At Normandy, Will Michigan FB Learn About All-Black D-Day Regiments?

Submitted by Communist Football on April 26th, 2018 at 6:40 PM


The highlight of the Michigan football team's trip to France is a visit to Normandy. For anyone who has been there, Normandy is a compelling reminder of American valor. As General Mark Clark once put it:

If ever proof were needed that we fought for a cause and not for conquest, it could be found in these cemeteries. Here was our only conquest: All we asked...was enough...soil in which to bury our gallant dead.

But one aspect of the D-Day story that doesn't always get told is the role of all-black military regiments at a time when the U.S. military was segregated. One key regiment was the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, whose members were strapped to the blimp-shaped balloons armed with explosives that hung in the air to block the Luftwaffe's ability to strafe the Allied troops below.

"Saving Private Ryan," the film Ira Weintraub and others have encouraged the football team to watch on the flight to France, had an all-white cast. As an NAACP spokesperson once noted,

The most frequent comment about [Saving Private Ryan] is that it's the most realistic depiction ever done of the war, and yet there are no black people anywhere, not even among the extras.

Think about this: many of those black soldiers, like Corporal William Garfield Dabney of Roanoke, Virginia, were from the segregated South. After the war, Dabney got a degree in electrical engineering. But he couldn't find work in his field, because no one would hire him. So he became a carpet layer and tile setter. Dabney and his comrades were risking their lives to protect the freedom of those who wished to discriminate against them.

Thankfully, there are ways to remedy the Saving Private Ryan problem, so that the team can learn about the role of African-American regiments in the Normandy invasion.

In 2007, the History Channel broadcast a documentary entitled "A Distant Shore: African Americans of D-Day." A clip can be found here:

Linda Hervieux in 2015 published Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day's Black Heroes. A sample of her writing can be found here.

I hope someone affiliated with the Michigan program reads this, and has the opportunity to share these resources with interested team members.


Hail Harbo

April 29th, 2018 at 8:39 PM ^

Let's start with your assertion that anybody was hanging from a blimp.  That absolutely was not the case for no other reason than it wasn't necessary.  Barrage balloons were simply to make low level strafing runs dangerous to the enemy aircraft, not to dangle people from as so much sniper bait.


April 26th, 2018 at 8:11 PM ^

By that time of the war the Luftwaffe was seriously depleted from 5 years of war on multiple fronts. There wasn't a real big threat from the Luftwaffe.


Article linked goes into more depth. Less than 1% of all combat troops(the men of the 320th Ballon Barrage regiment) were black during D-Day because of racist US policy. D-Day was a white man's show.

With all due respect to Communist Football people should seek out books by military historians before reading Ms. Hervieux's book.

We saw similiar complaints of underrepresentation during  Dunkirk's release, but, like this, the historical role of POC was very limited. The European theater did not have a huge number of people of color. Many more fought in the Pacific where Gurkhas and Sepoys fought in large numbers under the Union Jack. Gurkhas in particular are revered for their fighting capabilities.


April 26th, 2018 at 8:25 PM ^

The allies weren't anticipating being able to take every beach. They took all five easily. Omaha was a meat grinder and they still took it with ease.

The German defense was a nightmare. They were fooled into thinking that the landing was coming from somewhere else, they didn't have their reserves close enough to the beaches to contest a landing and of course, they Germans didn't think they could invade when they did because of the weather.

The movies make it into something that it was not.

Der Alte

April 27th, 2018 at 10:48 AM ^

Utah beach proved a less formidable challenge than Omaha for several reasons. Naval gunfire, was more effective than at Omaha, clearing many of the minefields near the beach. Aerial bombardment was closer to the target area as well. And the English Channel current pushed the 8th Infantry Regiment’s landing craft 2000 yards farther south than where they were supposed to land. The beaches over which they and other elements of the 4th Infantry Division came ashore were more lightly defended that were those where the landings were intended.

During our visit to the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, above Omaha beach, my wife and I searched among the crosses for someone from Michigan. We found a Sergeant Robert Stacy, a member of the 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division killed on Utah beach on June 6th. Through the American Battle Monuments Commission and 4th Infantry Division Web sites we learned that Sgt Stacy enlisted in Detroit in March of 1941. He spent the next couple years stateside, during which time he was promoted to Staff Sergeant, which is --- and was --- a fairly quick rise through the ranks.

It appears that quite early in the war the U.S. high command designated the 4th Infantry Division as part of an eventual cross-channel invasion into mainland Europe. By January 1944, SSgt Stacy was in England, where he and thousands of others began preparations for Normandy.  He was wounded coming ashore on Utah beach, and evacuated to an aid station, where he died of his wounds that same day. Now almost 74 years later SSgt Stacy lies together with some 10,000 other American service personnel in a meticulously maintained cemetery in France.



May 4th, 2018 at 4:11 PM ^

Withdrawing his forces if not fpor the heroic action of the destroyer commanders who got in as close as possible and blasted the shit out of the German mortar and machine gun emplacements. By close I mean under 2500 yards from shore, Practically point blank range.

Oh, and if you look at any map of the invasion you'll see that Omaha was the lynchpin to the entire invasion plan. If the landing at Omaha failed the Germans would have been able to cut the landing forces in two and probably would have wiped out the invasion in a couple of days.

Oh and if you still think that Omaha was easy and only a few casualties you should look up the enemy force that they faced that day. The 352 infantry division was comprised of Eastern Front Veterans with as smattering of Kids and Ost impressee's.

2200 dead half the total from all 5 beaches total dead over 4400. another 10,000 casualties.

No cakewalk whatsoever, everyone of those men who participated in the operation was a hero.

UM Griff

April 26th, 2018 at 8:21 PM ^

An impressive overview by visiting Normandy. Hopefully, many of the bright young minds making this trip will read more widely on WWII and some of the resources listed above.

Communist Football

April 27th, 2018 at 10:05 AM ^

The point of the trip to France is team bonding—helping the players, who come from so many different backgrounds, become brothers. If the visit to Normandy ends up ignoring the role of black regiments at D-Day, my concern is that it could detract from that effort at cohesion. That's why I published the post.


April 27th, 2018 at 4:45 PM ^

The fact that segregated African American units served with valor, when at home they were often treated like $hit, is something that speaks volumes of their character. It has to be remembered and honored. 

I was just talking to a guy at work about how it must have been for those guys who went from having serious jobs in the military and risking their lives to going back to a part of the country that was segregated and having to deal with that. I can't imagine. 


May 7th, 2018 at 12:39 PM ^

Yes, and it wasn't just the segregated areas, although it was worse there.  Becoming a "boy" again after risking your life and limb for your county was galling and infuriating.  It took courage, self-discipline, and faith not to fight back violently.  America owes African-American soldiers a great debt for what  they accomplished both overseas and at home.


April 27th, 2018 at 9:11 AM ^

How about we all just settle on the fact that the boys who landed on those beaches had much bigger balls than most people have today.  I get nervous even watching the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, I can't even imagine doing that in person.

Flying Dutchman

April 27th, 2018 at 12:43 PM ^

Like many of you, my grandfather was one of those guys.    He went across Omaha a bit later (when the beach was "open") than the scenes depicted in Saving Private Ryan, fortunately, so he did not experience that extreme of a situation, and went on to lead a platoon in the Battle of the Bulge, and then live a long productive life in to his 80's.     

He was 22 years old that day and had a young son back home. 

Saving Private Ryan came out when I was... 22 years old.   I picked up a pretty co-ed from Miami (NTM) and we went and saw it, and we were blown away by the film.  Later we drove out to the beach, had some beers, and probably made out a little bit by the fire.   What a lovely night.

Later I realized the difference between my grandfather's life at 22 and mine, and I just about puked.   Those may be the bravest men in history.

I hope it's an amazing experience for all members of the Michigan football team and staff.

And what other sports blog has conversations going on like this?   Answer - none.  




April 29th, 2018 at 8:19 AM ^

"Later I realized the difference between my grandfather's life at 22 and mine, and I just about puked.   Those may be the bravest men in history."

It's called 'the greatest generation' for a reason...  My grandfather was a Navy corpsman in the Pacific.  I know he was in the PI (the return) and at Okinawa, but I have no idea where else - he never talked about it.  Fact is, those guys were awesome - regardless of skin color.  


April 27th, 2018 at 10:15 AM ^

Thanks for setting up the discussion. While Europe was fought over by the Allies and the Axis, a not so small part of war was also waging in South and South-East Asia. I do not expect that to be discussed on a Michigan football related blog. However, a decent number of American forces landed and fought in the Eastern part of India. 

That discussion is for another day. 

Communist Football

April 27th, 2018 at 11:57 AM ^…

Retired Cpl. William Dabney, now 93, is one of two surviving members of the 320th. In 1942, he was in his second year of high school when he enlisted in the Army – and only after convincing his great-aunt to sign a document granting him permission to serve. He soon found himself training to use hydrogen-filled barrage balloons, which had thin metal cables with bombs attached that would detonate if triggered by low-flying enemy planes.


April 27th, 2018 at 7:16 PM ^

I made the journey 5 years ago. Normady is the 3rd most visited site for French people. when I was there the Star Spangled Banner was being played on chimes and everyone, and I mean everyone, stpped at attention during the entire playing. It was touching to see so many people from all over the world, pay their respects to the fallen.  It was a great tour.

But even more was the tour of WWI cemetaries and battle grouneds. 60,000 casualties in one day at the Somme. The American cemetary where Sam Hill of "where in the sam hill is xxx?" and 2 medal of honor winners are buried.. They let us lower the stars and stripes and fold the flag. It was an honor.

I envy the Wolverines on tour.




April 30th, 2018 at 11:40 AM ^

I don't understand what point you're trying to make nor its relation to the OP. Should the football team be educated on the irrelevance of the contribution of POC during the D-Day invasion? Or  should Jim Harbaugh focus on the racist decision by Allied commanders to disallow POC from fighting? The efforts made by black soldiers in Normandy stand on their own and deserve to be considered outside the context of race. Maybe I'm crazy, but I doubt black soldiers gave a damn about the broader context of their historical role in the war while landing on the beaches of Normandy. Their bravery is the same bravery as any white soldier, and requires no annotation.

This seems to be a recurring theme in your replies. You marginalize the contribution of entire nations based on the weight of their death toll as if dying were the only way to contribute. WW2 was the greatest humanitarian crisis in history, not a pissing contest. You are obviously educated on the subject, but I suggest you take a break from the military history and read a war diary or two to broaden your interpretation. 


April 30th, 2018 at 2:59 PM ^

Not to take anything away from the soldiers' heroism, but I'm pretty sure they weren't strapped to blimps.

If I understand correctly, the balloon brigade launched and controlled (via winch) unmanned blimps in order to limit enemy aircraft's ability to strafe the combat field. They did so under fire and were an important part of the war effort, but I don't think they strapped people to the blimps.


April 30th, 2018 at 6:20 PM ^

Allied invasion barrage blimps were inflated with non-flammable helium for the most part; the US had a virtual monopoly on helium from its massive oil fields in Louisiana and Texas, and we supplied our allies with the same although Britain did utilize hydrogen for its home realm defense balloons because the brits produced hydrogen as a byproduct and it was cheap. Explosives were experimented with back in the states, however, the shock wave from a detonating satchel would destroy the blimp and leave a gap in the defenses for subsequent aircraft to exploit.

The expected mechanism for dissuading dive bombers and strafing aircraft was the thick steel cables mooring the blimps to a ground anchor which would shear-off a plane's wings and not explosives beyond a few sad experiments to include countering the buzz bombs. Nobody was kept underneath these blimps for the obvious reasons, and absolutely zero Americans of any descent strapped their bodies to any party's balloons, ever.

Even the Nazi's didn't strap their victims to barrage balloons. I had to laugh at this post, and I really did. Thanks for that much, my family did lose members as a result of WWII.

African-American casualties in WWII were, as a percentage of the ultimate US total casualties and the A-A population at the time, quite low. POC serving under the French and British experienced greater attrition because they were more frequently at the pointy end of the spear, including fighting rearguard actions. During World War II, 1.2 million African Americans served in the U.S. Armed Forces and 708 were killed in action, or 0.00059 which is less risk than a poor black child living in Chicago. Michael Clodfelter. Warfare and Armed Conflicts – A Statistical Reference to Casualty and Other Figures, 1500–2000. 2nd Ed. 2002 ISBN 0-7864-1204-6. pp. 584–585


Hotel Putingrad

May 5th, 2018 at 9:53 PM ^

I hope someone from U-M did in fact draw attention to the stories you referenced. I think it would indeed add even more impact to the experience of the trip for all of the players and staff...


oh, and I'm also very sorry I missed everyone's back and forth on Allied WWII contributions.


May 7th, 2018 at 12:53 PM ^

The lack of African-Americans, other minorities, and women in many movies about historical events is a recurring issue because the oppression of the time place these people in less visible roles as a rule.   Hollywood or any author then faces the question of how to deal with this?  Do you have color blind castig, that is, cast characters without regard to race?  Sometimest that works well as with Shakespeare.  Sometimes though, it minimizes the racism that African-Americans faced and might distract an audience that knows about segregation.  I'm not sure that would have been the case in SPR, but it might have been on Spielberg's mind.

    Another choice is for the writers to work harder and find ways to integrate the cast in a way that was historically accurate.  If I were the writer, I beleive it would have been compelling for them to contrast Nazism's racism with the racism that African-Americans faced, and I'm also sure that they're were Afrcian-American heroes on the  beach.   SPR was narrowly focused on the experiences of a small unit, but I believe it could and should have been done.

There were African-American units that served with valor and disticntion (I know of none that didn't).  Tuskegee Airmen, of course, but also the Black Panthers tank unit that Patton reluctantly used in the Battle of the Bulge. 


June 6th, 2018 at 10:12 AM ^

I know this thread is dead, but i logged in specifically to address my disgust at what this thread devloved into. I usually expect the MGo community to be “woke” and intelligent. (Which, as a Michigan alum is kind of lol now that I think about it) This thread is proof that it is even MORE important to shed light on African Americans’ contributions to WWII and DDay. I damn. 

I am African American, and the team going to Normandy made me research AAs contributions to the war and DDay. Less than 30 minutes of reaearch will teach you that while, yes, the racism of that time dictated our involvement IT ALSO substantially affected the CREDIT African Americans received for their contributions. It ia truly disgusting and unfortunately this thread is proof that it worked. Salvatorre or whomever the poster was derailing the thread with talk of Russia would do well to spend some time specifically researching that aspect. 

I hate feeling like its my job to educate people and do the research they can do themselves. And truthfully, I don’t feel like it. Its usually pointless as very few minds will change. But there are a few good documentaries on this subject. “A Distant Shore” is a good one. Usually given inferior equipment, inferior supplies, some of the most dangerous missions when they did see combat, and set up to fail, they fought and died for this country. Medals were denied. Stories buried and lost. Heroism and gallantry ignored or mis-credited. And this thread is living proof of that shame. 

Before you dismiss those contributions, check out one of the documentaries on YouTube at least. Hear the stories directly from the Black men who fought—and the White men who fought with them. Perhaps the next time a discussion like this begins you’ll have a different perspective. The 761st tank division has great interviews just like the airmen. And STILL to this day, those guys are shit on. MgoShame. 


June 6th, 2018 at 11:21 AM ^

Let me just add a few comments to my previous statement:

1. When I said I usually expect more from the MGoCommunity...but perhaps that faith is misplaced...

I graduated from Michigan. I am Black. I was there when the White frats wouldn’t let any black people in under the guise of the non-Greek rules—but, let in white non Greek students and let us in when we rolled with the football team. Or the frat member who literally came outside and said “can’t y’all see we don’t want y’all here?!” to me and all of the other black people lined up against the fence. And the other white students and members remain silent while we were treated like that. 

I had White classmates openly question my credentials, or diminish my presence on campus as affirmative action—despite the fact that I was kicking their ass in the same class. 

It goes on and on. I say that to say, many of those same students or someone similarly situated are on this board. So...why do I expect more?


2. This discussion is proof that Harbaugh giving some sort of focus on African Americans’ contributions to WWII and DDay would have been a much needed and worthwhile endeavor given the racial makeup of the team. Most of this thread has been (presumably White) people finding different ways to basically say Blacks didn’t do anything or what they did do on DDay and WWII was insignificant. 

Tell the White troops, wounded and dying that the Black nurse who saved their limbs, lives, held their hands during their last breaths that those contributions were insignificant. Tell the bombers who specifically requested that the red tailed planes escort them so they could get back home to their families that they didn’t do anything. Tell the troops on the eastern front dying in the snow, being decimated by the German panzers that the 761st tank Battalion wasn’t needed or was unnecessary as they pushed further and further. To the extent that a lot of the enlisted AAs were support staff, tell a hungry soldier the cook wasn’t necessary. 

To this day, those soldiers and their families have been fighting for recognition. Initially, their inclusion was purposely derailed until they were needed—like the airmen and 761st. Patton himself saying he doubted their ability. Given disgraced White commanders, denied rank, being stripped of their rank and demoted when they joined integrated units. 

THROUGH ALL OF THAT, those soldiers and support people fought and died just the same. Doing their part for a country they loved but didn’t love them back. Saving, fighting with, dying with, people who spit in their faces until the bullets started flying. And resumed the spitting once it ended. These comments are disgusting because it’s the same thing. Now nearly all of those people are deceased. Their stories, valor, service forever buried. The people who remember are gone too. And now we are left with people like Salvatore whomever you are, who wouldn’t have been able to deal with half of what they did questioning their service. Using facts that the military has since admitted was skewed and incomplete. 

Again, I implore you and anyone else to watch one of those documentaries. Listen to those soldiers—black and white—about the contributions African Americans made. Those who fought with AND against them. Then tell me those soldiers—combat and support—were insignificant. I can say one thing, those people were better than me. Because I would have said F this country and F Patton, and whomever else wanted me to go trudge through the snow and the mud with crappy equipment and supplies being maimed, killed, and attacked—all for people like Salvatorre to say I didn’t do squat anyway. Maaaaan...


June 6th, 2018 at 3:28 PM ^

During World War II, 1.2 million African Americans served in the U.S. Armed Forces and 708 were killed in action, or 0.00059 which is less risk than a poor black child living in Chicago today. Michael Clodfelter. Warfare and Armed Conflicts – A Statistical Reference to Casualty and Other Figures, 1500–2000. 2nd Ed. 2002 ISBN 0-7864-1204-6. pp. 584–585