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"One guy said, 'Sergeant I am so scared." And I said, 'If you weren't scared, I'd be scared.' You have to be. A guy that's not scared, I'm afraid of you. I want you to be afraid." (Audio Interview, Part 2, 36:39)

   Elvyn V. Davidson
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War: World War, 1939-1945
Branch: Army
Unit: F Company, 370th Regiment, 92nd Division
Service Location: Camp Upton, New York; Fort Riley, Kansas; University of Nebraska; Camp Polk, Louisiana; Camp Huachuca, Arizona; Oran, Algeria; Naples, Italy
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Orphaned at 11 when both his parents died, Elvyn Davidson moved from Long Island to Manhattan to live with his older, married brother. After having to drop out of college for lack of funds, Davidson landed a job in a War Department office on Wall Street, through his brother's friendship with Adam Clayton Powell. With the U.S. entry into the war, he decided to enlist and become a cavalry officer like his father, who had served in the Spanish-American War. But the cavalry was becoming obsolete, and Davidson wound up a noncommissioned officer in the infantry with the 92nd Division. In a long and detailed interview, Davidson describes the hardships of serving in Italy, his leniency with his men, the importance of camaraderie to morale, and conditions in postwar Japan, where he served in the Occupation.

Interview (Audio)
»Interview Highlights  (16 clips)
»Complete Interview  (288 min.)
»Transcript
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 Audio (Interview Excerpts) (16 items)
In a boys club at the Harlem Abyssinian Baptist Church, where Adam Clayton Powell preached; Powell and his brother were friends; Powell helping get him a job on Wall Street in the War Department, running photostats; needing security clearance; daily work routine; registering for the draft, asking to be in a cavalry unit like his father; to Ft. Riley, Kansas, to train. (04:58) To Lincoln University in Philadelphia in September 1941; had no money but was given a job as a waiter and a partial scholarship for playing football; ran out of money after the first semester; liked his job with the War Dept. but wanted to enlist in the cavalry; too young and had to have his aunt sign for him. (02:04) Sent to Ft. Riley for his training in the cavalry; long ride on a troop train; shock of being in a segregated unit; nearby community, Junction City, was segregated, too; could not get a pass until he'd finished his basic training in six weeks; details of basic, learning how to ride an Army horse on a McClellan saddle; cavalry being phased out; saw some famous blacks in his barracks: Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson. (08:14)
Though half the soldiers at Ft. Riley were college educated, many were illiterate; he began tutoring them; it started with one soldier asking him to read his wife's letters and write back to her; carried it through later with the 92nd. (02:48) Arrival at Ft. Polk, Louisiana, with sergeant stripes; company commander making him head of a platoon with three squads; addressing the men on his first day with rough language; had been a barracks sergeant at Riley, so "I knew all the words." (04:59) Hated Ft. Polk; awful physical conditions; surrounding area so segregated they never left the camp; isolation of Ft. Huachuca was tough on the men; too hard to get anywhere on short pass; how the camp dealt with venereal disease. (04:04)
Assessment of Major General Edward Almond; in Louisiana, Almond confronting locals who didn't want 92nd coming through their town; using tanks to cause some damage to the town, which the government paid for. (01:54) Methodical nature of German artillery attacks made them predictable; how the Germans used the fearsome 88s; confident in his unit's ability to fight; having to prove something and being reminded of it by the battalion commander before they sailed for Europe; leaving Virginia without a convoy; lucky the German submarines never came after them. (04:55) Going on the line for the first time; he was in charge of the platoon with heavy weapons, backing up two other platoons; acquiring submachine guns on the black market in Naples; converting his carbine to an automatic; company commander not wanting to know where the guns came from. (02:32)
Most memorable combat experience: first "power patrol" in the middle of the night; avoiding land mines; setting charges to blow up ammo dumps; second closest he ever got to a German; another time, he ran into a German with his gun down and they parted without shooting at each other. (07:28) Lessons of combat: don't expose yourself, don't smoke at night, dig in quickly; tough conditions in Italy; struck by lightning; having to learn to ski in the Alps; disarming a drunken soldier shooting up the camp; telling off the company commander; no court martial; soldier remembered nothing the next day; he was one of their best men. (08:54) Everyone else watching the 92nd, wondering if they would come through; losing their first company commander in a fight to take a hill; picking up on the superior attitudes of the white officers; the did have one considerate colonel. (03:16)
Building a camaraderie with the men; problem with new men you don't know. (01:40) In Japan for the Occupation; citizens had no idea that their country had started the war; in Tokyo, did not see the devastation of firebombing; visited both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which were sobering experiences. (02:59) Landing in San Francisco Christmas Day 1945; German POWs serving their meal; one recognized Davidson; he had surrendered an entire outfit to Davidson. (02:16)
Flying back East; stopover in Dallas; restaurant refusing him service; was in charge of white soldiers and was carrying the unit's money; the soldiers threatening to tear up the restaurant, so they were seated-in the rear, behind a curtain. (01:40)  
  
 
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  October 26, 2011
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