African-American D-Day veterans celebrate Barack Obama's trip to Normandy
As America's first black president attends D-Day commemmorations in Normandy, the Second World War's forgotten African-American soldiers say they enjoyed more freedom in Britain in the 1940s than in the segregated United States.
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.
“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.
In all, about 2,000 African Americans took part in the landings on June 6, 1944, and about a million black personnel served in the US forces during the war. In recent years, their contribution has started to receive official acknowledgement - the Tuskegee airmen of America’s first black aviation combat unit were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W Bush in 2007.
Mr Obama invited the airmen to his inauguration, saying their breakthroughs had paved his way to the White House. And on Memorial Day last week, he became the first president to send a wreath to the African American Civil War Memorial honouring the 200,000 black troops who fought for the North in that conflict.
The role of African American veterans is high in the president’s mind, aides say. Mr Obama’s speechwriters are still working on his words for Saturday, but the forgotten faces of D-Day could be in line for a belated tribute from the highest level.
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