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    Black Soldier of Mercy


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A personal memoir of war and survival


By Joseph E. Brown


ISBN 978-0-9796209-4-2


Hardback-160 pages-$29.95


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Available in Paperback!

ISBN 978-1-934936-42-9


Paperback-136 pages-$15.00


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Joe Brown served in two wars during the time when black soldiers were finally getting the respect they deserved in the Unites States military. He was drafted into the U. S. Army at the end of WWII and released early when the war ended. Then the Korean War came and in his third year of medical school, he was called back into service. Soon Joe found himself in a medical unit in the thick of the fighting in North Korea. This is his story in his own words. It is black history at its finest; personal and true to life.



This Book is available in the United Kingdom through Bertram Books


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Reviewed by Judy Jacobs 


Joseph E Brown was drafted into the Army in 1950.  Black Soldier of Mercy is his story told in his words.  Anyone expecting a tale about hard luck and racial discrimination is going to be disappointed.  Brown tells the story of a courageous man who served our country as a medic. 

Without any bragging or bitterness Brown recounts his experiences as a chief aide man.  He tells of treating soldiers for military battle wounds, diseases, drug abuse, frost bite and alcohol poisoning.  Much of his work was completed out in the open in the heat of battles.    Brown is not slow to credit his faith in God for keeping him alive.    His compassion and war’s horrors are intertwined as he tells of the death of a soldier wounded too grievously to move to a MASH unit.  His sense of humor comes out when he compares c-rations and his grandmother’s cooking.

In addition to his personal experiences, Brown has compiled a host of factual information on the Korean War.  He has included a detailed time line and provided statistics on the numbers of troops killed, wounded and missing in action.  He has identified the badges used by the different units and supplemented these facts and figures with dated photos and letters sent home from the front.

This book will be a nice addition to anyone’s library, and will augment collections of war material, soldier’s life and the plight of minorities during the Korean War.




Drafted for World War II


I was drafted into the Army the first time when I was eighteen-years-old. It was in June of 1945, right after I graduated from Armstrong Technical High School in Washington, D.C.


I had taken military basic training while I was in high school where most of the male students received cadet military training. Blacks who became Naval and Army officers during World War II and the Korean Conflict were graduates of those high schools in Washington, D.C. One of my classmates, Wesley Brown, was the first Black graduate of Annapolis Naval Academy. He had attended Dunbar High School while I was there and he was our Student Cadet Commanding Officer.  


When I was drafted by the local Selective Service Board, I took my oath as a soldier at Fort Meade, Maryland.  I was assigned to the Army Air Force as a candidate for pilot training and sent to Shepherd Field, Texas for basic training.


The army was still segregated at the time and, after basic training, blacks who were selected for pilot training were sent to Tuskegee, Alabama. While at Shepherd Field, Texas, we were humiliated by gross racial discrimination in training, promotions and living accommodations.


We lived in tents that leaked when it rained and didn’t keep out the dust during the frequent dust storms. I became ill with a lung infection while I was there.


Some of the Black soldiers rebelled because black soldiers were not issued ammunition while they were on guard duty but white soldiers were. Whites also had better living accommodations than blacks. The highest ranking black man on the post at that time was a technical sergeant who was a barber.


The rebellion got so violent that the Army sent in General Benjamin O. Davis, the first black general, as our Inspector General. By then black trainees had obtained live ammunition to defend themselves.


General Davis mounted an aircraft truck which was used to train gunnery students. When he addressed us, the truck was surrounded by armed white M.P.’s. Because the black soldiers didn’t trust him and they didn’t believe he had the authority to address their grievances, the black soldiers drowned out his remarks.



Because I was a medic, I couldn’t spend time in a foxhole. I had to hide behind obstacles and in underbrush during attacks. During long battles I took an occasional catnap of ten or fifteen minutes. The rest of the time I was out in the open tending the wounded and the sick.


I counted three reasons why I survived combat. I grew up in a family of undertakers. I played around the funeral home and I was accustomed to seeing corpses. The funeral director had shown me around but I never watched him embalm a body.


The second reason I was able to survive was my basic training and the advanced training I received in Army Leadership School. In one of the training exercises, we were supposed to be behind enemy lines in an area occupied by the enemy. Our assignment was to survive in the woods without rations and sneak out avoiding capture by the “Aggressor” Army. The “Aggressors” were other American soldiers who wore a distinctive, goofy looking helmet. We were supposed to “live off the land” which meant eating stuff you found on trees and berries and wild animals you caught without firing a shot and ate without cooking. In Korea, I never had to live off frozen berries and roots, eat raw meat or find water.


Third, I was brought up in a Christian home. I had my Christian faith. My father was a life-long Roman Catholic and my mother was a life-long Baptist like her mother, father, and grandfather who had helped establish a community church. I kept my Bible in the pocket of my fatigues over my heart. The Bible I carried had been given to me by one of my Sunday School teachers.


To live and survive in military combat is to practice the essence of life. One must always be alert so you won’t get caught in a trap because you were momentarily distracted or unaware. One must not expose oneself unnecessarily. One must obey orders. One must maintain a positive attitude, especially in a survival situation. One must hope for the best but be prepared for the worst. To feel fear is normal. If you panic, you insure disaster. A soldier also must tolerate rough and unpleasant living conditions. And be prepared to eat wild berries and raw meat.


On the battlefield, a soldier must always be alert and ready to fight. He must always be ready to jump in a foxhole or to man a weapon for a counterattack.


I was isolated once for two days. All I had was a chocolate bar in my jacket, K-Rations and water in my canteen. K-Rations were not made to taste good. They were made to be light, compact and provide nutrition for a man in desperate circumstances to survive and fight.


Our other field rations were called C-Rations. Some of the C-Rations were as good as mama’s cooking although I never told my mama that.


I was rescued when I saw a jeep with American and South Korean soldiers going through the woods close to where I was hidden. When I stepped from my hiding place and approached them, the officer told me that my unit had been looking for me for two days. I would have been reported missing in action if they hadn’t found me that day.


A soldier might be on guard duty or just sitting around in his tent. He might close his eyes or remain wide awake. All about him, like the beach at low tide, he can hear the sounds of his fellow soldiers dozing peacefully.


A soldier may be at peace for a brief moment. Then he hears the rattle of gunfire in the distance and, if he is a medic, he knows his moment of respite is over. Then, all of a sudden, he sees airplanes lighting the skies with tracers and shaking the earth with bombs that fall surprisingly close by.



4 June 1951

I landed at Inchon on an L.S.T. with a bunch of replacements from U.S. Naval Ship Woodford and stayed overnight in Inchon. Then I traveled by train from Inchon to Yongdong. Yongdong was an assembly area for units being sent to the front. Trains in Korea were narrow gage, about one third the width of American trains. They had been poorly maintained and were in bad condition. Most Korean industrial buildings were built brick, concrete block or concrete. Most Japanese industrial buildings were built of wood. Japanese plumbing was superior to Korean plumbing and sewage systems. Filth and dirt was everywhere in Korean cities and towns because of the war.



4 July 1951

A Piper Cub reconnaissance plane crashed in my area. The reconnaissance officer, who was a Captain, had lacerations and bruises all over his body. I helped stitch his cuts and lacerations. One of his arms was broken at the elbow and his other arm was cut and bruised pretty bad. The pilot, who was a First Lieutenant from Washington, D. C. was only slightly injured with a bump on his forehead. He told us this was his fifth crackup. I guess practice makes perfect.


Oh, I almost forgot. Today is Independence Day. We were so busy that nobody said a word about it.



1-16 August 1951

We were low on rations. Food and other supplies had been used up. It was rainy season and now the roads were impassable.  Supplies had to be flown to our outfit by plane and dropped by parachute. Radio contact with Battalion Headquarters was so bad we couldn’t tell them how much ammo, rations and supplies we needed. The crews on the C-119s would estimate how much to drop by having us line up men out in the open where they could count them. The formula was one man in the line for every twenty troops on the ground. That way we didn’t have to expose everybody to hostile fire. The officers used a rotation system so the same men weren’t lined up every time. Our mail was taken out by helicopter.



15 September 1951

The 74th Engineer Combat Battalion received a Korean Unit Citation for Bravery Under Fire. It already had eight bronze stars and three air medals for meritorious action in Korea.


Combat Engineer demolition experts deactivate booby traps. Although they were good at it, one mistake could be fatal. Most countries deploy mine fields in a standard pattern. Engineer Bomb Squads become familiar with the patterns and learn to detect booby traps. I will never forget the time I followed a demolition squad leader through a mine field. I stayed twenty feet behind him and I followed in his exact steps. If the mine was activated, I might not be killed, but he would be. Somehow I rationalized that I was safe because he was taking the greater risk and there was no reason to panic. Combat and the chance of imminent death does strange things to your mind.      


23 October 1951

My ambulance ran out of gas between Hamhung and Koto-Ri in North Korea. I did not have a weapon. This was the only time I became afraid during my tour of duty in Korea. Luckily, I managed to borrow some gas from a U.N. Unit and was able to drive back to Battalion Headquarters Motor Pool.


You get to where you can tell who is shooting by the sounds of the weapons. American weapons sounded different from Chinese weapons. But it was confusing when the Chinese shot at us using captured American weapons.


Sometimes I heard mortars shells incoming and then an enemy machine gun would start firing uncomfortably close to me. The Chinese were short of long range artillery but they were experts with mortars, which are like light, portable artillery. They could put a mortar shell inside a teacup.


Incoming mortars have a distinctive sound. They say that you never hear the one that’s coming to get you.



16 November 1951

A South Korean ROK Service Company was attached to “B” Company, the 74th Engineer Combat Battalion of our battalion. We got upset when the ROK Military Officer in command killed one of his own men. He said the man was a Communist. He shot him with his 45 caliber automatic pistol. He threw the man’s body into a grave he had made the man dig before he shot him. Then he poured gasoline over his body set and it on fire right in front of his men.



Everyone is your brother on the frontlines. White, black or brown, they are all the same. Bullets don’t discriminate. They kill regardless of race, creed of color. You wouldn’t care where your buddy is from in the States. All you may know is that he is there to help you and to fight with you. White soldiers would say to me, “You are just like my brother.” Then I would think to myself about conditions in the United States under which my relatives and friends lived.



11 April 1952

 President Truman relieved General MacArthur of his command and replaced him with General Ridgeway. When MacArthur was in command, the communist tried to counter an offensive. It never materialized and negotiations for a truce began at Kaesong, just below the 38th parallel.


I am a short-timer now. I’ll be leaving for Japan and home next month.


General James Van Fleet replaced General Ridgeway.