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“’We don’t need cooks in Korea; we need soldiers. So we’re going to give you a choice of carrying a machine gun or a radio.’” (Video Interview, 11:39)

   Walter Dowdy, Jr.
Collection image
Walter Dowdy [2004]
War: Korean War, 1950-1953
Branch: Army
Unit: Company D, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division
Service Location: Fort Riley, Kansas; Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; Camp Stoneman, California; Camp Gifu, Japan; Korea
Rank: Corporal
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Walter Dowdy’s military career was marked by frustration. He enlisted in 1948 out of high school, passed a test to enter Officer Candidate School but was instead shipped off to Japan in early 1950. He finally received orders to report to OCS back in the U.S. in September, but the Korean War broke out and the Army assigned him to a combat unit. Dowdy was surprised to find that it was an all-black unit, as he had served in Japan under white officers. In July 1950, he was hit in the face with shrapnel; among his hospital visitors in Japan was General Douglas MacArthur. His military career ended in 1951, but Dowdy was a success as an educational administrator, despite encountering obstacles because of his race and his disability.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (4 clips)
»Part 1 | Part 2 
Download: video(1) | 
Download: video(2) (55 min.)
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 Video (Interview Excerpts) (4 items)
Graduated Benton Harbor, Michigan High School in 1948; wanted to be a doctor but realized the draft might interrupt his education, so he enlisted; parents were upset; trained at same camp in Kansas his father, a WWI vet, had trained at; qualified for OCS; decided if he would be an officer, he would make a career in the military; shipped off to Japan as a cook in February 1950. (03:35) In April 1950 finally received orders to report that fall to OCS; when war in Korea broke out, he was placed in a combat unit; at 19 years old, he thought he knew everything; was told the Army needed soldiers in Korea, given choice between a machine gun or a radio; took the latter and became a forward observer. (02:41) In Japan, he had white officers and a black sergeant (killed in Korea); his unit in Korea was all black; first experience in combat; “retreat” vs. “strategic withdrawal;” wounded in the face by an explosion; came to on an airplane going to Japan. (03:29)
MacArthur came to the hospital and shook his hand; his unit was second in to the war to see combat; he was wounded July 26, 1950; description of his wounds, which affected both eyes; doctors left some shrapnel in his head; to remove it would have paralyzed him; meeting another disfigured soldier and they became friends; did not see each other after Dowdy was discharged for 50 years. (06:31)  

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  October 26, 2011
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