WWII veteran of all-black unit awarded medals 70 years late


By J.G. Noll

On Tuesday, Sgt. George Watts, a 93-year-old New Yorker, was awarded long-overdue medals from his three years of Army service during World War II. Presented by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Congressman Brian Higgins (D-NY), the ceremony was one that Watts had waited more than 70 years.

“At long last, today, on behalf of a grateful nation we are honored to present him with military service medals more than seven decades overdue,” said Higgins.

WWII veteran awarded 6 medals after 70 years
(Source: Senator Chuck Shumer, Facebook)

Watts served in an all-black engineering unit with all-white officers during World War II. Before being drafted, he worked in an airplane factory, riveting. In the Army, Watts experienced racism in many forms, including a stint at Fort Niagra where black soldiers slept in tar-paper shacks while German POWs were in heated barracks just a short distance away.

According to the Associated Press, Watts doesn’t know any “fellow black soldiers who received their medals.” In press releases, Higgins and Schumer mentioned that thousands of black World War II vets have not received their earned awards. The pair called upon the military to right the historic wrong.

Awarded to Watts:

  • The American Campaign Medal, awarded to those serving in the American theater December 1941-March 1946
  • The Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, awarded to those serving in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater 1941-1945
  • The Philippine Liberation Ribbon, awarded by the Republic of the Philippines for the liberation of the Philippine Islands, October 1944-September 1945
  • The World War II Victory Medal, awarded to those serving December 1941 and December 1946
  • The Honorable Service Label Button WWII, awarded to those serving honorably during WWII
  • The Expert Badge and Carbine Bar, awarded for the completion of a weapons qualification course

At the ceremony, Schumer noted, “Mr. Watts is a true American hero, who displayed profound bravery when he stepped up to serve his country during World War II despite being compelled into a segregated unit based on the color of his skin. Watts put his life on the line for his nation, and he rightly deserves these medals as a thank you from the American people for his service.”

Watts was joined by his wife and daughter at the ceremony.
J.G. Noll is the Editor of Military One Click and a veteran’s spouse. She can be reached at joanna@militaryoneclick.com.