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Rothacker Smith persevered as Buffalo Soldier in World War II

MADISON – Dr. Rothacker Smith, a Buffalo Soldier in World War II, served with the 366th Infantry Regiment.

Smith faced life-threatening combat several times and captivity as a German Prisoner of War. His faith carried him through and directed much of his life, according to the National WWII Museum. (nationalww2museum.org)

Buffalo Soldiers transitioned from Black Cavalry’s regiments beginning in 1866 and into the Spanish American War, World War I and beyond. Buffalo Soldiers faced the nation’s enemies while fighting segregation and oppression in the U.S. military.

In January 1943, Smith, who was a Seventh-day Adventist, entered the U.S. Army as a Conscientious Objector. He trained as a medic at Camp Stewart, Ga. and with a surgical technician’s course at Beaumont General Hospital.

Like other African American soldiers, Smith served within a segregated Army. Most African American units were assigned to white officers, most from the South. Smith was posted to Second Battalion, Medical Section, 366 Infantry Regiment.

“Our regiment was separate and unique as it had no white officers … The 366th was all African American from our bird colonel commanding officer down. The regiment was a political headache for the government,” Smith wrote.

In March 1944, the 366th shipped out to Oran, North Africa. There, black troops experienced mistreatment from white MPs with punishments, demotions and even beatings. Smith had earned the rank of T5, but his commanding officer demoted him to private for advocating to attend church services.

In April 1944, the 366th was moved to Italy where the regiment was split up. “I would be assigned to different locations to provide medical support for the troops,” he said.

The 366th was reassembled for combat duty to breach the German line, called the Gothic Line, in northern Italy. They reached their destination of Sommocolonia, where Smith served as medic for a machine gun squad encamped in a house.

On December 26, the German’s counterattack used mortar shells, falling more frequently than on Christmas Day. All hell broke loose, he said.

Smith was seriously wounded and imprisoned in POW camps in Italy and eventually in Stalag VIIA at Moosburg, Germany. After 50-plus years, Smith received the Medal of Honor, one of seven awarded to African American servicemen in 1977.

Smith is a member of Honored Legacies for Veterans in Madison.

He is featured in the National WWII Museum in the exhibition, “Fighting for the Right to Fight: African American Experiences in World War II.” Smith’s artifacts on display include his undershirt worn when wounded, shrapnel that tore through his shoulder and his German POW ID tag and spoon.

Smith autobiography, “No Way Out: The War Story of A WWII Black Buffalo Soldier,” document his experiences.

The National WWII Museum in New Orleans offers a compelling blend of sweeping narrative and poignant personal detail. The museum features immersive exhibits, multimedia, artifacts and first-person oral histories.

For more information, visit nationalww2museum.org.

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