A Soldier's Story
There is irony in that. Carter's fight for justice began in September 1949, after he was told he would not be permitted to re-enlist. Had he seen that piece of paper, he would have known the charge against him. Herbert M. Levy, then a young lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union who took on Carter's case, explains why: "The pronounced national hysteria about communism," he says, doomed Carter's cause. To truly understand, he suggests, a passing knowledge of Kafka is useful. "This was completely indecent," Levy, now 76, says. "But we were on the path to hysteria. It was guilt by association. It was un-American, but it was being done by the House Un-American Activities Committee."
To best understand Eddie Carter's story, it helps to start at the beginning. Carter was born in Los Angeles on May 26, 1916, on a brief visit home by his parents, the Rev. E. A. Carter, a traveling missionary, and Mary Carter, a native of Calcutta. The Carters took their young son back to Calcutta, where he attended grade school. The elder Carter then resettled the family in Shanghai, where young Eddie attended a military school. After his father divorced his mother and married a German national, Eddie ran away from home and joined the Chinese Nationalist Army fighting the Japanese. The father got the son back by revealing the young man's age: He wasn't yet 18.
But Carter wasn't home for long. After hitching a ride on a merchant ship to Manila, he tried to enlist in the U.S. Army but was rebuffed. So he worked his way to Europe on another merchant ship and joined the Spanish Loyalists in their fight against Gen. Francisco Franco's fascists. Carter's name appears on the roster of the American volunteer unit that fought in Spain, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Carter spent 2 1/2 years in Spain, often in fierce combat. Once he was captured and held by Franco's forces. Somehow he escaped. At the end, in early 1938, Carter was among the Loyalists in the mountains when the line broke and those who could fled across the border to France. Carter, by all accounts, didn't take up the Loyalist cause out of any particular political bent. He threw in with them for the same reason he joined the Chinese Army: He loved a good fight.
After Spain, Carter caught a boat to America. In 1940, he met and began courting Mildred Hoover, the widowed daughter of a well-known black family that kept a boarding house in Los Angeles. On Sept. 26, 1941, Carter enlisted in the Army and was shipped to Camp Wolters, Texas, where he baffled instructors who couldn't understand how a raw recruit shot near-perfect scores with five different weapons. From Texas, Carter was shipped to Fort Benning, Ga. Less than a year later he was promoted to staff sergeant.
Combat billets for black soldiers were scarce. Army leadership subscribed to a policy that black troops couldn't be relied on in combat and were best used as service troops in engineering, transportation, or stevedore outfits. So, despite his previous combat service, Carter was assigned as a mess sergeant in the 3535 Quartermaster Truck Company. In 1942, Mildred joined him in Georgia where they were married. In two years, she gave him two sons, Edward III and William, in addition to the two children she had by a previous marriage.