: “Shavetail: The Odyssey of an Infantry Lieutenant”)

Pedro Escobedo – Harlingen, TX; US Army, WWII, Korea & Vietnam, Sgt. Major (Ret. 24 yrs.)

Horace Harned – Starville, MS; US Army Air Corps, WWII, CBI

Robert Lyons – Susquehanna, PA; US Army, WWII, ETO, Signal Corps

Bertrand Morrill – So.Portland, ME; US Army, Chief Warrant Officer (Ret. 28 yrs.)

Joseph Okulicz – Belmar, NJ; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 11th Airborne Division

Teddy Saiki – Stockton, CA; US Army, WWII,  Intelligence MISer

John Tuttle – Oneida, NY; British Army, WWII, King’s Royal Rifle Corps

Thelma Worboys – Palmerston North, NZ; RNZ Women’s Air Force, WWII

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on July 27, 2017, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 123 Comments.

  1. I remember reading about Watson a while back (probably longer than I think). It amazes me how brave some people are. It’s a shame his mother could never see him recognized.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for this story too, GP. I am glad the record was set straight in the end, and he received the Medal of Honor, and a ship named for him.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Amazing story of a true hero. Too bad we weren’t color blind in those days when it came to recognizing such service, but it is nice to know he did get the deserved recognition. 🇺🇸

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Distinguished Service Cross is nothing to sneeze at. It was a different world back then, so it’s difficult for us to judge their actions, but I’m glad the record was set straight.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you so much for this story GP! I am so glad that he ultimately received recognition for both his bravery and dedication.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Lots of unknown ppl fought to defend own country under the War.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A great story, and it’s good to know that justice does prevail.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The treatment meted out to Negroes, and other coloured/ mixed race people by the US WASP population et al, during the 20th century is perhaps the biggest stain, that no amount of cleaning can ever erase entirely.
    The naming of a USN ship is a great way of honouring this exceptionally brave man, more so than a posthumous Medal of Honor.
    There is an immense amount of sadness as well as elation in this post honouring a very worthy American.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, we all have a past history that is a stain, the point is to learn from that history – not try to erase it. Ignoring our history is the first step to a slippery-slope. That is why I do not approve of taking down the Confederate monuments we have.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Can you give your email ?

    Like

    • No. I do not deal with private emails. I moderate these comments for that. Only the commentor and I can see what he/she has written until I approve. If you have something private you wish to say simply tell me to delete it after reading and all will remain confidential.

      Like

  9. After watching Mississippi Burning last night, this story seemed entirely believable for those times… so very sad…

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was a different world. I don’t appreciate that some continue to antagonize and aggravate what progress we’ve made. We need to move forward. Thanks for coming by, Valerie. It’s good to see you again.

      Like

  10. A wonderful story of bravery.
    One human being risking
    and then losing his life, to save the
    life’s of others.
    He was awarded the medal he deserved. Eventually.

    But, I don’t think we should be judgmental.
    That was just the way it was back then.
    Thankfully, things have changed.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I suppose better late than never but it’s a shame it was so long in coming. Glad times have changed. A hero is a hero!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. times have changed GP 🙂 🙂 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  13. As I mentioned before the story of the simple person in war gives us a real understanding what war means, how people behave, what they feel, and what price they paid to win. Nice story.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. You never cease to amaze me with the tidbits of history that you uncover and share. Thanks for doing this again and again.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Incredible story of bravery, GP. Good that he was finally recognized, but sad he died saving others. We should know more of these stories of bravery. Christine

    Liked by 2 people

    • I doubt he even thought about the danger at the time. He saw in trouble and did his best to leave no man behind. I’m glad we have the story now at least. Thank you for visiting, Christine – always a pleasure.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. People are people.
    I judge by actions, not by colour. Would that we all did …

    … but often we must consider the mores of the times; it’s just a real pity that neither the guy nor any family got to know.
    We can’t put right the past but we can do our best to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Thanks so much for sharing. The Medal of Honor stories (even if they’re a bit late in coming 😦 )never fail to amaze me- people with that kind of courage are a rare blessing.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. I am so glad he finally received the full recognition he deserved.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. What a valiant, and selfless hero he was! This gave me goose-bumps! The tribute to him is wonderful! Thanks for sharing the story GP.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. You told George Watson’s story beautifully. Thank you. I’ll have my sons read this one too.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. GP, thank you for his story. He deserves to be remembered.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Super post, GP. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Better late than never, G, although it is sad that he had no family to receive the medal. It’s tragic when a hero is not recognized because of race, religion, sex or some other factor. A hero is a hero. –Curt

    Liked by 2 people

  24. GP, I’ve nominated you for a Mash-Up Award! To accept and/or see the guidelines, go here: https://mitchteemley.com/2017/07/27/my-mash-up-award/

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am honored Mitch, but I’m afraid I don’t accept awards. I don’t feel any of this site is about me, I did none of the work, I simply report the outstanding work of a great generation. I hope my feelings do not offend you in any way.

      Like

  25. Very sad this happened to a real hero. Glad it was finally set straight. All men have this inside them, I would have been honored to have known this man.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. At least the Pentagon saw fit to review cases like Watson’s.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Thank you so much for sharing this. If you want to serve; fight and die for your country then you should be able to and be honored for it regardless!

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Another sad, but, in the end, wonderful story of one man’s heroism. May George Watsons forever rest in peace.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Another hero gets what he deserves. Thanks for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And I thank you for reading it, Jacqui. Now that I think of it, I haven’t heard the latest on the construction of the Medal of Honor Museum in South Carolina in a while.. um…

      Like

  30. … oh … and the Gary Varvel cartoon, sad to say, is spot-on!

    Liked by 1 person

  31. GP – Thank you for spreading the word about this unsung hero! It’s good the Navy recognized, if belatedly, what he did by naming a ship after him.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Bravo to you, GP for bringing this story to your readers. True goodness and bravery is colour blind and (taking a big risk here) gender blind. I note the American president banned transgender people from openly serving on the anniversary of Harry Truman desegregating the military.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did not realize it was an anniversary – you know more history than I do, Suzanne but I think the same reason applies. In WWII, blacks were segregated because people didn’t know any better, not out of malice. Now we have another new frontier of transgender and I think it might a while for the entire concept to be accepted by everyone.

      Liked by 1 person

  33. Great post…we rarely hear of these heroes, except through your postings. thank you for bringing this story to us!

    Liked by 2 people

  34. Heroes come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. This is a great story, GP, of a true hero; it’s a sad one, and a full one, with some compensation in the end. It is his heart that shines through.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. It reminds me very strongly of the black lady in Gone with the Wind who won an Oscar and the venue for the ceremony let her come in to receive the award as a special favour, and then put her at a segregated table.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And Ms. McDaniel did it with grace. Many men and women went through dangerous situations and were never recognized for their deeds, it was a huge conflict that affected the whole planet.

      Like

  36. Good write up on another fabulous historical story & 2 great cartoons…👏👏🐾🐾💕💕Thanks giving me chuckles 😃😃😃

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Thanks for sharing George Watsons’ story with U.S. Thankful he was recognized during the war with the Navy Cross and much better, the Medal of Honor. It’s unfortunate it came so late.

    Liked by 1 person

  38. It’s sad that that review couldn’t have come earlier. It’s sad that it was necessary. If people can be heroes, die being heroes, they should be able to be recognized. I’m glad the review and recognition did come. Great story.

    Liked by 2 people

  39. Better late than never. But it sounds like he really deserved the honour.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes he did. Many were overlooked, not just by their color, but because so much went on at once – who could be prepared to handle everything (good and bad) in a war this size – it literally affected the entire planet.

      Liked by 2 people

  40. very sad that his family had to wait so long to have his heroic deeds recognised .. bigotry is gross … if people of all tribes can fight in a war then they should be equally recognised for heroics .. he didn’t rescue men according to their colour .. 😦

    Liked by 3 people

  41. ‘Overlooked’ has to be a huge understatement. At least they saw sense in the end, and changed the award. Better still, they named a ship after that brave ‘overlooked’ man.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 3 people

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